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Pride and Prejudice is not without its faults: in fact, it is far from it. However, I have to admit that I am still really quite fond of it. I think it is definitely possible to read abook and take issue with parts of it, whilst still appreciating the writer’s craft: Pride and Prejudice is definitely one of those books for me.

I’ll begin with the main problem: the whole text is rife with feminine stereotypes and patriarchal slants. We have to cut Austen some slack though, because the novel was published in 1813, and judging it by today’s values seems slightly unfair. In the course of the 262 pages of my edition, the women spend most of their time thinking about, fretting about, and trying to catch the attention of the men. Though the men are not exactly exempt of doing the reverse, they have more time to jaunt around the country, spend time in London, and think about their landed estates.

"His affection for her soon sunk into indifference; hers lasted a little longer"

To be fair to the daughters, though, they also spend a lot of the time playing piano and reading: I often found myself wanting to join Elizabeth in the library around a cosy fire,leafing through a few novels and finding something to say about everything. The reality is, however, that these girls didn’t have the opportunity to take their intellect further. They could hardly get a job as an academic or musician when women were largely seen as irrational creatures born to serve the family. And though the Bennets were relatively well off, women still faced the glass ceiling in all walks of life no matter their wealth. The men of the novel were more fortunate in that regard.

Lydia’s plight in the novel is one which worried me. As one of the younger Bennet daughters (out of five in total), we don’t know much about her: she is simply characterised as young, foolish, and vulnerable. She hastily falls in love with Mr Wickham, a deceitful man hailing from the army, who is far from the romantic figure readers secretly hope for (though perhaps such expectations are part of the problem). Lydia then runs away with him, creating an absolute scandal and worrying her mother sick. It must be said, though, that her father remains largely unphased during the whole affair, generally adopting a remarkably laissez-faire attitude toward his children, with Elizabeth being the only exception.

The romance didn’t last long, however, for they both quickly came to regret their decisions: ‘his affection for her soon sunk into indifference; hers lasted a little longer’, whilst their lifestyle was ‘unsettled in the extreme’. Austen hardly gives readers the chance to fully pity Lydia though, because her character development is so limited. Despite that, I couldn’t help but feel Lydia was not in the right state of mind to be married. She was young and naïve, which Mr Wickham took full advantage of, and her husband also retained significant feelings for her sister Elizabeth. He does not go down in my good books, as far as characters are concerned.

"Elizabeth would definitely have fit into the English Lit degree crowd today"

Mr Bennet’s aforementioned indifference to his daughters also extends to his wife. A wry, intelligent, and bookish man, Mr Bennet does not have much time for human interaction; or at least he is unwilling to provide it. For a lot of the book, poor Mrs Bennet is deeply worrying for the fates of her daughters in marriage, as these will determine their status and wellbeing. We are told that the ‘business of her life was to get her daughters married’, whilst she hardly spends a minute looking after herself. Mr Bennet, on the other hand, is notably absent for much of the time. Initially ‘captivated by [the] youth and beauty’ of his wife, he was soon ‘made painfully aware of her lack of sense and intelligence’: it is clear that Austen also haslittle time for Mrs Bennet. I just generally feel incredibly sorry for her (not that pity will get us anywhere): she is trapped in a loveless marriage, and she exerts all of her energies into her daughters’ situations as the only means to happiness and satisfaction. Mr Bennet is granted the privilege of being a capable and amusing character, whilst Mrs Bennet is never even given the chance.

Moving away from some of the uncomfortable aspects of the novel, and towards Elizabeth’s characterisation, it is clear that she is not perfect at all: however, she is certainly relatable. Like all of us she shows moments of unwavering strength, and others of weakness and misinterpretation. Possessing a magnificent intellect and enjoying citing Shakespeare in her free time, Elizabeth would definitely have fit into the English Lit degree crowd today. I can’t quite say I share that particular hobby, however…


Mountain View

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In any case, Elizabeth is not easily impressed. Her initial take on Mr Darcy (who she eventually marries) is that he is a snobbish and condescending man: she seems at first to actively detest him, although he doesn’t really help himself in that department. When she does finally begin to like him, Mr Wickham leads her to believe that he is an untrustworthy and selfish man, and so she becomes alienated from him all over again. All of this occurs whilst he is falling in love with Elizabeth; and not for any typical feminine traits, but for her bold, opinionated and clever self. She is completely unwilling to let him get away with any passing statement, and is completely willing to speak her mind when necessary. For 1813, this is a rather impressive feat indeed.

Of course, the ending isn’t the most realistic. Elizabeth and Darcy settle their differences, as does her sister Jane with Mr Bentley- and to all intents and purposes, they all live happily ever after. Austen probably wanted to make her readers happy through the perfect patriarchal solution. But that said, I believe that Darcy and Elizabeth will be content together. Their affection seems genuine and earnest, their characterisations honest and human. Maybe the odd ‘happy ever after’ can’t hurt, but then again perhaps I am being too hopeful: I’ll let you be the judge of that.