February 12, 2007

February Book Pick: "Pride and Prejudice"

Before you shun Jane Austen's brilliant commentary on life in Britain, circa 1800, Pride and Prejudice, because it's a classic and it was on the "must read" list in high school or college, I urge you to first watch the BBC miniseries from 1995. If the sight of Colin Firth pining away, replete with a wet shirt, doesn't make you appreciate Ms. Austen and all things British, then don't bother.
While the language is more proper and formal than what we are used to today, and certainly the customs and arrangements are very different, Pride and Prejudice is in many ways a simply timeless love story about two people who seemingly dislike each other at first sight, but who are truly so right for one another. A century or two will not diminish this romance!
At the heart of the story is the Bennet family, a family that has been "cursed" with five daughters and no sons to inherit the family's home and estate - - lovely, soft spoken oldest daughter Jane, spunky and spirited Elizabeth, bookish, serious, almost dour Mary, silly, giggly Kitty and flirty, precocious and spoiled Lydia. Mrs. Bennet's sole consideration and worry in life seems to be finding appropriate husbands for her daughters, mostly so that once Mr. Bennet dies, she shouldn't be kicked out of her home with nowhere to go. It will quickly become apparent to the reader that Mrs. Bennet's favorite child is Lydia, mostly because Lydia seems the closest reflection to Mrs. Bennet's character herself. Into this story comes the Bingley and Darcy families - - sweet, good natured Charles, who quickly falls in love with Jane, his critical, judgmental sister Caroline, who secretly yearns for marriage to Charles' best friend, Mr. Darcy, who seems uninterested in the entire endeavor. As with most romance stories, the road to true love is a bumpy one. Mr. Darcy, although obviously finding Elizabeth attractive, feels that her station in life is beneath his. Elizabeth finds his pride and aloofness infuriating. Jane and Mr. Bingley, although in love, are torn apart by his sister, who believes that a marriage to one of the Bennet girls would be most unfortunate for her family. Add the arrival of Mr. Bennet's cousin, Mr. Collins, who as the next male of kin will inherit the Bennet home - - and his frantic search for a bride and Mrs. Bennet's efforts to assist him; Elizabeth's dear friend Charlotte, a spinster of twenty-seven who accepts what life has offered her and makes some difficult choices of her own, in order that she might be merely content with her arrangements; Mr. Darcy's haughty aunt, and Mr. Collins' benefactress, Lady Catherine De Burgh, who has serious aspirations of her own to make Mr. Darcy her daughter's husband; the seductive Wickham, who shares a secret past with the Darcy family and catches the impressive Lydia's eye, nearly bringing downfall to the Bennet family. All in all, this was an incredibly satisfying story on all fronts - - a rich character study, an earnest romance, and comedy. The ending seemed almost rushed and an afterthought - - but perhaps because I had fallen in love with the stories and characters, I simply did not want Pride and Prejudice to end.

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