When I think of love stories, Jane Austen comes to mind. Her novels have given me hours of joy where I am lost in Regency England among the lives and romance of her characters. I have laughed, growled in frustration at misunderstandings between characters and have cried with delight when arriving at the end…and then mourn that the story is over. I set the novel aside with a great sigh befitting a lovelorn heroine and return again when once more it calls to me, luring me into a jaunt to the past…
Pride and Prejudice (1813)
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
And so opens a novel about morals, relationships, family, love and society. It centers around Elizabeth Bennet, the second daughter of five blessed to the Bennet family. Elizabeth is my favorite character in I think all of Jane Austen’s novels. She is independent, clever, slightly sarcastic and cares deeply about her family. Instead of being insulted by Mr. Darcy’s disdainful dismissal of her as a dance partner, Elizabeth laughs at his snobbery. It isn’t an auspicious meeting between the two, neither impressed with the other but I think it would have been a different sort of story altogether if there had been fireworks and eyes meeting across a crowded room. What’s a good love story without some conflict?
After Jane became ill and is forced to stay at the neighboring Netherfield, Elizabeth walks the distance to nurse her sister. She arrives with her hem and shoes covered in thick mud, without a care about her appearance. And to Mr. Darcy, her willingness to travel by foot the miles between Netherfield and her home shows only Elizabeth’s best qualities.
I don’t want to spoil the novel for those of you who haven’t read it, so I’ll forgo delving into details but the developing relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy is one that is battered against obstacle after obstacle. There are family obligations and drama (on both sides) which crop up, misunderstandings, societal class and lies all conspire against the spark of romance between the two. It isn’t until the end that issues are resolved and feelings realized.
I highly recommend reading this novel, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction or history in general. Published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice displays the social norms and rituals, culture and expectations of Regency England. Plus there are several very good movies based on the novel. My favorite screen adaptation is the BBC movie starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. The one referred to in Bridget Jones’ Diary. Interestingly, Helen Fielding has said that Bridget’s story is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice.
And just for fun, I’ve decided to end this post with a clip from one of my favorite television series (Red Dwarf) that touches on the likely lasting impact of Pride and Prejudice. It’s also really funny. Enjoy. :)