Reviewing Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice'
The business of her life was to get her daughters married.
Deemed a classic of the English language, Pride and Prejudice is quite possibly the most well known and well loved of Austen's novels. Set in the early 1800s, this classic regency novel follows the life of Elizabeth Bennett and her turbulent relationship with the handsome aristocrat Mr. Darcy.
Through Mrs Bennett and her five daughters, Austen explores the female desire to be married and see her children marry. The characters live in an enclosed social bubble of wealth and aristocracy that can scarcely be penetrated, and their often fickle and shallow ways almost satirise the aristocratic level of English society.
I enjoyed observing the different character's perceptions of their world, and how they react to the events of the socialite circle they inhabit. Just as she demands the attention of her acquaintances, Mrs. Bennett demands control of the book in her desire for her daughters to be married. Austen's presentation of marriage allows the reader to begin to understand what forces are at play when men and women consider marriage; for women, status, economic stability and social autonomy; for men, power. Moreover, a woman’s marriageability relied on her impeccable chastity and polished reputation; a criteria as suffocating as the corsets the women were forced to wear to shrink their waists for fear of losing vanity. It wasn't about love, but reputation.
When she is secure of him, there will be leisure for falling in love as much as she chooses.
The pompous, arrogant attitudes of Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine highlights the toxic nature of Regency romance. Lydia is reprimanded behind closed doors for her spontaneous marriage, but why should anyone tell her who she can and cannot marry? It's poisonous. The 19th century perception of marriage holds highly different values to our current society.
I loved the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, who resist each other so harshly despite the glaringly obvious truth that they are destined for each other, something they refuse to see. One of the reasons why their relationship is seemingly rocky is Elizabeth's pride; her swift judgement of Darcy is based on gossip and his seemingly reserved manner upon their first acquaintance, so that she ultimately becomes prejudice against him. Also playing into this complication is Darcy's commitment to reputation - whilst the middle-class Elizabeth may mingle with the upper-class Darcy, she is ultimately his social inferior. The novel shows us how all of these factors can be detrimental to the development of relationships, acting to remind us that first impressions are not always reflective of a person and how we must set aside concerns of outside perception.
His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and every body hoped he would never come there again.
Elizabeth’s path to marriage closely intersects with the subplots that focus on the romances of her sisters'. There are moments of delightful humour and enjoyment, but underlying this was my shock at how young the Bennett sisters are expected to think about marriage. And yet, if they do not marry, they are ostracised from society. I almost felt claustrophobic and suffocated myself whilst reading about the sisters' journey to finding love.
There is nothing overly sensational about this novel - it simply presents the domestic and aristocratic events of the characters as they happen. I think this is what makes it such a quaint novel. I understand why this novel is so cherished.