Book Review: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

30 January 2013

Being that Monday was the bicentennial of the publication of this wonderful piece of literature, I thought it quite fitting I should publish my official review this week. (I would have loved to have gotten it up on January 28th, but the hours of the day bend for no one, not even memorable anniversaries.) It may seem odd that through my many years of loving Pride and Prejudice I have never actually reviewed it on my blog, but such a statement is not quite honest. When my blog was new and my experience as a book reviewer small, I did chance to write one up — and the result was horrendous. I'll spare you the gruesome details; those who've been following my blog long enough to remember it hardly need a reminder, and those who haven't the slightest notion of what I'm talking about should count themselves lucky. As of now, the slate is wiped clean and I am reviewing it now in a much more respectable fashion than I did before. (If you make any mention of the previous review, I may have to break aforementioned slate over your head à la Anne Shirley.)

Pride and Prejudice
By Jane Austen
*Summary taken from Goodreads.com

Pride and Prejudice
'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.' Thus memorably begins Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, one of the world's most popular novels. Pride and Prejudice—Austen's own 'darling child'—tells the story of fiercely independent Elizabeth Bennet, one of five sisters who must marry rich, as she confounds the arrogant, wealthy Mr. Darcy. What ensues is one of the most delightful and engrossingly readable courtships known to literature, written by a precocious Austen when she was just twenty-one years old.

Humorous and profound, and filled with highly entertaining dialogue, this witty comedy of manners dips and turns through drawing-rooms and plots to reach an immensely satisfying finale. In the words of Eudora Welty, Pride and Prejudice is as 'irresistible and as nearly flawless as any fiction could be.'

My Thoughts: This book is so much more than the romance it is often dubbed. It is a comedy of manners, overflowing with witty phrases, hilarious characters, and two unforgettable protagonists, all woven together by its author's dexterous pen. Some of the best banter and verbal sparring can be found among its pages, and it lays claim to a host of characters you can't help but love from page one. Like all good literature, it does not reveal its secrets on first acquaintance, and the story only grows richer after several readings. Much of this can be credited to its heroine, Elizabeth, who brings vivacity and wit to each scene through her good humor and quick tongue. Over the years of watching the BBC adaption of this classics, I'd come to have a certain image of Lizzy and Darcy in my mind that I thought could not be improved upon. To my own surprise, I found myself seeing these well-known characters in an entirely new light, and I met the book as if it were the first time I'd read it.

It's quite interesting to note that while this book may mention the word "marriage" more than your average piece of British literature, there's very little public affection put on display between the characters. Even Darcy's second proposal and Elizabeth's ready acceptance are penned in very discreet prose. The text offers no indication of so much as hand-holding between them; all the romance is verbal. This gives the characters a chance to become acquainted with each other, rather than being distracted by the abundance of physical affection that makes girls sigh during romantic comedies. Elizabeth gains Darcy's love through her quick wit and lively temperment, while he recommends himself to her by his changed heart, noble character, and sacrifice for the sake of Lydia's tattered reputation. That's just one element that I love so much about Pride and Prejudice.

Continuing in this vein, Austen also paints a realistic picture of the benefits of wise marriages and the downfalls of foolhardy ones. Through Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, the reader is given a glimpse of the results of marrying for lust rather than love. The author writes, “Her father, captivated by youth and beauty . . . had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her” (chapter 42). Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Bennet lives peaceably with each other, as the former purposely tries his wife’s patience and mocks her ignorance publicly, while the latter frets about her daughters’ chances at marriage and complains about her nerves, driving her husband away from her and into the solitude of his library. Just as the Bible says the sins of fathers will affect their children to the third and fourth generation, the Bennets' poor example influences their youngest and most flighty daughter, Lydia, who elopes with the scoundrel Wickham for the sake of temporary infatuation. Austen points out through Elizabeth's own conjectures, “How little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue” (chapter 50). In this way, she shows that a strong marriage cannot be built on ungrounded passion alone, but that it is like mind, mutual respect, and a good knowledge of the other's character from which a deep, lasting love grows.

Pros: Virtue, honor, respectability, humility, and forgiveness are all supported. Those whom Austen sought to uphold either behave admirably from the start or repent and change during the course of the story. The book's underlying theme of the fallacies of basing your opinions of someone on first impressions, a lesson relevent in every age, is very strong. There is one excellent scene in particular after Elizabeth reads Darcy's letter in which his whole past concerning Wickham is revealed, and she realizes how prejudiced she has been in her behavior towards him. She experiences a complete change of heart and is filled with feelings of shame and remorse:
"How despicably have I acted!'' she cried. -- "I, who have prided myself on my discernment! -- I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. -- How humiliating is this discovery! -- Yet, how just a humiliation! -- Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. -- Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.'' — Pride and Prejudice, volume II, chapter 11
Cons: None. Though Lydia and Kitty flirt shamelessly with the officers of the militia, their behavior is condemned by the other characters. Even Lydia's elopement, perhaps the most scandalous occurence in the novel, is kept very clean, and free from sexual references.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
 
A Bit O' Reading For the Day:
“A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.” — Pride and Prejudice

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