Here I go, continuing with my read through of Jane Austen novels. She is “for chicks,” so I’ve heard. I don’t care. I am enjoying the hell out of her work. For supposedly “frivolous” stuff written some two-hundred years ago, Austen’s work still has a lot to offer us in our oh-so modern age.
In my review of Sense and Sensibility, I discussed how Austen offers great insight into different types of people and how their natures or flaws shape their actions. I also realized, as I read that book, the following:
. . . it’s good for men to read things written by women to understand their perspective.
I stand by this statement as it comes to Pride and Prejudice, as it relates to Austen’s view on marriage and relationships, and what goes into a good one as opposed to a bad.
I’m not going to get too much into the plot, save that it centers around the five Bennet sisters, primarily the oldest two Jane and Elizabeth, and their various love affairs. It’s all told through the perspective of Elizabeth, the most prideful, free-thinking, and I would say rebellious of the bunch, and it is her courtship with the haughty and proud Mr. Darcy that most people remember and love about this book.
My conclusion is that the book is entertaining, witty, and romantic as hell. I’m not going to lie: My manly self loves a good love story if it’s well told and the author makes me actually like the characters. In Pride and Prejudice, Austen does all of this and then some. There’s nothing wrong with a good happy ending, after all. It’s a nice respite from life.
In addition to being a better-written and more entertaining book than Sense and Sensibility, in Pride and Prejudice, Austen shows us two important things:
- What goes into a good marriage, and
- The importance of courtship
Marriage has been on my mind lately, especially since I recently had my sixth wedding anniversary. So much ink has been spilled, and dollars spent and made, in the marriage-help business. I argue that Jane Austen does at least as good a job as all of these relationship gurus in describing what goes into a good marriage and why. Let’s take a look at some of the principal relationships in the book and see how they relate to these two factors.
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet: Elizabeth’s parents don’t have a terrible marriage, but it isn’t exactly loving. Her father is a bit of a wise-ass and her mother a bit frivolous and not exactly what one would call deep. The bookish and sarcastic Mr. Bennet admits that he married her for her looks after a short courtship and soon realized that they had nothing in common. As such, the couple isn’t exactly close, despite having five children together, and indeed Mr. Bennet finds reasons to avoid spending time with his wife and family.
The Lesson: Looks are important–and indeed are awesome–but it takes more than looks to make a good marriage. You need somebody who you at least have some things in common with aside from mutual attraction. This is part of what the courtship process is for: Weeding out those who are not a good match for you, despite how nice they might look.
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy: Darcy comes across as haughty, prideful, noble, and just kind of a jerk. He seems to have no filter in describing the flaws he sees with people, mainly because no person on Earth seems capable of living up to his high standards and principles. But Elizabeth stands up to him…and this is part of what attracts him to her. She’s smart, fiesty, and doesn’t flatter him the way other women do.
The Lesson: There is physical attraction between Elizabeth and Darcy, but she finds his behavior abhorrent (she also has been given misinformation about his true character, but that’s another issue). Sir when he proposes, she rejects him strongly.
What does Darcy do? He changes his behavior, not his his character. He swallows his pride, shows he is willing to make a relationship work, and proposes again.
Elizabeth also changes her prideful ways, being more open to the fact that people change and she doesn’t always know everything.
So we see that a good match, unlike Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s, requires degrees of both compromise and intellectual compatibility. Steel sharpens steel, after all.
Lydia and Mr. Wickham: Hoo boy. These two… Wickham is a conman ladykiller with outstanding debts and a longstanding personal vendetta against Darcy, spreading lies about him. Lydia is one of Elizabeth’s younger sister, silly and full of dreams of romance. When Wickham, who needs money, is unable to win Elizabeth, he seduces Lydia and runs away with her, causing a scandal that only Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle the Gardiners, and Darcy can put right.
The Lesson: Needless to say, this isn’t a stellar marriage. Both are silly, not particularly good at anything, and tue handsome, older Wickham doesn’t really care for Lydia as much as she cares for him. He thought marrying into the Bennet family would give him the money to pay his debts and live large, but that was not the case.
So we see the both the importance of the courtship dance and the fact that when you get married, you marry an entire family, for better or for worse. So many neglect this.
Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins: Jane and Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte is a bit older and unmarried, so when the boring, obsequious Mr. Collins is rejected by Elizabeth, Charlotte thinks he doesn’t seem so bad…
The Lesson: What we want changes with age, and sometimes we settle. This was more apparent in Austen’s era, when a good marriage was likely the only way for a woman to achieve higher status a secure future. But still, Charlotte is okay with Collins’ flaws because he’s not a bad guy, has a job and a house, and she has plenty of other ways to occupy her time than with him.
Now, I’ll leave it up to you to determine which marriages are “good” and which are “bad.” But Pride and Prejudice is an interesting read for a guy in his mid-thirties in the twenty-first century, because while some things haven’t changed, other things make me feel like I’m reading about an alien world.
No hook-ups? No casual sex? No drinking?
Here’s the key difference that’s spoken around in Pride and Prejudice but always present, and it’s a near universal fact of life in the Western world:
The women are really in control.
That’s right. Men, deep down, want sex. It is that simple. Being chaste, or at least incredibly judicious with this, is not men controlling women, but women controlling men.
This is so obvious, but these days it has to be said.
Wow, this got heavy, didn’t it? Don’t worry: This is a good book, fun and entertaining and highly recommended.
Next up: Mansfield Park.
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