Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Summary: When two rich young gentlemen move to town, they don’t go unnoticed – especially when Mrs Bennett vows to have one of her five daughters marry into their fortunes. But love, as Jane and Elizabeth Bennett soon discover, is rarely straightforward, and often surprising. It’s only a matter of time until their own small worlds are turned upside down and they discover that first impressions can be the most misleading of all.
In a sense, time provides the most reliable review system of all. Works like Pride and Prejudice might not have been the most popular books of their time – indeed, I can easily imagine that readers and perhaps Austen herself, might be surprised that we consider it literature today – but in its innocence, wit and charm, Jane Austen’s most beloved work demonstrates a timelessness that that some of its more heavyweight contemporaries lacked. The label of ‘timelessness’ doesn’t do the book justice either; especially if we were to consider that the beats of a generic rom-com as we know it today remain largely unchanged from what Austen wrote in 1813.
In another sense, however, the novel is only barely deserving of the label of ‘timeless’. It depicts a time that is quickly – and fortunately – becoming unrecognizable to us. The social structures – and women’s place in them – have progressed sufficiently that one must frequently remind oneself that the novel was written at a time when a woman’s dependence on a man was as good as assumed, if not outright required. I bring this up only because for large swathes of the novel, Austen, writing in 1813 empowers her females characters better than some modern authors are able to – a testament to how long the road to equality remains but that’s a topic for a different time.
Rather than just the romantic friction between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, it is the chemistry of the entire cast of characters that forms the warm core of this novel. The character run the gamut of personalities from the enthusiastic and endearing Mrs. Bennett to her witty, more stoic husband and the cold, grumpy (but rarely outright unpleasant) Mr. Darcy, the characters’ dynamics always feel rooted in reality and rarely in unnecessary melodrama. Indeed, this is a tale in which the lack of an out-and-out villain makes the entire piece quite pleasant to read. While the novel does not offer any nuggets of deep wisdom or any grand social commentary, there is plenty of insight into the human condition and an acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to relationships and interpersonal dynamics. Unfortunately, once again here, some of the relationship advice that the characters share with each other (but which is clearly aimed at the reader) no longer holds up in the modern world and in some cases can color the audience’s first impression of a character.
While lines like “In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better show more affection than she feels” can be accounted for, with a little temporal adjustment, the novel’s pacing are harder to resolve. That conclusion surprised me when I reached it, but I suspect the real issue I had with the novel was that while I liked the twists and turns and how each twist developed the Elizabeth-Darcy relationship, that appreciation was something I got only on hindsight. While reading the book, it felt almost like Austen was intentionally delaying the resolution of the core narrative tension to make the resolution more realistic and satisfying.
Beyond the plot and the characters, the novel is also interesting for the view it provides into Victorian England. Victoria’s England is hardly an unstudied time period and is remarkably well-documented but Austen, writing a woman’s perspective as a woman, is able to capture nuances that other authors of the time might not think to include. Of course, I doubt anyone will be picking the book up for an academically rigorous discourse on the period but it certainly offers plenty of supplementary insight.
Recommended for: I would say that if you’re curious about what the fuss about this book is, it is worth a read. Do note, however, that between its pacing and older vernacular, it can be a tricky read