Written in 1796-7, initially called First Impressions, revised and renamed Pride and Prejudice in 1797 and published in 1813.
Let me introduce you to the chief characters. I met them in the hot and stuffy classroom in Year Ten, or Form Four as it was commonly called then. I did not really understand them at the time but I will be forever grateful to the teacher who first introduced us to them. She didn’t believe that because we were out in the suburbs we needed more relevant choices in literature. She gave us the opportunity to study the great, even though we were the small. It is ironic to think of her today, with her Filipino accent and her high-heeled shoes exhorting us to love what we could not appreciate at the time. But indeed we did come to love Jane. Some of those friends in that classroom have shared this quest with me. And I must thank a dear friend here, who kept repeating this phrase about her own four beautiful girls. She stated that what made them perfect were indeed their imperfections because that is what makes us all unique. And that is the reason we love Elizabeth Bennet. She is flawed; her prejudice is displayed for all to see but she accepts, once recognised, her mistakes with humour and moves on to the next adventure. It has stuck in my head and fits so aptly. Hers and the others:
Countess-of-Control-Lady Catherine de Bourgh
She has been considered the most beloved heroine found in English Literature; perfect in spite, indeed because of, her imperfections- Elizabeth Bennet. Hereafter called Flawed-But-Fabulous-Elizabeth Bennet. She lives with her mother, father and four sisters at Longbourne. The business of their lives is getting all five girls married. Nightmare-Wife-Mrs Bennet takes this very seriously as she knows that there are no tempting dowries for her girls and the beautiful Longbourne is entailed to pass over the girls to their cousin, the ubiquitous and Clawing Mr Collins. But Mild-Mannered-Mr Bennet finds all the matchmaking and histrionics of living in a female house all a little much and retreats to his study as much as he is able.
Nice GuyMr Bingley is the first love interest. He falls in love with Optimistic Jane but his friend, Superior-And-Spoilt-Mr Darcy and his bitchy sisters plot to separate them. Mr Darcy inadvertently falls for Elizabeth but too late. She is prejudiced against him by his own arrogant manner and by hearing Bad-Boy-Wickham’s hard luck story that portrays Mr Darcy as a villain. Elizabeth finds Wickham’s easy manner an attractive contrast to Darcy and is almost seduced except she is also practical; she knows that Wickham has no money to enable him to marry. Meanwhile Mrs Bennet wants her to marry Mr Collins. All becomes very muddled when Typical-Teen-Lydia the youngest runs off with Mr Wickham and he is revealed as a cad and Mr Darcy finally looks like the hero. All ends well with the chaos sorted and Jane and Elizabeth happily married to Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy.
For those that want more
The Bennets: The marriage in Pride and Prejudice, that doesn’t recommend the institution, is between Mr and Mrs Bennet. Mr Bennet, by far the most sympathetic character, is another one of Jane Austen’s nice guys. But, he fails to take responsibility for his family. He hasn’t saved money from his adequate income for his family after his death, and he allows his daughters to be the sole responsibility of his silly wife. And all he has left is to laugh at others and retire to his study with a book. He has become so cynical; he has lost his feelings and his good sense. Mild-Mannered-Mr Bennet has married a once beautiful woman who has grown into a nightmare wife and he has been happy to leave her to the worries of the world and retreat to his study. Nightmare-Wife-Mrs Bennet makes a mess of things to the detriment of all and finally Mild-Mannered-Mr Bennet sees his faults. But even he admits, he hasn’t the disposition to ponder upon them too long and things will return to normal soon enough.
The Love Interests: Superior-And-Spoilt-Mr Darcy appears first as anything but a hero. He is rude and arrogant and declares that Elizabeth is not handsome enough to tempt him! Yet there is something about Elizabeth that draws him in and when their paths again collide while he is visiting his aunt, and Elizabeth is visiting her friend they meet again at Rosings Park and he finds she does indeed tempt her to such an extent that against his better judgement, (‘In vain have I struggled.”he prefaces his matrimonial request) he proposes.Angry and insulted by his demeaning address she retorts, “I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” Yet through the Austen circuitous route to true love, Elizabeth must tear down the walls of her own prejudice, before she can really see the merits in the newly reformed and humbled Superior-And-Spoilt-Mr Darcy.
Nice-Guy-Mr Bingly, Darcy’s friend, is the perfect man, he is rich, amiable and in the neighbourhood! Optimistic-Jane Bennet, Elizabeth’s revered elder sister, falls deeply in love with him but the Backstabbing-and-Bitchy-Bingly sisters in collusion with Mr Darcy try to thwart Optimistic Jane’s suit. They have judged Jane’s family and found them wanting; their lack of decorum and Mrs Bennet’s blatant husband hunting on behalf of her daughters has scared them off. Nice-Guy-Mr Bingly is called to London and they follow him intending to delay him and keep him away from Longbourne. Jane manages a trip to London and contacts the sisters but they keep her visit a secret from their brother.
Mr Wickham, with his charming manners at first plays the role of victim to Mr Darcy’s villain. He appears as the love interest first to Flawed-But-Fabulous-Elizabeth Bennet. How quickly our feelings are ignited by the story of injustice meted out to the poor innocent Wickham. But alas, Jane Austen ensures that the righteous are rewarded and the less than righteous must endure the consequences of their actions. We find out that ‘victim’ Wickham is also a predator. He has been living double life. For his sins and his selfish ways he is to marry Lydia, the typical teen who is somewhat selfish and solipsistic who we can only assume will grow up to be as silly as her mother. There will be no early release for good behaviour for Bad-Boy-Wickham.
The Bit Players
The minor characters are superb as always. A perfectly crafted character in Pride and Prejudice is Lady Catherine De Bourgh. I am sure we all remember the breathtaking performance of Judy Dench in the 1980’s mini-series. The Countess of Control, Lady de Bourgh likes to dominate all and sundry who come within her path. No matter is too small for her discussion and direction. She will just as easily tell you where to put a cupboard as to whom you should marry. She is used to getting her own way and frequently does. Her parson is another minor masterpiece – Clawing Mr Collins. Mr Collins loves to paw her; he is a master in flattery and she loves it. He kowtows and obeys and is rewarded with her attention, advice and long dinners at her stately mansion Rosings. And into this pair’s den has walked Charlotte Lucas. Pragmatic Choice Charlotte, Elizabeth’s friend has decided to marry to escape the tedium of dependence upon her parents. She does not expect Clawing-Mr Collins to provide her with happiness. Instead, she will achieve it herself; she sets up her private domain and makes the most of what fate has provided her.
The Typical-Teen-Lydia is silly, self indulgent and spoilt. She is her mother’s favourite which tells us something about her mother. To be entertained is her passion and anything serious is to be avoided. She is almost the opposite of Elizabeth’s favourite sister, Optimistic Jane who instead of wanting to please herself is more interested in others. She is rational, unselfish and thinks the best of others as much as she can. She is the last to think poorly of anyone and is the only one slow to condemn Darcy – thinking rightly that there must be something of value in him given his friendship with Mr Bingly. Hers is a steady character in contrast to Lydia’s flightiness.