I’ve had Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, on my brain for weeks, so I figured it was time for a re-read. Because I’ve already read this book several times and because it’s so widely read, I’m not going to write a review, as such. I’m just going to jot down a few thoughts that struck me on this read-through.
Austen gets rather scathing about marriage via Charlotte Lucas’s explanation to Elizabeth about her acceptance of Mr. Collins’s proposal. We remember Austen’s novels as early prototypes of the romance genre; we know that the main characters will marry happily and advantageously. The story is different for minor characters and Austen’s novels are full of secondary and tertiary characters who have to make serious compromises. I felt for Charlotte when she told Lizzy in Chapter 22*:
“I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”
These are the words of a newly engaged woman? I could do worse? Poor Charlotte, but as a 27-year-old gently reared woman, she doesn’t have any other better options.
Mr. Bennet is kind of vexing. He still amuses me as much as ever, but I’ve begun to see Mr. Darcy’s point about him. Mr. Bennet would rather watch someone make a fool of themselves, no matter how damaging it is to his family’s reputation, than do anything about it.
The version of Pride and Prejudice I’ve been carrying around in my head turns out to have had more in common with the film versions (particularly the 1995 BBC production) than with the book itself. On this read-through, I noticed that I was waiting for story beats to happen in a particular order. The film versions hit the important points, but other things are glossed over in the rush of most adaptations to get to the happy ending.
That said, the book does (as usual) a much better job of showing us how Darcy loses his shy but arrogant pride and Elizabeth her obstinate prejudice against him. Of course the films have to speed things up to cram everything in to two and a bit hours and books have more time. In the book, the characters have time to grow much more realistically.
The downside of the book, however, is that Mr. Darcy never actually dives into a pond with his white linen shirt.
Pride and Prejudice has never disappointed me. Part of the joy of reading this book is coming across lines that still make me laugh, like:
“‘I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,’ said Darcy.
‘Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.'” (Chapter 9)
“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” (Chapter 20)
And, of course, the opening lines:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” (Chapter 1)
Or the lines that make my bookish heart sing:
“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” (Chapter 34)
* I downloaded a copy of this book from Project Gutenberg. Page numbers are not available.