Saturday, November 14, 2020

Review: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

 Rating: 5/5 stars

I left Pride and Prejudice as the last Jane Austen novel in my Summer/Fall 2020 Austen binge. I've read it several times: once in high school, a couple times during my undergraduate degree. I thought that it probably wouldn't hold up against Emma or Persuasion - my two favourites so far. After all, Pride and Prejudice was from Austen's "early" period. Presumably, I thought, it would be like Sense and Sensibility or Northanger Abbey, a delightful story about charming and slightly flawed heroines whose adventures portray the ridiculousness of socialites. The satire wouldn't have yet matured into the dark, sharpened censure of the gentry found at the heart of Persuasion, I assumed. The character study would probably not be as detailed as in Emma, nor would the protagonist's point of view shape the reader's interpretation of events to the same extent, resulting in an interesting reveal.

None of these assumptions that I brought with me to this reading were necessarily wrong. Austen's social critiques are pointed and varied: women's rights to property and inheritance; women's social reputation being particularly precarious versus that of men; the wealthy/landed being just as often rude and cruel as their less fortunate countrymen. However, I read optimism in her satire in Pride and Prejudice. For all the narcissism, frivolity, greed and obsequiousness in the Mr Wickhams, Lady Catherines, and Mr Collinses of the world, there is a trust that there will be kind, thoughtful, generous, empathetic Jane Bennets and Mr Bingleys and Mr Darcys to even things out. There isn't the same sense of social rot and decay of the gentry class, as explored in Persuasion.

So I wondered, as I devoured Pride and Prejudice over the course of just three days, why do I love this novel so much? In part, I think it is because Elizabeth is so relatable and so delightful. She's smart, playful, bold, thoughtful, caring, idealistic. She experiences things familiar to me and in a similar way: her bristling at being wrongly assessed by Mr Darcy, her mortification at her parents' and sisters' behaviour, her love for her family, her navigating a social scene packed with people richer or more educated than her.

In part, I think love this novel particularly because, I think alone of Austen's novels, the love interest has a significant character arc too. Mr Darcy is socially awkward and proud - another set of characteristics I can identify with! - and learns to overcome his shyness and to see the world through a different perspective. Yes, the ending is a little bit too "fairy tale." But I didn't care, I was just excited to see Lizzie and Darcy together.

Finally, the dialogues are just so memorable. The adversarial flirting between Lizzie Bennet and Mr Darcy, and their fiery argument during the proposal scene, are particularly fun. But I equally loved many other scenes: the opening dialogue where Mr and Mrs Bennet discuss going to see Mr Bingley. Mr Darcy's rant about "accomplished" women (a thread Austen picks up also in Emma and in Sense and Sensibility), Miss Bingley's failure at flirting with Mr Darcy as he writes a letter to his sister, the dinners at Lady Catherine's. Between reading the book a few times, and watching the movies and tv shows based on the novel, so much of the dialogue and the characters were surprisingly familiar to me. Maybe that is why I loved this read so much - it was returning to old friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment