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First Impressions of “Pride and Prejudice”

I have heard of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice my whole life. I have been an avid reader my whole life yet have avoided Pride and Prejudice until just these last few weeks. I’ve had many conversations about Pride and Prejudice, or more specifically since I had never read it, why the woman I was conversing with found it so appealing. I had had enough of these conversations that I could engage in them without ever having actually read the book. Now that I have read it, I am so confused.

The initial response to the inquiry of how a woman feels about Pride and Prejudice is near universally that Elizabeth Bennet is a strong female character who takes charge of the situation. I heard this from multiple conversations, I heard this in “Austenland” and in “You’ve Got Mail”; yet I honestly can’t think of when that happens in the book. There are three times where I believe it can be argued Elizabeth Bennet takes charge: first, when Mr. Collins proposes to her, second, when Mr. Darcy proposes marriage to her the first time, and third, when Lady De Bourgh tries to get her to promise to not marry Mr. Darcy. When Mr. Collins proposes, Elizabeth finds him to be repulsive, so is it really that strong to reject him? When Miss Bennet rejected Mr. Darcy’s first proposal, she was still at the point of taking his many compliments as insults. I also don’t really see it as taking charge when Elizabeth wouldn’t make a promise to an old woman that she didn’t really care for. Elizabeth Bennet never takes charge, she just prevents others from pushing her into situations she doesn’t want.

The second response to how a woman feels about Pride and Prejudice is how Elizabeth Bennet changes Mr. Darcy. I am now more convinced than ever that she doesn’t. Mr. Darcy is the same from beginning to end. He doesn’t change at all. All of the changing in Pride and Prejudice is on Elizabeth Bennet’s part and it primarily entails how to take a compliment from a man who is not an extrovert. If the words introvert and extrovert existed in the vernacular and that time it would have been pretty apparent that Mr. Darcy is an introvert, and that’s all.

Since I do not find either of the primary arguments persuasive my primary conclusion is that the most attractive feature of the book is escaping to a lifestyle where gossip is a valuable currency, and the primary worries in life are when the next ball is being held. Most of the book consists of tracking who said what to whom and when they said it. Whether it’s to show the energy and effort of the Bennet sisters going to Meryton, or how people shifted around at the different dances and socials to converse with each other. Having so much of the daily life of these characters stripped out, to focus on just the gossip, creates an overdose of gossipy intrigue in the reader’s mind. Very attractive to those who find such things attractive.

Another point of appeal might be the language and words used. There is a lot of flowery language to get lost in. Jane Austen uses a lot of words to say very little. She must have made prodigious use of her dictionary when writing Pride and Prejudice, because it contains many English words with which I am unfamiliar with. Not that it’s a bad thing, but most books don’t require such a high bar to understand. It is not hard to imagine when one reads Pride and Prejudice, one feels smarter for being able to keep up with the long sentences. So Pride and Prejudice is an escape fantasy where a woman can overdose in gossip and intrigue, while “experiencing” the life of a woman who ends up married to the most handsome, richest, generous man of all; all the while being rude and indifferent to him and putting minimal effort into the relationship. There are parts of the book where she’s experiencing much angst, but it’s all self-inflicted as she’s trying to talk herself out of Mr. Darcy liking her, despite all of his actions which say otherwise. She just needed to stop seeing Mr. Darcy from her first impression and start seeing him as the socially awkward introvert that he is. That’s it.

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