Decembers book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
For a novel written in the early 19th century, Pride and Prejudice is still confrontingly pertinent. The satire is almost the 19th century TV drama, Desperate Housewives, even.
Jane Austen’s witty romance follows the Bennet family’s unsuspected push into the centre of melodramatic court life in Meryton. Austen delves into ideas to do with pride and prejudice—surprised?—that can come from adherence to the traditions and customs of noble family lineage. The characters anxiously attempt to retain or pursue social connections with the elite, believing that the lower class will blemish reputation.
Growing up in a Catholic all boys school, I learnt a thing or two about elitism and the importance of appearances. I’ve even come in contact with a number of parents who’ve openly admitted to choosing private schools, because a prestigious school looks good in the eyes of other parents, and will allow their children to be part of a well-to-do alumni, which will help them get good jobs in the future. Isn’t it unnerving that Austen is still so relevant?
Austen uses some hefty elevated diction to, presumably, poke fun of high society, revealing that court ‘tradition’—like cousins marrying to perpetuate noble lineage—isn’t in place to preserve any worthy lore or to purposely make funny looking children, but to ensure the rich stay rich, a mere reflection of arrogance and entitlement:
My daughter and my nephew are formed to each other. They are descended on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the father’s, from respectable, honourable, and ancient...families…and what it to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without a family, connections, or fortune.
Like any love story, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy have to overcome personal and societal shortcomings to unite. Darcy is ‘discovered to be proud, to be in above his company, and above being pleased’ by Meryton, especially Mrs Bennet. Despite the unflattering first impressions, Austen shows us that the people of Meryton, with all their preconceived judgements, are incapable of discerning another’s true nature from superficial appearances, and what turns out to be below Darcy’s snobbish indifference is a kind, generous heart.
Elizabeth is articulate, independent minded and ‘as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print’ Austen said. The heroines outspokeness and ‘liveliness of mind’ stimulates Darcy’s judgemental reserve. Lizzy was a far cry from the passive, vulnerable female characters of the time and ultimately carved a new identity for modern feminism. She, in pride but also strength, refused to be swept by the nonsense of court society and her family, and instead followed her heart, creating one of the most well-known pieces of popular romantic fiction, ever.
The ghost of the pretentious milieu of the late modern period that continues to haunt our leafy green suburbs is probably the reason why I sometimes like to escape to places like the Men’s Shed, a place for gruff exteriors and the politically incorrect who, like Darcy, tend to easily rub people with delicate sensibilities the wrong way, but almost always underneath is a big and down-to-earth heart.
We could all take a leaf out of Darcy's book, as far as bad first impression go, because, from the bottom, you can only go up, only impress. We can be free from the burden of having to uphold expectations of being 'propitious', as Austen said. As a man that's certainly no saint, I don't need the reputation of being one hanging over the head, and will gladly leave it to the charming and charismatic.
Jan book: One hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez