This is my favourite book of all time, I have read it over and over and over again. It is the perfect mix of romance and humour, mistakes and misjudgements, witty characters, lovely old-fashioned gentility, secrets, families, friendships, and the life-choices people make. It is warm-hearted and funny and charming, and never fails to lift my spirits and take me to a better place. It is almost impossible to review this book as I love it so much – and therefore obviously impossible to review in a short and concise manner!

The book centres on the Bennet family, which consists of five daughters whose main consideration (the only real option open to women of that time) is marriage. Lizzy and Jane are the two eldest daughters, and the book focuses mainly on their losses and achievements in this field; namely Mr Bingley for Jane, and either Mr Wickham or Mr Darcy for Lizzy.

The main charm of this book is the love story, which has to be one of the best love stories every written – the man and woman so seemingly dissimilar in character, yet both gradually changing and learning from one another. I feel this love story is so much more complex and involving and clever than regular modern chick-lit stories. Austen’s love story isn’t just boy meets girl and they fall in love, it involves the changing of their whole characters, them identifying their personal defects and determining to change these – in other words they both become better people for the love brought to them by the other, which is a very inspiring idea and a powerful one (how attractive it is to think that your love can make someone else a better person). It is also a fascinating thought-provoking story because both characters are extremely intelligent and they test each other and demand things from one another, and they make sacrifices and compromises.

Another charming factor of the book that makes it so special and wonderful and timeless, is the way in which Austen focuses on the little details of the characters’ lives and the things they obsess about and are important to them. Because they are privileged people, then nothing much happens to them, they don’t have to look for work or worry about money, etc, they just interact with one another and, in doing so, they often display their eagerness to be better than their neighbour and to improve themselves in society. They are all full of politeness and manners on the surface, yet eagerly criticise each other in private. This is fascinating and funny, mainly because it is a typical trait of everyone, no matter their social status, age, background, or prospects.

Austen’s characters are also such a joy to read, and her descriptions of them often very amusing – I love Austen’s humour and gentle sarcasm. Her characters can be a bit silly or foolish, put there for us to snigger at (Mrs Bennet and Mr Collins spring immediately to mind), but they are funny and amusing. The characters all seem very real as well – not just one-dimensional, but with good traits and bad traits; they try hard to do their best yet are never as good or successful or friendly or polite as they aim to be. The two main characters, of Lizzy and Mr Darcy, are wonderfully written and are perfect examples of good and bad traits. She is witty, sharp, slightly mischievous, an accurate judge of character (apart from when her heart is involved), loyal, loving, romantic – yet a bit too quick to decide her opinion of others’ character, and can be slightly scornful of others. He comes across as loyal to his friends, a fair man, generous and polite – yet also quite a hard man, liable to be unforgiving and unbending. The reader is privileged to see how each character changes throughout the book, and particularly so with Darcy whose layers gradually strip away to reveal a gentle and loving man underneath. Austen takes us through this process slowly and with great skill, and it makes a fascinating read.

I find it interesting to study the title and see, (even though Darcy is presumably the ‘pride’ part of the title and Lizzy is the ‘prejudice’ part), how both characters display both characteristics at different times. Lizzy’s pride is hurt when she overhears Darcy saying he is not tempted to dance with her, and her pride is again hurt by the manner of his first proposal, she also suffers a blow to her pride when she realises how her family may be viewed by Darcy and Bingley as ridiculous. Darcy is prejudiced in how he judges those of a lower class to himself and can’t see past this to their qualities underneath, he is also prejudiced in his view that Jane means to snare Bingley and doesn’t really love him so therefore doesn’t allow himself to consider any other points of view, he also recognises his own liability to pre-judge when he states that his “Good opinion once lost is lost forever.”

The main themes in the book are obviously the wonderful love story; the ways in which people can change and be positively influenced by others; and also, equally fascinating, the different reasons and purposes of marriage.

Several characters in the book view marriage in a very business-like and practical manner; one of the main purposes of it being to provide security for ladies of that time, and their family. Charlotte Lucas is the best example of this, she comments that the likely success of marriage is to know as little as possible about your future spouse before marrying and therefore, “As little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life,” and she marries a man she doesn’t like or respect in order to provide her family with security. Mrs Bennet seems to agree with this view, as her obsessive focus on the marriage of her daughters is for the same achievement of security for the family. Jane and Lizzy represent the idealistic and romantic view of marriage believing that you should only marry for love, not necessity or convenience; however they seem to be viewed by other characters (and even Austen herself to an extent) as being naïve and having unrealistic dreams. I prefer Lizzy and Jane’s view of marriage, but feel Charlotte’s is probably more realistic in the time and class the book is set in. Mr Darcy seems to fall somewhere between the two views; he feels there needs to be a match of, not just love, but also of background, social status, rank, and intelligence.

Charlotte Lucas’ marriage to Mr Collins is a very interesting one as it provokes quite strong feelings in several of the characters. Lizzy is quite angry about it – not only the selfishness (as she sees) of marrying for security and money rather than affection, but she also struggles to comprehend how Charlotte can choose to spend her life with such a foolish and silly man that she could never love or respect. She feels so strongly about this that she fears she may never be able to be close to Charlotte again, and questions if she even knows her at all. Jane can see the marriage in a slightly more balanced way – she would not choose a marriage like this for herself, yet she recognises it is a good match for Charlotte as she will be secure and her family will be provided for, and Mr Collins isn’t a bad man. (It is interesting to note, however, that Lizzy is not as surprised or horrified when Mr Wickham originally plans to marry Miss King for the same provision of security as determined Charlotte’s choice – are her opinions different depending on whether it involves a man or woman?)

Another reason for marriage is displayed by Mr & Mrs Bennet’s marriage, and then later by Lydia and Mr Wickham; marriage formed solely on physical attraction. The Bennets, in particular, demonstrate that this physical reason alone is still not the ideal, and does not result in long-term happiness. Mr Bennet recognises he had been “captivated by youth and beauty,” and, “Had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had … put an end to all real affection for her.” Mr Bennet’s frustration and impatience with his wife is enjoyable reading as his sarcasm and teasing of her is extremely funny, Lizzy recognises, however, that he is acting incorrectly by “Exposing his wife to the contempt of her own children.” Maybe the reason Jane and Lizzy are so determined on a marriage of love is because they can see, with the example of their parents’ marriage, the unhappy result of marrying for other reasons.

Obviously Lizzy & Darcy provide the surest reason for marriage, an overpowering love and respect for each other. I also wonder if another reason for their feelings for each other (and, we presume, successful marriage) is that they have identified one another’s bad points and can love each other all the same.

Austen creates such wonderful characters in her books, ones we grow attached to and care about, but also ones that are so diverse, and also entertaining. Obviously the main characters are Lizzy and Darcy, yet there are also several other memorable ones.

Bingham is a lovely character, so generous and kind and always thinking the best of people. He can seem slightly naïve at times which can lead to him being taken advantage of, but this naivety is due to his kind-heartedness and wish to only see the good in people. I do wonder how he and Darcy ever came to be friends as they seem so opposite to one another; indeed everyone in Bingham’s life seems to be far nastier and selfish than he is, including his sisters – I wonder how he can stay so nice when surrounded by such false people as these. I also like Bingley for his modesty – in Darcy’s letter to Lizzy he states he easily managed to convince Bingley that Jane did not care for him – a man with more confidence than Bingley would not have so readily believed this. I do get a bit frustrated with him (as does Lizzy) at how he is so easily led by other people, even to the extent of leaving Netherfield and Jane – he is a bit too gullible and naïve and easy going.

Mrs Bennet is a great character with the best lines, I love the way she rambles away talking nonsense, and I really enjoy her little speeches and rants; in particular her informing Lizzy in a great long speech of how she will never speak to her again (after she has refused Mr Collins), yet barely drawing breath and showing no signs of this promised silence towards her daughter. And I adore her constant references to her nerves; “People who suffer as I do from nervous complaints can have no great inclination for talking,” and, “Those who do not complain are never pitied,” (obviously placing herself in this group).

I do adore Mr Bennet and his sarcasm and funny quips, he also has some great lines, particularly when aimed at Mr Collins. Lizzy’s and Mr Bennet are obviously very close, yet she can also identify her father’s faults; she believes that Lydia’s elopement with Wickham was a result of, “The mischief of neglect and mistaken indulgence.” Although he has been neglectful in providing for his daughters by saving money, he does genuinely seem to care for them; particularly for Lizzy, I do like their relationship.

Mr Collins’ character is also another favourite, and he has some of the funniest and most memorable scenes. I enjoy (with Mr Bennet) any letter written by Mr Collins; they are guaranteed to be long-winded and pompous, and therefore extremely entertaining. Mr Collins is so silly and vain and proud that he becomes ridiculous. I particularly love Mr Collins’ statement that he stores little compliments to pay to ladies, but tries to give them as unstudied an air as possible. His marriage proposal to Lizzy is so pompous and ridiculous, it is beautifully written and Austen’s sarcastic wit shines through.

By choosing characters from this privileged strata of society, Austen has plenty of humorous situations to create as they all have to keep face and almost play a game in order to conform to what is expected of them in society – and of course they aren’t naturally like this, so this falseness shows through to the reader and provides much humour.

The main focus of this wonderful book is Lizzy and Darcy’s relationship, and surely these are two of the best characters in literature. I love way the reader sees the change in their feelings, and can follow, in particular, these changes of feelings of Lizzy and how they alter towards Darcy.

Lizzy’s power and influence over Darcy (unknowingly to her) happens almost immediately – after their first meeting, he admits to himself that he wants to know her better, and actually approaches at the next ball in the hope of conversing with her; quite a novel thing for him, I would imagine.

I adore Lizzy and Darcy’s little battles at the beginning of their relationship – they can’t be in the same room together without arguing. These are quite intelligent battles, but amusing never the less. I admire Lizzy for the way she stands up to Darcy and isn’t intimidated by him; she is confident enough to challenge him and isn’t overawed by him at all. A few of their battles are played out during their dancing; she is so determined to be rude and to spite him, and he ends up being rude back – their tension and bitterness towards each other almost seem to fizzle off the pages. Lizzy has quite spirited conversations with several people throughout the book, I particularly enjoyed her talk with Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she is so quick and confident and determined, and has such excellent put downs.

The dance sequence also shows some surprising sides to Darcy’s character, and displays how Lizzy is causing changes in him already; he displays his softer side (which he usually keeps hidden) by asking her to dance in the first place, and then, after suffering Lizzy’s rudeness, he looks to forgive her (again a previously unsuspected Darcy characteristic) by identifying in himself, “There was a tolerable powerful feeling towards her which soon procured her pardon.”

Lizzy describes both herself and Darcy as similar in that they are both, “Of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room.”

I find it interesting to view how Lizzy regards, and behaves so differently to, Wickham and Darcy. She falls for Wickham’s charms so quickly, taking all at face-value and is blind to any imperfections in him or his story of himself, and is not suspicious of his motives at all, or questions his actions. This is all totally opposite to her way of dealing with Darcy, where she deliberately looks for faults, is quick to criticise, always suspects him of an ulterior motive, and is determined to misinterpret his actions. Even when she is shown that Darcy may possibly not be all bad, she is reluctant to change her first view of him; “That would be the greatest misfortune of all, to find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate.” She is quite a perceptive judge of character mostly and can accurately see how people would behave in different situations – yet these skills fail her when it comes to men, namely Wickham and Darcy.

I do so much like Lizzy, she can identify her faults and is willing to criticise (and correct) her own actions and decisions, which is often difficult, or impossible, for people to do. After she receives Darcy’s letter she “grew completely ashamed of herself,” and feels she has been, “blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.” Lizzy says, “How despicably have I acted. How humiliating is this discovery.” She can accurately see her faults, and also feels she deserves her own criticism and her sadness of feelings for the mistakes and bad judgements she has made. I think this opening of Lizzy’s eyes to herself is a great scene, and one of the reasons she is one of my all-time favourite characters in literature – the ability to recognise your own faults and mistakes, and aim to change these faults, is a very admirable one.

This letter begins Lizzy’s transformation of views and feelings about Darcy. She still says at this point, “There is but such a quantity of merit between them (Darcy and Wickham); just enough to make one good sort of man. For my part, I am inclined to believe it all Mr Darcy’s.” He is not fully seen as a good man in her eyes yet, but she has changed her opinion of him, and the total alteration of feelings then gradually grows. I find this part absolutely fascinating; how Darcy changes in Lizzy’s eyes, and how Darcy himself alters too, he becomes less proud and thinks more about how he expresses himself (he reminds me a little of Mr Rochester (in Jane Eyre) in this regard; Jane and Mr Rochester didn’t get together until he had transformed into less of a dominating strong man, and was more in need of someone’s care and understanding (due to his blindness) – it seemed that only then could Bronte could allow them to be together.

I feel this letter also shows how Darcy has also begun to change, due to his feelings for Lizzy. To write such a letter in the first place, one that requires him to explain and defend his decisions, must be a new experience for him as he is someone who is used to having his decisions seen as unquestioningly correct by others. And by conceding that he may have been in error regarding his actions towards Bingley and Jane, seems another big step for Darcy and something that he has probably not done before, “If you have not been mistaken here (in the judgement of Jane’s feelings), I must have been in an error.”

Another stage in the change in Lizzy’s feelings towards Darcy seems to happen at Pemberley. First by the housekeeper’s glowing report of Darcy, “I have never had a cross word from him in my life,” and, “There is not one of his tenants or servants, but what will give him a good name,” – you can almost see Lizzy visibly softening towards him and changing her opinion of him. When they themselves then meet at Pemberley it is obvious that he too has changed, and he seems to have listened to, and acted upon, her criticisms of him; Lizzy thinks “His behaviour, so strikingly altered.” Lizzy is then further surprised at the alteration of Darcy’s manners by him talking to her relations, all of whom he had criticised and despised previously. This shows another of Darcy’s prejudices being overcome – he previously viewed anyone of a lower class unworthy of his notice, yet the effort he makes to seek the Gardiners’ friendship and to be polite and attentive to them shows he is trying to overcome this prejudice.

The final stage of Lizzy’s transformation of feelings about Darcy comes when she realises she has probably lost him due to Lydia’s elopement with Wickham. For a confident, self assured woman, she is very slow to recognise her own feelings, although maybe this is due to the superiority in class of Darcy, and his reserve. But she does recognise the, “Perverseness of those feelings,” – that now she wishes he still loved her, whereas she was previously horrified at the fact that he did. Lizzy realises, now Darcy seems lost to her, just how much she does love him and how she could have been happy with him. Maybe this disappointment and conviction they cannot be together is actually a good thing as it gives Lizzy a chance to assess her feelings and to appreciate Darcy’s qualities, and to be grateful for his previous love of her and to feel the loss of him – if this barrier had not occurred then she may not have had the opportunity to recognise this. She can also now see how their opposite characteristics would have made each other happy, “By her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of a greater importance.”

My favourite passage has to be when Lizzy and Darcy eventually talk about their feelings for each other – I cherish that section and feel real joy when I read it, it is one of the most romantic pieces I have ever read. I feel Austen is true to both characters throughout though; all their words are entirely accurate and believable to their characters, even with Lizzy being quite witty in her responses. They focus on how much they have both changed and how their love for the other has made them into better people. Darcy said, “My behaviour to you at the time had merited the severest reproof.” She says, “The feelings of the person who wrote and the person who received it (the letter) are now so widely different from what they were then.” Darcy can now identify that he has been a “selfish being all my life,” and states how Lizzy has altered him in this regard, saying, “What do I not owe you? You taught me a lesson.” It is so gloriously lovely and romantic when they are talking of their feelings, I feel Austen is very generous in giving us this insight into their conversation as she has often denied us this in some of her other books. And, my favourite line in literature; Darcy talking about when he fell in love with Lizzy, “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words which laid the foundation. It’s too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” Sheer genius!

Pride and Prejudice
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