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 comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and evokes the friendships, gossip, and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.
Jane Autsen, in a letter to her sister Cassandra, described Pride and Prejudice as “rather too light, and bright, and sparkling.” Tony Tanner believed Austen meant this jokingly and I sincerely hope that is so because it is precisely that sparkling brightness which makes this book such a joy to read. I love Sense and Sensibility, but I love Pride and Prejudice more and for the same reason I’m sure everyone else does—namely, Elizabeth Bennet, the vivacious heroine who pushes the limits of social propriety to preserve her individualism.
Mr. Bennet is my second-favorite character, after Elizabeth. Basically, he’s the cool dad of the 19th century pseudo-aristocracy. His kids run wild, his wife’s a nut job, and what does he do? He hides in his library and makes sarcastic remarks about the society he loves to hate. He is to Pride and Prejudice what Sir John Middleton is to Sense and Sensibility.
I also love the humor in this novel, both intended and unintended. An example of the former is this delightfully funny scene where Elizabeth observes Darcy writing a letter while his groupie Miss Bingley looks on.
“How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!”
He made no answer.
“You write uncommonly fast.”
“You are mistaken. I write rather slowly.”
“How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of the year! Letters of business too! How odious I should think them!”
“It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of to yours.”
“Pray tell your sister that I long to see her.”
“I have already told her so once, by your desire.”
“I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well.”
“Thank you—but I always mend my own.”
“How can you contrive to write so even?”
He was silent.
Another laugh-out-loud moment is when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth for the first time, exclaiming, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” This is an example of the 19th century mode of expression being so radically different from our own as to render it ridiculously funny—at least in my opinion. This restriction of communication to words alone, or what Tanner calls “the minimizing of a whole range of physical experiences,” (p. 397) also has the effect of transforming Pride and Prejudice into a story less passionate than it might have read to contemporary readers who were used to language being the primary form of expression. Modern day readers may or may not respond well to this, depending on their taste, but as with Austen’s use of antithesis in Sense and Sensibility, I find it quaint and worth preserving.
Bottom Line: Read it, love it, underline it, make notes in the margin, then come back in ten years and read it again with all your scribblings.
“A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” –p. 21
“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.” –p. 39
“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.” –p. 47
Jane: It is difficult indeed—it is distressing—One does not know what to think.
Elizabeth: I beg your pardon;—one knows exactly what to think.
Mrs. Bennet: What do you mean, Mr. Bennet, by talking in this way? You promised me to insist upon her marrying him.
Mr. Bennet: My dear…I have two small favours to request. First, that you will allow me the free use of my understanding on the present occasion; and secondly, of my room. I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be.
…where other powers of entertainment are wanting, the true philosopher will derive benefit from such as are given. –p. 228
Have you read Pride and Prejudice? What did you think?