Pride and Prejudice (by Jane Austen)

Looking through my Kindle, while travelling, I discovered that I had downloaded free editions of some of Jane Austen’s novels, some years ago. When I checked, I realised that although I have seen both the BBC serial and the 2005 film of this particular book, I had not in fact read it for at least fifteen years, maybe longer.

I first discovered ‘Pride and Prejudice’, as so many do, at secondary school. I liked it then and have re-read it perhaps two or three times over the years; it was clearly due for a re-read. The opening sentence is one of those classics of irony, imputing the materialistic and shallow attitudes of Mrs Bennet to the author. Clearly not all young men possessed of a fortune are in want of a wife, but Mrs Bennet feels that they should be, and, moreover, that one of her girls would fit the bill nicely.

The general storyline is well-known due to the many filmed versions: Mr Bennet is well-meaning and intelligent, and has a sense of humour, but is basically lazy. His wife is materialistic and cares only what other people think; she has no original ideas of her own. They have produced five daughters, the youngest of whom - Lydia - is fifteen when the novel opens, turning sixteen during the course of the story. Jane, the eldest, is in her early twenties.

The five girls are all quite different in character. Jane is kind and beautiful, and cannot think ill of anyone. She’s quite close to Elizabeth, who is twenty at the start of the book, and is by far the most intelligent of the sisters. Lizzy has a sense of humour and a strong sense of honour. The middle daughter, Mary, is accomplished and hard-working, but tends to offer platitudes rather than producing any original thoughts of her own. Moreover, poor Mary lacks any true talent or ability to be charming.

Kitty, the fourth sister, is shallow and easily led; we don’t see much of her in the novel, and she seems somewhat extraneous to the plot, other than her closeness to Lydia, who is like her mother in many ways, but with few scruples and a great deal of envy and conceit.

Into the neighbourhood come Mr Bingley, owner of a large estate, and his friend Mr Darcy, who seems very stand-offish, even rude in his opinions of local society. Bingley is very taken with Jane, and Mrs Bennet is quite convinced that the two will make a match. We then meet Mr Collins, cousin to the Bennets and inheritor (by entail) of their home, since they have no male heirs. Mrs Bennet thinks he should marry Lizzy…

It’s a character-based novel, and the above is merely an initial idea of some of the main players. Austen had quite a gift of portraying personalities and while it’s not laugh-aloud humour, there’s a great deal of satire and places that made me smile; inevitably some of the people are caricatured (I really hope nobody like Mrs Bennet or Mr Collins actually exist!) but that doesn’t matter at all. Jane and Elizabeth are very nicely portrayed and contrasted; one only wonders how their parents managed to produce two such likeable and honourable daughters!

The plot is that of a romantic novel, with misunderstandings, initial prejudices, mistakes made, and a few traumas thrown in. It’s quite long-winded, typical of 19th century writings, and the main problem that occurs towards the end of the book, that shocks the entire neighbourhood, would probably seem unbelievable in today’s much more liberal society.

Nevertheless, much of what’s thought and felt seems quite modern, and since I had the time to ruminate and read in several brief periods, while travelling or at night, I read some of the descriptions which I might otherwise have skimmed or even skipped, and took the conversations slowly so as to hear the voices in my mind. I liked it very much; there’s a great deal more in the book than in any film version, and I’m very glad I had the opportunity to re-read it.

Note that Amazon links are given to paperback versions of this classic novel, but it can often be found inexpensively second-hand, and there are several editions available inexpensively or free for the Kindle.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

No comments: