“P&P”- a book for the ages

Published 11:01 am Thursday, January 31, 2013

On Monday I officially “nerded-out” when I found out it was the 200th anniversary of “Pride and Prejudice” being published.

And just as a warning, if you are a man and you are reading this, you should probably bail now…with the exception of Cal Bryant, the editor. Sorry, you’re stuck with this buddy.

“Pride and Prejudice”, by English novelist Jane Austen, follows the love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy set in the society of the landed gentry, a social class, in early 19th Century England.

The first edition was printed Jan. 27, 1813 in three hardcover volumes by Thomas Egerton of Whitehall. It was Austen’s second book to be published (her first being “Sense and Sensibility”). On the literary level Austen was known for her use of irony as well as her genuine social commentary on this particular time period and the different classes that existed.

Austen spent her life at the lower rungs of the landed gentry, which were landowners that made a living off of rental income and often included in the ranks were baronets, knights, esquires and gentlemen. In the English sense, they were commoners that still had those aristocratic connections, and could elevate themselves in the social rungs through marriage and their associations with the elite.

It’s a life that must of have been miserable for a woman. To have the knowledge from the time you are young that you must marry not for love and happiness, but for money and social status. And so your parents scheme to marry you off was for your own financial security (not to mention the family’s as well).

That scenario of marriage scheming is reflected in the first line of “Pride and Prejudice”: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

In modern society that line may seem hilarious, but the greatest feat of “Pride and Prejudice” is how the story has transcended time. It is one of those stories that no matter whether you have read it or not you’ll undoubtedly be familiar with the plot. You know the one where girl meets boy, girl hates boy and then girl and boy fall in love.

The novel has inspired numerous film adaptations and books. Nowadays, you can’t throw a rock without hitting something inspired by “Pride and Prejudice”.

I can clearly remember the first time I picked up the book. I was in college taking an English literature course. “P&P” wasn’t on the syllabus, but there it was tucked away on a shelf in the campus library. It was years after I watched the 1995 BBC film version (the one famous for featuring Colin Firth) of the book so I was familiar with the subject matter, but I wanted to read it on my own. That first read led to a second and a third and eventually other Austen novels.

Despite Austen having her share of critics, including fellow novelist Charlotte Bronte who criticized her for writing within “neat borders”, there’s depth to Austen’s work, which addressed class, wealth and marriage. Her heroines often walk the thin line of their society, but yet still have fire to their personality and they have their own thoughts. Even though Austen wrote in “neat borders” there was still something progressive about her writing.

And maybe that’s why “Pride and Prejudice” still transcends into today: despite the circumstances love is still possible and it always thrives.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: amanda.vanderbroek@r-cnews.com or call (252) 332-7209.