Saturday, 30 March 2013

Pride and Prejudice. By Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen e-book for Kindle. First published 1813.

The book starts with one of the most famous opening lines in English literature - 'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune, must be in want of wife.' I find in retrospect, after reading the book, that when this sentence is taken together with the title, it is almost a precis of the entire story. The rich and proud Darcy meets the delicious Elizabeth Bennet, of a middle class (but 'gentlemanly') family, and is conquered by her beauty and her character, but cannot stand her mother, or two of her silly sisters. This intolerant pride initially prejudices Elizabeth against him, until circumstances conspire to reveal their deep and genuine affection for each other, and matters are resolved to the satisfaction of all. The writing is lovely, and some of the conversational to and fro between Darcy and Elizabeth, and between Mr. Bennet and Mrs Bennet, and between some of the other characters as well, is worth reading again and again. 

It is however a very light book, and though the social views about what constitutes proper behaviour and what is good, etc., are all on the correct side of the liberal/bigoted divide, it deals only with upper class England of the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries. This is the same time frame as the Hornblower books, and all the sound and fury of the French revolution followed by that of the Napoleonic wars portrayed by C.S. Forester as an important part of British social life of those times are entirely missing from this book. There is not a even a passing reference, as for example a sailor back from the wars. However this kind of criticism will be like 'taking a spade to a souffle', as Evelyn Waugh remarked about PGW's books. The best way to read Austen and PGW is to ignore the social context entirely and just enjoy them.