This book needs no introduction or synopsis; it is justly universally renowned. So, I shall dive straight into my review!
It is a long time since I last read Pride and Prejudice cover to cover, although I have watched the 1980 adaption (the most faithful to the spirit of the novel) many times in the interim and also dipped in and out of the book. Sometimes, I find, it’s hard to read a book from beginning to end when you know it so well – you want simply to skip backwards or forwards to favourite scenes. But, I’m glad I forced myself to read this straight through, because it made me appreciate it more than ever as a complete work.
The novel is perfectly paced. The characters are engaging from the opening, and maintain the reader’s interest throughout. The dialogue is witty but believable. The writing style is less apparently sophisticated than that of many of the other ‘Greats’ of Literature, but it is neat and never gets in the way. Nowhere in Pride and Prejudice does one have to wade dutifully through marshes of purple prose! And there are no mistakes or inconsistencies. A few too many coincidences perhaps (Mr Darcy happening to visit his aunt when Elizabeth was there; she and the Gardiners happening to visit Derbyshire rather than the Lakes, and then happening to visit Pemberley when he was not expected but still arrived unexpectedly; the scoundrel with whom Lydia runs off happening to be the very same that behaved so egregiously to the Darcy family), but I can reconcile myself to those. All in all, it should be a model for any aspiring writer, and I certainly hope that I’ll remember to bear it in mind while writing!
The ensemble of characters is by far my favourite of those in Austen’s novels. There are many deliciously ridiculous characters, who manage to annoy each other, without annoying the reader – a difficult thing to pull off! Mr and Mrs Bennett are foremost here. In fact, they are so successfully depicted that I wonder why Jane Austen never tried the same recipe again – why do none of her other heroines live with two parents? In all the other novels, either the heroines have one deceased parent, or they do not live with their parents. Why no more Mr and Mrs Bennetts? But I digress…! … Elizabeth is an engaging heroine – neither a touch of a stubborn prig like Fanny (in Mansfield Park), nor a bit of an arrogant busybody like Emma (in Emma). Mr Darcy is, I think, the most heroic of Austen’s heroes. His degrading quest to find Lydia and Wickham and persuade them to marry, and his discretion and humility in not trumpeting what he has done, show him to be more than even just a gentleman – he emerges as a quiet hero. The only disappointment to the reader is that Mr Darcys are needles in the proverbial haystack – how many readers have met even one such man? In the post-gentility modern age, the very best and most admirable young men of most young ladies’ acquaintance are still somewhat diamonds in the rough in comparison to Mr Darcy. He begins the novel as upright but arrogant, he is reprimanded once by his beloved, and upon this single incident undergoes a radical transformation, even going above and beyond what she could expect. Is this realistic? Hmm, well, maybe not! But, I suppose, the essence of fiction is the presence of some extremely unusual personalities and scenarios!
The only “if only” I felt about this novel was: if only she had written a sequel!
The edition I read was the Collector’s Library edition. It’s a neat, compact little book, and I liked the gold-leafed pages and the feel of it in my hand; but, I didn’t think the illustrations captured the spirit of the novel, which was a bit of a shame.