I’ve read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen so many times I’ve lost count. I first read it in 9th grade, when my English teacher told us to pick a classic to read for extra credit. I selected it because I’d read numerous historical romance novels where the heroines read this “scandalous” new book. I had no idea an extra credit assignment would spark a lifelong love of Jane Austen.
How much of a love? I wrote my senior honors thesis at Baylor on “Interpreting Jane Austen for Nineteenth-Century and Twentieth-Century Audiences.” Basically this means I got to research what people in Austen’s time thought of her books and compare that to how films interpret them now–well, before 2000, which is when I graduated. (I happily own up to being 35.) People continue to love Jane Austen. There have been several film adaptations of her works and this particular one since I wrote my thesis. If anyone’s interested, I prefer the BBC P&P, but the more recent version is fine for a quick fix. I own both.
Anyway, as I read this time, I considered specifically what makes it stand the test of time. There’s nothing racy by today’s standards. The pace is slower than most books we read today. And yet, there’s a tension that keeps you glued to the page. So, here are the five things I love most about PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I expect they’re the reasons most people love it.
1. The love story – I have to start out with the most obvious. The proud Darcy. The prejudiced Elizabeth. Or is it the other way around? That’s the beauty of this story. They’re both flawed. They both make mistakes. But their characters are so well-developed you anticipate how they will act and sympathize with them. Austen builds the tension by showing Darcy’s struggle against his affection, but he has to be the one to love first. Without his struggle, Elizabeth would never have one of her own. Oh, that point where she says, “…never had she so honestly felt that she could have loved him, as now, when all love must be vain.” It gives me shivers. It’s the ultimate romance, and there isn’t even a kiss at the end!
2. The Bennets – The portrait of the Bennets is so skillfully drawn. Austen masterfully shows them rather than telling us what they’re like. The dialogue, in particular, between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet is brilliant. It feels like we’re there in the drawing room, watching Mrs. Bennet flit around in agitation while Mr. Bennet makes dry observations. We feel Elizabeth’s embarrassment at her mother and sisters. I cringe myself during the Netherfield Ball scene. It’s an excellent picture of loving your family in spite of their foibles. After all, you don’t get to pick your parents or siblings.
3. The dialogue – I think this deserves a point on its own, as the dialogue is so cleverly done throughout the story. So much lies underneath every word. I can see the way the words are delivered, and that’s not just because I’ve watched the movies a million times. But speaking of the movies, they’re certainly a testament to Austen’s dialogue. Often movie adaptations change the dialogue, but even in the shorter version of P&P, much of the dialogue remains exactly as it is in the book. Austen’s words don’t need to be changed for the screen. They translate in any medium.
4. The character arcs – I alluded to this a bit in regard to the love story, but the way Darcy and Elizabeth change in the book is so well-drawn. While the story is mainly from Elizabeth’s point of view (with a narrator thrown in), we see Darcy’s change through her. They both learn to set aside their pride and prejudice to get through to the even better person they can be.
5. The life observations – It’s one of the best known and loved first lines in a book: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” And that’s just the beginning. It’s easy to see why the book would have been scandalous in its time, and now we can look back and see how wise Austen was to point these things out. Many of them even still apply today, but I’m not going to explain them. If you’ve read the book, you already know. If you haven’t, you should go do it now!
What are your favorite classic reads? Why do you love them?