Greetings and salutations! Welcome to part deux of the Unofficial Pride and Prejudice Celebration. If you remember, I got really angry because of certain political nonsense and so I turned to Jane Austen for some comfort. Given that Pride and Prejudice seems to be everyone’s favorite (mine is actually Persuasion, but I already did that one way back at the beginning of Nerd Cactus), I decided I would just dedicate the entire week to it. If you haven’t already, go read my discussion of Mr. Darcy and the two major interpretations of recent memory. Unless you’re one of those die-hard Firth Fans, of course, in which case…just stay here until I rebuild my fort. Then go right ahead and read it.
Everyone back? No one actually left? Oh…well, let’s go then…
Pride and Prejudice is probably Jane Austen’s most famous work. It is also home to one of the greatest opening lines in the history of literature. (And, unlike so many other novels with great opening lines–*cough*Moby Dick*cough*–it continues to be great.) Pretty much everyone knows it, but…just in case you don’t, here it is:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Oh, Miss Austen. You’re so snarky. This is why you’re better than those melodramatic Brontë sisters. (Oh yeah, I went there.)
OK, so I understand it’s a matter of taste and it’s totally possible to love both, but I find I prefer the intellectual restraint of Austen’s works. I’ve never been one for Gothic anything (though I admit I’ll probably go see Crimson Peak because Gothic horror is probably the only one I can actually enjoy if done well) and I ain’t about Charlotte Brontë throwin’ shade at my girl Jane, yo. (Did I do that right? The closest I get to being street is Oscar’s trash can.) Anyway, I love Jane Austen because I am a sucker for satire, and she did it so well. It’s probably why Persuasion is my favorite, really; it’s Austen’s last book, and she had definitely mastered her craft by then. But I have to give the nod to Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy for my favorite of her characters. Not necessarily my favorite couple, mind, but definitely my favorite characters.
Jane Austen herself described Pride and Prejudice as “light, bright, and sparkling”. It doesn’t have the melancholy of Persuasion, or the economic strife and gender prejudice of Sense and Sensibility. The Bennet family are not rich, but they are not in such dire straits, either; they are cash poor landed gentry, but are still able to move among the best society has to offer (except the highest echelons, of course, which is of course the source of the prejudice on offer). Elizabeth, remember, is “a gentleman’s daughter”. It deals with themes of marriage, wealth, social class, and especially the notion of searching for and knowing one’s self. But first, let’s do a brief summary.
What Darcy really means here is: “Oh God, she’s so hot. But I can’t dance with her! What would my dead parents think of this? I’m a Darcy! I can’t dance with the hot girl! Oh…she’s so pretty…”
Basically, the important part begins when Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy meet at the general assembly. Darcy is a bit of an ass because he is awful in social situations (again, go read Monday’s post if you haven’t already), and Elizabeth decides that he is a rich jerk who’s full of himself. Because of this, everything he says and does is spun in Elizabeth’s view to reaffirm her opinion of him; differing opinions are the source of bias (as if Elizabeth’s are not biased). A seemingly charming guy named Wickham shows up and uses Elizabeth’s prejudice (look, I put one of the words of the title in here!) against her, worming his way into Meryton society (and the Bennet family in particular) on the back of their dislike. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Darcy keep meeting one another, Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth, and eventually propses…badly. Because what a girl wants to hear in that moment are sweet nothings about how much the man is giving up to be with her. Though, again…to Darcy, the fact that he loves her so much that he’d break the rules really should be enough. (Have I mentioned I wrote something on Monday about how he’s socially awkward?) Lizzie turns him down and, in the process, hurls insults, both true and false, at Darcy, causing him to examine the way his actions are perceived. In return, Darcy answers the false accusation and Elizabeth is forced to examine how she, in turn, has perceived the world. Things happen involving Jane and Lydia, Elizabeth’s younger sister, and then everyone ends up happily married (except Wickham, who is stuck with Lydia, of course). Seriously, if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know the story of Pride and Prejudice…just read the darn thing. It’s not as bad as not knowing the story of Hamlet, but it’s definitely close.
At the heart of the story is the notion of self. Elizabeth Bennet believes herself to be a student of human nature; she prides (look, the other word in the title!) herself on her discernment. But she completely misses the worth of Mr. Darcy because she is blinded by his outward lack of charm. She views every action in light of her personal feelings–her prejudice, if you will–and is unable to discern the man beneath the arrogant veneer. It is only when she is able to realize that her perception has been skewed–that she has allowed her bias to blind her–that she finds happiness. Darcy, on the other hand, is unaware of how his actions are perceived by others, especially those outside of his social circle. Those who come to know him well value him greatly, and those among his own social class that don’t know him excuse his seeming arrogance because of his wealth and standing. So it isn’t until Elizabeth challenges him that he is forced to examine how his actions may be perceived. Everything, then, comes down to an exploration of self based upon perception; Elizabeth must change how she perceives and Darcy how he is perceived. Once that happens, though, they find happiness with one another.
Marriage, obviously, and wealth are also important to the novel, as well as the notion of social class. All of the women in the novel are searching for good marriages because, of course, women can only achieve wealth and advance their social standing through marriage alliances. The men, too, are searching for wealthy women to marry, especially those without personal wealth already. Note that Wickham attempts to elope with Georgiana Darcy, and then to marry Mary King, a benefactress. Colonel Fitzwilliam is a second son and so must find a wealthy woman to marry. And, of course, among the wealthy, class is very important; Darcy is cognizant of the fact that he must marry a woman of the proper social class. So cognizant, in fact, that he attempts to force himself not to love Elizabeth because she is so “beneath” him (later, of course, he measures worth by very different standards, which is part of his journey of self). He is also aware of women seeking to marry him (and Bingley) seemingly for their wealth; this is why he convinces Bingley not to marry Jane (he is unsure if she truly loves him or is just a pawn in her mother’s wealth game). Class-consciousness is actually at the heart of all the pride and prejudice in the novel. But, of course, because Elizabeth and Darcy are able to set both aside and come together as equals, their marriage is undoubtedly the happiest of the novel.
Now…what to drink with such a novel? Something light, bright, and sparkling, of course! I’m also thinking something a little sweet and not too high-fallutin’ (don’t want any snobbery here). As such, I am recommending that brunch classic: the Bellini. This most delicious beverage is achieved by mixing one part puréed peaches (typically white, but don’t worry about perfection here) to two parts Prosecco. The peaches are poured into a chilled Champagne flute followed by the Prosecco, and then the drink is stirred gently before serving. Another sparkling wine may, of course, be substituted, though French champagne isn’t recommended.
So! A nice, light beverage for a bright and sparkling novel! I think I’ve done well with this one, don’t you? Anyway, that’s it for today! Tune in tomorrow for A’s latest Shakespeare fun! Sunday, there will be some silly Austen! (Oh…it will be silly.)
Buy the book:
Buy the booze:
(You can make your own peaches, of course, or buy some.)