Friday, 29 July 2011

'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen (1813)

Synopsis: Elizabeth Bennet is the second of the Bennet family's five daughters and is lively, playful and witty. Her family is thrown into an uproar when a highly eligible bachelor called Mr Bingley moves into a nearby country estate. As their family home is entailed over to a distant cousin called Mr Collins, Mrs Bennet is determined to have all of her five daughters marry as soon as possible. At a local assembly, Bingley's eye is soon caught by Elizabeth's sweet and beautiful older sister Jane. He is instantly smitten and Jane shyly returns his affections. Bingley's good friend Mr Darcy is also at the assembly. Although initially admired for his handsome looks, Darcy makes a very bad impression at the assembly because of his cold and haughty manners. Elizabeth is also highly offended when she overhears Darcy insulting her. Her dislike of Darcy then deepens even further when she's told that he mistreated her new friend George Wickham. Bingley then abruptly leaves the neighbourhood and Jane is heartbroken. Several months later, Elizabeth meets Darcy again when she goes to visit a friend in Kent. It's there that Elizabeth discovers that Darcy interfered in Bingley and Jane's relationship. Elizabeth is then completely shocked when Darcy unexpectedly confesses his love for her and proposes. Elizabeth then angrily refuses him and cites both his interference in Jane and Bingley's relationship and his treatment of Wickham. The truth is then revealed and Elizabeth slowly begins to learn Darcy's true character. She comes to realise that many of her assumptions about Darcy were wrong and becomes anxious that her chance of happiness with him has gone forever. 

I'm sure there are many people out there who could write far more eloquent reviews about this book's brilliance than me but I'll try my best. Pride and Prejudice is the first book by Jane Austen I read and it's probably still my favourite now, even though I have gone on to read Austen's other books and have loved them all. So why is it such an amazing book and why do I love it so much? Well, Pride and Prejudice is extremely entertaining. It's entertaining right from its deservedly famous opening line:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

It's entertaining right from Mr Bennet's hilariously sarcastic comments to his wife in the opening chapter. And it keeps on being brilliantly entertaining all the way through! Austen's writing is brilliantly witty and sharp and vivid and detailed. The story of Pride and Prejudice is incredibly engaging and intelligent. It's tightly-plotted and fast-paced and not a single character or chapter is wasted. The book is full of humour and is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. The characters are captivating, extremely realistic, believable and memorable. It's very romantic and Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy are two of my favourite fictional characters of all time.

Elizabeth Bennet has to be one of the greatest heroines in all of English Literature and is a fantastic role model even for women today. She's witty, lively, clever, feisty, independent, loyal and sensible. It could have been so easy to hate a character seemingly so perfect but Austen doesn't forget to provide her with a few flaws to humanise her. Elizabeth is therefore slightly judgemental at times and a bit stubborn and immature at the beginning. And as for Darcy, well, it's really not hard to see why he's such a popular romance hero. What with him being so mysterious, passionate and brooding and all that. Towards the end of the novel you get to see his sense of humour as well. Darcy is actually arrogant and cold to start off with but one of the many great things about Pride and Prejudice is its character development. He learns to overcome his pride just like Elizabeth learns to overcome her initial prejudice towards him. I don't love Darcy as much as I love Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey and Mr Knightley from Emma but he's still a brilliant character and I still really love him. The chemistry between Elizabeth and Darcy as they slowly start to fall in love with each other is electric and I love this quote from Darcy from his first proposal to Elizabeth:

"It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

How beautiful is that! It's a real pity that he had to ruin it by going on and on about how Elizabeth is socially inferior to him! The supporting characters in this book are fantastic as well. Mr Collins is hilariously pompous. Mr Bennet is hilariously sarcastic and witty. His incorrigible wife with her nerves is annoying but is somehow entertainingly so. There's the shy and sweet Jane. I could go on and on and on about all of the characters but I'll stop!

Pride and Prejudice has got social commentary in it as well. Austen goes into how the Napoleonic Wars affected the English countryside. There's a pompous and sanctimonious vicar who's set on social climbing - and Austen pokes some fun at the pretentious, self-obsessed and snobbish people of her time. It's very clear that Austen thinks that the system of entailment is awful. It's very clear that Austen thinks a woman doesn't have to marry a man if she doesn't want to. Pride and Prejudice is probably the best book ever written when it comes to showing the silliness of judging people based on first impressions as well. Austen writes about universal themes in this book too: love, social class and family. Austen was also writing in a time when it was actually frowned upon for women to write - and she did it amazingly! Yet another reason to love this book!

Pride and Prejudice is a brilliantly witty, charming, optimistic and romantic novel. It's such a feel-good book, it's a joy to read and it's pure escapism. It never fails to bring a smile to my face and the ending always leaves me satisfied. Practically all modern rom-coms attempt to rip Pride and Prejudice off by having the hero and heroine dislike each other at first but they're just simplified and dumbed-down. They miss out on all of Austen's brilliant characters, brilliant story, and brilliant humour. I absolutely love this book!

Rating: 5/5

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