Pride and Prejudice
February 20, 2018 5:57 PM - by Jane Austen - Subscribe

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

Pride and Prejudice is a romantic novel by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story charts the emotional development of the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, who learns the error of making hasty judgments and comes to appreciate the difference between the superficial and the essential.

NPR: The Enduring Legacy Of Jane Austen's 'Truth Universally Acknowledged'

Vulture: The Ongoing Allure of Pride and Prejudice

Stanford literary scholars reflect on Jane Austen’s legacy

BBC: 'Real' Mr Darcy was nothing like Colin Firth, academics say

Buzzfeed Quiz: Which Pride and Prejudice character are you?

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posted by roger ackroyd (25 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I took that damn Buzzfeed quiz, and JESUS I'M MARY BENNETT. What have I done to deserve this?

I re-read P&P every few years. It's comfort reading, though I'd be lying if I didn't admit my visualization of the whole thing is now irretrievably coloured by the 1995 miniseries (my favourite adaptation--feh on the one with Keira Knightley and Matthew McFadyen).

A few years ago I read Longbourne by Jo Baker, and it was an excellent parallel story. It's the story of Pride and Prejudice as seen through the eyes of the servants. The Bennetts don't come off as particularly sympathetic.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:25 PM on February 20, 2018 [6 favorites]

I came out Bingley, but probably because I like going to parties. I'm probably more of a Mary or a Charlotte really. (But seriously, there's a play about Mary called "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley" that's adorable.)

I've always liked the plots/characters of Austen, I just have a hard time physically reading Austen at times. She seems to go between either all conversation or no conversation/recap for chapters or something. But...this stands out as the best for a reason. I do prefer watching adaptations usually though, the Lizzie Bennet Diaries being my favorite of all time. God, I miss Pemberley Digital so much.

So many women are addicted to Darcy because they like the idea that they are so awesome that a guy pulls his head out of his ass (and also turns out to be decent) for them. I don't know about that being a thing in real life, though. In my experience "You make me want to be a better man" doesn't usually last so long.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:24 PM on February 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh God I spelled Bennet wrong too. Oops!

Jenfullmoon, that play about Mary looks great! Poor old Mary, she really did get the shaft. Even Mr. Collins didn't want her....
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:03 PM on February 20, 2018

I think that was my big take away from this book, that Jane Austen really hated Mary for some reason. I came to this book pretty late. I find the culture clash I have with it quite odd, in particular the relief that Lydia gets married to Wickham, thus saving her virtue, and how everyone seems to be more cross at Lydia, feels quite icky looked at with a modern eye. I super love how utterly dorky Darcy is though, as you realise that he's not a snob, he's just got a lot of social anxiety and doesn't really know how to make small talk.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:25 AM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Jane Austen really hated Mary for some reason

my guess is that Lizzie is the person she wanted to be, but Mary is the person she's afraid she is
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:26 AM on February 21, 2018 [18 favorites]

I read a terrific Mary-centric fan-fic once, a Pride & Prejudice + Frankenstein crossover, of which I've forgotten every detail other than a vague memory of a great discussion between Mary and the Creature about life/religion/meaning/etc. But the pro-published Pride and Prometheus P&P Frankenstein mashup just came out earlier this month, I'm looking forward to reading it at some point.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:32 AM on February 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have an uneasy relationship to Pride and Prejudice (the writing is *killer* and the subject matter is deadly dull) but I'd be remiss if I didn't link everyone to The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, because man, it's a great modern adaptation that makes use of its new format to interrogate a lot of the things about the book that don't translate well for a modern audience.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:22 AM on February 21, 2018

Jane Austen really hated Mary for some reason

I often think about the sheer horror of upper-class provincial social life of the time--how there were really only a few families at any given time with whom one could mix socially who were also within reach of casual travel. I'm sure that's why there's so much emphasis on disciplining one's ego and emotions to promote social harmony (and, to be fair, equitableness within the peer group). Because you had to see the same damn people, who were largely thrown together by external circumstances rather than spending time together by choice, over and over and over again, day after day, year after year. So you'd better learn how to get along with even annoying people, and how not to be annoying yourself, or there'll be corpses hitting the floor. I expect Mary was modeled on someone who might not have been so bad if you only saw her occasionally or in passing, but whom being cooped up with would drive you mad.
posted by praemunire at 9:50 AM on February 21, 2018 [8 favorites]

One thing I do find interesting to think about from a modern perspective is Wickham's seduction of Lydia, and the reactions of those in the know (the Bennets, Darcy). I mean, we know for a fact Wickham is inappropriately interested in young girls--much is made over how young both Lydia and Darcy's sister are/were at the time that Wickham seduced them (they are both 15 at the time he preys upon them). Lizzy's reaction to Mary's views on the elopement is subtle, but it does tell us something about Austen's views on society's treatment of "fallen women":
"Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable; that one false step involves her in endless ruin; that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful; and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex."

Elizabeth lifted up her eyes in amazement, but was too much oppressed to make any reply. Mary, however, continued to console herself with such kind of moral extractions from the evil before them.
At the same time, she is also practical enough to understand the realities of what life will be like for Lydia if she doesn't marry Wickham--it's the lesser of two evils, because there is no way for the Bennets to save Lydia (and themselves) from ostracism otherwise. Later, after their father tells Lizzy and Jane that Wickham's debts have been paid and he has agreed to marry Lydia:
"And they are really to be married!" cried Elizabeth, as soon as they were by themselves. "How strange this is! And for this we are to be thankful. That they should marry, small as is their chance of happiness, and wretched as is his character, we are forced to rejoice. Oh, Lydia!"
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:23 PM on February 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

I mean, we know for a fact Wickham is inappropriately interested in young girls--much is made over how young both Lydia and Darcy's sister are/were at the time that Wickham seduced them (they are both 15 at the time he preys upon them).

I always get the sense though, that although we're definitely supposed to look askance at Wickham for his interest in young girls, it's not with the same sense of disgust that we as modern readers do. I think in Austen's time and from her viewpoint, it would have been more like a hint that he chooses young impressionable girls because they're more likely to go along with his ridiculous and risky plans, not because he's basically right next door to a pedophile. After all, in Sense & Sensibility, Colonel Brandon marries 17 year old Marianne and nobody seems to think this is icky or inappropriate in any way. 15 was young to be married, even in Austen's time, but almost nobody viewed it as criminal or inherently immoral the way we likely would now.
posted by katyggls at 8:22 PM on February 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

I'm Team Kitty.
She never gets her due, and is just seen as Lydia's slightly older and equally silly foil. She is cover for flighty Lydia's activities, and is punished by her father for her sister's actions: "... No officer is ever to enter into my house again... Balls will be absolutely prohibited, unless you stand up with one of your sisters... And you are never to stir out of doors til you ... spend ten minutes of every day in a rational manner...."
Later in the book Kitty is "improved" by association with her older married sisters. But she is an also-ran in most accounts, including her untimely off-screen demise in Heartstone.
So here's a toast for being just another of the many Bennet sisters populating Longbourn.
posted by TrishaU at 10:06 PM on February 21, 2018

I agree, katyggls--there's a passage where I think Mrs. Bennet is talking about a man who was interested in Jane when she was only 15 but nothing came of it, and she kind of shrugs it away with a casual, "maybe he thought she was too young." But she's secretly (or not so secretly) proud that 15 year old Jane was turning heads. Definitely not our current attitudes towards men going after teenagers.

And part of Lizzy and Jane's distress at Wickham seducing Lydia away is they realize she's very immature even for a 15 year old. She's been very sheltered and babied by their parents, and they realize she is very unworldly.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:26 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

So I first read Pride and Prejudice in my thirties, basically to raise money for charity.

I think I'd had a go at Austen at some point in my teens and didn't have the reading comprehension or -- more likely -- the social skills to understand what was happening, and gave up after 40-100 pages of some Austen or other.

Then, a few years ago, I was serving as an auctioneer at the Tiptree Auction at WisCon, to raise money for the Tiptree Award. One of the books I was auctioning off was in Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist series. I think the bidding was around $80 when someone asked "What's it about?" I answered (after some wag answered "about 400 pages") "It's romance and fantasy with a touch of adventure in Regency England --"

And someone shouted, "It's Jane Austen with magic!" which is indeed how a lot of people have described the first book in the series, Shades of Milk and Honey, and Kowal has said the idea for the first book came to her while reading Persuasion.

I said, "Yeah, a lot of people say that, but I haven't actually read any Austen, so I --"

Someone shouted, "How much to make you read a Jane Austen book?"

I said "$137" and instantly someone put their hand up.

So I downloaded Pride and Prejudice and read it that summer. It's really good (no surprise) and I was able to appreciate how good it is (yay!). The interiority, the way Austen captures all these nuances of how we think about ourselves and our relationships with others, amazing. I think by that point I had already seen Bride and Prejudice but I don't think I've seen/read/heard any of the other adaptations.

I'm trying to remember the details -- a friend of mine, talking about Pride and Prejudice with me, pointed out that Mr. Bennet had failed his daughters by not helping them learn more useful social skills during their adolescence and introducing them to people who would be better company.
posted by brainwane at 5:31 AM on February 22, 2018 [12 favorites]

I have only a dozen Austen-related hardbacks books on my shelves as most were borrowed, but my secret wish is to magically be funded to spend three years reading nothing but Austen literary theory and related history and then write scorching epics about Austen as the scathing brilliance she was. I love her so much. I can't count how often I have read P&P because I have gone in and out of it so often.

MONEY. Austen is so much about money. Mr Bennet knew he was entailed and what did he do? Next to nothing. Dined with six bloody families. No trips to London, no careful relationships with the family connections or the army, nothing. A man with five daughters, and he retreats to his library, no wonder Mrs Bennet has headaches.

Collins' ghastly brothers come to inspect the marriageable goods has exactly the same scorn as any brothel scene, and the way Charlotte shoots down Elizabeth's stupid pity with her clear-eyed assessment of reality is just brilliant.

And Kitty! Oh Kitty, and her absolute refusal to see anything while the oldest two are aware that this means their futures and their sisters have been ruined - that to have been a Mrs Collins would have been too much in comparison now - while Kitty talks about buying ribbons, and then their mother spins from wailing to talking about which warehouse has the best discounts for wedding goods, that's when it's clear that the two eldest Jane and Elizabeth understand that it's more than cash, that it's power and wealth that matter.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:44 AM on February 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

Yes, although Mrs. Bennet is irritating, she is actually the only parent who GETS why they should be more anxious about finding matches for their daughters. She is at least trying to do her job (doing it badly because she's clueless sometimes, but also shouldering the burden by herself). Mr. Bennet, who should be her partner at least in helping facilitate matches for the girls, is an avoidant jerk who makes fun of her and doesn't do a damned thing to help. He has moments of guilt about it (eg the Wickham thing) but I don't think any of it sticks.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:14 AM on February 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

Mr Bennet knew he was entailed and what did he do? Next to nothing.

To be fair, breaking an entail (which would have been on the estate, not Mr. Bennet personally) was no easy thing in those days. Even when the two eldest Bennet sisters are well-settled, no one thinks of trying it.
posted by praemunire at 10:21 AM on February 23, 2018

I'm so sorry. I got Wickham in that quiz. I shall quietly slink off to my corner now.
posted by MovableBookLady at 1:12 PM on February 23, 2018

But it's not about trying to break the entail; that's just never going to happen. It's about the Bennet parents (both of them) failing to plan for their daughters' future. Somewhere in the book (or maybe it was only in the 1995 miniseries?) Mr. Bennet tells Lizzie, "Well, we always just assumed we'd have a son and it wouldn't be a problem, but then we didn't so ... y'all are screwed, good luck with that."

Although honestly, given that Mrs. Bennet was probably around 20 when she married, and is in her mid-40s at the start of the novel, it's not totally impossible that she might still have a son. That is, if her husband can stand her anymore.
posted by basalganglia at 3:59 PM on February 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

he chooses young impressionable girls because they're more likely to go along with his ridiculous and risky plans,

Yeah, that certainly hasn't changed in a few hundred years.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:19 AM on February 24, 2018

brainwane, your comment about Mary Robinette Kowal has changed my week. That sounded fascinating, so I went down the street to the library, got the first one, read it in one (insomnia-ridden) night, loved it, and now I have all the rest on hold from other branches. Jane Austen with magic has it exactly, and I had no idea this was missing from my life. Thank you!
posted by bowtiesarecool at 8:20 AM on February 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

I wrote a book in part about P&P and speak fairly regularly to school classes and librarians and teachers and such about the book. One of my favorite things to do with high-school girls is to make sure they understand the ins and outs of entails and the marriage market and why it was so IMPORTANT for women to marry properly. Their eyes kind of bug out of their head as they realize that women were chattel, and we discuss how that changes their reading of the book and Lizzie's decisions and I love it.

Also, I love Austen's supporting characters. They are all so sharply drawn, and the more I read her the more amazed I am by how grumpy and hilarious her perspective really is.
posted by mynameisluka at 8:06 PM on March 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

There are a couple of different Jane Austen with magic series, but MRKs is the best, and the get better as the series goes on.... enjoy!!
posted by bq at 12:28 PM on March 3, 2018

I just read this book for the first time last week thanks to this post. I loved the book and found it so much funnier than I'd expected.

I was wondering what exactly would have happened to Lydia and her sisters if she hadn't married Wickham. Mr. Bennet seemed like he wanted to disown her outright...would she have been homeless at that point? What would the impact on her sisters have been? Unmarriageable because of their relationship to her?
posted by Eddie Mars at 12:13 PM on March 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Eddie Mars: yes to all of that, from what I've heard. All their futures would have been ruined by association.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:42 PM on March 29, 2018

How Lizzie Bennet Got Her Books: At the time, industrialization hadn’t yet made printing affordable, so only the richest could afford books. Erickson points out that the average three-volume novel cost the equivalent of $100 at the time, which makes Darcy’s extensive library even sexier.
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:57 PM on June 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

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