Pride & Prejudice was the inevitable starting point for my book bucket list, mainly because it was the easiest entry to the classics that I could have. I’ve been watching the BBC adaptation of the book since I was about 6 years old – faithfully recorded from BBC2 onto VHS – and I would say I’ve probably watched it close to 100 times. So, given that I know most of the dialogue by heart, reading the book didn’t seem like it would be too tricky.
The great thing about the BBC adaptation is that it’s actually incredibly faithful to the book. So many of the lines I was familiar with are, in fact, direct citations from the text. I personally really enjoyed this – it made me feel like I was reading an old favourite book, rather than something brand new. So, if you’re not sure whether you’d like it or not, and you find films easier to manage, it’s worth giving the BBC production a go – if you like that, you’ll like the book. (Be prepared for a six hour marathon though…)
The premise of Pride & Prejudice is gloriously old fashioned chick-lit – in fact, it’s widely regarded as the ‘original’ chick-lit from which all others were born. I don’t want to put in a whole load of spoilers, or bore you all with an entire plot summary, especially as it’s probably one of the most famous stories out there, but in short, it’s a boy meets girl love story beset by challenges presented mainly by class, society and misunderstanding. It centres around Elizabeth Bennett, the second of five daughters, who has no fortune or particular prospects other than her sharp wit, relative attractiveness and intelligent conversation, and her dealings with Mr Darcy, an arrogant, handsome and extremely wealthy gentleman, who doesn’t deign to interact with those he believes to be beneath him. With stories against Mr Darcy’s character propagated by an old acquaintance, the two protagonists must overcome Darcy’s pride over his reputation and social standing, and Elizabeth’s prolonged prejudice against someone who made a bad first impression, if they are to end up together.
The main themes dealt with are marriage (and how central it is for women’s fortunes in this era), wealth, class and society (especially on how one is expected to behave), which all give a very interesting social commentary of the time – and is what, I think, leads so many to love Lizzy as a female lead. She is strong, opinionated, witty and intelligent and yet she still holds an ideal of marrying for love – something which was generally regarded as somewhat of a luxury in the Regency period. This romanticism may seem to be at odds with Lizzy’s practicality, but I think it’s this desire to have more, to push the boundaries of societal expectations and the lot of women that has led to Pride & Prejudice enduring through the years as a constant favourite in literature. Personally, I love the fact that Lizzy says exactly what she thinks pretty much all the time; she has no qualms about offending people. As an outspoken female, I love this aspect of her character, and I also like that Austen made this element of her character the thing that draws Darcy to her –
“Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry…Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her”
Pride & Prejudice is somewhat of a fairytale, with a dose of scandal and amusing interludes in the form of comic characters such as Mr Collins and Lady Catherine de Burgh. It’s really easy to read – not too long, and the language isn’t too complicated, bearing in mind it’s written in the 19th century. It has great characters and a simple, but intriguing plot, full of surprises and the longed-for happy ending. On top of this, it has a strong female lead, and gives a great narrative of the difficulties facing women in Regency society. This love story transcends the class boundaries and challenges the traditional role of women, encouraging partnerships of mutual affection and respect – an ideal that has endured through to the current day.
It’s a must-read, generally loved more by women than men, but I would encourage anyone of any gender or age to pick it up and give it a go.
Star rating: ♥♥♥♥♥