In just a few hours, Roof Beam Readers Austen in August Reading Challenge will come to an end. I’m very pleased to say I made it to the last page of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice late last night. I’ll have this review posted before sunset today, so I make it under the deadline.
This is my third, maybe my fourth, time reading Pride and Prejudice. It’s one of those books most of us have read, or at least were supposed to have read, at some point in our schooling. I’m going to assume that you’ve all read it or seen one of the many dramatizations and that I don’t need to go over the basics. Five sisters in want of husbands. Various young men with money in want of wives. Hijinks ensue.
While I have read Austen before, all but Northanger Abbey, it’s been a while. I had forgotten how funny she is, deliciously funny. She has a wit that can cut in a delightful way; one I wish I had. She knows how to create characters you love and characters you love to hate. Mr. Wickham, Mr. Collins, Bingley’s sisters, the dreaded Lady Catherine de Bourgh, are all perfectly hateful in just the right way. I loved every minute they spent on the page, especially those when Elizabeth was insulting them, usually in such a perfect fashion that they didn’t even know they were being insulted.
It was great fun.
But, a strange thing happened at the beginning of volume three. Up until then Elizabeth had been a very strong character, one of the strongest young women in fiction. Self-aware, self-assured, she didn’t need anyone, certainly not a man, to validate her in any fashion. Maybe her father a little, but not even him much. Then at the end of volume three she realizes she has been wrong about Mr. Darcy.
Somehow, this transformed her into what I found to be a bit simpering. She’s suddenly completely defferential to Mr. Darcy, when before she had stood up to him on nearly every meeting. I know that she feels bad for misreading Darcy, and she should, but it began to look like the “love of a good man” was going to transform her into a “good woman” at last for a while there, a bit like The Taming of the Shrew.
What saved her character, and for me the book, was her fateful meeting with Lady Catherine, Mr. Darcy’s aunt. Lady Catherine takes Elizabeth in hand, and during a private walk through the family garden tries to convince her that she is not a suitable match for Mr. Darcy. Her family is too prone to scandal, she herself does not like him, he has been promised to another girl since they were both babies, her parents have a low social status, her sisters are not respectable enough, blah, blah, blah.
Elizabeth will have none of it. Lady Catherine does not know that in Elizabeth Bennet she has met her match. The old Elizabeth was back, claws bared, ready to fight. She returns every one of Lady Catherine’s insults and wins the day.
Jane Austen–I really just should have trusted her all along; there’s no way she would let me down.
This book counts as book number 16 in the 20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge. I know that school has started back, but summer is not officially over yet, and it’s certainly hot enough to still count as summer. Four more to go.