A guide to the classics: Pride and Prejudice
|July 26, 2011||Posted by Jess Kadow under guide to the classics|
In a completely different vein from last time, it is time to move away from the wilderness of the island jungle and towards the prim and proper world of 19th century Britain for a glimpse into the life of Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s famous novel Pride and Prejudice. This may not seem thrilling, but if you’re aiming for excitement and action then you will not be able to squeeze much more than a drop out of this particular novel. Saying this aloud in my house may be considered treacherous, considering my mother has named it her favourite book and “snuggling down with a bit of Colin Firth” has become a euphemism for watching the film. But, in truth, whilst the novel highlights the scandals, societal restrictions and expectations of the time, it cannot be called shocking by modern-day standards. And granted it does need to be read with this in mind; you have to be immersed in the time period and see yourself as a man or woman waltzing about in an overly frilly outfit, making judgemental remarks about other people’s money, to fully understand the atmosphere. Maybe this is where I fell down on reading it, but I felt no real sympathy for the characters nor understanding of them, which in the end left me feeling rather empty, as if the entire experience had simply washed over my head.
Elizabeth Bennet is a likeable and attractive heroine, trapped in a family of five daughters with a tense mother who is constantly striving to get rid of them to rich husbands. Elizabeth is trapped by society and sees her sister, Jane, marrying around her, whilst being proposed to herself by Mr Collins, thankfully having the strength of heart and sense - not marred by money like her mother - to say no to the pompous fool. You follow her in a haze of frustration as you experience her objectification, coerced into the paths of wealthy men and prevented from actually enjoying herself. This all works effectively and you become drawn to Elizabeth as a character: a good-natured individual in a world of greed, pride and pomp.
Yet I still found the novel hard to enjoy. Perhaps it was because despite the turmoil of Elizabeth’s emotions , family tension and a couple of satisfying blossoming relationships, the characters didn’t appear to do very much. This may have been a convention of middle-class families in the time period, but it seemed as if the only things that they did was read books in their homes, take walks in the countryside, sit by the fireside and sew, visit other families for tea or attend the occasional ball. Therefore, all events had to unfold within the same cycle of boredom, and it was as if I could sense the dreary repetitiveness of Elizabeth’s days and began to resent them myself. Whilst this may be effective writing, capturing the essence of the time, it did not leave me wishing to read more or even finish the book, if anything it became a struggle to get through.
The story of Mr Darcy and Mr Wickham’s feud is a more intriguing one, as it includes more spite and hate, becoming more of a mystery as the reader attempts to work out the connections and history between the two. I found myself being drawn to these nastier characters, like the cold, menacing figure of Mr Darcy, as they seemed to be more interesting and have more substance, as the shallow nature of Elizabeth’s little sisters Kitty and Lydia was wearing, the desperate materialism of her mother frustrating and the general vanity of nearly all the other female characters pitiful. The female characters were infuriating as they seemed to lack strength, both physically and mentally, for example: Elizabeth’s old, but poor, friend Charlotte marries Mr Collins for his money even though she does not love him, and Jane cannot survive going out in the rain for a small amount of time without becoming bedridden for several days. The men were made unlikeable because they were surrounded by a veil of superiority threaded from too much money, status and time. Even Elizabeth’s character grew tiring after a time, due to her strange emotional U-turn nearer the end and her ability to be rather judgemental.
If you want a relaxing trundle through a 19th century countryside and can ignore the one-dimensional characters that surround Elizabeth and her hunt for love, then feel free to read through and enjoy this book. But personally I prefer something with a little more plot and character-related oomph. I want characters with substance, intrigue and mystery plus a little action and drama that goes further than simply dirtying the family name. These negative points are to some extent steeped in the genre, but mostly with novels like this I can side-step this fact when faced with something just a little more exciting. And this just didn’t do it for me.