Unsurprisingly, my husband finds Mr. Darcy just as charming as I do. Pride and Prejudice is the second Jane Austen novel my husband has read. The first was Sense and Sensibility, which he reviewed in May.
Below, my husband gives us three more reasons why Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice isn’t, as a ridiculous article from the Huffington Post asserted on the 200th anniversary of the work, for “girl[s] who just want boyfriend[s].”
From Mr. A.M.B.:
The world doesn’t need another general review of Pride & Prejudice, so, as I did before, I’ll discuss the book in terms of what I think it has to offer readers who aren’t inclined to read it. Three points jump out at me.
First, as I mentioned in my review of Sense & Sensibility, Austen has a knack for creating “vivid, tangible, and fascinating characters,” and for “put into words the ineffable parts of life,” and the same is on display in Pride & Prejudice.
It’s cliché to quote Whitman on personal contradictions (i.e., “I contain multitudes.”), so I’ll instead use a quote first used to describe George Orwell and then Christopher Hitchens: “contradictions are what make writers interesting. Consistency is for cooking.”
What makes Elizabeth and Darcy interesting isn’t just watching the courtship of two headstrong characters each with “a real superiority of mind,” but also observing their internal contradictions and the way in which their personalities and beliefs change. When Darcy complains that, “In a country neighbourhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society,” Elizabeth retorts, “But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.” Such is true of Elizabeth and Darcy: there is something new to be observed in them in each scene.
Indeed, though Elizabeth started the book with the apparent determination to hold grudges and resentment for as long as possible, by the end of the book, Elizabeth’s philosophy truly is — as she advises Darcy as he laments their prior insults and miscommunications — to let the past go where necessary.
Second, as in Sense & Sensibility, Austen’s quill is as sharp as an arrow, and her ability to use the English language to amuse and entertain the reader is unparalleled. Consider when Mr. Bennett responds to Mr. Collins’ obnoxious and insincere advice with an update: “I must trouble you once more for congratulations. Elizabeth will soon be the wife of Mr. Darcy. Console Lady Catherine as well as you can. But, if I were you, I would stand by the nephew. He has more to give.” In just a few short sentences, Mr. Bennett — whose wit is on display throughout the book, at times loving, at times hostile — reduces Mr. Collins to the social-climbing sycophant everyone knows him to be.
Third, which is probably an obvious point to bibliophiles, there’s more to the book than to the movies. The 1995 BBC adaptation is, to me, the most faithful — not that I have a problem with an adaptation trying something new, per the “disappearance” problem discussed on this blog — but even in six hours it’s hard to truly convey the nuances of the characters, their interaction, and the development of their relationship. I must confess that, until reading the book, I never quite understood the charm of Mr. Darcy. Sure, he’s wealthy and intelligent, and his actions regarding Wickham and Lydia were chivalrous and caring, but in the movies he still comes across largely as a proud jerk who usually gets his way without much effort, rather than someone truly devoted to Elizabeth.
The book, however, subtly reveals more about him, like this scene:
More than once did Elizabeth in her ramble within the Park unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy. She felt all the perverseness of the mischance that should bring him where no one else was brought; and to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform him at first that it was a favourite haunt of hers. How it could occur a second time, therefore, was very odd! Yet it did, and even a third. It seemed like wilful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance, for on these occasions it was not merely a few formal enquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her.
Only the reader recognizes why Elizabeth’s informing Darcy that it was “a favourite haunt of hers” made it more likely, not less, for her to encounter Darcy there.
You see, Dear Reader, I have a bit of experience in this department. Back when I was a freshman in college, my room happened to be positioned so that I could see out my window everyone coming back to our dorm from a distance of over 100 feet. Even today, AMB does not quite accept why she ran into me so frequently when she was returning to our dorm (usually with a pile of library books in her arms), but I understand all too well just how much time Darcy must have spent with his eye on the Park.
The book thus has much to offer a variety of readers beyond “girls who just want a boyfriend.” (Frankly, I’m not sure what such girls would learn from it — that, if you are interested in someone, you should thoroughly insult them?) It’s no more a book just for silly girls than The Princess Bride is a movie just for silly girls; a stereotype is never a good reason to avoid a great book or movie.