#IMWAYR (5/25/2020) Classic Critique: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Update (4/2/2022): I typically participate in blogging groups that review kids’ books, but sometimes, I do end up reading adult books like this one. In the past, I have typically labeled those books as MG or YA when I review them, primarily because I still want my typically blogging audiences to see them! However, this has become confusing, so I have decided to re-label these books as adult books, while leaving the reviews in their original format. Thank you for your consideration!

I've decided to bring back my series of Classic Critique reviews (in which I discuss the pros and cons of classic books) from MMGM in order to review Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, which I would consider a YA book (although it's hardly inappropriate for MG readers, as the most scandalous event is a woman and man living together while unmarried—gasp!). Before we get started, you can read my old Classic Critiques if you want here, and don't worry—I'll be back to the regularly scheduled programming of modern books next week. But I spent a lot of time reading this book, and that time is not going to go to waste, blog-wise.


Cover of the B&N Classics edition


Plot:
I suspect a great majority of you have already read Pride and Prejudice, but, if you haven't, it is the story of the Bennet family, a wealthy (but not aristocratic) family in 19th-century England of two parents and their five daughters, of whom the second-oldest, Elizabeth, is the protagonist of the book. Elizabeth is smart, a touch snarky, and unwilling to settle for less than what she wants, which is a problem for her, because she'll be inheriting almost no money from her parents (most of their money will go to the next male relative, a distant cousin), and there are basically no job opportunities for her that would not destroy her social standing (which she would not want—she is still from an upper-class family, after all). Elizabeth's only remaining option (as well as the only remaining option for her four sisters) is to marry for money. When Elizabeth's older sister Jane falls in love with the wealthy-but-kind Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth is happy for her, except that the resulting social engagements mean she has to spend more time with Bingley's wealthy (basically every character is wealthy), arrogant friend Mr. Darcy, who is quite rude to Elizabeth and whom Elizabeth quickly grows to hate. But then things start to happen (that is how books work, after all), and Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy begin to realize that their own pride and prejudice might have gotten in the way of them seeing each other clearly.

Pros:
  • This book is very funny. There are many things I can say about most classic books: they are important, deep, deeply boring, etc. I cannot usually say that they are funny, but Pride and Prejudice is a rare exception to that trend. Many characters are crafted to serve as comic relief (while simultaneously serving as mild social commentary, as with Mr. Collins or Mr. and Mrs. Bennet), and the narration of the story is also quite humorous. I feel compelled to share a few examples (this is probably the only book I'll get to quote from with no fear of copyright infringement): first off, on page 1, when the frivolous Mrs. Bennet asks her husband if he wants to know who has decided to rent a nearby estate, he responds, "'You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it,'" after which the narrator says, "This was invitation enough." Much later in the book, after Elizabeth's family basically makes fools of themselves at a party, the narrator says, "To Elizabeth it appeared that, had her family made an agreement to expose themselves as much as they could during the evening, it would have been impossible for them to play their parts with more spirit or finer success...." The humor in this book ensures that it is not nearly as dry as many other classics are.
  • Elizabeth is a compelling protagonist. Characters that fly in the face of social norms are always the best type of characters, and from the moment that Elizabeth walks miles through the mud to see her ill sister (unconcerned with her now-dirty outfit), I realized that Elizabeth was definitely one of these people. I also appreciate that Elizabeth is unafraid to think deeply and to examine her own character flaws—she definitely develops as a character throughout the book. Not every character in this book is wonderful or even relevant (I'm looking at you, Mary), but with Elizabeth at the helm, this book sails to greatness.
  • The book is meticulously plotted out. When Elizabeth realizes how her own prejudice has gotten in the way of her views of Mr. Darcy, she thinks back about all of the events she missed or misinterpreted. And although I don't want to spoil too much, it is truly incredible how Jane Austen managed both to convince me, as the events were happening, to interpret them the way Elizabeth did and to then reveal to me all of the details that had been in the story that I had missed. Austen makes readers think exactly what she wants them to think, exactly when she wants them to think it. The characters in the novel grow and develop at a reasonable pace, and I also appreciated the way in which many characters and couples act as warnings to Elizabeth about what she does not want in life—everything is in this book for a reason.

Cons:
  • The major plot development in the middle falls flat on its face, at least in modern times. There's a major event in which a certain character runs off to an unknown location to live with a man without marrying him, and I have to say that this event goes on for way too long and is way too uninteresting. The event mainly happens so that a different character has a chance to be in the spotlight, which is fine, but if that's the only point, then why do we have to spend pages and pages and pages watching normally-composed characters become hysterical and hearing completely irrelevant details? (I don't care where the search party has looked for the character and where else they have left to look, so why tell me?) I realize that this would have been a more shocking event when the book was written, but I still can't help but think that it would get boring even for readers of the time.
  • The ending is a touch dissatisfying. I can't say too much here, except that, although Austen makes a convincing case for why the book ends the way it does, I can't help but think, at least just a little, that certain characters deserve better. The end is hardly surprising, though, so you definitely know what you're in for before it happens.

Other Thoughts:
When I was reading this book for school, my teacher discussed how, although it may seem like a frivolous romance novel, it is actually important as a depiction of the struggles that (wealthy, white) women went through in the 19th century. I do agree with this statement, as Austen excellently depicts the ways in which marriage is the only option for living well while maintaining social standing in the community. However, I don't think that this book depicting these struggles so accurately constitutes grounds for it being held up as some kind of beacon of progress that is still important today. Feel free to argue in the comments, but I don't think the lessons in this book are that applicable today—we are not 19th-century women, after all, and I do believe that there are far more routes today to a comfortable life for women than just marrying. The thing about progressive books is that they serve a purpose: to educate readers about problems that need solving and (sometimes) to suggest potential solutions. Pride and Prejudice no longer serves that purpose, as the problem it discusses has largely been fixed. This book is still being taught in many high schools today, and it brings to mind the bigger problem with teaching classic books: every classic book that gets taught, with its lessons that are interesting but are not useful today, results in a modern book (like this one) that could actually teach kids about the world around them not being taught. I realize that this book gets referenced a lot and that it is important to have read it, but I think that kids would be far more educated about society (and would enjoy reading far more, I might add) if more modern (or at least relevant) books were being taught in schools.

Verdict:
Although schools give this book too much credit, it is definitely an important book to have read. Luckily for us readers, it is also a pretty fun book to read! With interesting characters, a well-crafted plot, and a realistic (if narrow) look at a society of the past, Pride and Prejudice is definitely an excellent novel—I don't think any readers will regret the time they put into reading this book!

Update (1/2/2021): My rating is: Really good!



Comments

  1. It's been a age since I read Pride and Prejudice and I did not see the movie . I suppose it's a out time to reread

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  2. Oddly enough, I was an English major in college and managed to get through all four years without reading a single Jane Austen novel (it was a little embarrassing, I admit). So when I was recuperating from my illness in 2018, I determined to finally read all of Jane Austen for the first time. I started with Pride and Prejudice and enjoyed it, but it took me forever to get through that and her others. I have one left: Mansfield Park. But I keep putting it off. I agree with you that it's so much more important today to have kids study books like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

    I've seen both movie versions and prefer the mini-series with Colin Firth (although I love Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennet in the Keira Knightley movie!). So I was already familiar with the plot before reading Pride and Prejudice. That might have helped. And I've seen the film of Sense and Sensibility (Alan Rickman! Sigh..) so that may have helped me get through that novel. The other Austen novels I've read either don't have film versions or I haven't seen them.

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    1. I'm glad that you finally found the time to read some Jane Austen! I can imagine that reading all six of her books would be pretty time-consuming—the old-fashioned language takes so much more effort to understand. And it's funny—I have relatives that prefer the mini-series and others that vehemently prefer the Keira Knightley movie. I haven't watched either yet, but I think I'll try the Keira Knightley movie first. Thanks so much for reading my review!

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this unique post! I especially liked the Pros, Cons, and Other Thoughts sections of your post. Thanks for sharing your insights with us. :0}

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  4. I still haven't read this one. But yes, I can see how some of it falls flat. But I think you're right about Bennet being a compelling protagonist. Austen's character arcs are outstanding, from what I understand. Thanks for reminding me of this one. I really do need to read it.

    Here's my post for the week.

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  5. I read Pride and Prejudice for the very first time just last summer, so it still feels so fresh on my mind. I longed for the escape in a slowly budding romance compared to modern day relationships where hook-ups after just meeting are the norm. But I also appreciated the slow reveal of character and the charming discussions. I don't know that I would have truly appreciated this book when I was in high school, unfortunately (and much less in middle school) -- being as frivolous and ignorant as I was. However, today is definitely has a special place in my book reader heart. <3

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    1. I'm glad you got to read this book and enjoyed it! I agree, it is neat to see a slower romantic relationship, and some of the characters' discussions are indeed charming. Thanks for reading my review!

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  6. I enjoyed your review very much and I have enjoyed Austen's books earlier, but I feel it's high time, as you wrote, for some new books about society & relationships happening today to be taught. Thanks for sharing so much!

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  7. I read Pride and Prejudice a few months ago. During the pandemic, I've been going back to my old books on the shelves in the basement and enjoying them over again. It's been years since I read this Jane Austen classic, but it was fun to revisit. And after reading, it's fun to go watch film versions on Netflix and Hulu. Thanks for sharing and have a great week!

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    1. Have a great week as well! I'm glad you enjoyed rereading the book!

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  8. I liked Emma best of the Austen titles and never got all that enthusiastic about them. Certainly, few middle school readers ask for them now.

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    1. Her books do seem like they would be best enjoyed by an older audience. I'll have to make sure to read Emma in the future! Thanks for reading my review!

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  9. I had a Jane Austen reading challenge a few years ago. P&P was definitely my favorite.

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  10. I'm a big Austen fan. P/P is my favorite. It's hilarious, and the most satisfying in terms of character arc for both the MC and the love interest. I don't agree though that classics aren't relevant. I don't think that a book has to reflect a person's life exactly for one to get something out of it. I love reading about people different from myself and people who've lived in different time periods. It keeps me humble and reminds me that people haven't changed. I mean, why else is Mr. Collins so funny? We know people like him. :) I think a lot of history can also be learned through osmosis by reading older books. And if something is missing from most student's education today it's a real understanding of the past.

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    1. Those are good points! I definitely agree that these books are great windows into the past. I'm really glad you've enjoyed the book!

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  11. I used to read all Jane Austen's books every 5 years or so, but haven't for a couple of decades. (How can I have gotten to be old enough to say this?)
    I thought of this image here when I read your review. When I first saw it I was fascinated by how much money Austen's characters actually had. Emma, one of my favourites, was filthy rich then, and would be more so now.

    https://twitter.com/myladyteazle/status/1263102736465158146/photo/1

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    1. WOW! I did not realize how much money the numbers in the book were until I looked at that image. Thanks for sharing that link!

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