‘Pride and Prejudice’ is arguably Austen’s most renowned novel. In finishing ‘Emma’, I was rendered disappointedly unsatisfied, therefore my only remaining option was to pursue ‘Pride and Prejudice’, in the hopes of discovering the Austen that everyone knows and loves (already starting with the cliches, I know).
The novel is centred around the Bennets and their five daughters: Jane, Elizabeth, Kitty, Lydia and Mary. Mrs Bennet lives in hopes of having all of her daughters wed as soon as possible, most-notably to uphold their reputation. When a wealthy gentlemen named Mr Bingley rents a manor at Netherfield Park, the village of Longbourn descends into a fit of gossip. Mr Bennet’s eldest daughter, Jane, sets her sights on Mr Bingley and they most-definitely hit it off at his introductory ball. On the other hand, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, Bingley’s good friend, certainly do not. His strikingly rude and obnoxious manner is enough to turn even the most forgiving woman away. As the novel persists, unlikely relations grow, scandals are committed and lies are uncovered, to say the least…
Where else am I to begin, but the beginning? Austen’s opening line is quite-probably one of the most well-known lines in the history of English Literature and definitely one of the most unforgettable beginnings, that’s for sure. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Do you agree? Ironically enough, Austen’s plot more so depicts single women, in possession of a good social standing, in desperate want of husband, rather than her initial inference of men being in want of a wife. Whilst many argue that Austen automatically places the weight of social expectation, with regards to marriage, onto women, as though it is their job to marry, the diction of her introductory line highlights the “want” of a wife, rather than the “need”, implying that it is not a necessity. Perhaps Austen cleverly and prematurely foreshadows both of Elizabeth’s marriage proposal rejections, as she subtly conveys the allowance of choice, as a result of the negotiable nature of “want”, meaning that there is no obligation to wed. However, Austen’s phrasing of her introductory line does indeed place the importance of a man’s “want”s above those of a woman, as Austen purposefully depicts the desires of men more highly than the desire of women. This is further supported by the syntax, which places “man” before “wife”. Additionally, “wife”, rather than “woman” already removes the liberty of women, as single autonomous beings, thus juxtaposing the subtle implications that women are entitled to choice. It is also worth noting the neutrality of the statement; the omniscient third-person narrator employs ambiguity, yet reveals hidden insight in the story to come, paradoxically in revealing nothing at all. To reiterate, Austen exposes the female right to decline a man, particularly as “acknowledged” implies that it is neither accepted, nor consistently upheld, that a man “must be in want of wife”, it is merely a deep-seated societal standard or unwritten rule so to say, that “universally” just is. What do you think?
Unfortunately, I was not as deeply enthralled with ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as I had hoped and expected to be. However, in reaching the latter half of the novel, I began to enjoy the it a great deal more than the first half, which I found rather tedious. My change of heart regarding the novel is firmly rooted in Austen’s portrayal of our witty and sarcastic protagonist Elizabeth Bennet. Admittedly, I was still deeply captivated by Miss Bennet from the onset, particularly her initial interactions with the once-thought rude and arrogant Mr Darcy, however, not until the latter half of the novel did I really appreciate her humour. Perhaps my liking of Miss Bennet derives from my personal wish to approach life in such a manner and even my possession of similar characteristics only to a lesser degree, for I cannot compare myself to the bold, yet facetious, Elizabeth Bennet. Austen’s portrayal of Elizabeth’s sharp tongue and fiery attitude most certainly makes her a controversial, comedic character, whilst maintaining the balance between enough wit to hold her own, as well as enough self-awareness to uphold her respectable, elegant manner. However, a favourite ‘Bennet Moment’ of mine is most-definitely her rejection of Mr Darcy (just classic), as Austen is able to maintain her initial indication of a woman possessing no obligation to wed, despite the recurring paradox of the likes of the Brontës and Austen, who spend the entirety of their novels depicting a rebellious, non-conforming female protagonist, who ends up marrying in the end anyway. However, you all know how I feel about that if you’ve read my previous blog posts…
To conclude, I began ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with a feeling of hostility, as it already exuded typical ‘rebellious female doesn’t want to conform, but does anyway’ vibes. However, this was seemingly overlooked in approaching the latter half of the novel as my appreciation for protagonist Elizabeth Bennet increased. Although I have not discussed it, I was also exceedingly drawn in by the comical relationship between Darcy and Bennet and had hoped that their interactions had been greater in the earlier parts of the novel. Maybe I’m just being greedy. What do you think of Darcy and Bennet’s love-hate relationship?