This may be difficult to believe, but this was the first time I’ve actually read Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. It comes free with the Kindle (device or software) and is also in the public domain. So everyone can read it. After watching the classic BBC miniseries with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and the 2005 film adaptation it was easy to be lazy about reading the book.
I can now safely recommend the book. Perhaps it’s due to how I’ve completely reevaluated male/female dynamics, society, patriarchy, femininity and the inherent power women actually have I’m certain I have a much different take on the novel than I would have had I read it a few years ago. I would’ve needed a fresh pair of eyes and perspective to glean much of the practical advice offered in the text.
Pride & Prejudice is the story of Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters. They’re not rich, but they’re not working class or poor either. They have servants after all. Due to an inheritance law their home and belongings will go to a male cousin (because Mr & Mrs. B have no sons) upon Mr. B’s passing so Mrs. Bennet is especially concerned about seeing her daughters married off.
There are certain standards already in place. One is that a woman of a certain class is expected to be taken care of by her husband (provided and protected) and not work outside the efforts at maintaining a home. The other is that women are to behave in a respectful manner.
Elizabeth is 21 and very spirited. She’s the second of five girls. Her sister Jane is the beauty of the family and at 23 still unmarried which is pushing it in the eyes of society. So when an eligible bachelor buys an estate close to them, Mrs. B has already sent an invitation for Mr. Bingley to join the family for dinner.
He’s accompanied by two of his sisters, one who’s married and not and his best friend Fitzwilliam Darcy. Mr. Darcy is a bit stiff and pompous, behaving rudely at one of the social gatherings put together. He and Elizabeth clash on sight! So of course you know they’re going to fall in love…but it takes a while to get there.
Here’s a link to the book. I’m not going to rehash the entire plot except to cover key points.
Jane and Bingley take to each other right away, but Jane is coy….too coy. He isn’t certain that she’s being polite at his attention or if she’s really interested. Their cousin Charlotte tells Elizabeth that Jane hasn’t made it clear she’s open but Elizabeth dismisses her advice because she says women shouldn’t have to extend themselves too much. Pride!!!
Lesson: Let the man know you’re interested…but don’t throw yourself at him of course!
The other situation that results is Mrs. Bennet puts the cart before the horse and loudly and publicly says at a table full of townspeople (with Darcy within earshot) that she expects a proposal to be forthcoming for Jane.
This is when Darcy intercepts and advises Bingley that Jane is not really serious about him. He ends up leaving town for several months afterwards. Plus his sisters are meddling and Darcy is smug about being the alpha male and taking charge. Bingley needed to make up his own mind, but in these type of situations who is going to take the risk?
Marriage was supposed to be forever, so choosing a compatible mate was paramount. He certainly wouldn’t want a woman more focused on his wealth or not really into him, so it was easy for him to retreat. In their case absence made their hearts fonder and Jane and Bingley figured out they did in fact love each other. Once the confusion was sorted out they didn’t waste any time marrying.
By not making men compete for a woman with manly dedication as the standard currency, the gender forfeits its natural ability to successfully handle male dominance.
I wanted to throw in that blurb from the WWNH blog because of the Lydia situation that I’ll discuss below. It was true all the way back in the 1800’s and it’s true today. There was another important subplot that hasn’t been covered sufficiently. Mrs. Bennet almost blew it for her daughter as well with her vulgar behavior and lack of common sense. Austen actually discusses in the her book that Mr. Bennet had long outgrew his early affection for his wife due to her actions. I was greatly surprised by that. He had been drawn to a pretty face and a flighty woman and it was costing him later on in life.
Lesson: Choose wisely and marry as well as you can.
So obviously, Bingley was wise to initially listen to Darcy lest he make a huge mistake. The other subplot involved the youngest Bennet, who at 16 ran off with an interloper and male gold-digger, Wickham. The book didn’t throw any punches about getting into the mind of a man who’d take advantage of a situation. He wanted sex and Lydia was willing. The promise of marriage was just that and one he wouldn’t have been forced to keep unless Mr. Bennet challenged him to a duel. Lydia was living with him for at least one month before they did marry. That type of sexual scandal would taint the entire family. They were already on the fringe of accepted society.
Despite all of his stiffness and formality Darcy has feelings and tenderness. He loves and dotes on his sister. When he proposes to Elizabeth it is rather crass and she lets him have it. I love the original 1995 BBC miniseries with Colin Firth. The 2005 movie changed a few key details but I like the emotional tenure more.
When Darcy insults Elizabeth with his mangled proposal she thoroughly rebukes him. What woman wants to hear that a man loves her despite his best efforts not to! Not to mention he helped break up Bingley and Jane. As I stated earlier the Bennet family did not help matters at all with Mrs. B publicly bragging that her eldest daughter would soon be married and stating her future son-in-law’s annual income as well as other more coarse behavior.
Lesson: You will be judged by your behavior.
Elizabeth smacks down Darcy but he listens to her objections and criticism. She tells him he’s gruff and he immediately adjusts his behavior. He’s at once polite and civil and warm. Once he realizes Jane does care about Bingley he fixes it. He also tracks down Lydia and Wickham, giving him money (which is another subplot you can read about) to ensure they marry.
Despite his very wealthy and titled aunt’s objections Darcy marries Elizabeth.
Lesson: A man follows his own judgment and isn’t easily swayed by naysayers
He proposes again. Elizabeth has also had time to learn to be more humble. Their pride and prejudice is dismantled and they are able to come together as well.
2005 Film 2nd Marriage Proposal (I like this version better I admit) Come on! Who wouldn’t swoon at this proposal and the looks shared between them.