I always had this notion that I have to read at least three works of Jane Austen for me to achieve a sense of accomplishment. Why do I feel that? Well, she was born in the late 18th century and still, she remains a household name. I feel that everyone, even nonreaders, have an idea of who she is, like a news reporter whom you always see on TV but don’t really bother to know.
The three books that I hurled at my to-read-and-to-buy pile are Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. However, I never really got to read these until the second book was chosen as our group’s book of the month. In a way, I was forced to give this little Austen project a head start.
The novel was originally entitled First Impressions, which sounds typical of a novel dealing largely with love. I think giving it a new title worked. At least it did for me for it made me wonder this: why should a love story deal with these two P’s?
‘In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.’
Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement, and the avowal of all that he felt and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well, but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority–of its being a degradation–of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.
Pride and Prejudice tells the love story of the middle-class Elizabeth Bennet and the wealthy Fitzwilliam Darcy. Elizabeth is headstrong and has a strong propensity to say what’s on her mind. Darcy is snobbish and just as honest as Elizabeth. Both are intelligent. Actually, they have a lot of similar qualities and interests, but instead of instantly being attracted to each other, they collide and repel.
The nouns in the title are drawn from them: Elizabeth is prejudiced against Darcy based on her impressions of him while Darcy is filled with pride because he’s a rich man who doesn’t have to mingle with the likes of Elizabeth. Or it could also be this way: Darcy is prejudiced against Elizabeth because of her social standing while Elizabeth is consumed with pride to accept her wrong impressions of Darcy.
Another love story unfolding aside from Elizabeth-Darcy is Jane-Bingley. Jane is Elizabeth’s elder sister; Bingley is Darcy’s close friend. So you see, love and its various obstacles are at the core of this novel. No wonder it is a classic well-loved by the world. But surely, there must be other things that the novel has to offer, no?
Since the men and the women of our two pairs come from different walks of life, the author satirizes the social classes of her time. It is demonstrated here how the upper classes treat the lower ones with condescension and how the latter give the former special attention. Some characters from the upper class interfere with the marriages of the two, but yes, in this novel, we witness how love conquers all. And with that, prejudices are proven to be just that, rash judgments and opinions, and pride to be just that, tasteless stuff that is hard to swallow.
Prior to reading this, I set myself to love Elizabeth Bennet. Yes, I did love her, right from that scene when she walked in a muddy field without regard to her shoes and skirt. Women should be modest and fastidious, right? But no, Elizabeth is not that kind of woman. She has a carefree spirit. And she doesn’t pretend to read books; she really does read them.
The novel is divided into three parts, and although I enjoyed the first two, the last one somehow dragged me. It deals with the story arc of two characters who eloped. Gasp? Not really, not at this century, but it must have been a scandal two centuries earlier. I think it demonstrates the ruining effects of elopement, particularly to women. Will the woman still be profitable in the marriage market?
I may not have fully loved this novel, but I still stand with my notion that I need to read three Austen novels. Kazuo Ishiguro, in his interview with the Paris Review, even goes to say that five Austen novels are necessary to build a strong foundation, in case one aspires to be a writer. Two more for me, and who knows, I might shoot for four.