Pride and Prejudice has suddenly become popular once again, due to the movie that came out recently that was based on it. I have not yet seen the movie, and am not sure if I want to.
The book was wonderful! The best parts were the sarcastic and witty comments on society that Austen wrote, and, since many of these are written from the viewpoint of her anonymous narrator, and not her characters, how could the movie version even touch that?
It’s about a family of five sisters and their parents, who live in England in around 1811 or so. The book is intentionally vague about the exact years. The girls are old enough to be married, and their mother is desperate to make this happen. The father is less interested in his wife and most of his silly daughters (except Lizzy, his favorite, who is smart) and more interested in reading books and being left alone.
The story twists and turns in unexpected ways, and was much more interesting than I expected it to be. I was constantly finding hidden gems of great sentences, many of which were also really funny. I had heard that Austen wrote sarcastically about society, but I didn’t know she was funny!
The entire mindset of the book can be summed up rather well in the opening sentence. Austen writes: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
Nearly everyone in the book has decided that their goal in life is to be married, and to have all of their daughters, sons, nephews, and nieces married. Most of the characters in the book are more interested in having people marry “well”, that is, for financial gain and social status, than marrying for love. Some of the characters in the book marry for money, and some for love, and the results are compared and contrasted with Austen commenting on every outcome.
The book also is a window into the very regimented social rules that were the normal way of behaving at the time. It’s much more formal than anything we do today, and makes for an interesting view into another time, another culture.
Jane is the oldest sister, who falls for a new neighbor, named Mr. Bingley. Of course, Jane is quiet, and he doesn’t really know she likes him for most of the book. Bingley’s sisters don’t want him to marry Jane, since her family does not have much money or status.
One of Bingley’s sisters is interested in his friend, Mr. Darcy, who doesn’t seem to like her much. Darcy doesn’t seem to like anyone much at all, especially Elizabeth, Jane’s sister, and the feeling is mutual. And then, things change around. Very nicely woven plot lines.
I found the kinship terms the characters use to be fascinating. Once two people get married, both the husband and the wife will refer to the siblings of either as “sister” or “brother”.
There was a part where Mrs. Bennet was asking her brother to go and find Mr. Bennet. The brother said not to worry, he would bring his brother back. Some sisters get married, and the instant that happens, their new husbands are calling all the woman’s siblings “my sister”, even if they were flirting that particular sister a few weeks before!
The other thing I found really odd was that each character refered to the other characters purely from their own relational viewpoint. The girls would talk to each other, and both would say “my mother…..” in the converstation. It would go something like “How is my mother doing today?” one girl would ask, and the other would reply “My mother is not well.” They refered to the same woman, who was mother to both of them!
They did this to aunts and uncles as well. One girl would talk to the rest and say “My aunt said….”. It took me a while to figure out that this girl was refering to the woman who was the aunt to all of them! It was never “Aunt so-and-so said…”, but always “My aunt said…”. Fascinating!
I also found it interesting that it was not only perfectly acceptable for cousins to get married, but, often expected of them! It seemed to be a way to consolidate wealth and property, and to ensure that someone from that family line would keep ownership of both. Some characters talk about who they think someone will marry, and they often surmise that the eligible bachelor will of course want to marry his cousin, since she is already part of his family.