I don’t think it’s a surprise to find out that I turn to Austen when I need comfort, or that I reread Pride and Prejudice every year. So I have, once again, read the masterpiece. There has never been another book that I have loved so much, read so many times or could read again immediately after every reading.
Elizabeth Bennet is smart, funny and blessed with a predominantly foolish family. That is, aside from her sister, Jane, who has the forbearance of angel who cannot believe badly of anyone. One of the prevailing themes carried through the novel is the stupidity and improprieties of their mother and two of their younger sisters. We feel Elizabeth’s embarrassment in the social engagements that they partake, in a society in which propriety is sovereign.
Their behaviour fuels a large proportion of the plot.
Mr. Darcy is introduced to the society of the family through his friend Mr. Bingley, who takes a home in the area. Mr. Darcy’s pride is as widely known as Mr. Bingley’s affability within the evening of their introduction. While we see Elizabeth’s developing dislike of Mr. Darcy’s manners (his abundantly clear belief that his wealth puts him above those in their society), we notice Mr. Darcy’s increasing awareness of Elizabeth’s beauty and intelligence. Concurrently, Jane and Mr. Bingley are falling in love.
Mr. Darcy’s belief that the family is beneath Mr. Bingley, and that Jane is indifferent, leads him to counsel Mr. Bingley to leave the area.
In addition to these eligible suitors, Mrs. Bennet was also hoping to marry one of her daughters off to Mr. Collins, a stupid, insipid minister – cousin to the girls, who is to inherit the Bennet estate.
The second part of the novel is occupied with Elizabeth visiting her friend Charlotte, the new Mrs. Collins and observing the absurdity of Mr. Collins and his patron, Lady Catherine De Bourgh. She is disgusted to find Mr. Darcy visiting his Aunt at the same time and further stunned when he proposes. She does not mince her words in her refusal, the scene is famous, but I was reminded that much of the proposal and refusal was unscripted by Austen, a summary of much of the dialogue was provided. A tool she uses through much of the novel.
“You dare not, you cannot deny that you have been the principal, if not the only means of dividing them [Jane and Mr. Bingley] from each other, of exposing one to the censure of the world for caprice and instability, the other to its derision for disappointed hopes, and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind.” p187
Of course, Elizabeth is confronted by her wrongs when Mr. Darcy presents her with a letter, explaining that the offences she holds against him to be misrepresented by others (in one case) or the cause of prejudice (his dividing Jane and Mr. Bingley). This is the beginning of Mr. Darcy’s redemption, and the foundation of Elizabeth’s turning in his favour.
The third part of the novel contains a lot. Elizabeth re-meeting Mr. Darcy, now a changed man. Her youngest sister running away to elope with a soldier who has no idea of actually marrying her. The redemption of the family. Mr. Bingley proposing to Jane, and Elizabeth realising she is in love with Mr. Darcy.
At first glance, this novel is about relationships. But if you look deeper, you will find an appreciation of intelligence, a warning against arrogance and narrow-mindedness, a clear message to ensure you like and esteem your marriage partner in order to be happy, and proof that you can cross social boundaries – while keeping to the edges of what is proper.