Where Readers & Writers Connect
by Sheila Hollinghead
Pride and Prejudice came in fifth in our poll. (And probably would have been higher if we had limited the voters to females!) It placed second in a BBC poll of the United Kingdom’s best loved books.
What made this book such a hit that its popularity has continued until today, still spawning new movie versions (even one entitled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies slated for 2013)?
There are several reasons for such popularity. First, Jane Austen employed the use of free indirect speech that allows us to delve deeply into the mind of Elizabeth Bennet while, at the same time, keeping us at a distance, enabling us to laugh at the lovers along with the narrator.
Austen focuses throughout the book on “Lizzy” who is witty, strong willed, and moral, many of the very things we want to be. She is very much her own person, refusing to let others dictate her life.
For example, she stands firmly against her mother’s pressure to marry Mr. Collins, leading to this line uttered by her father:
“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”
This shows us her integrity. She refuses to marry Mr. Collins even though it would ensure financial security for her and her family. In addition, she rejects the rich Mr. Darcy’s first proposal of marriage, shocking him with her opposition.
Later, when his domineering aunt visits, she again refuses to be cowed. Elizabeth is a brave woman, especially during this time when women were dependent upon men.
And, yet, she was not perfect. She allowed herself to be led astray by Mr. Wickham. She was human with the faults and foibles we all share. Not as pretty as her sister, instead the “witty” one, she’s a woman we readily identify with.
One of the reasons–he’s not easily attainable. He, at first, loathes Elizabeth. And the feeling is mutual. Yet, unknowingly, she wins him over. In a short period of time, he goes from dislike to passionate love.
However, Elizabeth is not easily persuaded, especially since he insults her and her family when he first declares his love. In vehement language, she tells him exactly why she would never marry him.
And, this gives us another reason to love Mr. Darcy. Even after this harsh rejection, his love never wavers.
Furthermore, he actually listens to what she says to him and changes his behavior. Ahh, that’s enough to make any girl swoon. A guy who not only listens, but changes his behavior! (Ladies, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Most men will not respond like Mr. Darcy.)
He is an excellent listener and responsive to those around him. He showers gifts on his sister and is a good manager of his estate with happy, loyal servants. He knows how to pay attention to the needs of others.
Furthermore, he takes it upon himself, secretly, to save Elizabeth’s sister. He acts competently without any prodding. He takes charge.
In contrast to Elizabeth’s own father, he’s not snared by outward beauty. It’s the inner Elizabeth that he so passionately loves.
Being the owner of Pemberley, fantastically rich, and good-looking to boot makes him the almost perfect man. (If he were perfect, would we love him quite so much?)
I once thought I was a Jane Austen fan. After reading and rereading her books dozens of times, I realized I am actually a fan of Pride and Prejudice. I am a fan of this hybrid of Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella–peopled with the imperfect hero and heroine to make the perfect love story.
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