I have been intending to read Jane Austen for many years, and with my recent trip to Bath I thought I should read some as soon as possible. Jane Austen spent a great deal of holiday time in Bath as a young woman, and then lived there for several years with her mother and sister after the death of their father. Austen’s experiences in Bath greatly influenced her novels, and both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion take place in the city of Bath.
The local library branch in Manchester only had Pride and Prejudice, but as this is one of Austen’s more well-known works, I didn’t think anything of it. I began reading immediately and found it slow for the first hundred pages. The language is certainly a hurdle (having just finished reading something more modern and for a younger audience), but after a while I began to enjoy Austen’s style of writing and subtle humour.
For those who don’t know anything about Austen (I was one of them), Pride and Prejudice was written in 1796-97 (originally called First Impressions) and published in 1813. It is the story of the Bennett family, particularly Elizabeth Bennet, our outspoken heroine, and the second-eldest daughter of five. As the novel opens, a wealthy gentleman rents the estate near the Bennet’s and we are shortly introduced to Mr. Bingley, his sisters, and his friend Mr. Darcy. As time progresses, Elizabeth’s older sister Jane and Mr. Bingley begin to fall in love. When Mr. Darcy (who comes off as cold, privileged, and superior) realizes his friend fancies someone not on par with their rank, he removes his friend back to their London home.
This is where the book begins to pick up. A local regiment is stationed in town and Elizabeth becomes friendly with Mr. Wickham, an officer. It turns out he grew up with Mr. Darcy and that there is much behind Darcy’s cold demure. As the novel progresses, there are many letters and excursions as Jane and Elizabeth travel (separately) with their aunt, uncle, and visit their cousin near London. Elizabeth keeps running into Mr. Darcy at every turn, who cannot help but become infatuated with Elizabeth. When he proposes, he declines vehemently due to his aloof actions thus far as well as his ‘injustices’ towards Mr. Wickham. Deeply affected by Elizabeth’s accusations, Darcy writes her a lengthy letter explaining his positions. The next time they meet, Darcy is much changed and Elizabeth soon realizes that she has deeply misjudged him.
It was at this point that I found the book difficult to put down. Whenever I wasn’t reading, I kept feeling like I was missing or forgetting something. At times (earlier in the book) I felt that the writing was extremely passive; most of the interactions and conversations took place without direct confrontations, or it was via letter. Once certain events occurred, it felt like the urgent letters and the female’s passive actions were more suspenseful than annoying. I really came to like the characters, particularly Elizabeth, and felt that Austen was able to portray everyone with both pros and cons. This honest portrayal of characters really resulted in a compelling novel as characters interacted with one another. I definitely intend to read more by Jane Austen.