As a married man it is often a requirement to have seen Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and many other movies based on the classic romances of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. As a reading enthusiast and preparatory English teacher I decided that it was time that I read some of these books instead of merely watching the movies. I had read Jane Eyre in high school and had enjoyed it, so I wasn’t too worried about dipping my toes into the works of Jane Austen. I was both pleased and impressed.
The Bennett family is not a well-to-do family. With five daughters and no sons, all of whom are unmarried, fortune doesn’t seem to be looking fondly upon Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. But all that seems to change when a young, wealthy family moves into an estate in the same neighborhood bringing with them a handsome but standoffish friend: Mr. Darcy. As the young owner of the house Mr. Bingley takes an interest in the eldest of the Bennett daughters, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, the second oldest, find themselves in utter contempt of each other. As time goes by their affections begin to change, but romance is still far in the distance unless they can win out in their struggles against the barriers created by their pride and prejudice.
Upon finishing this book I was impressed with Austen’s ability to intertwine the characters so well as to provide sufficient material for me to feel a connection to each of them. At some points I even found parts of the story to be eye opening; Elizabeth’s interactions with Lady Catherine are a perfect example of this.
When Elizabeth is visiting the Collins’ she dines often with the esteemed Lady Catherine and is a witness to her overbearing need to control all those who are subject to her. Lady Catherine’s treatment of Mr. and Mrs. Collins was almost painful to experience through the pages; I didn’t realize how much it bothered me, both when people try to do it to me and when I am a witness to others who must struggle against an individual who feels the need to live vicariously through the lives of others.
The more I think about the book the more I come to realize that each character has a very distinct flaw, which is central to their part of the tale. Elizabeth’s is pride, Mr. Darcy’s is prejudice (hence the title), Lady Catherine’s is control, etc. Though I haven’t taken the time to go through each of the main characters I am quite certain I can find such a flaw in each. I wonder if this is an aspect that runs through all of Austen’s books, so if anyone has read more of her work and has a comment on that thought I would be happy to hear your thoughts.
To touch back on a thought I shared before, the connections I felt between the characters and myself, I have had several brief conversations about this with my wife. I have heard it frequently said that it is easiest to create a character if they are based on someone you know, at least in part. The harder part, I believe, is getting your audience to find the characters that relate to people they know. To do this requires a balance between the use of originality and archetypes; the characters in this book became real to me as I found myself being able to match each character to someone in my own life. How many of us know someone who refuses to see the bad in anyone but always try to see their goodness? How about someone who is very smart and standoffish so that people think he or she is a prude?
Though I wouldn’t say this to be the intended crux of the story, Pride and Prejudice creates an underlying moral regarding the pre-judgment of people we meet and interact with. The main course of the drama is only possible because of this societal flaw; only upon looking past their preconceived notions are the characters able to find happiness. This is a valuable message for everyone today, but I especially think that this is a message for teens. If you think about the people you know who turned out to be different from your first impression and if you were happy or sad with how the relationship eventually turned out, then you will find those in this book to be something you’ve experienced before.
Although I could talk for a great deal longer about this book, I will end with the repetition of an observation that has made it’s way through each of my comments: relatability. The characters, the events, even the emotions and thoughts of the characters were comparable, though sometimes in a small way, to something personal to me. This made the book more than interesting or enlightening; it became a vehicle for the introspection of my personal life and it’s preferences. Such is the power of a good book.