Monday, November 21, 2011

"Pride and Prejudice" and Jane Austen

I am little embarrassed to admit that being a high school English teacher for quite a long while, I had not read Pride and Prejudice. There are teachers of English, and other readers, who absolutely swear by this book, but I must admit, I had never read it. Not quite sure why not, but I hadn't.

A few of my students read Pride and Prejudice and strongly suggested that I read it, and I did.

Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice in 1797. That was not a typo; it was written in 1797. It was unacceptable for women to be writers during this time period, so Pride and Prejudice was published anonymously and was not associated with Jane until after her death. Oh my!!!

This novel shows the life of the privileged class during the 18th and 19th-century England.

There are many definitions for the word Pride, but the definition that I think is befitting for this novel is a "haughty attitude shown by somebody who believes, often unjustifiably, that he or she is better that others." This can be applied to one of the main characters, Mr. Darcy. He was a single, rich man whose parents "thought that they were good themselves, allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing - to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of the world...." In spite of  his upbringing, he, quiet as it is kept, was actually a good fellow.

A befitting definition of Prejudice would be a "preformed opinion, usually an unfavorable one, based on insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings, or inaccurate stereotypes." This could be applied to Elizabeth Bennett, one of the main characters who was from a lower-class family.

So, reading this book with my 21st century women's liberation lenses, I could not understand why Mrs. Bennet was so pressed to get her four daughters married, and not just married, but married to men who were well-off. (Now, we all know that money does not hurt.)

However, after talking about the novel with my students, I realized that the Bennet's had no sons, and women could not own property, not even inherited property, during this time period. Once Mr. Bennet dies, their house will go to a male cousin. So, the girls needed to be married in order to secure their future and the future of their mother just in case she died after their father. Imagine that!!!!

On a side note, I believe in marriage and all of that, but I am so thrilled that I do not HAVE to be married to own property or to secure my future or the security of my family. We've come a long way or have we?

So, this novel is basically about rich Mr. Darcy and poor Elizabeth who really like each other but pride and prejudice gets in the way. Once they worked through this and saw each other for who they really were, they were able to marry and hopefully, live happily ever after.

There are many ways that an author can develop a character: showing the character's appearance, displaying the character's actions, revealing the character's thoughts, letting the character speak, and getting the reactions of others.

Jane Austen's does a great job of developing her characters through their actions. The only sort of problem with this method is that these stories typically seem to move slowly and may not hold the reader's attention.

So, the beginning of Pride and Prejudice may seem to move slowly with lots of details, but she ties everything together very nicely which actually makes for a satisfying ending if you love the idea of love like I do :)

This is a classic novel that deserves the title of classic!!!!

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