Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is one of the most widely read classical romances. It is also no exaggeration to say that Pride and Prejudice is the most popular work by Jane Austen. One is amazed when one thinks how a novel that was written centuries ago has enchanted generations of readers and continues to still enchant millions of readers. But those who have read it at least once will be able to account for why it is so.
This novel though widely loved does not escape from the criticism of being overrated. This criticism is, to me, is found on a misconception. Pride and Prejudice is merely misunderstood as being a simple romance. The reason for this misconception is its resemblance to popular romantic fiction. But if one reads it with care and attention, one will not fail to understand that there is much more to this work than being a simple romance. Since love and marriage are dominant themes of the novel, it is perhaps natural to dismiss it as simple romantic fiction. But other equally important themes such as duty, honour, domestic felicity, and class difference elevate the novel from the simple romance pedestal. However what makes this novel extraordinary are the use of diverse characters and the detailed exposition of their virtues, vices, values, and principles. Jane Austen is well known for her power of human observation. This power is well exhibited through the characters she employs in her novels. And it also accounts for her characters being felt real and close to the reader’s hearts.
In Pride and Prejudice, we meet an unusual heroine for the Regency period. Elizabeth Bennet is an uncommon individual. She is bold, outspoken, intelligent, and independent. Her character is quite a contrast to the passive and submissive heroines of popular romantic fiction of the Regency period. Elizabeth is far too modern and she appeals to modern readers. Her lively spirit enables readers to connect with her instantly. Darcy too is an uncommon hero. He is not bold, daring, and forward gallant type found in popular Regency romance; but rather he is steady, intelligent, strong-minded, and principled. I think the contrast of the main duo of the novel to the accepted notion of heroin and hero of the Regency period helped this beautiful novel to maintain its universal and timeless appeal.
The rest of the characters are drawn from the silly, ridiculous, vain, coquettish, wicked, proud, and indifferent lot. These various traits of the characters add variety, colour, and comic relief to the novel.
The title “Pride and Prejudice” is said to denote Darcy’s pride and Elizabeth’s prejudice. However, in this fourth read, I felt that both are proud and prejudiced. Elizabeth’s prejudice does not awaken only from the general manner and behaviour of Darcy but also from her wounded pride. Darcy’s pride prejudices him against the people below his class as unworthy of his attentions. It is fascinating to read these two governed by their pride and prejudices consciously and unconsciously fight their growing attraction.
The writing is beautiful. Though not imbued with the Victorian rich language and verbosity, the light, witty, exuberant, and passionate writing arrest the reader’s heart. And her style of writing is most extraordinary. Jane Austen tells her story not in so many words but through the description of thoughts and conduct of her characters. The theme of love is expounded on the thoughts and conduct of Jane, Elizabeth, Darcy, and Bingley; domestic felicity and the consequences of its absence on the conduct of the Bennet family; the class difference is on the thoughts and conduct of Darcy, Lady Catherine, and Elizabeth; duty and honour are mainly on the thoughts and conduct of Jane, Elizabeth, and Darcy. It is nothing short of sheer brilliance.
I have written a pretty lengthy review here. My excuse is that I wanted to try my best to do justice to the one book which will always have a tender place in my heart; the one book which made me fall in love with classics as a child. I owe my love for classics to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice. And so I thank Jane Austen with a sincere warm heart.