By Jane Austen
I think I was thirteen when I first read Pride and Prejudice. Since then, I have lost track of how many time read it. Enough to have many passages memorized by heart. I love this book. It’s definitely on my “everyone must read this at least once” list. Because it is such a well-known piece, I am going to assume that you have read it, so there will be spoilers in this. You are fairly warned.
From a personal perspective, I have grown to truly love this book the more I read it. Part of this is obviously that I have far more experience in life than I did 15+ years ago. Another part of it, however, is a better understanding of 19th century England and its culture. All of the little slights, the subtle impertinences make far more sense from an English perspective than my own. I can’t, in fact, closely identify with any of the characters in this book. They are too rooted in their own time. What I have learned to do, however, is put myself in their place rather than demand that they be put in mine. This book was instrumental in my learning how to do this and for that I will be forever indebted to Austen.
The characters are what really make this book come to life. None of them are perfect (with the possible exception of Jane), and nearly all of them have something to recommend them. As our protagonist, Elizabeth takes a center role in this. She is pretty, charming, witty, and has an excellent sense to propriety. Unfortunately, her preconceptions blind her to the true character of several of her friends and acquaintances. This is true in regard to not only Mr. Darcy and Wickham, but also Charlotte.
I particularly noticed her misunderstanding of Charlotte in this read through. Lizzie assumed that Charlotte shared her conceptions of matrimony and couldn’t comprehend why she would accept (and indeed, scheme for) the hand of Mr. Collins. This is in spite of the fact that Charlotte is twenty-seven, a burden to her parents, and clearly wishes to be independent. What is really sad is that Lizzie can’t bring herself to preserve the friendship untainted by this. She ever after holds herself a little aloof from Charlotte, even after visiting the parsonage.
Of course, Lizzie misreads Mr. Darcy from the beginning. By the end, though, I can’t really blame her. Aside from the false information she receives about him, Mr. Darcy’s own behavior is slightly mystifying to the outside observer. First he is aloof and quite possibly uncomfortable in her presence. Then he proposes to her in a frankly insulting manner, emphasizing her defects as a match than her merits. After that, he becomes incredibly obliging to her aunt and uncle, making Lizzie wonder if his affections are still engaged. But then when she sees him again, he is back to being aloof and agitated. It is a small wonder that she could not figure him out very easily. I do find that the inconsistency of Mr. Darcy’s behavior is a little distressing to the reader as well.
He is by no means as distressing as Mr. Wickham, however. Wickham’s manners are highly pleasing, and in an Austen novel, that means beware. Wickham’s actual character is completely reprehensible, as it is fitting that a villain’s should be. One thing about him does bother me, though. Why did he elope with Lydia? This has never made sense to me. She had no money and no connections, both of which he knew. The reasoning given in the book is that he was running from various debtors and used Lydia’s attachment as a convenient method for escaping them. On closer scrutiny, this does not make a lot of sense. My only conclusion is that Mr. Wickham’s choice was made so that Mr. Darcy could come out as the hero in the situation. It’s not good, but it’s a reason.
One person that Lizzie does not misjudge in the least is Lady Catherine. She is just as overbearing and vain as she first appears. I only mention this because Lady Catherine’s interview with Lizzie near the end of the book is one of my favorite scenes in not only this book, but in literature in general.
I highly, highly, highly recommend this book. This recommendation is not limited to women, as I have seen some reviewers do. I really do believe that everyone can get something out of this work.