Saturday, September 07, 2019

Jane Austen - Pride and Prejudice

Of course this is not the first time I read Pride and Prejudice. I cannot remember how often I have read this novel. Recently I re-read Mansfield Park and Persuasion to my great delight. This book was in my Apple Books library and the one I opened on a flight I took recently. I was captivated anew by Jane Austen and her amazing story telling skills.

Mrs. Bennet's ardent wish is to see her daughters married off.  Her eldest, Jane, is twenty-three which is borderline spinsterish. Jane is beautiful and sweet tempered. The lack of marriage can only be attributed to lack of deserving candidates. When Mr. Bingley takes up residence at neighbouring Netherfield, Mrs. Bennet rejoices. Her unerring maternal instincts tell her Mr. Bingley will surely choose Jane.

Mr. Bingley brings a friend Mr. Darcy, a haughty, tall, dark and a handsome man. Jane's younger sister, Elizabeth finds herself crossing swords with this prideful, forbidding, stiff man.  Darcy is used to everyone deferring to him and is intrigued by the bright eyed, pretty, witty Elizabeth. He is deterred by Lizzie's inferior relatives. Her father is a gentleman but her mother comes from trade and some of her relatives are quite coarse. Her mother is a silly woman, as are the three sisters younger than Elizabeth. In a time when family connections mattered a lot, it was a serious drawback for a woman to have such a liability.

As this is a romance you can be assured of a happy ending. Not too soon though. There are many hurdles to be surmounted, Darcy's pride, Elizabeth's prejudice, an amorous cousin, an elopement, nasty sisters doing their best to keep lovers apart, angry aunt encroaching upon the private affairs of nephews. In short a lot of delicious episodes to be savored before the lovers kiss. That is, I suppose the lovers do kiss once the wedding is over, I believe it was called saluting the bride.

What makes a piece of literature survive for more than 200 years? I got my answers when I read the book again. This novel was written in 1813. Yet it feels fresh off the press. The language is not the kind we would use now. But how wonderful the phrases sound. How on point are the descriptive powers of Jane Austen! She describes various residences and parks so beautifully that you can see them in your mind's eye. Her language is my most favorite thing about this novel. I can read and re-read and find something new to admire each time. Her characters are all standout. The silly Mrs. Bennet, indolent Mr. Bennet, capricious Lydia, insincere Wickham, proud Darcy, sweet Jane and Bingley and above all spirited, witty, lively Elizabeth.

All lovers of Pride and Prejudice admit that Elizabeth Bennet is a marvelous character. She livens up the book with the gamut of emotions she goes through. She is dismissive of Darcy at first, then hates him. As she gets to know him more and more, she begins to love him deeply. We can only sigh in envy at the love and fortune (not to mention the dishy Mr. Darcy) that awaits her at the end of the novel.

Even though P&P is merely a romance it is not merely a romance. It is a glimpse into the way of life of the middle class gentry in Georgian England. It is a small, narrow world. But so is a painting of Houses at Auvers by Van Gogh. All we get is a bit of a sky and a house, does the narrow view of the world mar its beauty?

No. I can look at the picture for hours, contemplating the warm blues, the pretty house, the little garden. I feel restful when I look at this painting. Likewise, the pretty picture Jane Austen paints of Elizabeth Bennet and her little world is worthy of contemplation and delight.