“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” this famous first line is one of those which can by instantly recognized by any lover of dare I say literature or more specifically Jane Austen.
One of the first pieces of classic literature I ever read was Pride and Prejudice. I admit it was only the abridged version but I so fell in love with the book that it spurred me on, to read the original version. A novel by Jane Austen (you can't be a woman and a reader and not know!) The book was a product of the Victorian era but its heroine Elizabeth is unlike any other Victorian heroine- lively, charming, playful and with such a sharp wit to match. Though Austen had offered the book for publication initially, it was rejected and her first novel to be published became Sense and Sensibility. However her most well known novel to date remains Pride and Prejudice and it isn’t hard to see why.
For the basic plot - the story centers around the Bennett family which consists of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett and their five daughters Jane, our beloved heroine Elizabeth, followed by Mary, Kitty and Lydia, and the trials and tribulations the whole family faces during the course of the novel. Mrs. Bennett’s greatest wish is to see all her five daughters married and well settled as per the expectations of a woman in the Victorian age- as one who is limited to the house and marriage. Indeed a woman was judged on the marriage she made rather than the qualities she possessed. In the opening scene of the novel all the Bennett ladies are trying to find out whether Mr. Bennett has gone to meet their new neighbor Mr. Bingley. Mrs. Bennett wants her husband to be the first visitor only so that it gives her an edge over the other mothers with daughters of marriageable age.
The first scene of the novel is by itself a revelation of what all the characters are summed up to be. For a quick overview of each character, Mr. Bennett is an intelligent man who does not suffer fools gladly and has yet been saddled with a family of fools, of course with the exception of his two eldest daughters Jane and his beloved Elizabeth. Mrs. Bennett on the other hand is vacuous and vapid - clearly not the ideal wife for her husband. Her favorite daughter is Lydia whose high spirits are enough to make her so. Jane the eldest of the daughters is the most sweet natured as well as the most naïve among the lot because of her tendency to acknowledge nothing but the good in people. Elizabeth is the cleverest, most agreeable, most worldly wise, and most of the other things that a perfect woman is carved to be. She loves her family despite being aware of the fact that they are far from perfect; Her only one flaw is to make quick judgments about people - something which comes back to haunt her later on in the novel. Mary is the plainest of all the sisters - one who attempts to make up for the lack of her looks with the back of her brains. The two youngest members in the family, Kitty and Lydia are only teenagers, given a considerable lot of freedom, they are quite spoiled and selfish - Lydia more so than Kitty.
Nonetheless, the Bennetts successfully meet Mr. Bingley and are invited to his Meryton ball. Here it is where they mingle and match, where the Victorian woman, the Victorian expectations and the Victorian ideals are exposed and elaborated. For the record, Mr. Bingley meets Jane and is instantly attracted to her while Mr. Darcy meets Elizabeth but does not consider her worthy of being a suitable partner. Both the central couples of the story thus meet. While Jane reciprocates Mr. Bingley’s interest Elizabeth on the other hand decides that Mr. Darcy is a tremendously arrogant person and begins to actively dislike him. I must say at this point that I do not blame her for disliking him! It is only later on that her dislike seems misplaced and misjudged.
In the due course of the story Mr. Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth only to have his feelings thrown right back at his face, concurrently Mr. Bingley and Jane’s relationship hits a snag owing to the interruptions by Mr. Darcy and his highly placed opinions about her background and suitability, and so our dear Elizabeth comes to hate our dearer Mr. Darcy some more. There are misunderstandings and misjudgments, realizations and more love. Darcy finally wins over Elizabeth (much to our relief!) when he saves her family from scandal. In the end both the couples are reunited and settle to happy lives with their respective spouses.
All the main stories also run parallel stories like that of the Charlotte’s marriage to the abominable Mr. Collins, Mr. Collins proposal to the Elizabeth, Lydia’s elopement with Mr. Wickham, and Darcy’s involvement with Wickham.These are only to take the plot further, it is Austen's heroine Elizabeth (I doubt there is any woman in the world who has read this and not loved her) along with her writing which is crisp and invigorating that make this the novel that it is.
The novel provides a refreshing change from other kinds of classical literature which though good tends to become a little heavy. This one is light hearted, yet explores and explodes many social stereotypes of the Victorian age, criticizing those social norms which very often are the cause for half the problems we face even in today’s age. If you are not enthusiastic about reading the book I would recommend watching the miniseries Pride and Prejudice, it is almost similar to the book with a few minor changes and believe me when I say this - Colin Firth makes for the best Mr. Darcy ever!!