I wish to apologise in advance for my overly formal language, as I have just finished reading Pride and Prejudice. Let me begin by explaining to you the reasoning behind my contempt for novels or movies in which the plot is primarily concerned with romance:
- The ending is obvious
- Characters are stereotypical
- My super secret, feminist self become apparent to me
- The oh-so-coincidental plot devices that brought them together (only after keeping them apart)
- In fact, the barriers to the couple’s happily-ever-after are contrived to make me as frustrated as possible. I guess the writer attempts to maintain interest or suspense, but it makes me want to throw something – perhaps a wieldy literary criticism textbook – at them (see point 1 of this list). As a rule, romances in historic settings are usually the worst culprit due to the time’s stringent society rules.
- Finally, I generally don’t want to associate with those that DO enjoy romance novels/movies. This is most likely due to their questionable intellect.
So it was with some trepidation that I picked up Jane Austen‘s Pride and Prejudice. And – I admit – I was pleasantly surprised. First published in 1813, though based on an early manuscript written in 1796 by a twenty-year-old Austen, I found the novel very easy to read. I became fully immersed in the (historically accurate, thanks to my annotated version) nineteenth-century upper-class life. The soap-opera melodrama that moved the plot forward was at least unpredictable in its execution rather than presence, and often rather enjoyable. But I found myself increasingly wondering are we there yet?
Unfortunately, the book is quite aptly titled. The readers are treated to long conversations and introspective thoughts on pride and, yes, prejudice, in regards to pretty much every major plot development. After some research (i.e. reading the introduction), I learnt that Austen wrote during a time when novels had just become established as a literary genre in themselves. This genre’s defining traits included characters and plots limited within the bounds of ordinary life, as well as the not-so-subtle examination of moral issues (because, when I pick up a book to relax, I want to be able to evaluate the morals included, especially with the help of some handy extrapolation).
My second criticism is that, for someone proclaiming to be so obsessed with realism, Austen has managed (although I dare say she didn’t try too hard) to present everyone other than the main characters as two-dimensional. In fact, once acquainted with Elizabeth Bennet’s and Mr Darcy’s multi-faceted humanity – in contrast to the predictableness of every other character – I could barely bring myself to view the heroine or hero in any light (favourable or otherwise).
This brings me to my final point. If, indeed, this was supposed to be a playful and ironical satire on marriage (as stated by Austen and evidenced by the famous opening line – It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife), then why on earth wasn’t the sardonic narrator utilised throughout the text?
One of my two favourite characters, Mr Bennet, enjoys procuring silent amusement by making veiled sarcastic remarks to not the brightest of people (most notably his frivolous wife) and watching them make an unknowing fool of themselves. Mr Collins, who acts as both the novel’s example of how not to marry and as one of Mr Bennet’s frequent victims, has such little self-efficacy that he obsessively talks about his patron (much to the annoyance of everyone within hearing distance). Both characters had the potential to be excellent satiric tools which were criminally underused. Instead, we have to listen to Elizabeth whining about how she shouldn’t judge so quickly. Yawn.
All the same, the book was far better that I had hoped, and it provided an insightful look into that period of history. Perhaps the story was a caricature as Austen intended it to be, but, lessened by time, I believe the irony is that Pride and Prejudice is perceived as being far too realistic.