Pride and Prejudice Book Review
By: Catherine Kola-Balogun
Pride and Prejudice is one of the most highly regarded novels of english literature. It has become ingrained in literary culture; ranking highly amongst classic literature novels, and as a book from the romantic era of literature its prose undoubtedly encompasses the themes of love, melancholy, the picturesque, sentimentalism and the idealisation of women.
Despite being largely archaic and minutely impenetrable to the modern audience, I found the book very captivating. Through extensive analysis of language, there were aspects of the book that I deeply resonated with. Austen herself was an inquisitive and ambitious person, her solace voracious reading. Hence, it came to me as no surprise that she possessed an acute ability to create the most deliberate of characters, all of whom in one way or another perfectly embodied key concepts within the bedrock of the story. Over several decades Pride and Prejudice has received a great many criticism from individuals such as:
Charlotte Bronte (1845) who stated, “… no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses” or the likes of Winston Churchill who stated “What calm lives they had, those people!” was his thought. “No worries about the French Revolution, or the crashing struggle of the Napoleonic Wars. Only manners controlling natural passion so far as they could, together with cultured explanations of any mischances.”
The book is certainly far from being a dull, unvaried or lacking reflection of 19th century life but rather is valuable piece of early feminist thought in literature.
Upon reading its immortal opening sentence: “ it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of good fortune, must be in want of a wife”
Pride and Prejudice features the emotional journey of the headstrong, witty, extroverted and lively Elizabeth Bennet, as she falls in love with the wealthy, charitable and occasionally arrogant Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of Derbyshire.
In the novel Jane Austen explores four major themes: Reputation, Class, Expectations, Love and Marriage. These are themes which she highlights brilliantly in the early stages of the novel. At the beginning we are introduced to the theme of class. This theme is evident in every aspect of the novel and is a very significant part of victorian society. Despite the Bennet’s socialising with the Bingley and Darcy’s on many occasions, they are still considered their social inferiors in terms of their wealth and education. Longbourn estate is not by any means described as grand. Austen highlights the disparity through Mrs Bennet, who repeatedly dispenses compliments about Netherfield through statements such as “what an excellent room you have sir, such fine furnishing” Mrs Bennet is aware of her social inferiority and seeks to elevate the status of her family by making herself amenable to their standards.
The social boundary is equally as evident when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth for the first time. Despite, being in love with her, he cannot help but mention, the problem of her inheritance in their marriage as he states:
“I have fought against my family’s expectations and the inferiority of your birth and rank”
Both Mr Darcy and Miss Caroline Bingley are reluctant to be associated with the Bennet’s. And even though they are privileged the expectations and boundaries of the social framework still lie heavily upon them. Austen attempts to poke a little bit of fun and humour around this fact in the matrimony between Darcy and Elizabeth, giving the reader a much anticipated happy ending. Whilst, it would have been read as satirical by audiences at the time, one cannot help but imagine that Austen's true purpose in subverting reality and giving the audience a happy ending was to indirectly reveal the ridiculousness of the social framework; by giving them a lighthearted ending to digest, many would not have been overly aware of the underlying socio-political opposition that she embedded within in her writing.
The concept of class is can also be seen in the relationship between clergyman, Mr Collins and his parson, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Austen makes this very clear both in his housing (an inferior parsonage) but also in terms of their relationship, were there is hardly any sentiment shown. And this perception is shared amongst others such as Mr. Darcy, who believes in the dignity of his lineage; Miss Bingley, who dislikes anyone not as socially accepted as she is; and Wickham, who will do anything he can to get enough money to raise himself into a higher station. Mr. Collins’s views are merely the extreme and obvious.
Another primary theme is Marriage. In Victorian England due to women’s lack of social and economic agency, they were extremely reliant on the marriage to provide them with that agency through a husband. This concept first shown in the very beginning of the novel in the lines,
“…it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
The quote suggests that however, stereo-typical this was the principle that was widely accepted. A simple notion or aspiration which everyone abided to.
Jane Austen makes clear to us that this is something that was just simply done with no dispute.
Mrs Bennet, a delusional, ludicrous and overbearing mother acts as the very embodiment of this concept and the apparent necessity of marriage. Through her we are made aware of the Bennet’s present situation in having no male heir to their fortunes, subjecting herself to ill -manners and a rampant hysteria which she believes is key to ensuring her daughter survival.
“…you began the evening well, Charlotte…you were Mr. Bingley’s first choice… yes; but he seemed to like his second better.”
In these lines Austen reveals the dark side of Mrs Bennet's conviction in the way that she is willing to humiliate and undermine the interests of their frined Miss Lucas to secure their daughter marriage. Whilst, the act of trying to get her daughters married is generous and notable in its own right, there is still a ruthlessness to Mrs Bennet's manner that makes on consider both the importance of marriage and desperation for it. Women were reduced to a pack feral beasts, competing unrestrainedly with the single purpose of securing socio-economic survival. Although, it is not difficult to conceive the reasons for her avaricious attitude, one cannot help but feel dismayed that women are effectively pitted against each other for the sake of conforming to a system that oppresses instead of coming together in solidarity to liberate themselves.
Austen conveys this idea most clearly through parallels between Mrs Bennet and her daughter Elizabeth, who appears more disposed towards opposing the fate of an unhappy marriage. For example, when Mr Collins, the Bennet’s cousin and heir to the Longbourn Estate proposed marriage to Elizabeth, Mrs Bennet, without regard for the wishes of her daughter was forthright in securing the match. Despite Elizabeth's vehement refusal, her mother remained furious because she did not care about whether her daughters married for love or happiness; she cared about securing a fortune and preventing the unwelcome prospects of destitution.
Hence, it comes to no surprise that many literary critics expressed reproach towards Elizabeth character. Whilst, it does not veer on the lines of disdain expressed towards Bronte’s Jane Eyre; one can almost certain assert the view that the satirical nature of the novel gave way for some pass over on the subject.
Nonetheless, she had a great belief to their indifference and repeatedly referred to him as odious, she also firmly believed solely in marrying for love unlike her friend Charlotte Lucas, who immediately after Elizabeth declined jumped at the gun and was unified with Mr Collins. Jane Austen’s uses this contrast in circumstance to further capitalise around the grave significance for a young woman was at the time. Charlotte Lucas is a sweet, good-humoured charitable young woman who Elizabeth loves dearly. She too would love to seek raptures in love however, at the age of twenty eight and her parent’s economic state marriage for her was an absolute necessity not only in Charlotte Lucas’ case but in many other Victorian women. Austen portrays this very explicitly throughout the text but pokes a bit of fun at it in the characters of hysterical Mrs Bennet and strange Mr Collins. I find this concept or dynamic of marriage in the 19th century very interesting, in terms of the contrasts in attitudes as well as the vast similarities on such matters, which shows us how; little flexibility there was and the consequences that came about from not conforming. Today we have been prevailed with freedom of speech, mind and action something, which was scarcely available for many.
Although Austen uses the theme of Love to approach these themes of Class, Marriage and Reputation or so on, she still addresses them as significant matters. This was shown through the portrayal of Lady Catherine de bourgh scrutiny towards Elizabeth about her not having learnt accomplishments such as: drawing, music or the modern language. As well as in her reaction towards Elizabeth when she discovers that Darcy and Elizabeth has intention of being married. In which she says “are the walls of Pemberley to be thus polluted” This connotes to the reader that despite, Elizabeth good manners and courtesy, the issue of class and reputation is something she refuses to overlook and goes far to referring to her as a disease which will spoil, Mr Darcy and his home.
In addition to many of the other themes, which Jane Austen situates into the novel, this has certainly proven to be a spectacular read. Although the ending was quite anti-climactic between Elizabeth and Darcy. Which left many readers, including myself quite disconcerted, Jane doing so left the manner of which Darcy and Elizabeth were to carry on their relationship to the imagination of the reader. It is indeed a notable skill, but still leaves me quite despaired.
Many may roll their eyes upon a typical Literature fanatic raving on about Austen work. However, this was my first experience reading one of her works and it certainly did not disappoint. Eventually, I found myself particularly bound to the stigma of sinking my teeth to “boring” classic literature novels. In addition, even became familiarised with more advanced languages and vocabulary.
This book is certainly in no need of my ratings or praises as it has received many, over two hundred and six years literally! However, I highly recommend that people, get out of their heads, stop putting of reading Jane Austen work and give it a go.