Pride and Prejudice is the classic novel about the grand histoire d’amour’ between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy
Come with me to the England of the early 19th Century and dwell upon the (fictitious) village of Longhourn in the Hertfordshire countryside. It is here that Jane Austen’s tale ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is set, one of the greatest novels in English history. We all know of this grand histoire d’amour between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. The latter is more commonly known as Mr Darcy and the name has become a synonym for Prince Charming.
Darcy is handsome, attractive, a striking appearance and of impeccable reputation. He moves in higher social circles, his estate Pemberly is the praise of Derbyshire and Darcy is definitely a man of means. Elizabeth Bennet on the other hand, is the second of five daughters by Mr en Mrs Bennet, quick-witted and charming, not interested in idle chatting. She loves to walk in the countryside.
The Bennet family resides in Longhourn House for as long as Mr Bennet will live. Upon his death, the mansion will be inherited by Mr Collins, Mr Bennet’s cousin. Elizabeth cannot bear his sight, his abundant remarks on everything and anything. Collins is a clergyman and absolutely awestruck by and in constant and excessive praise of his upper-class patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Whatever she demands happens forthwith. As it happens, Darcy is Lady Catherine’s cousin and she wishes a romantic entanglement between him and her daughter.
Darcy, stubborn as he is, follows his own heart and proposes to Elizabeth Bennet. Shocked by his behaviour and unpleasantly stricken by Darcy’s pride, as big as his ego in Elizabeth’s eyes, she declines. Their argument is a furious and heated one, with Pride (Darcy) on the one side and Prejudice (Elizabeth) throwing the wildest accusations in his face. The disaster seems complete when Darcy hands Elizabeth a letter and tells her he is leaving.
As the novel progresses, we learn more of the sometimes embarrassing or sad family affairs, the not always justified choices that are made or the less appropriate behaviour of certain family members. We see a growing understanding on Elizabeth’s part and learn of her inner struggles and her high moral. Of course, the ending of such a classic work of literature is already known, but the book gives an insight into the society of the landed gentry in the early 1800s.
It seems to me that the title of Jane Austen’s tale refers to more characters than only the protagonists Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Think about the prejudices of the gentry forcing ‘appropriate’ behaviour upon others. It is wounded pride that induces Lady Catherine to speak against a liaison between Darcy and Elizabeth and prejudice of the same Lady Catherine in assuming her advice is simply the best and should always be followed.
If there is one not proud nor prejudiced it is Jane, the Bennets’ eldest daughter. Where Elizabeth often is instantly ready to give sharp comments and shrewd observations, Jane always seeks to find the good in everyone. She is the perfect elder sister, calming the turbulent Elizabeth when necessary, helping her gather her thoughts without prejudice or assumptions. Through the conversations between the two sisters, who were very close, we have an insight into their thoughts and predicaments.
Furthermore, despite the apparent shortcomings of that time regarding the internet and mobile phones, rumours and gossip spread as quickly as today. Assumed opinions, prejudices and harsh judgments became almost instantly a public secret in the village, within hours to be known in London. Tidings travelled fast those days and we learn of this by the fluent letters that are written and which contents we are privy to.
We can smile in contempt for the letters Mr Collins writes regarding the, in his eyes, desired conduct and guidelines on how to behave. Collins has no opinion of his own, he doggedly follows the words of his mistress Lady Catherine and expects his relatives to follow suit. The letters of the different characters, like those of Elizabeth, add to the actions that take place and give us yet more profound insight into the motives and reasoning behind the appearances of the desired social conduct.
About the Author
This book is truly a literary classic. It provides insight into the society in which Jane Austen lived and shows us how romantic engagements were perceived as the importance of the social standings of the British gentry. Jane Austen wrote eloquently with wit and charm, acknowledging the awkwardness of certain social rules such as the importance of ‘keeping up appearances’.
Her books are tokens of their time, set within the aristocracy and its social surroundings. Her social commentaries and general opinions are always entwined with affairs of the heart. No wonder Jane Austen is one of ‘Britain’s Most Famous Writers Through History’ and her ‘Pride and Prejudice’ belongs to the favourite British books.
I wanted to reread the book, it was so many years since I last read it. In my memory, the happy ever after was the ending in the book, the love affair between Elizabeth and her Darcy the beginning. Unlike the many film adaptations let us believe, romantic love is only just one storyline. The timeless worth of this book lies in the eloquence with which Jane Austen has written her phrases, the thoughts and deliberations that are characteristic of the 18th/19th century.
Take your time in reading the comprehensive descriptions of the places and people of those days and you will find yourself taken to the early 19th century. I know you will love it! Needless to say, Pride and Prejudice comes highly recommended!
|Publisher||Wordsworth Ed (also available as Penguin Classic)|