Kindle edition (public domain), 1998 (1813)
So, I finally did it. My knowledge of the great love affair between Elizabeth and Darcy is now no longer reliant on what I remember from the ITV series Lost in Austen. Rejoice.
It is odd to be writing a review of a book so seemingly ubiquitous, a book that I always felt like I should have read, to the point where reading it now was almost more odd than never reading it at all. Surely I should have written an exam on this as a sixteen year old, not read it for fun ten years later. I have to say I wasn't convinced straight away, and about halfway through I abandoned ship for a while. While the story was interesting, I found the writing a little bit stodgy and all the Mr. ____ and Miss ____ characters kept getting jumbled in my mind. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, of Longbourn in Hertfordshire, have five daughters, all unwed; on Mr. Bennet's death, their estate will pass to a cousin, Mr. Collins, leaving Mrs. Bennet and her daughters in a bit of a fix. As a result, Mrs. Bennet - a vulgar, not particularly likable woman - is intent on marrying off her daughters and snagging any likely bachelor that passes by their house. Enter Mr. Bingley, eligible and rich, and so the events of the book begin. Mrs. Bennet conspires to have her eldest daughter Jane stranded at Mr. Bingley's home, where she might impress him and obtain a marriage proposal, and as the novel unfolds the pursuit of a stable, prosperous future for her daughters becomes Mrs. Bennet's chief aim, even as their social standing, their mother's vulgarity, and their own hopes are sent to destabilise matters.
Though Elizabeth and Darcy are at the centre of Pride & Prejudice, this was less about the two of them than I imagined, and Austen brings in a lot of interesting elements regarding the position of women in society, the reliance on marrying (and marrying well), the destruction and shame of lost 'virtue' for a young woman, and the power of class and money. Elizabeth, as expected, is a compelling and vibrant heroine, headstrong and lively without being insufferable, and she finds a nice counterpoint in her more forgiving sister Jane. The younger Bennet sisters are less fleshed out - Mary is studious, while Kitty and Lydia (she of the nearly-lost virtue) are vacuous and silly, much like their mother. I was pleasantly surprised by the wit in Austen's writing - the style took a while to get used to, and it felt a little laborious at first, but once I got into the flow of things it was easier to pick out the humour.
I enjoyed the way that the novel was propelled forwards by chance encounters, idle speculations and snippets of conversation, as well as a nice dollop of temporary misunderstanding and missed letters. The plot meanders a little at times, perhaps because ultimately this is a novel of words rather than action. Yet overall this was a long overdue read for me, with much of the book's appeal not in the famous love story but in the issues that Austen raises regarding women and freedom that give Pride & Prejudice its edge.
Overall rating: 7.5/10
Book source: Free Kindle download.