Written by Austen from 1797 to 1813, “Pride and Prejudice” can be easily dated through its formal diction and winding sentences (best read in a posh British accent). At first glance, this book may appear to be just another required reading for an English Literature class, bearing little to no relevance to modern 21st-century life.
However, beyond the surface, Austen writes from the unique perspective of an English woman in a time when literature had been dominated by men, offering real insights into the joys and challenges of middle-class women at the turn of the 18th century. Austen’s relatable and realistic characters compliment her exploration of the rawness of human relationships and themes of romance, marriage, and the English gentry.
The novel follows the experiences of Elizabeth Bennet, an intelligent young woman who is the second oldest of five daughters. Although Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth’s father, is the proprietor of Longbourn House, his property is entailed and can only be passed down to a male heir, while his wife has no inheritance. Thus, at least one of the family’s daughters must marry a wealthy man, lest the family risk destitution.
The arrival of Mr. Bingley, a rich bachelor, to the neighborhood gives the young Bennet women the perfect opportunity. At a ball hosted by Mr. Bingley, the reader is introduced to his two sisters and his friend, Mr. Darcy. Although wealthy and handsome, Mr. Darcy’s aloof and haughty nature repels many of the guests, including Elizabeth Bennet.
Over the course of the novel, Elizabeth learns to differentiate between authentic and superficial intentions. While a suitor Mr. Wickham easily attracts Elizabeth through his handsome looks and natural charisma, Elizabeth’s pride in her own intuition of the true nature of individuals mistakenly allows her to drop her guard and lose sight of the truth, letting both pride and prejudice cloud her judgment. Elizabeth and Darcy’s realization of their own faults pushes their development as characters and ultimately brings them closer together.
Reading “Pride and Prejudice” tested my endurance, as the shocking revelation only occurred halfway, after 60,000 words, through the book. However, Austen’s suspenseful slow-burn style keeps the reader hooked and builds a more impactful and cathartic climax, offering an example of masterful storytelling.
In an era of “love-at-first-sight” and risqué romance reality shows, “Pride and Prejudice” offers a refreshing perspective of the trials and tribulations that go with true love. The novel seeks not to offer the instant gratification associated with modern media but makes the reader work to uncover the truth and experience their own “felicity” at the end of the novel. The book is an instant page-turner and a great novel for those seeking to challenge themselves with an enjoyable classic.