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Of all Jane Austen's completed novels, six total, this one is no doubt the best known and loved. And
that is for good reason! It is really an awesome story. Many people perhaps choose it to be their first Austen book, and maybe their only one, but I chose
it as the almost last; (as of this writing I only have one more to read). I can say with certainty that this one is by far her best. Not that the others aren't
good—they are quite good, but there is something about this one that makes it one of the most perfect, readable, and thoroughly enjoyable classic romances
I've ever read. It was Austen's second published novel (1811).
Austen lived probably a most sheltered life, having spent it, except for a short time away for schooling, entirely within the family setting. And it seems that her family life was pleasant, and encouraging to the development of her mind, not a common setting for a young lady, given the era in which she lived. All of her novels are romances, focusing on women, courtship, and the necessity of marrying for financial support. As is typical with her novels, there are people who are honest, people who are phony, selfish ones and those that give of themselves. Some characters are lovable, and others are disdainful, but we usually know who is who from the start, and as the book progresses, the characters discover what we already knew. Not so in this one! A gentleman whom we began by hating, as did the heroine, proves to be the most trustworthy, generous, faithful and lovable of them all, though he had to learn his lesson first in order for his true light to shine. And also, as usual, there is are morals and ethics to be learned by the characters, often in a painful way. And sometimes the characters just don't get it at all. This one has a little bit of all the above, yet the story is told in a less complicated manner than some of her later novels. In addition, this one, though there are serious issues, is more of a lighthearted nature, which was not always a characteristic of Austen's books. Mansfield Park is one of her most serious novels, and the novelette Lady Susan, actually the earliest of her important published works, is downright acerbic.
Austen was a country girl, and subsequently, that was her favorite setting for her novels. In this one, we meet the Bennets: mother, father and five daughters whom Mrs. Bennet is determined to see married. She is what we would call tacky, the epitome, in fact. So are the two youngest daughters, Catherine and Lydia, especially the latter, who is loud, rude, and flirtatious beyond the boundaries of decency. And we find out just how indecent toward the end of the story. Mary, the middle daughter, spends most of her time studying and is hardly in the picture at all.
As the book opens, we hear Mrs. Bennet nudging Mr. Bennet to make the acquaintance of the new tenant of Netherfield Park, whom, she has learned, is a well-off (and single) young man.
Mr. Bennet has long ceased to be in any way endeared to his wife, or to his family, for that matter, although he does favor Elizabeth, his second daughter. She and the eldest, Jane, as also the most sensible and well-behaved of the family, although Elizabeth is quite headstrong and independent. When she marries, it will be for love, and the same may be said for Jane, who is beautiful, inside and out, though much more compliant. The two sisters have a very close relationship, and I wonder if Austen didn't base them on herself and her own, only sister, Cassandra, who was her best friend for her entire life.
Nevertheless, Mr. Bennet does make the acquaintance of Mr. Bingley, who is a most pleasant and amiable young gentleman. His friend, Mr. Darcy, who is staying with him, is quite the opposite: very wealthy, uppity, quiet, and cold. A ball is held so the ladies may meet the gentleman, and Darcy isn't interested in anyone, (or is he?). Bingley, however, has decidedly taken to Jane, and the attraction is mutual. Mrs. Bennet hears the wedding bells already. Bingley, incidentally, has two sisters, Mrs. Hurst, and Caroline Bingley, who though the Bennets are much below her in social status, becomes "friends" with Jane.
Meanwhile, Mr. Collins comes to visit the Bennets. He is their cousin, and unfortunately the heir to Mr. Bennet's Longbourn estate, since he had no male children, making Mr. Collins the nearest male relative. He is a clergyman who has a comfortable position and a very wealthy patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He is lacking in any fine qualities, and is basically an obnoxious fool. His purpose in visiting the Bennets is to secure a wife, and finding Jane supposedly promised to Mr. Bingley, he is then directed to Elizabeth by her mother. When he asks for her hand in marriage, she is quite repelled. Her mother throws a fit and disowns her, while her father says he would disown her if she did marry Collins. So he courts the neighbor, Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth's close friend, and she accepts.
But meanwhile, a military regiment is stationed nearby and the ladies are all aflutter after the gentlemen. Elizabeth enjoys the company of Mr. Wickham, and he soon confides in her the relationship between himself and Mr. Darcy, whom he despises because he has been cheated out of a certain living supposedly promised him by Mr. Darcy's father, who adored Wickham. Naturally, Elizabeth believes him because Mr. Darcy has given the impression of being nothing but a snob.
However. . . all is not as it appears. So, the "Pride" is Mr. Darcy, and the "Prejudice" is Elizabeth, and though they both must go through a great deal of growth and enlightenment concerning each other, their opinions and their behaviors both change drastically.
As with all Austen's novels, the plot does get a bit complicated. But this one, more so than all the others, becomes beautiful and enchanting, and ends leaving one with that heart-melting, warm and fuzzy feeling. Absolutely totally recommended reading, even if it's the only Austen book you ever read.
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