This is my fourth Austen book, after Persuasion, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility, and it’s by far the best. I can see why Pride and Prejudice is considered her best work. It’s outstanding! Whereas it normally takes me a week or two to read an Austen book, this took me a grand total of three days, and today I neglected all my intended doings in order to read. I didn’t want to put it down, it carried me along so well. I can’t say the same for other books by her I’ve read.
As per usual with Austen, this is a set of love stories that get messed up, mixed up, and nearly destroyed, but of course end well. I don’t consider this a spoiler for anyone who’s ever been exposed to Austen in any fashion. She writes 19th century romances. The chic-lit of the early 1800s. In general, I haven’t been overly impressed. Amused, yes, but not blown away. I’ve liked the stories in an academic way, but not so much on a personal level. P&P was far more personal. The writing was less pedantic than her usual style, the characters were real rather than caricatured, and the pacing was excellent.
Besides being a love story, P&P is a social commentary. Both love stories are primarily opposed due to the uneven nature of the parties’ stations in life. The two women, Jane and Elizabeth, are of a lower class than their respective love interests, Bingley and Darcy. While Bingley has no trouble overcoming the class difference and seeing past Jane’s vulgar family, Darcy is repulsed by those same things. In his repulsion, he offends Elizabeth, and from the beginning, they are at odds. Both have – what else? – their pride and prejudices to overcome. I find it interesting, though, that it isn’t just the upper class virtues critiqued. Elizabeth’s faults are equally examined, and with no less fervor than Darcy’s.
Austen also expresses some very clear criticisms of the church in this book, through the obnoxious character of Mr. Collins, a clergyman and a cousin to Jane and Elizabeth. He is one of the most ridiculous Austen characters I’ve read, made more ridiculous by the fact that, to me, he feels like someone I might meet, rather than just a joke of Austen’s. Austen often writes joke characters – like Emma’s father, for example – that are funny but personality-less. Mr. Collins, on the other hand, is the sort of person I recognize from personal experience, and he makes me groan and laugh at the same time. But Austen doesn’t stop at making the clergyman obnoxious and silly. She goes a step further, and makes him the opposite of charitable, despite his claims. It happens so quick, in a letter he writes to Jane and Elizabeth’s father. He says:
You ought certainly to forgive them as a christian, but never to admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing.
At which point, Mr. Bennet replies,
That is his notion of christian forgiveness!
And then goes on to other subjects. A single line, but a very crisp criticism to the hypocrisy Austen often took issue with in the church.
This will probably stay my favorite Austen book even after I finish reading the rest of her repertoire. I’m so glad I read it!
I do have to admit, I still like Mr. Rochester better than Mr. Darcy, though for all those in love with Darcy, I admit he is a rather lovable character.