Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Kindle version, first published 1813
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s witty comedy of manners–one of the most popular novels of all time–that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues. Renowned literary critic and historian George Saintsbury in 1894 declared it the “most perfect, the most characteristic, the most eminently quintessential of its author’s works,” and Eudora Welty in the twntieth century described it as “irresistible and as nearly flawless as any fiction could be.”
Admittedly, I was probably the last person on the planet to read this. I have seen the film version with Keira Knightley (and also don’t live under a rock), so was familiar with the storyline and how it would all turn out in the end. I think that, in the case of this particular story, seeing the film first was a disadvantage, because my one constant thought throughout reading the book was “okay, okay, hurry up and get to x part!” I felt like the story really dragged in some places, and wasn’t actually as charmed by Mr. Darcy or Elizabeth herself as I think everyone else was. I realize that this makes me a major black sheep, so obviously your mileage may vary! I do want to say that I DID like this book. I just didn’t love it.
First off, let me get some technical stuff out of the way. The version of this story that I read was a free version via Amazon Kindle. There were a lot of formatting issues – for instance, the letters that colored the latter half of the book were hard to follow at times because they’d break in weird places – and also quite a lot misspellings and also poor punctuation. At times, Jane was referred to as “Miss Bennet” which got a tad confusing because the book is narrated by Elizabeth and I couldn’t figure out why on earth she was calling her sister by that name, and there’s also the fact that there are five Miss Bennets. They also chose to emphasize words by using all caps, which I do myself and is okay in informal writing, but not okay in professional manuscripts. It got REALLY irritating to CONSTANTLY read a character’s emphasized thoughts in SUCH a horrid way. Etc. I feel like this diluted my enjoyment of the book; while I enjoy free, I should have gotten said free book via the library. There were also several instances of the name of the militia group being written as —-shire. Was that how it was in the book? It threw me every single time because I wanted to know what the heck the name of the shire was and couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t just write it, or stop inserting the place name at all.
Okay, on to the story itself. I didn’t find Mr. Darcy charming in the slightest until over halfway through, when Elizabeth meets him at Pemberley. Likewise, Elizabeth grated on me with her refusal to ease up on her initial feelings toward Darcy (and yes, I KNOW that that was the point of this book – I get it, really! – but it still bothered me). I felt that steadfastly believing everything coming out of Wickham’s mouth just because you disliked the person he was talking about was a bit ridiculous; everything anyone says should be taken with a grain of salt, especially since no one is going to want to make you think badly of them. The only character I didn’t find any fault with was Jane, and that, too, was probably the point, although I will say that her even temper and ability to forgive and see good in everything was also a tad irritating, because I have not yet met a person who is anything like that. The characters that truly irritated me, however, were Mrs. Bennet and Lydia, both for the same reasons. They both lacked decorum and were horribly inappropriate throughout the book. Lydia’s elopement with Wickham could have ruined her family, but she didn’t care, and as soon as they were married, her mother – who had been lamenting the whole affair – had nothing but good to say to her. Lydia and Kitty both needed much firmer hands growing up, and I didn’t like the way the Bennets handled their upbringing. Mr. Bennet was nearly just as bad as his wife because he chose not to interfere. I have a real problem with people who don’t raise their children to have any kind of common sense and decency, which the youngest girls severely lacked.
Also, Mr. Darcy’s first proposal? OH MY. Elizabeth handled that much better than I would have done. How he could have even imagined that she would be okay with what was coming out of his mouth is beyond me. I have to admit, however, that I am a sucker for the “love can change a person” motif, and the fact that Elizabeth helped Darcy see his flaws is pretty darn attractive. Likewise, Mr. Bennet’s last letter to Mr. Collins was hysterical, I cheered when Elizabeth stood up to Lady Catherine, and Darcy’s second proposal was pretty much perfect. The latter half of the book was definitely better than the first part, mostly because I knew I was FINALLY getting to the part I wanted to read (i.e. when they all fall in love and live happily ever after). Darcy was much more charming in the last portion as well, which also helped my enjoyment, and Elizabeth had mellowed a bit and realized her failings as well, therefore not irritating me nearly as much.
Anyway, as I said above, I liked this book but didn’t think it was absolutely fantastic, and definitely didn’t love it. I am going to read Sense and Sensibility, though, so haven’t given up on Jane Austen completely, and if I feel the need to relive this story, I will just do so via the movie (although I am going to rent the BBC version as well, since I’ve also heard spectacular things about that).