“Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity to what we would have others think of us,” said Mary, Elizabeth’s sister.
Often, some of my friends who are not particularly interested in literature won’t be enticed by the idea of reading sophisticated novels with formal dialogues and words we never use in real life. I am not different from the crowd. Don’t get me wrong. I always carry classic novels with me most of the time because I think these novels’ ideas are timeless, which is the best way to learn something worthy even when I am reading. However, I am hesitated to think of reading classic novels as a form of entertainment.
Pride and Prejudice is different. Many of my friends like it. Girls would swoon over Mr. Darcy for days and talk about how unrealistic his character is. Of course, there are people who do not like the novel too. As for me, I feel entertained to every word, just like how I felt when reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Partly it is because of Austen’s witty and sarcastic voice; another reason is the emotional growth between Elizabeth and Darcy.
“He and I are so similar. We have been so stubborn,” said Elizabeth in the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice. Indeed they are. Their relationship evolves from a web of complex emotions involving pride and prejudice. Mr. Darcy, who is proud of his social status and wealth, condescends to Elizabeth’s family member’s manners, particularly her mother, three younger sisters and sometimes her father. This haughtiness makes him prejudice against them and many others in Elizabeth’s town, thereby staying reserved and refusing to dance with anyone in the ball. “There Is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with,” said he (13). Elizabeth, taking pride in her own judgment of people, fails to objectively discern Mr. Darcy’s personality and thus, easily concludes him as a person she “has every reason in the world to think ill of” (189).
The plot itself, I guess, helps create Austenmania . But setting the love story aside, I would like more to discuss about why I think Pride and Prejudice deserves to be a classic.
It is about Austen’s writing, which is incredibly classy. The sophisticated, but still entertaining dialogues between Darcy and Elizabeth are not something any mediocre writers can come up with.
Austen also satirizes the snobbish and frivolous manners of people belonging to classes above Elizabeth, who in this case, are particularly Mr. Bingley’s sister and Lady Catherine. Ms. Bingley, contrasted to Elizabeth or Jane, is dull and vain. She reads books as a decorative way to get Mr. Darcy’s attention, uses scheme to separate Mr. Bingley and Jane, holds Elizabeth in contempt for walking three miles in mud to see her sister. And then there is Lady Katherine, who calls Elizabeth “a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world” (344). It is understood that Pride and Prejudice is set during the British patriarchal society, where men dominate. Yet, paradoxically in this novel, we found women degrade women. It is absurd, but sadly, not uncommon even until this time.
Austen, in a letter to her niece, wrote: “Do not be in a hurry; depend upon it, the right man will come at last…And then, by nor beginning the business of Mothering quite so early in life, you will be young in Constitution, spirits, figure and countenance.” Her modern perspectives on marriage are expressed through Elizabeth’s rejections of proposals for not one but two times. Considering that after Mr. Bennet dies, the house will be given to Mr. Collins, Elizabeth’s decision, though independent and brave, seems unpractical. Elizabeth would not be able to support herself without a husband. It makes sense that she rejects Mr. Collins, who is obsequious and idiotic and vain. But Mr. Darcy, a man who is respectable and even richer than Mr. Bingley! She declines his proposal, partly because of her prejudice, partly because he ruins the happiness of her dear sister. So, in other words, Elizabeth puts her sister’s happiness over her own.
Contrasted to Elizabeth’s perspectives, Charlotte agrees to marry Mr. Collins after only two days of acquainting him. At the age of twenty seven, she “needs” a husband. And even though Mr. Collins is looking for a housekeeper rather than wife, she does not mind. It seems that when a girl reaches the marriage age, she had better get married to avoid social criticisms, risking her own future happiness. Is this the way marriage still working today? In some places, in many places, I guess yes.
This book is a classic because even though written at a different time and period, it can still be applied to modern time by truly portraying humans nature, exposing our faults and offering timeless ideas.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York City: Barnes & Nobles Books, 2003. Print.