Jane Austen, herself, referred to Pride and Prejudice as “light, bright and sparkling” with, what she believed, to be one of her best heroines yet. Many readers have agreed with her for over 200 years. In this Regency novel, you will find a heroine as spunky and sarcastic as they come and a hero as proud and reserved as they come. A classic case of dislike (rather than love) at first sight, will these two be able to overcome their pride and prejudice in order to do what so many then could not afford to: marry for love?
I read this book for my own personal pleasure and was not required to write a review. Therefore, all comments and opinions are entirely my own.
Around this time last year I wrote a review for Jane Austen’s gothic satire novel, Northanger Abbey. This year, I’m writing a review for Jane Austen’s most popular and beloved novel, Pride and Prejudice. The theme for the 2019 JASP (Jane Austen Summer Program) that I just attended last week was Pride and Prejudice & Its Afterlives. Throughout the conference, we deeply discussed how Pride and Prejudice has affected our culture and why it remains as popular today as it was back in the early 1800s.
In preparation for this JASP, I read Pride and Prejudice for the second time. I read it for the first time back in high school when I first started reading Austen’s works. To be honest, although I loved the 1995 BBC miniseries with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, the book itself wasn’t one of my favorites. Nothing really stood out to me the first time I read it and I hadn’t thought about it deeply since.
I was excited to re-read Pride and Prejudice (or P&P), but I wasn’t necessarily expecting to get anything new out of it. I’m not really sure what I was thinking because this is JANE AUSTEN we’re talking about. Of COURSE I’m going to see something I’d never seen before. That’s how brilliant her works are.
I say all this in order to establish that the purpose of this review isn’t to let you know how great P&P is or how amazing Austen is. Thousands of people have done that before me. In this review, I just wanted to share what I got from a second reading of P&P and how there’s always more layers to peel back in an Austen novel.
One of the main things I was struck by in re-reading P&P was the complementary relationship between Elizabeth and Jane. Elizabeth is generally acknowledged as clever and observant while Jane is demoted to overly sweet and too trusting. Basically, most readers see Jane’s perspectives and views on life as unrealistic. Ultimately, though, I found I not only related a little to both sisters, I found the strengths and weaknesses of their personalities to complement each other beautifully. As witty as Elizabeth is, she’s also very sarcastic and cynical. Jane, on the other hand, while willing to see the best in everybody, is at the same time cautious to give anyone her final judgment.
The benefits of such a bond between these two sisters is shown in several instances. One of which is when Elizabeth informs Jane that the Bingley sisters do not really care about her. Jane, unwilling to think so badly of them, disagrees until the Bingley sisters’ detachment to (or dislike of) her becomes quite clear. Jane’s feelings are hurt, but in the end, I think it’s to her credit that she was willing to give the sisters the benefit of the doubt until she absolutely couldn’t.
On the other hand, when Elizabeth hears Wickham’s “backstory” after her first conversation with him, Jane cautions Elizabeth not to believe this story so completely considering they only just met him. Elizabeth disregards this advice because of her prejudice for Mr. Darcy and her desire to think ill of him. In the end, Elizabeth discovers the truth about Mr. Wickham’s past through a letter from Mr. Darcy. The experience was humiliating for her. After reading the letter and realizing how she had misjudged both men, she rebukes herself:
I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable mistrust! How humiliating is this discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind! But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself. – Pride and Prejudice
I think this is one of the most pivotal moments of the novel. Not when she realizes she’s in love with Mr. Darcy or when she finds out what he did for Lydia, but when she realizes her own pride in her discernment and her own unwarranted prejudice against Mr. Darcy. Before Elizabeth could find true happiness in her life, she had to come to terms with her own flaws and overcome them—just as much as Mr. Darcy had to.
What also struck me about this moment wasn’t just Elizabeth’s realization, but that I have had these moments in my life, too. I think that’s one of the most amazing things about Austen’s novels. It’s that there’s usually a key moment a character goes through that I have experienced in some way in my own life. So I not only find characters whose personalities or lives I relate to, but whose growth I can relate to as well.
This theme is something I did not notice when I was sixteen, but something I noticed when I was twenty-one. Who knows what I will notice when I’m thirty or forty upon re-reading an Austen novel. There is so much depth in her characters and situations, I almost feel like you can only understand them better as we ourselves, as readers, experience more of the world and of life.
This will be no surprise to any, but I wholeheartedly give Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 5 out of 5 stars. I’d give her 10 if it was an option. I think it’s suitable for all ages, but probably can’t be truly appreciated until you’re in your late teens, at least.
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