This is probably Austen’s most beloved book, and for good reason. It has all of the earmarks of a truly fantastic, timeless book: a great pair of leading characters, comical supporting characters, a classic romance, witty dialogue, even suspense. It’s also one of my favorites that she’s written, just a smidge behind Persuasion, possibly tying. It’s just really quite fun to read, and no matter how many times I re-read it (at least once or twice a year) it’s still just as enjoyable as it was the first time. In fact, it’s one of those books that I will occasionally pick up when I’m feeling a bit down and in need of cheering, because Austen’s way of giving everyone exactly what they deserve makes me smile (in addition, the process by which they get there is also cheer-inducing).
The plot is one common to Austen: genteel upper-middle class village family with financial troubles; daughters must marry well in order to stave off ruin and pauperdom; enter the hero; circumstances and personalities conspire to keep them apart; they marry. In this case, the commonality of the plot doesn’t make it any less fresh and enjoyable, partially because the characters in Pride & Prejudice are so memorable. Here, the titular heroes (that is, Pride and Prejudice) are Elizabeth Bennett, a delightfully unconventional country girl, and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, a snobby (at first), wealthy landowner whose 10,000£ a year doesn’t counteract the fact that he’s kind of a jerk (or at least appears to be a jerk). Of course, they are secretly perfect for each other, though they have some growing up to do, and neither one of them will admit it. Throughout the novel, both of them undergo such changes, ruminations, and realizations about their own personalities and faults that when they finally do get together (seriously, I’m not spoiling anything here), you’re ready to cheer and yell, “FINALLY.”
In between, Austen uses her characters as a sharp commentary on, as usual, ridiculousness, snobbery, and hypocrisy. Her usual grotesques make their appearance, both in Elizabeth’s family and in Darcy’s; the obsequious Mr. Collins and the puffed-up Lady Catherine are some of her most astounding in this volume. The real star of the show, though, is Elizabeth, of course; her refreshing wit, marked independence, and her charm despite the fact that she is almost the total opposite of what a young woman of her time period is expected to be. Though, of course, she operates within the confines of the time, Elizabeth makes a spirited defense of her own interests and happiness when Lady Catherine attempts to steamroller her into backing down. Yes, it’s a marriage plot, but it’s a marriage plot on Elizabeth’s terms.
Again, this is a book that I really just enjoy re-reading. The characters are memorable, the writing crackles with electricity in its terse humor, and it’s just generally a fantastic book. There’s a reason it’s my pick-me-up. And alas… from here… it’s on to Mansfield Park.