Book Review: Pride and Prejudice
I have to admit- I've always thought that when it came to book vs. movie, your particular preference always depended on what you experienced first. If you read the book first - you would obviously be disappointed in the movie, and if you watched the movie first - you would obviously be disappointed with the book.
Reading Pride and Prejudice has made me question this thought.
I really love the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film starring Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen, and watch it at least once (if not twice) every 6 months. After reading the book, I have to say...I honestly think the book is more entertaining! (For your convenience you can order the book here or the movie here!)*
Call me a book person, I guess! Maybe it's the difference in the way scenes play out in my imagination vs. on the screen or maybe it's the witty banter that can occur in a book that has to be cut out to make a movie a watchable length. But I think perhaps what I enjoyed best about this book was the ability to take time to take it in. I wasn't rushed along quickly to the next scene - I was able to more fully enjoy the wit and the layers of character development with each page.
Which brings me to my main point:
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice tells a story that goes beyond the blatant socio-economic marriage struggle of the 18th century...it tells the story of two individuals who despite the self made walls of pride and social prejudice saw each other for who they really were. It paints the natures of pride and prejudice as both good and bad things. It uses simple descriptions of interactions, but the reader is supposed to read "between the lines" of the sarcastic wit to see the real truth of the matter. In essence, in both her story and the way she tells the story, Jane Austen invites her readers to see the complexity of human interaction and "drink deeply"... a lesson that we could use in today's age of shallow relationships built on distracted overbooked time.
If you haven't read it- let me explain with a quick character overview:
The Bennet family is made up of a father, mother, and 5 daughters.
The mother, Mrs. Bennet, has one goal in life and that is to make sure that her daughters are not only married, but that they are married to men of wealth and high social standing. (Which in the 18th century was a big deal). She really doesn't care about anything other than that, and she just comes off as a bit "silly" and overly dramatic.
The two oldest daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, are the main focus. Basically, they are at the age that they should be getting married if not already. Jane is kind of the shy, nice girl who wants to give everyone the benefit of the doubt whether they deserve it or not. She gets along well with others and generally thinks highly of people. Elizabeth is the outspoken, witty girl who calls it as she sees it, and more often than not she sees it as not quite right. Her character's thought process and interaction with others provides a deeper understanding of other characters.
The three younger daughters are a lot like their mother. Moody and only have a one tracked mind. They come off as naïve and lacking of any discernment.
As it so happens, Jane and Elizabeth meet two young men of great wealth.
Mr. Bingley is a super likeable guy. He isn't the most discerning guy, but he doesn't seem to care. He surrounds himself with people who have strong opinions that he trusts, and goes with what they tell him. He quickly becomes super interested in Jane
Mr. Darcy (the really, really rich dude) is Mr. Bingley's best friend. When he goes to parties, he sees no lady worthy of his attention and feels the need to share this thought with Mr. Bingley in front of Elizabeth. (ouch!). He comes off as reserved, and judgmental.
Then there's these two guys that just add interesting bits to the story:
Mr. Collins - the cousin who is supposed to inherit the Bennet estate (because in the 18th century, women didn't inherit estates). He is super annoying and really weird. He is obsessed with pleasing his incredibly arrogant patroness, who just happens to be Mr. Darcy's aunt. He comes off as disingenuous at best.
Mr. Wickham - the militia officer who seems like a really likeable guy, but turns out is actually a big jerk who takes advantage of people.
When people talk about Pride and Prejudice, often times it's almost as if they get stuck thinking like Mrs. Bennet: "Oh it's a wonderful love story about a girl who marries a super wealthy guy despite the social backlash!". But it's so much more than a story of people who fall in love and marry outside of their socio-economic class. Of course that is part of the story...but it would be silly to land there as the final take away.
As each character is introduced, the reader gets a little snippet of who that character is, but as the story unfolds more details emerge. What motivates that character? How does that character view others? How does that character view themselves? How does that character interact with other characters in light of this self knowledge?
More often than not, pride seems to be an overwhelming factor. And with pride comes the prejudice. The prejudice of deciding whether or not others are worthy of high praise, attention, or marriage.
In one sense, Pride/ Prejudice are shown as unfair and bad. But in another sense, these characteristics are shown as something useful - and to a degree sometimes even something good.
It was Elizabeth's discernment a.k.a. prejudice that made her father see her as a young woman truly deserving a man she loved...not just a marriage for economic security. It was her pride that kept her from marrying a man like Mr. Collins - a man that would have made her miserable. It was Mr. Collins pride that allowed him to go on in life without being offended by or realizing just exactly why he had been turned down. It was his prejudice that allowed him to see nothing but good in his patroness. It was Mr. Darcy's pride that allowed him to take Elizabeth's rejection, and see what he needed to do in order to show her he was a man worthy of respect. It was his prejudice that made him attempt to be a good friend. In fact, it was the younger daughters lack of these characteristics that made them come off as naïve or silly.
In other words, although these characteristics in general are not a good thing...to a degree they are useful. When characters like Elizabeth or Mr. Darcy show this part of their nature, we actually are able to see more about other characters and if we are being honest - ourselves.
When Mr. Darcy says:
" My good opinion once lost is lost forever"
- he comes off as a deeply resentful judgmental guy. But if we are honest - we have all felt that way at some point towards someone...and that's not necessarily a bad thing. As we learn from Mr. Darcy and so many characters from this story, it's what you do about the bad opinion that's shows what kind of person you are.
And when Elizabeth says:
"There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it and every day confirms my belief in the inconsistency of all human characters..."
she comes off as prideful and pessimistic. However, if we are honest - we all feel this to some degree. And to a certain degree - there is wisdom in this assessment. We should be dissatisfied with the world; because, I think we can all agree, it's pretty messed up. But just like the situation with Mr. Darcy, we also learn from Elizabeth and many other characters in the book, sometimes you can miss out on something good in life if you are too quick to count someone out.
Today, we may not experience the same pressure of pursuing socio-economic driven loveless marriages, but we do find ourselves able to connect with these characters.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson from this book: having discernment is a good thing, but so is taking the time to really know people. See past the surface level. Get to know people deeply, and in doing so - you may find that the prejudice you once held may not be true after all. Now that's lesson that will always remain timeless.
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