Over the summer I received one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever had as a writer: one of my aunts decided to read Pride and Prejudice for the first time just so that she could read and understand my books! I was so happy, not just because she wanted to read my variations, but because I knew what a wonderful world she was about to enter. There’s nothing quite like reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time, is there? After she finished reading P&P she asked a deceptively simple question: “Can you tell me what draws you to this book so much?”
Wow! What a question! There are so many ways to answer it! But I quickly came up with a short list of things that I think make this book so outstanding. And really, I think most or all of these items apply to all of Jane Austen’s writing. What do you think?
First, there’s our heroine Elizabeth Bennet, one of the most memorable female characters in all of literature. I could write an entire article just about her! What makes Elizabeth such a terrific creation?
Like all of Austen’s main characters, she is utterly relatable. Elizabeth is a complex, realistic personality who faces some of the same dilemmas we face today: an embarrassing family, worries about money, and confusion about love. Like most of us, she is a bundle of contradictions. She is intelligent and yet jumps to conclusions, wise but not as wise as she thinks. She’s terribly witty and a has a wonderful way of observing the world around her yet sometimes fails to see her own faults. She means well but she sometimes falls short of the mark. Fortunately her mistakes generally hurt no one but herself, and she usually learns valuable lessons from them. We don’t love Elizabeth Bennet so much because we want to be her. We love her because, in many ways, we already are!
Secondly, Pride and Prejudice is both funny and insightful, with laugh out loud comments about human nature right from the beginning. Sarcasm abounds. Subtle zingers are thrown with abandon. The irony is miles deep in places. Who can forget wonderful lines like:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
This sentence is genius. Besides being absolutely true, it sets the tone for the whole book in just twenty three words. And it makes us snicker at the same time!
There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well.
Is not general incivility the very essence of love?
I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.
Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.
Nobody can tell what I suffer! But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied.
Then there is the theme of true love. In every Austen book, but especially in Pride and Prejudice, Austen shows the effect love has on people. Insincere love, like the “love” Collins has for his wife, adds little to life. It is something to be tolerated and endured, not enjoyed. Love based solely on lust, like that between Lydia and Wickham, brings its own problems. But real, mature love makes us better people. Darcy and Elizabeth experience personal growth as they confront their pride and prejudice. Jane and Bingley face up to their insecurities and learn to stand up for themselves. Both couples will eventually experience marital felicity, but only after love compels them to positive change.
That ties in closely with my final reason for loving Pride and Prejudice: happy endings. The happy ever after that Elizabeth and Darcy experience does not come with a wave of an author’s magic wand, as a convenient way to end the book. Their happy ever after is earned and realistic. At the end of the story Elizabeth’s family is still embarrassing. Darcy’s aunt will always be rude and overbearing. Caroline Bingley is still false and insincere, and even worse, she is now family! But we know that Darcy and Elizabeth can handle all of that as long as they have each other. The scene is set for a married life that will be full of the usual trials and tribulations, but also with great joy. We fairly swoon in response!
I’m happy to say that my aunt enjoyed the story. She said it was hard to get into until Darcy’s first proposal but it was interesting thereafter, and she was sad to see it end. I predict she’ll be back for a second reading soon!
How about you? What do you love about Pride and Prejudice? Please leave a comment below to let me know!