Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Classics
Publish date: 2003
ISBN: 1593082010

“How despicably have I acted!” she cried. “I who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”

Pride and Prejudice, or First Impressions, was first published in 1813 simply “by a lady”.  It is the story of two sisters, the one prefers to view the world through optimism, while the second with sarcasm and pleasure with her own wit and views.  While the first sister, Jane, learns by the end of the book that evil can and does exist in people, and that people can be vicious and cruel all the while wearing a pleasant face and friendly voice.  The second sister, Elizabeth, learns that all is not as it seems on the first impressions, and judgement should be reserved until more facts have come to light.

In Pride and Prejudicewe see Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s family of five girls and no sons,  whose estate must fall to a male heir,  deal with concerns for their future.  Mr. Bennet prefers retreat to his study and occasionally regret not having saved for his family’s future after his death.  He is permissive of his youngest daughters’ wild and flirtatious behaviour chasing after soldiers.  He continually berates his younger three daughters in deference to the older two “sensible” daughters.  Mrs. Bennet chooses to contrive opportunities for her daughters to be alone with a potential suitor, such as sending her daughter out in the rain so she can catch a cold and be forced to stay at the suitor’s home.  She shows wanton favoritism of her silly, ill-behaved youngest daughters, making a fateful choice to send her to Brighton where the daughter makes a socially reprehensible choice that threatens to ruin the family all together.

The lesson learned in Pride and Prejudice is that appearances are not often what they seem.  Mr. Bingley’s sisters seem friendly and doting to Jane, but it is all an act, as their true feelings are that of superiority and disdain.  Mr. Wickham is attractive, affable, and pleasant, but in truth is a wicked womanizer who runs out on his debts and responsibilities.  Mr. Darcy seems cold, snobbish, proud and ill-mannered, but this is really how his shyness and fear of meeting new people, as well as his choice not to reveal the truth of his past with Wickham in order to defend Wickham’s maligning him.

I have read Pride and Prejudice before, and rereading it reminded me how much fun and funny it was.  Many of the tete a tetes between different characters are delightful: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s interactions, Elizabeth and Darcy’s verbal volleys, and best of all, Lady Catherine’s demand the Elizabeth NOT to accept a proposal from Darcy is met with the latter’s socially inexcusable refusal which leaves the Lady sputtering and hissing disdain for the entire Bennet family.

I have found that the first time I read this book, I was definately Elizabeth.  Now, about 15 years later, I am still Elizabeth Bennet.  I tend to jump to judgements, though not as quickly as before.  I am a fierce defender of my family, more now than before.  I have a sarcastic wit that I enjoy in myself, which is richer with the experiences of life and a better understanding of people.  I love and respect those who champion integrity and help the loved ones of the one one loves.  I am, however tempered with a little Jane: I do choose to believe people good until they prove themselves otherwise.

Like Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice could be modernized and be just as true and socially relative as in 1813.  Parents still desire for their grown children to be successful and  happily married to a good person.  Children still die of embarrassment when out in public with their parents.  And the fiercest enemies of happiness is our own friends and family. 

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Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility

“You have no confidence in me, Marianne.”
“Nay, Elinor, this reproach from you – you who have confidence in no one!”
“Me!” returned Elinor in some confusion. “Indeed, Marianne, I have nothing to tell.”
“Nor I,” answered Marianne with energy. “We have neither of us anything to tell; you, because you do not communicate, and I, because I conceal nothing.”

Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first published novel, and, as writing wasn’t considered something a “proper” woman would do, it was released anonymously as simply “by a lady”. It was never expected by Jane or her family to do well, and they were shocked when it sold out within two years.

Sense and Sensibility is the story of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne, who couldn’t be more different. Elinor prefers decorum and reserve, biting her tongue and following the rules or polite society. Marianne, on the other hand, is passionate, impulsive, and speaks her mind, society be damned.

When it is revealed to Elinor in confidence that Lucy is engaged to the man Elinor loves, it is a crushing blow. She cannot relieve herself of this burden by “getting it off her chest” because she has promised Lucy to tell no one on her honor. In contrast, when Marianne discovers the man who made promises of love to her by his actions is to wed another, she falls into an uncontrollable downward spiral of depression, at one point nearly dying from the sorrow.

Both sisters approach life from different view points, both thinking the other wrong for theirs. But in the end, like most black-and-white views, they come to realize the validity of the other’s point.

What is interesting to me is that I have read this book twice in my life: the first time when I was about 21 or so, the second one now, on the precipice of 35 (my birthday is in four days). At each point in time, I have been first Marianne and now Elinor. I, like Marianne, had to learn that passion burns fast and leaves you with nothing but an empty stomach and disconnect notices. Like Marianne, I also had to learn that a handsome face that spews sweet words and then disappears like a fall-morning fog when the sun comes out cannot compare to an average man who’s not quite so eloquent but is there for the long hall and can be trusted.

The main points I think Austen was making in this book is that the society of her time was too quick to judge and condemn a woman for doing the same thing it found amusing in its men. A woman who expressed her mind was considered ill bread and of low-class, whereas a man doing the same thing went to Parliament.

Austen shows the results of society’s double standards with the dinner party at the Dashwood’s party. As the women are sitting at dinner, Austen describes the conniving thoughts behind Mrs. Ferrar’s behavior and treatment of Lucy over Elinor, whom she believes is trying to trap her son into marriage (Lucy is really the one she should worry about, yet she unwittingly encourages her in order to humilate Elinor). An argument begins over whose son is taller, Fanny’s or Lady Middleton’s, and lines are drawn, offending each other, in an attempt to gain superiority.

Ultimately, of course, love wins out, wrongs are righted, and justice is served.