The Romance of the 18th Century

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen

I always hesitate before reviewing a classic, and Jane Austen’s infinitely revered PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is possibly the mother of all classics.  However, the purpose of these entries is to reflect on what I liked and didn’t about the books I read; so instead of being intimidated by reviewing what many claim to be the greatest novel of all time, I’ll just plan on tailoring this review according to the rubric of my taste.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is first and foremost a love story.  While the novel offers the modern reader a fascinating glimpse of upper class 18th century English life, it is at its root the history of fiery Elizabeth Bennet’s hard won union with the fashionable Mr. Darcy.  Unfortunately, romances are not typically my cup of tea, and at times, I couldn’t help but find the story shallow and the characters empty.  I could not ignore the fact that the novel’s beloved co-heroines, Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, did not actually do anything but allow time to pass before impressing their respective beaux.  While I will admit to finding Elizabeth’s spunk captivating at times, I fruitlessly hoped that she might reveal some passion in life–other than Mr. Darcy–to the reader.

The other women in the novel were, if not admirable, certainly memorable.  The Bennet girls’ three younger sisters: Mary, Kitty and Lydia, are each acutely different from one another, causing unrelieved tension in the Bennet family scenes.  There is Mary, who is reserved, educated and thoughtful, though seemingly only because she is the least attractive of the Bennet girls.  Following her is Kitty, an impressionable “middle child”-type whose character varies depending on the family member she is most attached to at that time.  And finally there is Lydia, the youngest and bawdiest of the Bennet brood, who capriciously skips town with the calculating Mr. Wickham, inciting fury in everyone involved.  However, I found each of these personalities perfectly believable as they were each reared by the insufferable Mrs. Bennet.  Mrs. Bennet is an immature, proud braggart endowed with a terrible sense of character.  However, because of her dramatic deficiencies, her appearances add humor to the scene and are a great asset to the novel as a whole.

Finally, this would not be a Jane Austen book review without addressing the author’s celebrated style of writing.  While her good name has come into question as of late in findings that early drafts of her classic novels are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, I harbor no doubts as to her fantastic skill with the English language.  In fact, I would venture to say that her prose is often perfect to a fault.  While the non-dialogue passages deserve pages in textbooks for their effortless use of advanced syntax and vocabulary, the use of the same elevated prose in the dialogue, for me, was just disengaging.

Ultimately, while I did not always love PRIDE AND PREJUDICE I liked enough about the celebrated classic to want to read more of Jane Austen.

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