Discussion location: Homemade picnic – bargain!

Chosen by: Lorna

Reason for choice: First read aged 13, on my 4th re-read. One of my favourite books and if put on the spot, I always say it’s my favourite.

Favourite quotes:

From the book: “he simpers and smirks and makes love to us all”

From the evening: “…the dad, what’s his name again? Oh yeah, Mr. Bennett.”

“I just love it, if I could open the door behind my shower I’d go back.”

Review:

In its 200th year, and having sold around 20 million copies worldwide, Pride and Prejudice continues to be one of the most popular and “loved” novels in the history of English literature, frequently topping the ‘100 best books’ etc lists.  A subject of much critical interest, it has inspired numerous adaptations in a range of media, from television and film to novels (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies being one of the most inventive) and even a comic and graphic novel.  In fact, Austen’s work remains so popular that she is set to be the face of £10 bank notes from 2017.

Indeed, the story is now so ingrained in British culture that I’m not going to bore you with the plot and an analysis of Lizzie Bennett as a strong female.   Nor am I going to tell you that 20 million people are wrong and the book is actually dreadful.  The simple fact is, for the majority of readers, it’s an enjoyably comfortable and light-hearted novel, or as somebody described it, “a warm bubble bath”.  So, you might ask, what magic formula has ensured the ongoing success of Pride and Prejudice where so many others have been left to gather dust on library shelves?

As we know, the basis of any long-term achievement is a solid foundation, and as I alluded to above, for Austen this is established through a fundamentally good story.  The plot is simple enough to be memorable, yet detailed enough to involve a range of characters and cover a variety of themes. There’s minor peril (will they get their men? will Lydia ruin her reputation?), enough to muster interest without being a struggle. And despite the predictably happy ending, there is the moral victory that love conquers class divide and social expectations; that Darcy chooses Lizzie despite her lesser social standing and questionable relatives.

There’s also humour sprinkled throughout; for example, Mr Bennett failing to support his frivolous wife, stating, “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do,” and even a good dose of mocking on social customs, Lizzie dancing with a silent Darcy stating, “you ought to remark on the size of the room”.

However, much of the allure of Pride and Prejudice is the degree to which it is still relevant, despite its age.  When I say relevant, I don’t mean literally; we don’t marry our cousins anymore. What I mean is that the plot, themes and characters are transferable to modern times, and indeed, have been.  In fact, one of the most famous ‘transfers’ is Bridget Jones Diary (even featuring the same actor for Darcy).  The impressively realistic characterisation in the novel demonstrates that human beings haven’t really changed that much in 200 years. Every girl wants a Mr. Darcy, everybody knows a Mr. Wickham and everybody has a Mr. Collins they wish to avoid.  Moreover, the conversations about character and morality are still entirely relatable; the qualities we seek in others are the same.

So the formula might look something like:

Story + Morality + Humour + Characterisation + Transferability

Having lavished all of this praise, you might wonder why we only scored it 8 out of 10. Some critics of the novel have accused it of being too insular, and indeed Emily Bronte described it as “carefully fenced”. However, for us it was simply an issue of style. Considering the substantial amount of conversation in the novel, there was very little “said x”/“said y” making it easy to lose track of who’s saying what. Although the conversations were slow, like “a gentle amble through the countryside”, it was one where a lack of signposts meant backtracking was an annoying necessity.

Another debate was had on the issue of style, or “spending 3 pages discussing the hem of a skirt”.  I jest somewhat, but Austen, like many authors of her time takes an awfully long time to get to a point, leading to a long text where little actually happens. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining the popularity of television and film adaptations of the novel. For modern readers, it is difficult to disassociate with the famous adaptations which have in many cases influenced perceptions of the novel (for example, at no point in the novel does Darcy take a quick swim in the lake, nor is there a sickly ending like the one for American audiences in the Knightly adaptation).

Whether you prefer the BBC adaptation, one of the many films, or modern alternatives, it is undeniable that Austen has inspired many others.  Her novels have endured, her characters are still believable and her themes are still relevant. Of all of her novels, Pride and Prejudice is arguably her finest work, light-hearted and enjoyable with hidden depths and admirable characterisation.

Overall rating: 8/10

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