I just found out that the honors college is offering a seminar over the works of Jane Austen next semester, and I can’t hold in my excitement! I know it’s cliche and girly, but Pride and Prejudice is one of my very favorite books. Each time I read it I fall in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy all over again. I cringe at Mrs. Bennett’s displays and sympathize with Jane and Lizzie in their combination of embarrassment and familial obligation. I have an ongoing debate with myself over which would be worse: to be married to Mr. Collins or to Mr. Wickham? My decision changes daily. I skip over Collins’ proposal, and read and reread Darcy’s. In English my senior year, we were discussing Pride and Prejudice and one of my classmates said Elizabeth reminded them of me. The rest of the class agreed, and to this day that is still the best compliment I’ve ever received. The characterization of Elizabeth Bennett is one of the reasons I love the story so much; although she’s worlds away, I can relate to Lizzie -her love of knowledge, her cynicism, her judgment, her love of family- and she gives me hope of one day finding my own Darcy. Sorry, P&P brings out the Romantic side in me.
But this story is so much more than the greatest love story ever written. It’s an outright criticism of social class and norms. In Mr. Collins, Austen creates a character that, by the standards of the time, should be a suitable match for any of the Bennett girls. He has economic stability, a respectable name, and the ability to have children, all the things that are valued in a marriage. Austen takes this potential suitor and makes him one of the most ridiculous, pompous, annoying, pretentious, rude and repulsive fictional character of all time. By having Charlotte agree to marry him, Austen was showing how outdated the marriage ideas of her time were. Darcy and Elizabeth were the impossible couple, stretching across class, social boundaries, adversity and financial differences, all because of love, and that’s a timeless story.