Once upon a time, Colin Firth dove into a lake and convinced millions of women (and some men, I would think) to pick up a book. Not just any book, but a book that is two hundred years old and is consistently listed as one of the great books in English.
Here at Doux Reviews, we have spent a fair amount of time over the past year discussing all things Pride and Prejudice. It has been made into a film several times and its plot has been “borrowed” by others to great success. In my opinion, however, it is impossible to understand how wonderful this story is without reading the source material, the novel itself. This review assumes you know the story and, therefore, contains spoilers.
On one level, this novel is a fairy tale. A poor girl, with few life choices, meets Prince Charming. Complications ensue until, against all odds, poor girl and Prince Charming end up living happily ever after. There is something wonderful about a fairy tale. When we read one, we can escape our real lives and, momentarily at least, live in a world where good triumphs over evil, where all problems and concerns are solved, and where the people who should end up together do so.
Similarly, this novel is a romantic comedy. The couple has the meet-cute (Elizabeth overhears Darcy saying nasty things about her and turns the tables on him); they hate each other until they have a moment when they realize they don’t (the meeting at Pemberley); they come together in the end in a romantic scene (the final proposal).
The reason that this particular fairy tale/romantic comedy has held sway over so many, however, is that it is much more than either of these tropes. It is the first novel in which we see a flawed woman take control over her own destiny (she does not wait to see if the shoe fits), learn a few life lessons, and reap the rewards of her journey at the end.
Elizabeth Bennet is beloved because we can all relate to her. She is not beautiful (her sister is the great beauty), but she is highly intelligent and articulate — two attributes not always prized in women. She jumps to conclusions and stubbornly clings to her beliefs until she is forced into some honest soul searching. She falls for the bad boy, something most women do at least once in their youth.
Best of all, Elizabeth does not sell out, literally. In a world in which the only thing women were good for was marrying well to ensure the survival of their family, Elizabeth refuses to marry a man simply for his money. Her best friend, Charlotte, does sell out. As we see the consequences of this decision unfold, both Elizabeth and we are reassured that such unhappiness is not worth the price.
Fitzwilliam Darcy is a hero for the ages. Tall, handsome, and very rich, he is this world’s Prince Charming. He is the man that every woman with half a brain wants to marry. Yet, he too is flawed. Proud and disagreeable, he makes a lousy first impression on everyone who meets him, including the reader. He may be the answer to Elizabeth’s problems, but we know that she can do better.
What Jane Austen did brilliantly in writing this novel is enable her readers to come to understand that Elizabeth and Darcy should be together only slightly before Elizabeth herself does. The tension in the final chapters is a direct result of our willing them to get past their issues and see that belong together.
The novel is much more than just the romance. It has many memorable characters and it is a wonderful indictment of the world in which Austen found herself. In scene after scene, we are treated to people we all know and understand behaving sometimes as we expect and sometimes not. It is also a novel rich in humor and light; some scenes still make me laugh out loud.
In the end, what keeps me (and many others) coming back to this novel time after time, is that is a wonderful story wonderfully told. If you have never read this novel, turn off the filmed versions, put aside the novels that followed, and pick this up. My guess is that you will pick it up again.
ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or, in this case, a book in her hands.