Confession: I have read Pride and Prejudice literally dozens of times. I’ve seen the BBC mini-series starring the dashing Colin Firth a couple of times and the 2005 film version with Keira Knightley probably hundreds of times (not joking) and yet, even now, I can pick up the classic published back in 1813 at any given time, begin reading from any given page, and still become, instantly, captivated.
I marvel at the character development and the funny, heartfelt, yet simultaneously satirical social interactions between the characters. To be a good storyteller, one needs a certain way with words and a good grasp of plot, indeed, but also, I think, an excellent understanding of human nature and behavior, something Jane Austen had in spades. Her stories (the earliest of romantic comedies) are the tales after which almost every successful romantic comedy since has been modeled. But more than that, they were social satires as well, remarking on the folly of human beings, our self-assigned importance and the absurdity of certain forms of etiquette. Austen lived in 19th century England, a time where social norms were revered practically as law, and her novels clearly reveal just how useless she found many of them to be.
I’m assuming most of you know the story: young, spirited Elizabeth Bennet is thrown into the company of wealthy and seemingly arrogant Mr. Darcy who snubs her upon their first meeting. After spending some time together, however, Mr. Darcy falls for Elizabeth and is shocked when she rebuffs his offer of marriage. She has come to regard him as the coldest, most condescending bore she’s ever known, mostly from a certain affection she’s developed for a charming young man who has gone out of his way to falsely defame Darcy’s integrity and because of Darcy’s own prideful behavior. After several months and many revealing circumstances, both learn to overcome their own pride and ill-conceived prejudices and realize that they are exceedingly compatible and rather passionately in love.
The love story is perfectly paced, fully developed and told in suspenseful and bewitching language. What makes this classic a classic, though, is the effective use of the side characters and subplots not just to complicate and propel forward the central plot, but make very poignant, often hilarious, sometimes biting social commentary. We humans are prone to insecurity, pomp and nonsense and Austen expertly maneuvered her sharp observations into this light-hearted, charming and very funny love story.
I’m always on the lookout for a new book to love and I have a particular soft spot for the classics. Leave a comment and tell me which of your favorites I should read next.