Pride and Prejudice–an appropriately beloved classic

Pride and Prejudice

By Jane Austen

Published 1813

Read June 2021

The June 2021 reading of the book was the first for this reader.  The general story was well known to her based on having watched, multiple times, the 2005 Kierra Knightley movie based on the book.  This reader listened to the 2015 Audible production read by Rosamund Pike, a British actress and narrator, who played Jane Bennet in that 2005 movie production of the book.   

The protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet is the second oldest daughter of five.   Her father’s estate is entailed so will pass to a male cousin, Mr. William Collins upon his death since the Bennet’s did not have a son.  As Mrs. Bennet has no income from an inheritance of her own, she and the daughters will be destitute upon the death of Mr. Bennet so it is very important that at least one of the daughters marries into a monied state and can support at least the mother if not them all.  However, the daughters, having had a “liberal” upbringing, are more inclined to marry “for love”. The daughters aren’t as well prepared to marry “up” as they could have been had they spent more time on literary and musical education.  Only Mary seems to be interested in showing off her (limited) musical capabilities.  She doesn’t have the beauty of her older sisters Jane and Elizabeth nor Jane’s sweet demeanor so she’s searching for some foot forward.  Younger daughters Kitty and Lydia are silly and enjoy flirting.  The consequences of their “liberal” upbringing come to bear when Lydia’s flirtations take a step beyond.

The arrival of Mr. Bingley, a wealthy young man, to the neighborhood begins the reader’s introduction to the manners, rites, and rituals of England in 1812.  Jane Austen’s opening two lines of the book are quite telling: 

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.”

Mr Darcy accompanies this single mand and his friend Mr Bringley to a dance and Miss Austen begins her tale of how the  unfortunate first impressions (the draft title of the book) of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy slowly evolve and are overcome.  While the Kierra Knightley movie captured the primary story quite well and used Austen’s dialogue quite often, the limitation of 90 or so minutes in cinematic format leaves out much of the detail that the book covers.  There are quite a few characters that drive various aspects of the plot and we learn about each of them to some extent.

While all of the characters are gentlemen and ladies, there are substantial differences between them driven by the source and extent of their wealth.  Mr. Bennet’s income is sufficient to maintain a household of five daughters but his wife needs to stretch the income to cover their expenses and she frets about their future when Mr. Collins will inherit the estate.  Mr. Bingley rents, vs owns, an estate, but has a substantial income from some undefined source. George Wickam, the son of the steward of Mr. Darcy’s late father and who has obtained a position of officer in the militia decries Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth that he has been denied the income of a clergyman by Mr. Darcy’s doings.  Mr. Collins has obtained a position of clergyman and has sponsorship from Mr. Darcy’s wealthy aunt.  Mr. Darcy makes quite clear to Elizabeth Bennet in his offer of marriage (which is denied) that, while she may be a gentleman’s daughter, her economic and social standing is quite different than his (her being lower) and their marriage will cause some stir in his social circle.   His aunt seeks to warn Elizabeth away from her nephew as she is totally unacceptable as a potential wife.  But, of course, love wins out in the end. 

This reader now understands why this book has remained a beloved classic.  This reader was much more delighted than she anticipated she would be to spend 11.5 hours with the multiple characters in this book.  Previous encounters with Austen books (all driven by the reader’s book discussion group) were almost painful for this reader—the language of the time, the incessant focus on the amount of income of potential suitors and the corresponding prejudice against those who actually work for a living, etc.  However, the last book read before this one, via audiobook, showed that Austen could be enjoyable in the audiobook format.  Such was the case with this book.  While the text seems quite formal, it is quite witty and often quite humorous as the characters of different strata within the class of gentlemen and ladies seek to find their way through the myriad of manners, rites, and rituals of the time.  Austen’s sly commentary about the “classes with a class” situation is available to the reader in addition to the enchanting Elizabeth/Mr Darcy love story.  Well done Miss Austen.  My “prejudice” against her has been vanquished. 

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