This article has spoilers. For a book that was published in 1813. One that has spawned numerous movie and television adaptions. Seriously, it’s not my fault if you’re spoiled. But, you know, read ahead at your own risk.
A convenient bullet list as to why everyone (Lyra) should read Pride and Prejudice:
- Jane Austen gets lots of flack from people about how her books were insulated from world events and only covered the daily lives of women during her time. To this I have the firm and resolute opinion: so what? Aren’t there enough historical novels about men hacking each other up and dying gloriously in battle? Do we not have enough novels about how men have changed the world and have been able to heroically preserve their linage first? Why can we not have both? Jane Austen paints a picture of rural England, and she does it through the less common lens of a woman’s view point. She isn’t looking to upsell the glory of men. She wants to a tell a witty story about a family of poor girls whose only hope of a good life is marriage and the wealthy bachelors who are missing out on the benefits of having a Bennet for a wife. It is insulated, but it is funny, it is dramatic, it is important.
- I’ve heard Pride and Prejudice described as 19th century chick lit – dismissively and with the arrogance of people who think stories written by women are not worthy and that their incomparable knowledge means no one else should find it enjoyable. This is simply not the truth of the subject matter. Austen has a gift for observation. She has a better gift for laying these observations down in such a way that the characters are all familiar, all remarkably relatable. Even the ridiculous characters have elements of ourselves, of people we know. She is a studier of character, of people, and it is possible to understand people and ourselves a little better by noticing the particulars of what she has to say about people. Also, whenever someone dismisses something based on the gender of the subjects and the writer, it is very important that we read that thing out of spite. This is a law of books.
- Pride and Prejudice is a study in nearly Shakespearean drama, layered in such a way that the ending is happy and no one poisons themselves, even if we all sort of wish that Mr. Collins would, and has all with turns, complications, and well-phrased etchings of the English language. Austen’s writing style sweeps the reader along, where you can see the countryside, hear Lizzy’s sardonic amusement, and feel the still-relevant stakes of reputation, ruination, and unchecked judgement. And Austen manages it all without blood dripping from daggers or lovers dying together. She manages to do this by allowing her characters to communicate. Despite this lack of convoluted excess in plot that can always be solved by one discussion – hold your breath – the drama is still real, still poignant, and sucks you into a world of manners, love, and the complicated nature of, well, human nature. She, in truth, writes women as women and it is still interesting.
- Darcy is hot.
- The novel is quietly feminist. The first way is in that Elizabeth Bennet is painted as smart, quick witted, warm, full of joy, quick to judge, able to leapfrog her way into belief when facts are not yet in, and prone to willfully miscalculating people in her life. In a world where marrying up was the only way to really secure wealth, Austen writes Lizzy with the determination never to settle, never to find herself in a loveless marriage. She also shows a character who does just that, and she chastises Lizzy, and the reader, for thinking less of her for doing so. There is strength in both choices. One is born out of practicality and astute awareness of reality, the other is born out of a notion of never settling, even if settling means being saved from poverty. A whole plethora of women are represented – the silly, the amorous, the shy, the one willing to do what she must to survive, the headstrong, the independent, and the arrogant. She paints the traits without judgement, only to show Elizabeth’s reactions to them and the ways in which she navigates the disparate personalities in her life. (There are no women of color represented, but that’s another article entirely.) Choice remains an important part of the story. While that choice may be limited in certain ways, based on the nature of women’s reputation, the era, and definite sexism faced by women, choice remains all the same. These choices, primarily by Elizabeth, empower her and limit her in equal parts, which is part of the fun and part of the importance.
- Darcy is a good example of how to write a love interest. He respects Lizzy even after she puts him down. He respects her mind and her wit even though his heart is broken. He listens to her. He actively seeks to change based upon her words. His bad behavior isn’t rationalized or explained away as good. She tells him why he has been undesirable to her and instead of dismissing it, he seeks to rectify the behavior. This is in stark contrast to many books where the behavior is trivialized and not fixed, simply because the man is attractive or wealthy. Growth should be part of a love story, and his growth is done exceedingly well.
- Seriously, Mr. Darcy is hot.
- Wickham is often attributed as being the antagonist of the novel, but I think that he is simply one antagonist. The fact that there are four women who can share this title makes me happy. Mrs. Bennet, Miss Bingley, Lydia Bennet, and Lady Catherine De Bourgh all share equal parts in keeping Elizabeth and Jane from the loves of their lives. Having female villains, even if they are quietly the villain, is a reason why more women need to write novels. It matters a whole heck of a lot.
- The story between Darcy and Elizabeth is intricate, a study in people’s ability to misjudge and misappropriate blame, but it is only one love story in a novel that has many. One of the most important love stories is the love between Elizabeth and Jane. So much of Lizzy’s journey is determined by her sisterly love. They make each other better, encourage temperance, understanding, and urge one another to look at the situation differently. They are confidants and their love is as important as the love Lizzy eventually finds for Darcy. The support between women is irreplaceable.
- At the end of a long, stressful day, the last thing we need to read is violence, mayhem, and people hating one another. Even when Lizzy is wronged by another, she gives them the charity of love. And the story is full of goodness, like a warm cup of tea on a foggy winter’s day. It is a hug for your mind, and we could all do with a little bit of that nowadays. It is a well-written, interesting hug, and it is well worth reading.
Have you read the book already? Do you all the sudden want to give it a try? Share with us in the comments below!
I’ve read this for a lit class on marriage from Milton to Austen. It’s a great book and we can honestly say that Darcy loves readers.