If “This Old Thing” hadn’t been a square on Bingo this year I could have easily gone my whole life without reading any Jane Austen, and I still haven’t seen any of her film adaptions. I read a lot of classic American literature in high school and college, including Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, several Steinbeck novels, The Scarlet Letter and even Moby Dick but I don’t think I was ever assigned anything from the other side of the pond while a student. I picked Pride and Prejudice because it seemed like the seminal Austen novel and I wanted to read something new for this square (so no Shakespeare, Greek tragedies or Beowolf) although I nearly changed my mind when I saw a review for The Stranger because if memory serves I enjoyed that one.
I decided to get the audio-book because I am less likely to stop listening to an audio-book I dislike than I am to put down a physical book and never pick it back up (see Between the Bridge and the River). Plus I enjoy listening to British accents.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Spoilers ahead because this book is two hundred years old and there are too many plotlines intertwined.
Mr. Bennett of the Longbourn estate is a gentleman who has five daughters; as his estate is entailed none of his daughters will inherit the property so it is very important that at least one, if not all, of his children marry well. I knew about entailing from Downton Abbey thanks to the Lady Mary/ cousin Matthew story line and all I have to say about that is- what the hell England?! Downton Abbey takes place one hundred years after Pride and Prejudice and y’all hadn’t fixed that sexist crap? I mean Pride and Prejudice even offers the same “solution” to the entailing by having Elizabeth’s cousin propose to her in order to keep the property in the Bennett family! Lizzie declines, not because this is her cousin and it is icky but because she is stubborn as hell; it does all work out in the end I suppose.
So there are five Bennett sisters but you only need to know three: Jane, the eldest and prettiest daughter; Elizabeth, the second oldest and our main character; and Lydia, the worst. All five Bennett girls are out in society although it is assumed Jane, as oldest and most beautiful, will be the first to marry. When eligible bachelor Mr. Bingley arrives in town and, after making Jane’s acquaintance at a ball, his sister Caroline invites Jane to visit. Mrs. Bennet encourages her daughter to ride a horse in the rain in hopes she will be unable to return right away and can properly sink her hooks into Bingley. Naturally Jane gets horribly sick and Elizabeth goes to stay with her while she gets better. Also staying at Netherfield is Mr Darcy who made a poor first impression on Elizabeth at the same ball Bingley met Jane. Later the Bennetts meet a man named George Wickham who shares several stories about the awfulness of Mr Darcy which cements the whole family against him.
So Mr Collins, the cousin who will inherit Longborn, comes to town and is under the false impression Jane is engaged to Mr Bingley, so he proposes to Elizabeth who declines. He ends up marrying her friend, Charlotte, who is older and just happy she found a man. One thing I learned, because it doesn’t seem like any of these people have real jobs, is that the amount per year these people are constantly discussing about potential spouses is the interest they get from their inheritance and use as their income. Also, men are exclusively called by their last names and women by their firsts.
A few months later Elizabeth goes to stay with her cousin and his new wife where she meets Mr Darcy’s aunt who let’s slip he persuaded Bingley against marrying Jane. This further lessens Elizabeth’s opinion of Collin Firth, I mean Darcy. Naturally in this time he has managed to fall completely in love with Elizabeth and proposes marriage, she declines him and he writes her a letter that changes many of her opinions about him. Primarily that the reason he dislikes (and is disliked by) Mr Wickham is because he tried to elope with Darcy’s 15 year old sister after declining a position he claimed Darcy withheld from him. Men.
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
Now, this is when I began to really enjoy the plot: Lydia, the worst, elopes with Wickham because only Elizabeth, and Jane who she confided in, knows what Darcy shared. However, even being unaware about Wickham’s shady past leaving home to live with someone before marriage is pretty much the nail in the societal coffin for the entire Bennett family. So Darcy is with Elizabeth, who has begun to come around to his affections but believes he is no longer interested, and takes it upon himself to secretly help the Bennett family out of the sticky situation by paying Wickham’s gambling debts in return for him marrying Lydia. Lydia, unaware of the meddling that took place to save her and her family’s honor is insufferable as a married lady and unfortunately doesn’t get much of a comeuppance. However there are happy endings for Jane and Lizzie.
“I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.”
I do see why many people enjoy Austen. There is a decent amount of humor in her writing, more than I expected, and despite the centuries that have past the story is still relevant today. I don’t see myself seeking out anymore Austen, unless we Bingo again next year and have the same square to fill, but I am not sorry to have stuck it out with Mr Darcy and the Bennetts.