A Basic Gal’s Guide to Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice

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I am going to switch things up this month and kick this post off with my revised Austen rankings.

Allison’s Ranking of Jane Austen Novels

1. Pride and Prejudice

2. Northanger Abbey

3. Persuasion

 

Of course a basic gal like me would put Pride and Prejudice at the top of her list. But it also takes over the number one spot because it is just. so. good. I am struggling with how to do this book justice. Let’s dive in.

Let me start by saying I decided this time to listen to the audiobook, and boy, was it awesome (the narrator was amazing). I cannot tell you how many times I let out a squeal or a giant smile or — everyone’s favorite — a big awwwww with my hand over my heart…all while driving to and from work. I am sure I looked ridiculous, but really, ask me if I care. I am absolutely smitten with this book, and I don’t care who knows it.

There are a LOT of characters to keep track of in Pride and Prejudice. The main protagonist herself, Elizabeth Bennett, is one of five sisters. Now, put into play her best friend Charlotte Lucas and her family, a gentleman named Mr. Bingley and his sisters, Mr. Darcy and his sister, a soldier named Mr. Wickham, an annoying cousin named Mr. Collins…and so on and so on…you get the picture. There are quite a few people to keep track of in this book, but they are all such interesting and distinct characters that it is never a problem.

Elizabeth’s sisters and her parents reside at Longbourn Estate. While her father is a gentleman and he maintains the estate, they are by no means rich. At the start of the book, all of the Bennett sisters are unmarried, and their mother is especially determined to change that. When she learns a gentleman by the name of Mr. Bingley is expected to arrive at nearby Netherfield Park, a series of events is set in motion that will eventually lead to three of her daughters getting hitched.

But first — Mr. Bingley and his party, which includes his bratty sisters as well as his good friend Mr. Darcy, arrive at Netherfield and get acquainted with people in the area. Mr. Bingley is well received by residents, not only because he is rich, but because he is an overall nice guy. Mr. Darcy on the other hand, although super rich, is looked at as a very prideful man. Bingley starts falling for Elizabeth’s shy older sister Jane. Darcy isn’t having it, because he doesn’t think Jane likes his friend Bingley as much as he likes her (in today’s world, this would all be avoided with a simple text message, but oh well). He eventually convinces his friend to leave Netherfield, leaving Jane heartbroken.

Still with me? I am going to try to sum the rest of the book up quickly — although fair warning — I am going to have to leave some out for blog length’s sake (say that three times fast).

An awful cousin of the Bennetts named Mr. Collins, who will inherit Longbourn when Mr. Bennett dies, comes to town with the intention of marrying one of the five sisters. He asks Elizabeth, she promptly says no, and he goes on to marry her best friend. Trust me, Lizzy dodged a bullet on that one.

Elizabeth also meets Mr. Wickham and develops a friendship (maybe with a twinge of hope for something more to develop) with him. He tells her that Mr. Darcy did not give him the inheritance promised to him by Darcy’s father. Turns out, it’s a lie. But before Elizabeth learns Wickham is a big liar, she holds this against Darcy as another reason to dislike him. Wickham goes on to run away with Elizabeth’s youngest sister (who I think is maybe only 16 or 17 at the time) and has to be persuaded to marry young Lydia after basically ruining her reputation.

Mr. Bingley and Jane get back together, in case you were still wondering.

The best part of the book though, is watching the slow development of love between Elizabeth and Darcy. While she begins by disliking him (for reasons that she was mostly mistaken about) and refusing his first proposal of marriage, he had been falling in love with her since they first met. While he is not without fault (his first proposal to her involved talking about the inferiority of her birth and some insults about her family), Mr. Darcy learns from his failings, and comes back to prove his love and worthiness to Elizabeth. She, of course, changes her tune after realizing he’s actually a misunderstood man and they live happily ever after. Because if I have said it once, I will say it a thousand times — it’s Austen, y’all!

A man who loves and understands a woman for all her quirks and idiosyncrasies, no questions asked, is the stuff pretty much all good romance novels stem from. I think that’s a large part of why this book is so meaningful and has spawned so many adaptations.

Elizabeth Bennett is also my favorite of the Austen heroines so far. She is smart, proud, loyal, likable and undeniably flawed. Basically, she is fabulous.

I first read Pride and Prejudice back in high school (ah…so maybe that’s where my unrealistic expectations of men came from), but most of what I remember of the story prior to now comes from from the 2005 Keira Knightley movie adaptation of the novel. Let’s just say, parts of that movie get pretty liberal with their representation of the book. Spoiler alert: like the very last scene in the movie of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth talking of being “incandescently happy” at Pemberley — not in the book. Neither is my favorite scene where Darcy first proposes to Elizabeth in the rain (because professions of love are always better in the rain). But it is still a lovely depiction of Austen’s work.

I have yet to watch the more than 5 hour extravaganza that is the Colin Firth television mini-series version of the book, but I hear it is the best screen adaptation of the novel.

I know I am not doing this book justice. If you haven’t already, just read it. It’s beautiful, romantic and oh-so-Austen.

The Jane train doesn’t stop here! Emma is up next.

Have you read Pride and Prejudice? Are you as enamored as I am with Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship? Give me your take in the comments below!

Allison

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Allison works at CLP – Main in the External and Government Relations Department as a Development Associate. She enjoys long walks, good books and bad reality television.