‘It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’
Thus, opens one of the most celebrated novels in the history of English language, Jane Austen’s 1813’s Pride and Prejudice.
The British voted it the second-best novel ever written. The Australians voted it the best book ever written. It is recommended reading for most writers and philosophers. And, it is my most favourite novel ever. It is a book, I dare say, that everyone should read at least once in one’s lifetime.
That first line introduced marriage as one of the book’s main themes. When two men of substantial means – Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy – arrive in Hertfordshire, they cause a significant degree of excitement in the neighbourhood, especially at Long bourn estate, a home to Mr. Bennett’s five daughters of marriage age, whose mother’s main purpose was to make sure they were situated in life by marrying well.
The Bennett’s daughters are introduced to Bingley and Darcy through a ball dance – a trick Ms. Austen frequently used to develop her readers’ appreciation of her characters – where Mr. Bingley’s attention is attracted by Jane, an eldest of the Bennett’s sisters and a very fair woman, and becomes very partial to her. Darcy is reserved, a behaviour which is interpreted as pride, and by refusing to dance with Elizabeth Bennett, a second born, a highly introspective woman, saying, within her earshot: ‘she is not attractive enough to tempt me’, he appears to confirm that character to Elizabeth.
Ms. Austen then introduced Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham, the book’s ‘villains’. Collins, a cousin of Mr. Bennett, a pompous and vainglorious person, proposes to Elizabeth, who refuses him. He quickly proposes to Charlotte, Elizabeth’s friend, who pragmatically obliged him since he guaranteed a stable income to situate her well. Mr. Wickham is a charming army officer, a son to Mr. Darcy’s father’s personal steward, who complained to Elizabeth that he was denied a major prospect in life by his – Darcy’s – lack of grace. This confirmed Elizabeth’s hatred of Darcy.
After a series of events Darcy became endeared to Elizabeth and decided to propose. Elizabeth rejected him, citing his mistreatment of Wickham and his interference in Jane’s relationship with Bingley.
After a while Elizabeth went to visit relatives at Derbyshire. They are then invited to visit Pemberley, a wealthy mansion belonging to Darcy, who was not around. At Pemberley the maid speaks very well of Darcy, much to Elizabeth’s surprise. And when Darcy unexpectedly arrive, he treats Elizabeth and relatives very graciously. With this development, the book calls for a resolution of Darcy’s appearance of pride, and Elizabeth’s prejudicial judgment of Darcy’s character, the essence of the book’s title: Pride and Prejudice.
When Wickham elopes with Lydia Bennett, an impetuous lastborn of the Bennett sisters, without any intention of marrying her, the family’s name was heading to ruination. However, suddenly, Wickham changes his mind and marries Lydia, thus saving the family’s honour. Later Elizabeth learns that Mr. Darcy was instrumental in facilitating that marriage, thus the Bennett family was in debt to him for that act of kindness.
As the novel moved towards the end, the two protagonists, Darcy and Elizabeth, all have change of hearts as they learn to see things from the other’s perspective. Darcy understands that his attitude had predisposed both himself and others to dishonour, and Elizabeth learns that she had misjudged Darcy and slowly grew to love him.
Therefore, when Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy’s aunt, whose daughter had been promised to Darcy from birth, rushed to quell the rumours that Elizabeth is favoured by Darcy by demanding that she rejects him, Elizabeth refused to accept her demands. When Darcy heard this, his hopes were renewed and he proposed again, and this time was accepted. And the book ended with the Bennett’s parents review of satisfactory marriages of Elizabeth to Darcy and Jane to Bingley, and the unfortunate marriage of Lydia to Wickham.
Since its publication, the book has cultivated a cult following from Jane Austen’s many lovers. Ms. Austen’s deeply insightful portrayal of human character, her employment of humour in exposing human flaws, and her comprehensive understanding of her environment was astonishing. Reading her prose gives a feeling of sitting at the feet of a master and learn the beautiful art of writing.
Pride and Prejudice has been analysed and adapted into numerous films, series, and documentaries. I have watched about a dozen of them – yes, I am a huge fan – and I do recommend 1995’s BBC series ‘Pride and Prejudice’ starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. If this stuttering review fails to convince you to rush to pick that book, that series surely will, as Elizabeth ‘fine eyes’ are majestically portrayed by the beautiful Ms. Ehle.
You are welcome!