I Ardently Admired This Book: Pride and Prejudice
Confession: I cried reading this book too
I know I said I wanted to read happier books and not cry. But this book was so sweet and it was as Jane Austen said “light, bright, and sparkling.” So it was a happy cry and I was moved. Wow, this book started one way and zagged on me. I didn’t realize it was about seeing your parents as human, grief, and the ties between sisters and dear girlfriends. It also is learning that you can still love yourself and make mistakes. That’s what dating is, you figure out what you want but you learn a lot about yourself. Much like Lizzy Bennet, I run my mouth and can be way nastier than I mean to be. I am known for going for the jugular too. However, I loved watching Lizzy fall in love. I loved watching Darcy change. It was really timeless. Reading it again, I realized that Lizzy saw the mistakes her parents made (ie marrying someone you look down upon) and didn’t want to repeat it. I always thought of her dad as kind of a hero but reading again he was a jerk. He was just as self-centered as her mother. He just hid it better. That was really insightful of Mr. Darcy to call him out in his letter to Elizabeth. Her mother is hilarious and I know people like her. As in they catastrophize everything and they can only see immediate benefits and how others see them. It’s a sad way to live. It showed Lydia getting married because she thought it would give her prestige. I cried when I realized that Lizzy had seen a sly smile on Darcy’s face in his portrait of Pemberly and then realized it was painted when his father was alive. I realized that Darcy was probably grieving and didn’t really want to meet new people. It explains his closeness to Bingley and how closed off he was. After my father passed, you could see the change in pictures of me and I got extremely close to my close friends. I didn’t want to meet anyone and I was extremely negative. It broke my heart because I understood his behavior better and I wanted to give him a hug. Oh and the sly smile thing and the fact he asked her what books she liked….dreamboat. Total dreamboat. Remember how I said I liked Byronic heroes? After reading this book, I decided that I am on Team Darcy. Also, he didn’t lock women in the attic because they were “crazy.” So many feelings on this!
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I asked my husband who has never read the book or seen the movies to tell me what he thought the plot was. He thought there were two sisters who were courting and they meet a mysterious Mr. Darcy who sweeps them off their feet. According to him, they fight over who gets to marry him.
Umm wrong. The bare-bones plot is there is a family with five daughters in a small town. Their mother wants them to marry rich and a handsome, rich stranger moves into town. The two oldest sisters are close and the rich stranger and his even richer friend make a good impression and a terrible impression. The two characters who hate each other wind up falling in love. The two oldest sisters wind up madly in love and much richer than they were. This plot sounds like a cheesy romantic comedy. Why has it lasted? Especially in our cynical age. Because there are a lot of layers in it and it is told from a woman’s point of view. It doesn’t really focus on rich people. It focused on a woman and her best friends navigating a world they were supposed to be impressed by and maintaining their autonomy and sense of self. Lizzy quotes Mary Wollstonecraft when she turns down a man. Also, these women don’t make stupid mistakes because men ask them to. Or if they do, like Lizzy’s friend Charlotte, they go into it with their eyes wide open and they wind up richer. As Cardi B would say, all of them make money moves. Another Cardi quote that came to mind (have I mentioned how much I love her?) while I was reading this book was that Darcy was attracted to bad bitches who “do what they want.” Not mean women but smart women, that is so friggin’ hot. He didn’t fall in love with Lizzy because she was beautiful although he was a sucker for her “fine eyes” but because she was smart. So if these two people are meant for each other why did they not get along at first?
There is a dance and Darcy refused to dance. This is especially rude according to the footnotes because if there weren’t an even number of ladies to men all the ladies who didn’t have a partner had to sit down. Then Lizzy overhears him say “she’s not fine enough to tempt me.” Instead of being crushed, Lizzy gets mad. Then she meets a charming man named Wickham who grew up with Darcy and hates him. So after the two rich men leave, the whole town turns against Darcy because he was arrogant and apparently evil. But here’s the twist, Darcy changes his behavior and you find out that Wickham is a straight up predator that everyone falls for. Read the book if you want to find out more but Lizzy makes an astute point that something was really wrong in the education of the two (Wickham and Darcy) because one is good and hides it and one is a sociopath. Honestly, the older I get the more I see this and it’s an effect of toxic masculinity. But here’s a really interesting take on it from Tumblr:
But the sweetest and most interesting thing about the book is the relationships between women and how all of them are unique and kind. Mrs. Gardiner (Lizzy’s Aunt) has small children and is married and is still a smart and astute woman. Lizzy’s friend Charlotte who marries an awful man is well aware of her situation and still remains a good friend to Lizzy. Lizzy’s sister Jane is kind and sweet but is still considered smart. Her perspective is greatly needed. The other three sisters who are odd, a follower, and a headstrong teenager who didn’t care about propriety. All of them are allowed to be their full selves and even though you like some more than others, you still care about the family. Even reading books written today the women aren’t as close of friends as the women in these books. That is the true timelessness of the book in that these women really care about each other and look out for each other in a predatory world. The ones who don’t get along aren’t as happy but they don’t get humiliated. They just miss out. Lizzy’s closest friends all trust and respect each other and it’s awesome.
Reading this book, you would not think it was taking place during a time of revolution. There is a presence of soldiers and things are alluded to with England’s war with France (there is a huge military base on the coast). People have complained that the book seems oblivious to the great changes that were happening. However, the book talks about old money, credit, and the new professional class. Rich people scoff at the neighborhoods the Bennet’s relatives live in, but the book seems to allude to them as cool hip places. The book has a lot of class issues that were really specific to when it was written such as the fact that the Bingleys eat two meals, one of which is supper at six. The carriages that people drive are carefully scrutinized and people can infer how much money they are worth. The nuts and bolts of making a living are described and while it doesn’t focus on the working poor it does talk about middle-class life. It was nice to read a book with low stakes. The book doesn’t have a grand theme about life like Crime and Punishment or Tess of the D’Urbervilles. It doesn’t have gore and glory or a true crime aspect like The Count of Monte Cristo. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less brilliant, the fact that this book could make me cry and think about my favorite people and falling in love. We need that. That is the kind of literature that lasts. Even though manners are old and peculiar, the feelings are real. It was an absolutely lovely escape and I loved it. Highly, highly recommended. The next book I’m going to read is Emma. I am really excited.
Notes on the Pictures
A perk of being a librarian is that I know how to research. I found the British Library Archives and a whole bunch of drawings from an 1895 edition of Pride and Prejudice that are in the public domain. They are delightful. Hopefully, I’ll find some more for her other books in this collection. You could get lost browsing them. It’s fascinating. Go to Open Culture to find some ah-mah-zing finds.