Review: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
#1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You'll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which will mean some spoilers, so watch out. #3—additional warning reserved only for this review—I may rant. As in, babble incoherently about my feelings for this book. And I may spend more of my time examining the characters rather than actually reviewing the book. So beware.
I’m an idiot for having never read this book.
It’s no secret that I’ve never considered myself an Austen fan. Of course, one simply must admire Ms. Austen for her writing skills and infamy. And I did enjoy the Pride and Prejudice 2005 movie, to a degree. And I read Persuasion last year, in hopes of acquiring a deeper love for Jane Austen.
Well, I didn’t. Persuasion was not quite what I hoped it to be, although it was what I expected, and the only thing I truly enjoyed about it was the ending—particularly Frederick’s letter.
So when I entered into the new year, I resolved to do differently. I was wholly convinced—per the persuasion (pun intended) of several friends—that Pride and Prejudice was well worth it, and perhaps even above Persuasion.
It was. It is.
I am...y’all. Why in the world have I never read Pride and Prejudice until now?? I just...I cannot express with mere words my ardent admiration for this work of epic literary proportions, this majestic romance which will forever haunt my soul. You must let me fumble my way around some semblance of an explanation for why I feel this way. Hopefully you’ll hear me out better than Elizabeth did Mr. Darcy.
The story. Y’all, I know there are some haters out there (like, two, I think), but this is just a beautiful story!!! Everything about it is perfection. It moves along smoothly, the focus on the certain places and events it needs to be on for just the right amount of time.
Unlike Persuasion, Elizabeth and Darcy had a fair amount of screen time, so to speak, which made reading through every chapter (of which there are many) so worth it!
Austen’s writing was very easy to read and keep up with. I never even had to reread a single sentence, which I found myself doing all throughout Persuasion. The narrative is balanced so well, and the dialogue—oh, the dialogue! I didn’t believe them when they said that Austen is so full of wit and satirical humor and profoundness—but it’s true; she is! (I love how even when an author has been dead for centuries, we still refer to them in the present tense—writers never die.)
But the best part? Oh, the best part is the characters!
Mrs. Bennet. I don’t remember her from the movie, so I could never conjure up an image of her in my mind, or even color her in a negative light. She was hilarious! Pure hilarity at its finest! I will say she is not the ideal mother, but all but one of her daughters turned out well enough, so I really have no reason to complain.
“You have no compassion for my poor nerves.”
Mr. Bennet. I have an odd affinity for this man. His dark humor and sarcasm cracked me up on more than one occasion. I loved every minute, every word of him—but I still can’t figure out why he likes Wickham best of all his sons-in-law. He’s a right strange fellow, certainly not a model father, but as a character he was the monotony to his wife’s chaos and the wit to her bluntness.
“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least.”
Mr. Bingley. Ah, now here’s a fellow! The popular question is why he is such close friends with Darcy, but I personally wonder if the question isn’t actually if affability isn’t a fault, particularly in one such as Bingley. I know Austen’s intention was to call out pride and prejudice, but what if she were also warning against the traits presented in Charles and Jane? (I know this is going off-topic, but let me rant for a second.) I mean, Bingley was fooled by his sister and persuaded to forfeit the love of his life by his best friend. His amiable attitude caused people to take advantage of him, make him to be a laughingstock, and made him susceptible to deception.
I personally think that, unlike Elizabeth Bennet, Austen wasn’t biased toward pride or humility, prejudice or open-mindedness. In fact, I think she found fault with both and intended to make us see the folly if being too much of one or the other. I mean, it’s quite obvious that Mr. Darcy is the hero of the story, right? He is completely honest and the model male for his time. (Adam Nicolson did a study on all that. I read the highlights here.) So, what if Darcy wasn’t in the wrong? What if Bingley was?
Just a thought. Otherwise, I quite liked this character! He didn’t play much of a role outside of lovesick pup, but, you know, no story is complete without one of those.
As Mr. Bennet so aptly said:
“You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income.”
Jane Bennet. Now, let us disregard what I insinuated when I spoke of Bingley and focus on how much I loved Jane! She was everything a woman should be, yes? Beautiful and kindhearted, tender and compassionate, demure and meek. Don’t we all wish to be Jane?
I’m not actually being sarcastic, but for those of y’all who didn’t like Jane, can’t we at least agree that her relationship with Elizabeth was one of the highlights of this novel? They supported each other and made the other better! Jane gave Elizabeth fresh eyes and a clear vision, a purpose and a directive, a cause; while Elizabeth gave Jane strength and undying devotion, a listening ear, and a shoulder to carry her burdens. They are the dearest pair of sisters I have ever read of, and I wish me and my sisters could have the same relationship.
Alas, none of us are Janes, and I believe I may err closer to Elizabeth in personality, though I’m certainly not quite as prejudiced. Toward people in real life, that is. I’m very biased when it comes to my book characters.
Back to the point, Jane was awesome. Jane + Elizabeth were awesome. I mean, greatest sister duo ever. Say what you will, but they are.
Caroline Bingley. As for the other Bingley, Caroline is not amiable, not affable, and not liable to be deceived. Rather, she is the deceiver. For all her flaws and her spiteful attitude, I would like to know more of Caroline. She was only one third of the conflict, but a crucial part in separating not only Jane and Charles but Elizabeth and Darcy as well. I actually didn’t find her annoying (my annoyance is reserved for Lydia, of course), and I would like to read (or perhaps even write) her story one day.
Charlotte Lucas. Ah, Miss Lucas/Mrs. Collins. Now she’s an interesting character. Is she a good friend or not? A fount of wisdom or not? Does she have good sense or not? Eh...probably not. I mean, to marry Mr. Collins, one’s got to be loose a few screws.
I’m honestly not certain of the role she played in Elizabeth’s life, other than removing Mr. Collins from her. (For which I am both grateful and regretful on her behalf.) I will say this: she takes her own advice.
“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”
Hopefully she was right.
Mr. Collins. Of course, with mention of the wife, we transition to the husband. Mr. Collins is Mr. Collins. I can say no more. I actually remember him, to a degree, from the movie, and can I just say that he is no different and no more or less annoying in the book? He’s a really odd fellow. Just odd, I say. It makes me wonder if Austen had something against rectors...wasn’t her dad a vicar or something?
For as vexing as he was, I knew that Darcy would reign supreme, so I wasn’t entirely put off by him, but, dude, does he know how to kiss butts! I think I feel for him what Mr. Bennet does—an immense amount of amusement brewed with a great deal of disdain.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It’s only natural that I succeed Mr. Collins with his most favorite person in the whole wide world—not his wife, not his would-have-been fiancee, not his cousin—but Lady de Bourgh. This woman was a beast! And, might I add, the epitome of all that Austen suggests with the title Pride and Prejudice? (For that matter, I think she might have been the character for which Persuasion was named as well. You know, to honor her memory and all, let me write a book all about a mean old lady persuading people to do stupid stuff like fall in love and get married. Not that Lady Russell was half as nasty as Lady de Bourgh, but you know what I mean.)
However, as the second of the three thirds (that’s an oxymoron, isn’t it?) of conflict, I think Lady de Bourgh played her role the best. Like her nephew, she was thoroughly honest. She didn’t lie, she didn’t kiss butts, she didn’t deceive. She was herself, and if you didn’t like it, then that was your problem. You have to admire an antagonist who can pull that off. I do respect Lady de Bourgh enough that I think it would have been interesting to see her perspective in depth.
Now, there’s an idea.
George Wickham. UGH. Like, do I have to write about this guy? I mean, my feelings toward him are pretty obvious—the world over feels the same, after all. Since I watched the movie before reading the book (probably not a good idea, I suppose), I knew what he was about from the first moment I met him, but STILL. He is so slimy and deceptive and just plain evil. And yet...so suave and smooth and you just can’t reconcile his vile intent with his calm, cool exterior.
But since I really disliked Lydia, I really only felt for Darcy. Like, HOW DARE YOU BESMIRCH HIS NAME, YOU RODENT. *clears throat* Pardon my exuberance, but y’all know how I feel for Darcy. Oh, wait. You don’t. I haven’t gotten there yet. Ha.
Mary, Kitty, and Lydia Bennet. Now, I’m bunching all three of these together because (1) I don’t want to be here all day and (2) there’s really not much to say. From the youngest to the oldest of the three, my thoughts on the youngest Bennets:
Lydia—impertinent, selfish, wanton, and materialistic. She’s honestly the odd one out of her sisters, the one who deserves a good ol’ fashioned whupping (don’t look at me like that; we all know it’s true), and yet the favored one of the family. Favored by her mother for being so much like her, and favored by her father for having Wickham for a husband. Strange, very strange, but still true. I never actually hated a single one of the characters in P&P apart from Wickham, so although Lydia was difficult to put up with, she wasn’t quite as bad as I’d feared.
Kitty—invisible. I really wanted more of Kitty! I can’t peg her. Is she spineless, following Lydia’s every notion and whim as portrayed—or does she actually have a voice? For all the characterization, all the heart and soul that Austen poured into every single one of her characters, she almost fully ignored Kitty. Even Mary, who I’ll get to next, actually had some great moments. But Kitty? Nothing! And that seems strange, coming from Jane Austen.
Mary—fantastic. Why do I say that? Because I empathize with her! She’s a nerd, and nobody likes that. Of course, she has her pitfalls, but I also see her as more introspective and unassuming then any of the other characters. I think, within time, she would grow up to possess a lovely mind, if not a pretty face. She has her moments of profoundness, which I always welcomed in the midst of so much drama and so little common sense.
“Pride is a very common failing, I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed, that human nature is particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary.”
Elizabeth Bennet. At long last, we have arrived! All throughout the reading of this book, I imagined Kiera Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet, and, y’all, SHE IS LIZZIE. Her performance in the 2005 film was exquisite. (Can’t say the same for Matthew Macfadyen, but that’s a post for another day.)
But, strictly speaking of the book, I actually didn’t like Elizabeth. Her prejudice was stronger than Darcy’s pride and entirely unwarranted. She hung on every word spoken by that...that...ugh. By Wickham. Like, she was falling all over him for half the book, while I could only sit idly by and attempt to pound sense into her noggin by banging my Kindle on the table (which I did not do, for the sake of the $70 spent on said Kindle).
You get my point.
What struck me as odd is that I didn’t ever love Elizabeth, but I don’t hate her either. And she’s not merely tolerable either.
I’m almost never on good terms with heroines. I tend to fangirl over the heroes, after all, and I naturally feel deeper for the male characters (or the grandmas). Such is the case for Pride and Prejudice, but whereas in most cases I feel nothing (neither disdain or affection) for the heroine, or I hate her entirely, I possess a measure of sisterly affection for Elizabeth.
For example, if I were to speak to Lizzie, I would say: “I think you’re being an idiot, but I understand where you’re coming from. I wish I could make you see reason, but only because I care enough about you to see you do things right. I admire your audacity, your vibrancy, and your vicariousness. Of course, you annoy me to no end with your prejudice of my man Darcy and your blindness toward the faults of others, but your devotion for Jane and your zeal for life automatically garners my appreciation.”
However, were I to mention her to Jane Austen, I’d probably be more like: “How in the world did you do it? You wrote a character that I see so clearly that I can’t help but love and hate her at the same time! She’s so human, full of virtues that I admire and aspire to possess, yet mired in great failure and blindness. Her character is so poignant, so well-defined, so astutely understood, that I cannot help but care for her. It is as if I knew her and made her myself.” (And rightfully so, for I feel much the same for most of my own heroines.)
So, yeah, those are my thoughts on Lizzie.
"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 with 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 merit or sense."
Fitzwilliam Darcy. Before we dive in, let us all stop. Breathe. Banish all images and actors from our minds. Savor that beautiful Anglo-Norman and French name. And gush over how beautiful it is! Can we do that for a second? I mean, seriously. Fitzwilliam is, like, the coolest name EVER and although he is Darcy, it would’ve been cool to see him called by his forename every once and a while. And the French and Norman roots? (Pardon the girl in the middle of reading Tamara Leigh’s Age of Conquest series…) Magnifique. I mean, I know everybody’s name at that time had Norman roots, but still. Just...let me have this one, please?
Okay, now that that’s over with, let’s get into the imagery.
Yes, I watched the movie. Despite Pinterest’s obsession with Matthew Macfadyen and his smile, he’s not Mr. Darcy. I think I’m beginning to warm to him (as in, I wouldn’t call him ugly anymore, simply because that’s rude), but he’s not Mr. Darcy.
No, I have not watched the 1995 BBC miniseries, although I want to. However, Colin Firth is not Mr. Darcy. (Man, I can feel all of the toes I’m stepping on and the hearts I’m breaking and, no, please don’t cuss me out. If you see Colin Firth as Darcy, more power to you. I mean, you have a face for the name. But don’t discriminate against me for refusing to see him as my beloved Darcy. See, I said discriminate; now you really can’t say anything mean.)
No, again, I haven’t even seen the 1940 movie with Laurence Olivier. Though, can I say I probably won’t, because, I mean, really. Hoop skirts? C’mon, Hollywood! Just because Gone with the Wind was a hit doesn’t mean you have to throw hoop skirts into every movie!
Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that Darcy quickly took on a persona all his own. I can’t tell you what he does or doesn’t look like, but I can say that he is very much his own man. No one could ever portray him, because no one could ever know him—not like Austen does, at least. His character is so broad, so multifaceted, so uncertain, that he is almost incomprehensible. A mystery. An enigma.
I don’t even want to talk about the usual stuff—his pride, his relationship with Bingley, his rivalry with Wickham, his love for Elizabeth (SQUEE!)--none of it. Maybe in a separate post, I will, but for now I just want to sit here and dwell on how wonderful Darcy is and how much I love him.
He’s, like, broody and macho...but not. Unlike everyone’s two-dimensional alpha or beta male heroes nowadays, Darcy is something totally separate from labels or classification. He transcends all of the stereotypes. (Say what you will, Nicolson; I personally believe that Mr. Darcy is unique.)
Going into Pride and Prejudice, I honestly didn’t think I could be so affected. But I was. I am. Mr. Darcy lured me in, reeled me in, caught me hook, line, and sinker. Battered and fried me. (Okay, now I’m starting to sound weird…) But seriously. He is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) heroes of all time for a reason.
He’s Mr. Darcy.
“In vain I have 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.”
(And, yes, I chose Mr. Macfadyen over Mr. Firth. You have to admit he has better gifs.)
And I think that’s a great way to end this review/rant/character examination. I love Darcy and I love Jane Austen. Now, to see if Emma and Mr. Knightley can steal what’s left of my heart!