Pride and Prejudice
By: Jane Austen
When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited, while he struggles to remain indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.
I first read this book back in high school for my grade 11 english course. It was the assigned book for our independent study essay so at the time I just read it and didn’t think much of it. When the 2005 movie came out, I decided it was time to re-read it; that time around, I absolutely enjoyed it, understood it better and was pretty much ecstatic to check out Austen’s other works. It’s been a while since I’ve re-read it and after reading a number of Georgette Heyer’s novels, I decided to go back to it.
As you noticed, the title of this post is “commentary” rather than “review” because I’m not formally reviewing this novel like other books. I am instead just commenting on a few things I noticed during my re-read this time around. CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AHEAD!
One thing that has particularly bothered me (for lack of a better word) about the Bennet family dynamic–however lively and close (for a Regency family) they are–was the issue of favouritism. In the narrative we learn that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have their respective favourites: Mr. Bennet favours Elizabeth because she shares his cleverness and sober sensibility while Mrs. Bennet favours Lydia because they share similar interests for balls and militiamen and so forth. As a result, they also have their least favourites: Mr. Bennet does not think too much about Kitty and Lydia because of their flightiness and perchance for flirting and talking endlessly about balls and boys while Mrs. Bennet had no objection about throwing the ridiculous Mr. Collins’ towards Elizabeth’s path because she did not really favour her from amongst her daughters. I suppose this aspect, while I understand that these things happen, especially during this time period, bothers me because my personal opinion is that parents should love and regard their children equally and no favour one over the other. I also noticed that amidst all of this, Mary, the middle child, gets the least attention and regard from both her parents; not that she seems to mind–or notice–this, but it’s nonetheless rather concerning that Mary gets ignored most of the time. I’m surprised she hasn’t gone off and done her own thing as a result.
Although that one aspect of the novel continues to irk me a bit whenever I re-read the novel, it doesn’t draw me away from my overall enjoyment of the novel. I don’t know if watching the 1995 and 2005 movies have affected my approach to the novel, but re-reading it again, I’m struck once again by Mr. Darcy’s scenes. Pride and Prejudice is told mainly from Elizabeth’s POV, complete with her opinions and sentiments of other people, in particular about Mr. Darcy. However, as I often seem to forget, we do get a number of scenes featuring only Mr. Darcy, particulary when he’s with Mr. Bingley and his sisters during their time in Netherfield. The reader already receives hints that despite of Mr. Darcy’s rigid behaviour towards Elizabeth and other people, he is nonetheless already developing an interest towards Elizabeth. Even Charlotte also notices that Mr. Darcy has been giving Elizabaeth some attention. It’s interesting to read his scenes and his lines because of how they reflect his character; I enjoyed how after “the” scene with Elizabeth when she rejected his proposal, you see a change in his character–the awkwardness of his behaviour to his genuine openness with Elizabeth at the end of the book which really conveys the depth and kindness he really has underneath his proper and cold exterior. In many ways, I do find myself relating to Darcy on some level, of his inability to converse comfortably with people he never met.
Re-reading this book again also drew my attention to a different aspect of Elizabeth’s personality. At one point during a discussion with Jane, she said that
“‘There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied of it, and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense.'”
In that sense, our dear Elizabeth Bennet is a rather jaded person when it comes to society, which is rather interesting. She’s outspoken, certainly, and shares her father’s amusement of other people’s flailings and ridiculousness but that quote above was rather telling. Additionally, in some ways the quote is also reflective, in my mind, of how similar she can be to Darcy. You can imagine that Darcy has a small circle of intimates given his manners towards other people and Elizabeth certainly holds only a certain number of people in high regard. You especially see this in the episode where Charlotte accepted Mr. Collins’ proposal; Elizabeth was acutely disappointed that her friend chose comfort and security–no matter who was offering the two–over love and independence. Despite of later missing her friend, it seemed her opinion of Charlotte was forever changed by that one decision. Overall, the sentiment and the above quote were rather interesting and added another layer of comparison between Darcy and Elizabeth.
As always, it’s a pleasure re-reading Pride and Prejudice. There’s always something new to notice about the book, whether it be the characterisations of a particular character or couple or an amusing phrase; my favourite this time has to be
“(Sir William) could tell her nothing new of the wonders of his presentation and knighthood; and his civilities were as worn out like his information.”
xD Once again, I am in awe about the way in which Jane Austen wrote some of her descriptions and the dialogue between characters, which are just so full of character and wit and this sort of dignified propriety. I wish we still spoke that way.