When Elizabeth Bennet first meets Mr. Darcy she can't help but dislike him. After all he is proud and arrogant and he seems to be setting his best friend against courting Elizabeth's sister, robbing her of her chance at happiness. But is there more to the man who doesn't trouble himself with being even a little bit pleasant? Can their mutual dislike turn into affection? May be there will be a wedding after all.
The story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy was my first foray into the world of Jane Austen. At first the language presented a bit of a problem, what with unusual vocabulary and manner of speaking, but soon I was lost in the life of English middle class gentry with plenty of daughters and not enough money. I loved how every character had a distinct and quirky personality, especially the Bennets. Mrs. Bennet and her cases of nerves and Mr. Bennet and his belief that half his family are extremely silly women were a source of constant amusement.
Austen does a wonderful job of creating a society filled with interesting characters where the ones that change are highlighted by the ones who stay static. I enjoyed the transformations of both Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy from set-in-their way and so sure of themselves to people who all of a sudden find themselves reconsidering and reevaluating what they thought of each other and how the difficulties and near tragedies they face help them grow. No problem is a matter of life or death here but I rather enjoyed one's reputation and happiness being at stake for a change. I also think that there is value in developing characters in a setting of Austen's time, it allows us to see their personalities revealed in circumstances that are more tame and more similar to our own non-action-packed lives than a post-apocalyptic intergalactic battlefield. I love me some sword-fighting and gun-wielding protagonists but let's face it, water-cooler conversations are more like salon intrigues than a war with monsters.
The story started out pretty quaint but picked up speed about half-way. Things started to really happen! I liked how the change of pace coincided (intentionally or not, only Miss Austen knows) with a change in Elizabeth's feelings for Mr. Darcy. It's like she was stuck in a rut of her small social circle and then when she left its confines and saw more of the world she got the opportunity and the experience to see deeper into him, understand him and herself better. It got a bit confusing with a rather sudden addition of a relatively large number of relatives in the midst of some pretty stressful time in the life of the Bennet family and eventually I gave up on trying to keep them straight. After all it's Elizabeth and Darcy who mattered, not the various uncles and aunts, no matter how nice and helpful.
I wasn't entirely satisfied with the ending because I always feel that scoundrels should be punished and the scoundrel of this story didn't seem to get too harsh of a punishment. And yes, in real life this happens all too frequently but when I read period novels the girl who likes the evil witch to die wakes up and starts demanding justice much more so than when I read contemporary fiction or even historical fiction. What can I say, a happily ever after with no trouble from pesky ill-wishers is a nice concept!
This is one of the books where I wish I could keep talking about it but then the post would be riddled with spoilers and that's against the rules so I won't. There is one more thing I'd like to talk about though. It's not specific to Pride and Prejudice but it is relevant and I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. Here's what it is:
If you've read any reviews of Jane Austen's works you most likely have seen the disparaging ones, the ones that say that all her stories are about women finding husbands and dismiss them for that being the main characters' only goal in life. On the surface that may be true but it's not just about finding a husband, any husband. It's about marrying for love when marriages of convenience were so common, it's about staying true to oneself and finding happiness and quite frankly I don't see anything wrong with any of these. Back then a woman's prospects were extremely limited, a good match was essentially at the top of her list of aspirations and those who didn't follow the traditional path, like Jane Austen herself, were either considered unlucky or very odd. We, women of the 21st century, have a lot more options. We can choose to have families, careers, interests outside of our homes but I believe that finding one's true partner and living a happy life are things we all wish for, even if we don't readily admit it for whatever reason, and staying true to oneself despite the pressures and demands of our lives is difficult to overestimate. Some people may see Austen's chosen themes as archaic but I see them as timeless. What do you think?