Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice was published January 28, 1813, two hundred years ago today. Austen is my favorite author, first because her dialog is brilliant; second because her characters are brilliant; third because her description is, well, brilliant. She does not squander time or words on description, yet I can picture every scene in my mind’s eye although I did not live in that time period nor have I visited Britain.
Austen’s characters, even minor ones, are well-developed and easy to identify with because each is, in one way or another, flawed. For example, Mrs. Bennet is shallow and silly, but Mr. Bennet responds with cynicism and more or less leaves his daughters to fend for themselves. At the same time, even unlikable characters have redeeming qualities. Mr. Collins, the consummate buffoon, has his heart in the right place wanting to marry into the family he will displace when he inherits Mr. Bennet’s estate. It truly is a “small world” in Pride and Prejudice, with varied and tangled relationships among the characters.
In P&P – indeed, in all of Austen’s novels – conflicts arise due to love, money, and societal expectations. Elizabeth Bennet, the female protagonist, is the personification of “prejudice,” often forming opinions without considering all sides of the story. And let’s face it: Mr. Darcy, the “pride” and male protagonist, is quite simply a jerk during the first part of the story.
Consider his marriage proposal to Elizabeth (as depicted in A&E’s 1995 miniseries):
Ouch. Fortunately Darcy and Lizzy are open-minded enough to allow for some major character development. Observe the smoldering gazes exchanged during a later encounter at Pemberley:
Ahhh, this is my favorite scene from the 1995 adaptation.
Each of Jane Austen’s novels ends with an engagement or wedding. Pride and Prejudice is no exception, and everybody – at least the deserving ones – lives happily every after.