“It is a truth universally acknowledged that…” one must always stay true to one’s convictions. Imagine my dilemma if you will, as I sat down to write a review of Miss Austen’s work for her bicentenary and I had to choose just one favourite.
Over the course of my many years as a readers I have grown to love each and every one of the ‘big six’ novels published during Jane’s lifetime for different reasons – I have found in recent times, an appreciation for Emma, for example which I simply refused to see during my university years and I’ll always love the portrayal of sisterhood in Sense and Sensibility, the idea of identity in Mansfield Park, the pure delight of the causal ribbing of The Gothic in Northanger Abbey and the tale of love seemingly unrequited in Persuasion but when asked for my favourite of Austen’s works, I would always tell you Pride and Prejudice.
First discovered thanks to a stashed collection of dusty classic tomes in my high school library – by age sixteen I had read the poor librarian out of every conceivable ‘new release’ she could get hold of – this is a tale that has stayed with me and one that I have revisited, re-read and re-fallen in love with time and time again.
Most striking for me in my teenage years was the notion that the girls at the centre of the story, the ‘Bennet five’ as they will always be affectionately known to me, had to marry. In our modern day society, I felt then that the biggest worry I had was what my next class was, but for these girls ‘catching’ a husband was more than just sport, it was survival.
Although this was a work of fiction, reading it piqued my other major interest – history and it was refreshing and invigorating to learn more of the history of the astriocracy in our country in times gone by. I remembered feeling hugely sympathetic for these five girls – all of whom I loved in their own way – even Lyddie, whose foppishness I loved to hate – but also endeared to the fact that they accepted their situation with good humour, good grace and elegance – well for the most part. (Mrs Bennet’s poor nerves must of course be excused!)
It’s clear from the outset that this is a love story – between Lizzy and Darcy, between Jane and Bingley and, I am going to go out on a limb here and say between Lydia and Wickham. In each of the afore mentioned, the reader is treated to three very different types of love – the slow burning ‘I hate you, I love you, love, the immediate and lasting love and the girlish romantic love of a child who has grown up too quickly. Each are endearing and honest in their own way and each make this one of the most romantic books of all time, in this humble reviewer’s opinion. It would be easy to stop there, but as it’s the bicentenary, I won’t.
Pride and Prejudice is more than the story of actual romance, it’s the story of learning to embrace one’s femininity and opinions, indeed one’s very place in the world – it’s a story about standing on your feet and loving yourself for the woman that you are – an important and controversial message to be writing in regency England.
In many ways whilst this is a classic love story, that is only one reading of it and a perfectly acceptable one too but Pride and Prejudice is also a feminist story in which ideas of society, of politics of the very belief system underpinning the aristocracy who are so finely turned out on these pages is challenged and questioned by these exceptionally clever and thought provoking women given voice by the exceptionally talented writer we are celebrating today.
Miss Austen we salute you!
Check out the trailers for some of the iconic adaptations and decide on your favourite Darcy… (NOTE: Literature Works remains impartial)…