67. Upon Reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Readers of this blog know that I read different novels but promote extensively only African-authored novels. They also know that I have a challenge to read a list of 100 novels in five years, of which I am only fourteen percent through and in the third year. Consequently, I embarked upon a compulsive book buying some two Saturdays ago. And Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was one of twenty-three books purchased. Let me inform my readers that henceforth most of my readings would be geared towards meeting my challenges.
Pride and Prejudice (1813) is my first Austen novel and the second English Classic I have read this year following from Hardy's Jude the Obscure. Pride and Prejudice is a story set in the early nineteenth England in the town of Hertfordshire where five sisters lived, each with a different aspiration and disposition. Jane is servile, humble, quick to agree and forgive and almost never judges. Elizabeth, around whom the majority of the story is told is the thinking and cautious type. She does not easily submit to rules without questioning them. Mary is almost a recluse and played a minor role in the novel. Always learning, one can easily judge her to be suffering from an inferiority complex. The two others: Lydia and Catherine (or Kitty) are frivolous - acting without thinking of the effects of their actions.
Jane met Mr. Bingley and there was a spark but the proud Darcy was to extinguish it and later ignite it after he himself had had a prejudicial run-in with Elizabeth. Elizabeth saw Darcy as a proud man who hates to laugh and Darcy saw her as of low class. Darcy sees everything with a sexist mind:
A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.
However, Darcy was to change and all was to settle with the passage of time and self awareness. Then there is the 'horrid' Mr. Wickham who at first was adjudged lovely and polite and out-going until he eloped with Lydia.
In this interconnected love story, Austen portrayed the life of the society as it existed then. With Napoleon's war as the backdrop we see how Darcy changes from being the proud man to one acceptable by all of society - humbling himself to everybody though he is 'a ten thousand pounds a year' and owns a beautiful stretch of estate at Pemberley.
One cannot talk about this novel without mentioning the obnoxious, impossible Mrs Bennet who would do everything to marry her daughters off even if to men as unscrupulous as Mr. Wickham. Mrs Bennet's love to see all her daughters marry saw her doing things that gets under the reader's skin. Such excessive obsequiousness, which at least to her results from the would be loss of her home at the death of Mr. Bennet, was also a character she shared with Mr. Collins, whose worship of Lady Catherine - Darcy's supercilious auntie - almost borders on idolatry. These were the two characters I hated most. According to Mrs Bennet
It is a truth universally acknowledge, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Though Pride and Prejudice is one of the most read and widely loved English Classics, I realised that I had to stretch my imagination a bit to grasp what was happening. However, there were places that came easily to me such as the general need to marry as exhibited by the ladies in the novel including Miss Lucas who married Mr Collins knowing very well that she doesn't love him. In the story also, we see the gradual transformation of roles and perceptions exhibited by Elizabeth and Darcy. Whereas Elizabeth represented the transformation in women from being 'accept-all' to exhibiting choice in her refusal of Mr. Collins and initial refusal of Mr. Darcy, Darcy himself represented the transformation from the 'rich and proud' ideology to 'rich and humble'.
The English Classics is worth reading as one enjoys the flow of words paused by punctuations. Thus, if one follows the pauses properly, one realises that they are fun to read. The book left off with several frayed seams and many authors have taken the advantage of this, writing different variants of this Austen novel.