TITLE: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
AUTHOR: JANE AUSTEN
Details: Book Club Selection
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited, while he struggles to remain indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.
It is very hard to write something original about a story that is ‘universally’ this well known. I mean there can’t be many people in the world who haven’t read the book or seen one of the many movies and TV-shows that have been based on this story. I know that I can never think of Darcy with imagining Colin Firth with his wet shirt plastered to his chest. And that brings me to my first issue with this book, which isn’t book related at all if I’m honest. I discovered that I really don’t like reading a book (for the first time I should add) when I’m already completely aware of the story in it. What is more, I don’t like having other people’s ideas of what the characters look like in my head before I have had a chance to form my own. With this book, unfortunately, that was unavoidable and I know it influenced my enjoyment of the story.
On the other hand, I did enjoy reading Pride and Prejudice. I liked the insight it gave into life at the turn of the 19th century. I loved having a closer look at how the middle and upper classes lived and interacted. The descriptions of the interactions between those of different standing were as fascinating as it was unimaginable to this modern mind.
The way the title is reflected in the two main characters – with Darcy’s Pride running head first into Elizabeth’s Prejudice – was a joy to read and maybe not as specific to the time the story is set in as I would like to think.
And that brings me to my next observation. It is astonishing to think how little romance novels have changed over the past 200 years. In this book we find all the elements we would expect in modern novels: the misunderstandings, the dastardly villain, the broody and seemingly distant hero, the quirky and spirited heroine, the nice girl and the vixen they all make an appearance and play their role in the story. In fact, were this a modern romance I would call it predictable and uninspired so well does it cover every possible plot device. Remembering when this book was actually written I will call it clever.
Another thing that fascinated me was the social commentary Jane Austen provides in this story. The snobbery of the middle classes, the contempt of those in the higher classes for those they perceive as being less than them, and the importance of money when it comes to being able to marry someone made this story historically significant as well as an enjoyable read.
What I really appreciated in this book is the way in which Jane Austin allowed her heroine, Elizabeth Bennett, to find her own way and come to her own conclusions in a time when women were rarely alone long enough to think, never mind act, for themselves. As Colm Tóibín says in his book ‘New Ways to Kill Your Mother’ this is achieved by separating Lizzie from the family members who might influence her at crucial times in the story.
“Power instead is handed directly to the heroine and this power arises from the quality of her own intelligence. It is her own ability to be alone, to move alone, to be seen alone, to come to conclusions alone, that sets her apart.”
I also have to admit that after reading this book I’ve come to a new appreciation of P.D. James’ ‘DeathComes to Pemberley’. I’ve read enough reviews by others to realize that many readers disagree with me on this, but I find that her story gives a rather satisfying sequel to Pride and Prejudice. I may have to read that book again at some point now that I’m more intimately acquainted with all the main characters and back-stories.
Overall I have to say that this was a pleasant reading experience that I would probably have enjoyed more if I had not been as intimately aware of the story as I was.