It us a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
However little known the beliefs or views of such a man may be, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of someone or other of their daughters.
When this landed on my doormat, I was understandably a little bit reticent, for although it is rightly regarded as a classic, me, being a bloke, was under the impression that this novel would be a whiney, feelings fest, with women harping on about shoes and dresses and men going all docile over a glimpse of bodice.
I let the stereotypes influence me and I’m sad to say I broke the cardinal rule of cliché fans everywhere…I judged a book by its cover. Admittedly it’s not one to set the pulses racing but nevertheless for fear of some sort of imagined retribution I started this with an already weary heart.
(I assume the classic plot needs no introduction as it has been rehashed so many times, so I will jump straight in…)
It was at page 22 that it occurred to me that this was going to be a great book and that I had been a bit foolish in my original mindset. Yet it was earlier, at around page five that I realised I had overlooked this and so many other potentially great books because of my own ignorance and, dare I say it, prejudice? Disregarding any semblance of pride I had at this point, I plunged on and discovered a razor-sharp satire, wonderfully drawn characters and some talk about hats.
From the off, there is perfectly balanced blend of tightly written intertwining narratives, with cutting swipes at the ridiculous and at times absurd rules of the class and social structure of the time. It’s all very arch in its humour but in such a gentle way that you can’t help but notice all the clever nuanced jibes that Austen liberally sprinkles in.
I found the prose to be structured like a dance would be, each character participating in a swirling, pursuing, lingering rush of partings and greetings. This intimate battle of the sexes tenderly pushes the boundaries of decorum, protocol and, well for want of a better word hormones.
As well as the main ‘will they/won’t they’ storyline of Lizzy Bennett and Mr Darcy, there are plenty of other fun and fascinating characters to draw your attention and I did become subsumed in following their stories whilst retaining my appetite for the core narrative. Apart from depth, the story is also rich in verve and sagacity, making this a true celebration of words..
The frivolity of some of the wonderfully drawn characters is finely counterbalanced by the wit of others and Austen is always looking to make the reader judge on the basis of what you know, so the slow unfurling of Mr Darcy’s back story is a key plot point and makes you realise how wrong you have been in judging some of the characters through the evidence of what you have heard about them and then seen as a result of this bias.
This, though is counteracted by some of the most blatantly transparent characters in English literature. Although you don’t ever entirely judge them once you realise how wrong you have been about other players in this affable promenade. It does chasten somewhat to find that I fell into the trap of doing what I hate to see others do in the ‘real’ (non book) world.
The prose is finely written with wonderfully crafted ripostes and quotes aplenty, with its great mix of enmeshed stories that range from the conceited to the confused, yet always remaining fascinating, it’s a very readable and moreish recipe. Pride and Prejudice definitely deserves its place as a true great and criminally came only second in the BBC’s Big read of 2003 poll of the UK’s best loved book (runner-up to Lord of the Rings) but that is a rant for another day.