Not exactly a brand new story, I know. This is one of the books that’s been sitting in my “to be read” pile for years and it was time I gave it the attention it deserved.
Part of the reason I finally read it was, well, awkward. My late aunt was always a huge Jane Austen fan, encouraged me to read her, and even got me a Jane Austen action figure. Seriously, it’s kind of awesome. I watched the movie, Emma. I know that Clueless was based on the same story (and let’s face it, Cher Horowitz is pretty great), but for whatever reason I just never got around to Darcy and Elizabeth. I purposefully avoided the many movies because I knew I needed to read the book first.
It was a little bittersweet–the person who’d urged me for years to read this story has been gone for almost 5 years. I’ll never get to discuss its intricacies with her. I’ll never get to make jokes about situations that it could be compared to. I’ll always wonder just how many times she read this book, and wonder if I’ll ever catch up. But she was right, I enjoyed the story immensely. And if there was ever a way to let her know, I’d hope for it to somehow find her in whatever life/world she resides now. I owe her a debt–for expanding my mind once again. For giving me pause to consider that Louisa May Alcott and Edith Wharton aren’t the only masters of strong, intelligent female characters who challenged old society in surprising ways. (Jo and Countess Olenska–both have been part of my life for years. I’ve gone back to them both more than once.)
Now that my personal attachment is disclosed, how about I discuss the novel itself?
I had to write down the love interests and matches to keep them all straight. The first half of the novel I was trying to remember which lady was trying to keep Jane (the eldest Bennet sister) from Bingley (a well to do bachelor in town from London), who was trying to interfere and get them together anyway by scheming to have her visit them when they knew he’d be in town, etc.
People of means in the early 1800s had very little to keep them occupied so gossip and matchmaking was pretty much all they did. And it’s a slow read.
But then Elizabeth practically laughed at Mr. Collins when he proposed to her, telling him not a snowball’s chance in hell. And she did it again to Darcy. Both of their proposals were fairly insulting, which probably many were in those days–especially when a man who had more money than the woman’s family would dare marry before his station in life. Like they were saving her from embarrassment and living in ruin by offering to subject themselves to such misery. I’d have said no, too.
Both egos were bruised, but Mr. Collins instead married one of Elizabeth’s friends and Mr. Darcy had the foresight to write Elizabeth a letter to explain his side of the story, after being informed an old acquaintance by the name of Wickham spoke of grave misdeeds on Darcy’s part–Elizabeth believing every word he said.
Turns out Wickham was a sleaze, a liar, and a womanizer. Aside from spreading pretty nasty lies about Mr. Darcy, he winds up running off with Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Lydia. Massive family shame awaits, the Gardiners (aunt and uncle) set off to find the wayward daughter. Mr. Bennet does the same, and Elizabeth hadn’t told anyone about Darcy’s letter explaining what a slime ball Wickham really was with anyone beyond her sister Jane, so she feels responsible for it happening, and little Lydia is just loving all the attention.
Turns out, shame is spared and a rushed marriage will take place so the Bennets can save face. And of course, the commotion completely got in the way of Elizabeth and Darcy developing a genuine connection, so once again it seems like they are simply not meant to be. Except now, Elizabeth wishes just the opposite, but again doesn’t tell anyone in her family because they still have a poor opinion of him and she thinks it won’t happen, so why go through the trouble?
In the end, Jane and Bingley get married. And Elizabeth and Darcy manage to finally get together without mucking it up. Lydia is sent away to minimize the embarrassment and she begs for help from her now much wealthier sisters. So basically, she and Wickham deserved each other.
Here’s what I loved:
Elizabeth’s character. She was smart, clever, and didn’t care about the usual trivialities that seemed to occupy most women’s time of the period. She was headstrong, opinionated, and spoke her mind. She wouldn’t be intimidated by status. And yet she would admit to being wrong. As strong as she was, she was still vulnerable.
Her relationship with her father was lovely. He seemed to know the rest of the women in his home were pretty silly, and he would be more open and frank with Elizabeth. He didn’t treat her like every other woman, knowing full well she was capable of more. If her mother had been her only influence, I’m sure she would have been miserably married to Mr. Collins the rest of her life.
Her relationship with her sister Jane. While Elizabeth was the headstrong one, Jane was the optimist, hopefully for a well to do happy ending. It was good balance–it made sure Elizabeth stayed grounded in reality, and showed her nurturing side.
The back and forth with Elizabeth and Darcy. I get why this is considered one of the great love stories. It deserves the honor.
And a little part of me enjoyed that Wickham got his come-up-ins, and that the spoiled brat sister got hers. There are times when I want the “bad guy” to win but there are others where I want karma to be served quickly. This story made me want the latter so, so bad.
So if you’re one of the 15 people in the world who managed to avoid any and all spoiler alerts of Pride and Prejudice before now, sorry. Darcy and Elizabeth do fall in love and they do get married. But even knowing the ending, it’s worth a read.