Pride & Prejudice

Friday 6 June 2014 by

Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen, Vintage Classics, BookPride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Edition published by Vintage

Elizabeth Bennet is young, clever and attractive, but her mother is a nightmare and she and her four sisters are in dire need of financial security and escape in the shape of husbands. The arrival of nice Mr Bingley and arrogant Mr Darcy in the neighbourhood turns all their lives upside down in this witty drama of friendship, rivalry, enmity and love.

~*~

It’s funny how easily you can get away with never reading Pride & Prejudice and yet be able to say exactly what happens. The number of film and TV adaptations makes your eyes water! But this is a story that lends itself to being retold – as timeless and well-deserved as any classic of British literature should be.

But it’s notoriously hard to review a classic – you’re battling against a majority that has read it, loved it, and formed their own opinions of it. How can you expect to arrive late to the party and have an opinion?

As a party-latecomer, I knew I had to make amends – how could I have reached my mid-twenties without reading Pride & Prejudice! But it is telling that throughout the read, my mind gave them the faces from the adaptations. Wickham and Lydia, oddly, were Matthew Goode and Jenna Coleman from the BBC version of P.D James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, and Jane was Rosamund Pike (the 2005 film), but there was no question that Colin Firth was still my Mr Darcy.

It’s fortunate, on reflection, that the book lived up to expectations. After all, a latecomer can’t arrive and denounce the party as rubbish when everyone else has been having such a good time. In any case, I will attempt to review it without ruining anything.

You will always fall for Lizzy Bennet – she shines through the prose with refreshing delight on every page, and you sympathise with her every step of the way. Mr Collins, Mrs Bennet, Lydia and Miss Bingley all make me shudder (just as they should) but were given greater depth in the novel than they have ever been afforded in any interpretation. One thing that became clear – any TV or film version of Pride & Prejudice could never do justice to the depths and wit and pure class of Austen’s writing. You can never transfer the nuances on to screen, and so it has always been lost in translation. Rather, every word in the book demonstrates not only writerly skill, but a particular perception of the writer – the ability to see through a character and build it out from the heart.

There were some moments when the power of Austen faltered – an effusive bellow of archaic words and description and decorum that, on a crowded and noisy train, was lost for me. This book was always meant to be read in a quiet, stately corner of a room, with no disturbance. It’s only then that you can fully appreciate Austen’s classic and the beauty of the characters that we already know and love.

How is it, then, that a book that is ultimately just a love story wrapped up in some day-to-day life, can become such a classic? In many respects, it has dated dramatically – there is no doubt what time you are in and where – but in others it is perfectly timeless. The book’s more subversive narrative on the state of society is still appropriate, to some extent, today (though we are less reliant on marriages, which is a bit of a relief, because it all seems like too much like hard work in P&P). The characters are still perfectly recognisable (we all know at least one of each of those characters and, perhaps regrettably, see those characteristics in ourselves), and the game-playing of romance hasn’t altered one iota from Austen’s era. I felt the heartache as acutely, laughed as loudly, and raged as passionately, as I have ever done in real life. Pride & Prejudice shines a light on reality – some of it less appealing than others – and tells the story with such alacrity you can’t help but be taken in.

It’s a joy to read and one that can be read and re-read no matter what – and that’s the mark of a true classic.

You can follow Fran on Twitter: @CatwomanFran

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