I am not a reader of Austen, and up until this novel, I have truly wondered what the big fuss was about. I truly enjoyed Emma, but the others didn’t make much of an impact on me. They were okay, but I didn’t really get it. However, Pride and Prejudice has truly opened my eyes. Austen referred to Pride and Prejudice as her “own darling child,” and I cannot agree more. It feels like someone’s passion was poured into these characters, and I absolutely adore them – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
After the novel’s publication, Jane and Mrs. Austen took turns reading Pride and Prejudice aloud to their spinster neighbor, Mrs. Benn, who had no idea that Jane was the novel’s author. Jane’s letters complain to her sister that her mother reads the passages too quickly and that she doesn’t get the characters’ voices right, but over all, Jane clearly adores her heroine: “I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her in the least, I do not know.” According to her letters, there is very little that disturbs or disrupts the joy she finds in this novel, and the teasing, lighthearted tone of Elizabeth Bennet herself comes through in Jane’s letters to Casandra:
“Upon the whole however I am quite vain enough & well satisfied enough. – The work is rather too light & bright & sparkling; – it wants shade; – it wants to be stretched out here & there with a long Chapter – of sense if it could be had, if not of solemn specious nonsense – about something unconnected with the story; an Essay on Writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte – or anything that would form a contrast & bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness & Epigrammatism of the general stile.”
Whether it is a correct assumption or not, I feel like this was truly Jane Austen’s novel. I find that I absolutely adore Elizabeth Bennett (maybe even more so than Emma). She is able to laugh through most of the novel, including during moments of her own foolishness, and she is unfailingly honest with herself. However, I may love her most for the lack of resentment she feels toward Darcy when he points out in his letter concerning her defense of Wickham that she was “blind, partial, prejudice, and absurd.” I can’t speak for most women, but I don’t always react in a positive and productive manner when someone points out one of my flaws, especially if there is truth to the complaint. Elizabeth takes his criticism to heart and admits the she may have harshly and wrongly judged Darcy. Amazingly (to me), she does this without any bitterness or attempts to blame someone else for her own foolishness in being taken in completely by Wickham. She ultimately finds a way to laugh at this as she does throughout the entire novel. She laughs at the foolishness of herself and others. However, she isn’t always able to laugh. She experiences real shame due to the unconscionable behavior of her family. Elizabeth’s only real misery is almost always a result of her mother’s lack of social graces and/or her parents’ indulgence of their younger daughter’s foolishness and inexperience. These moments are very uncomfortable for the reader as well as Elizabeth. I found myself looking for a way to bypass those uncomfortable spots in the novel so that I could get enjoy the fact that this novel is “too light & bright & sparkling.”