Book Review: Pride and Prejudice

Book Name: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
First Published: 1813

Jane Austen was an English novelist who is one of the most widely read authors in English literature. The realism and witty social commentary of her times have garnered her historical importance in literature and her novels are the foundation of romantic novels as we know them. Jane Austen lived her entire life as part of a family on the outskirts of the English landed gentry. She and her close sister Cassandra, only received basic education outside the home due to limited family finances. To continue their education, their father allowed the girls access to his extensive private library and later provided them with expensive paper and pens so that the girls could write or paint as their talents moved them.

Pride and Prejudice was Austen’s second novel, after she had completed Elinor and Marianne, the precursor to Sense and Sensibility. Originally, Pride and Prejudice was called First Impressions. She completed the first draft in 1797 when she was 21 years old. As with all her novels, Austen read the work out loud to her family, who served as an informal writer’s critique group for her work, and it became an “established favourite” of the family. At this time, perhaps unknown to Miss Austen, her father made the first attempt to publish one of her novels. George Austen wrote to Thomas Cadell, a publisher in London, to ask if he would publish “a manuscript novel, comprised in three vols. About the length of Miss Burney’s Evelina at the author’s financial risk”. Unfortunately, Mr. Cadell declined the honor. Miss Austen would remain an aspiring and unpublished author at this early stage in her life.

In 1805, George Austen passed and Jane, her sister Cassandra, both unmarried, along with their mother, were left without the protection of their father. They had no place to call home and were forced to accept whatever charity George’s sons had to offer. At first they visited among their various family members, never settling anywhere in particular until Jane’s brother Edward offered them a cottage on his estate of Chawton House. There, the three women lived quietly. There was little entertaining except for family and they spent much time reading books, teaching children their letters and doing charity work.

This became a time when Austen began to turn to writing in earnest and managed to publish four of her novels, one after another with the help of her brother Henry Austen. Sense and Sensibility was first in 1811. Pride and Prejudice was the second book to publish in 1813. Mansfield Park was third in 1814. Finally, Emma was published in 1815. The money that came in from her four novels gave Jane Austen a measure of financial independence and personal satisfaction, although none of the books were published in her own name. Instead, they were published anomalously by “A Lady”.

In 1817, Jane Austen succumbed to a fatal illness and died at the tender age of 41. Posthumously, her final two novels were published together in a single volume. Persuasion and Northanger Abby in 1817. For the first time, her work was published under her name. After this limited printing of her final novels, her work remained out of print for twelve years.

In 1832, Richard Bentley purchased the rights to all six of Jane Austen’s novels and published them in five illustrated volumes as part of a Standard Novels series. Since then, Miss Austen’s novels have not gone out of print and grow in popularity. It is now the 200th anniversary of the publishing of Pride and Prejudice and it is a global sensation, having been adapted into film, television and even graphic novel form.

Pride and Prejudice begins when the wealthy and unattached Mr. Bingley decides to rent the nearby estate of Netherfield Park, it causes a considerable commotion among the residents of the village of Meryton and in the household of the Bennet family known as Longbourn. Mrs. Bennet, the mother of five marriageable daughters, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia, is determined that one of her daughters will marry the man. When Bingley meets Jane Bennet at a ball, he becomes immediately smitten with her. Yet, at the same ball, Bingley’s snobby friend Darcy is rude to her sister Elizabeth. “She is not handsome enough to tempt me,” he informs his friend in Lizzy’s hearing. Through the next few social gatherings, Jane and Bingley grow closer, while Darcy, despite his misgivings, finds himself attracted to Elizabeth’s beauty and intelligence.

Lizzy has other worries when her cousin, the heir to her father’s estate, decides that he wants to be charitable to his family and declares his intention to marry one of Mr. Bennet’s daughters. Thus, Mr. Collins would secure the estate back into Mr. Bennet’s direct family line and gain himself a wife as he was bid to do by his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lizzy refuses Mr. Collins suit. Lizzy meets another gentleman, an officer in the army that is stationed in Meryton and a romance between them forms. She learns from this officer that Darcy, the man that had insulted her, had caused Wickham’s ruin.

Bingley suddenly departs for London on business, but it soon becomes clear that he is breaking things off with Jane, just when the family was sure that he was going to offer marriage to her. Jane is invited to London by her Aunt and Uncle and attempts to discover the reason for his cooling ardor. Jane’s search for Bingley in London proves fruitless and Jane gives in to melancholy.

After Lizzy had refused him, Lizzy’s friend Charlotte Lucas accepts Mr. Collin’s offer of marriage. Once she is settled into her new home, Charlotte invites Lizzy to visit. It is at the home of Lady Cathrine, Rosings Park, that Lizzy learns that Darcy is fated to marry the lady’s daughter. Much to her surprise, Darcy instead announces his love for her and offers his hand in marriage. Stunned by his offer and angry at him over his treatment of Wickham, she also learns that Darcy had manipulated Bingley into leaving her sister, calling the match unsuitable. Lizzy refuses his offer.

In a letter to her after the proposal, Darcy comes clean to Lizzy and explains that he intervened between her sister and Bingley because he felt Jane did not truly love his best friend. Wickham, he writes, is a liar and a scoundrel. Lizzy begins to wonder if she had been hasty in turning Darcy down and that in her blind prejudice, she might have misjudged him.

While traveling with her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, Lizzy learns that her youngest sister, Lydia, has run off with Wickham and is living in sin with him in London. Crushed, she returns home to Longbourn, but not before she admits to Darcy what has happened. In doing so, she feels that she has lost his regard for good, along with her own reputation. She must wait at home with her despairing mother and sisters as the men search London for Wickham and Lydia. In the end, Lydia is found and marries Wickham, removing the scandal to their family. Lizzy learns who it is that has saved her family. In the end, when Darcy proposes to her again, she accepts his hand, having gained a true understanding of his character.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen., 1895 book cover
1895 Book Cover, Illustrated by Hugh Thomson for Macmillan’s Edition of Illustrated Standard Novels
My favorite novel hook of all time comes from Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet is making a witty comment about her mother’s need to marry her daughters off and says: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This statement sums up not only the theme of the novel, but is a commentary on English society at the time. It drew me into Austen’s work and I fell under her spell. It is a draw with me as to which Austen novel is my favorite, Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion, but this wonderful quote has stayed with me. I came to reading Austen late in my life, sometime in my late thirties. I had been a hardcore science fiction and fantasy reader and had avoided the classics except for those that had been required reading in school. For some reason, Austen was not on the required reading list. I decided to expand my knowledge of the classics in my mid-thirties and picked up a copy of Pride and Prejudice at my local public library. Needless to say, I was complete enchanted by Miss Austen’s novels. Why her work is not a part of the American school system is a mystery to me for Austen has inspired my writing like few authors have in the past. If you have only seen the movies about this novel, but have not read the book, do yourself a favor and either download it at PROJECT GUTENBERG for free or check it out at your local library.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.