Guys, I have read Pride and Prejudice for like 4 different classes, because apparently that’s what the Rice English Department felt would most prepare me for my life. It’s like they assumed the purpose of my life was going to be ruining people’s good time. Maybe they were right, because anytime someone starts fangirling out on P&P in front of me, I’m like:
I’m not saying don’t have fun, I just think you should think a little about what you’re saying before you do. I like Pride and Prejudice too, because it’s interesting and Jane Austen is a good writer, but I think there are some things you probably aren’t considering if you’re going to gush about ~how roooooooomantic~ everything is, because it’s not. Let me crush your joy in a moment, but first a plot summary.
The Bennets are an upper-middle class regency family who don’t have to work for a living. They have 5 daughters, which is a bummer because it means when Mr. Bennet dies, his gross cousin will inherit the house and land, so it’s really important for some or all of the girls to make good marriage matches. Which is tough when you got no cash, but luckily they have some assets.
There’s Jane Bennet, the hot one
She’s terminally nice, and falls in love with a rich terminally nice neighbor, whose sister and friends are trying to keep them apart.
Lizzy, the smart one
Lizzy will say whatever to whoever. It’s what brings her to the attention of the rude-but-rich Mr. Darcy, who eventually is like “Well, I guess
I want to marry you, even though most things about you physically repel me because ew poor people.” Of course when she’s like “Get away from me, freak” it only makes him want her more, because men love a girl with spirit. Or something. Eventually he wins her affections by doing nice things for her family involving rescuing this troublemaker:
Lydia, the fun one
Also known as “Lydia the slutty one,” I say you do whatever you need to, girlfriend, although props if it doesn’t involve bringing shame upon your house or whatever.
Also there’s these two no one cares about
And that’s pretty much it. Jane Austen is great at writing minor characters who are funny and a little ridiculous, and Lizzy, her heroine, is just the right amount of fiesty and mannerly to intrigue without ruffling regency era feathers. People love this book/movie/tv adaption/web series/spin off about zombies.
I read a really terrible book recently that purported to summarize great works of literature to give you a fun overview, and the guy billed Pride and Prejudice as the original soppy rom-com that only “people who sit down to pee” will like. That quote should really be on the cover, because the phrase “people who sit down to pee” tells me everything I need to know about a writer. Anyway, Pride and Prejudice is a soppy rom-com if you’ve seen the movies or only read a summary like this one. There are some other things you need to consider:
1. Darcy is not that smart or witty
OMG OMG OMG HE IS SO HOT AND SWEET AND NICE AND RICH AND COLIN FIRTH
Guy can rock a cravat, I’ll give you that
I’ll even give you all the above (except maybe the sweet and nice–dude starts the book as a major jerk), but what I will not give you ever is that this is a relationship based on intellectual equals. Dude couldn’t keep up with Elizabeth Bennet if he wanted to. A lot of people cite their “witty repartee” as the highlight of the book, but, as pointed out by one of the best English professors I had at Rice, “Elizabeth is the witty one–he just laughs at what she says.” Check it:
“However he wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were.”
“And so ended his affection,” said Elizabeth impatiently. “There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!”
“I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,” said Darcy.
“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”
Darcy only smiled.
Darcy is basically Elizabeth’s straight man, and when he gets a chance to show off his own brain-muscles in dialogue with someone else, it’s usually to deliver stuffy judgey lines to make them feel bad:
“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”
He’s the kind of guy that comes to a party and sits glowering in the corner. You don’t have to talk to him, but everything still gets more fun after he leaves. So why would the charming and clever Elizabeth Bennet marry this guy?
2. Elizabeth Bennet is a gold digger
Since we’re talking a regency-era gold digger, I thought Joseph Ducreux was appropriate
I’m not being judgey–this was definitely not a bad thing to be in regency era England when your only source of income disappears with your aging father. Elizabeth is a woman, so marriage is literally the only option open to her. Girl can’t get a job or join the army or the church or whatever dudes without land could do back then. It was either get married to some guy who’ll support you, or hope one of your sisters does and that your new brother-in-law will be enough of a pushover that you can just continue to hang around. Lizzy’s smart, and finding a rich guy to marry is the smartest thing she can do in her situation.
Hopefully not this guy, though
And she’s not completely shameless about it. Again, she’s smart, so she doesn’t just saddle herself with someone she’ll hate, re: her gross cousin (pictured above) or Mr. Darcy the first time he asks, before he proves himself not terrible. Girl’s not desperate yet and thinking long term strategy, which pays off in a big way, because Darcy is by far the richest guy in the book. She gets to tour his gigantic mansion and grounds and is blown away. She even admits to her sister later that this is the main source of her affections:
“My dearest sister, now be serious. I want to talk very seriously. Let me know every thing that I am to know, without delay. Will you tell me how long you have loved him?”
“It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”
In the movies, whenever they include this line, they then have Elizabeth and Jane kind of laugh to each other like “Hahaha, j/k of course I don’t care about money.” But really, in the time this was written, you’d be an idiot not to.
3. Mr. Bennet is the worst
I know, it’s hard to hear.
Guy’s got that cheeky, long-suffering Ben Franklin look
But it’s true. Some of the best lines in this book are from Mr. Bennet, who manfully puts up with all the silliness of his wife and daughters and hides in his library whenever he can. His abject neglect and hatred of his lot in life would be really funny, if it didn’t have serious consequences. Dude, your wife and daughters are going to be destitute and homeless when you die, and you don’t even care? Seriously, while Mrs. Bennet frantically tries to plan marriages to save her family from ruin, Mr. Bennet makes fun of her for it, and then ignores the problem completely. Because, hey, I guess he’ll be dead so what does he care? What a loving father and husband.
Then, when tragedy and drama strike, and his youngest daughter Lydia (see “the fun one” above) elopes with a sketchy soldier, he heaves a great sigh and says “Fine, world. I guess I’ll get off my ass to do something for my family for once if I have to, god.” But j/k Mrs. Bennet’s brother and Mr. Darcy tag-team it to save the day, find the couple, and get them properly married before there’s a scandal. Way to sit at home and grumble like a boss, guy! No wonder your wife’s insane. Which brings me to:
4. Mrs. Bennet is a victim of emotional abuse
I’m not saying she’s not kind of annoying most of the time
She basically makes this face for the full 6 hours of the BBC miniseries
But she is the only person in this family who is worried about what’s going to happen to them all in the future. Whenever she freaks out about them all being homeless, Mr. Bennet rolls his eyes at his silly wife, but, really, she’s got a point. Unlike her snarky, layabout husband, she’s also got the drive to try to do something about it, and her plan is getting everyone married. In the movie adaptions it always seems hella annoying, like the family members who start hassling you about “finding someone” and “settling down” when you’re 30 and god it’s none of your business why I can’t get a date, Aunt Muriel. But, remember, this isn’t your family reunion, this is regency England, where marrying your way out of your problems is basically her daughters’ only option. So I can’t fault her plan, just her shrill, often-inappropriate execution.
But why does Mrs. Bennet act that way all the time? She’s always making vaguely inappropriate remarks, over-reacting for no reason, and weeping copiously at the slightest bad news. Is she just being a wacky minor character for you to laugh at? No, she’s acting out the after effects of decades of emotional abuse.
It’s hysterical, right?
Ladies are essentially property with very little control over their own lives in this world, so you can see why anyone prone to nervousness might start flipping out with worry and panic attacks when faced with an uncertain future. On top of that, Mrs. Bennet has to deal with a husband who is actively mocking her all the time, admits he hates being married to her, and just generally treats her like shit. In most of the movies, they pass her off as too stupid to understand he’s mocking her, but you don’t live with that for years without feeling the disdain. Even if I buy that she’s not quick enough to get his snide little remarks, she understands that tone and his behavior only too well. How would you feel if you had to live and raise a family with someone who hated you and wasn’t afraid to show it? Who refuses to participate in any attempt to save the family, and treats you like an imbecile for even caring? You’d probably drink a little too much at the Lucas’ dinner party too.
5. All these soldiers are around because there’s a GD war on
Where does Lydia’s sketchy soldier lover come from? Why are there so many redcoats just hanging out in town? Does the British government employ them as eye candy?
No, they’re totally training to fight Napoleon. This novel was published in 1813, just after Napoleon’s botched Russian campaign and like ten years of him tooling around the continent pissing on things and claiming them in his name. Things like Italy. The novel is set in an undetermined year around the turn of the 19th century, so this is very much relevant to the story. Or… should be? For some reason, Jane Austen never really mentions it, besides that there are tons of soldiers all over the place. A lot of people think Austen couldn’t write about or even mention more than that, because, as a lady, she was only expected to write about girly things like getting married. So, yeah, Jane Austen was “obsessed with marriage,” another great quote from peeing-sitting-down guy, but this was olden times and she was a lady and therefore didn’t really have a choice. She got handed a boring writing assignment (“Only marriage! And lady topics!”) and then decided to be great at it anyway.
But you do have to realize that, for the majority of people alive at the time, Elizabeth Bennet’s problems seem like a paradise compared to their daily lives. Everyone pictures “living in Austen’s world” and being a star-crossed lover in an empire waist gown, but really you’d probably just be a dirt farmer or gunned down by Napoleon or whatever things non-kinda-rich-white-ladies were doing with their time. Historical context, fools.
English major out.