‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’
First published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice is one of the most famous novels ever and is the favourite of many readers. It’s a cultural phenomenon. I’m very fond of the 1995 TV adaptation and in my mind I can’t separate it from the book, which I’ve now read three times.
What to say about this book? It’s quite an improvement upon Austen’s previous published novel, Sense and Sensibility. The writing style is more engaging and the beginning takes us straight into the story, rather than describing inheritances, incomes and estates. The word that sprang to mind while reading was ‘sparkling.’ The wit, irony, drama and dialogues are perfectly expressed. Wisdom and humour on every page. The characters are all differentiated and each are, in their own way, lovable. Even the awful ones such as Mr Collins, Mrs Bennet and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lizzy Bennet is a character you always root for. She’s lively, intelligent and can be outspoken but always tries to be polite and sensible. She denies her feelings for the seemingly snobbish Mr Darcy. The problems arise from no one speaking plainly to each other about their issues and how they really feel – social etiquette forbids this kind of intimacy.
I think the novel is often considered wonderfully romantic but that’s really the effect of TV period dramas. Courtship was conducted in a rational way and there are certainly no kisses described. Basically, being a single middle class woman was a problem back then. You didn’t usually inherit property. If you wanted to marry for love rather than wealth, you’d risk waiting until you were past your sell-by date. If you were already rich, you’d be courted by men in debt who were marrying you for money. And if you were in love but the man wasn’t suitable, you could run away together but damage your family’s reputation and have no allowance. This is the theme of every Jane Austen book.
I’m not sure if this is my favourite Austen – I need to re-read Emma before I can decide – but it’s a classic which deserves to be read and re-read.
The Oxford World’s Classics edition was published in 2019, edited by James Kinsley with a new introduction and additional notes by Christina Lupton.