“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Ever since I used that absolutely brilliant quote to explain a grammatical concept I don’t even remember in a classroom presentation, I have been using Pride and Prejudice to explain – ok, not everything – but a lot of things.
For instance, I have a theory that every classic romantic comedy out there follows the same plot points of Pride and Prejudice. I also have a theory that Elizabeth Bennet’s behavior throughout most of the novel is a perfect example of a cognitive bias called Confirmation Bias. And what better way to exemplify the concept of tragedy within a narration than discussing how Mr. Darcy (our hero) describes Elizabeth (our heroine and the woman he is going to marry) as tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt [him].
And have I also used pictures from the 2005 movie for my product design mockups? Yes, yes I have.
Now, is Jane Austen my favorite author? I’m afraid not. Do I think her novels are absolutely brilliant and deserve all the attention they get (and more)? Yes, yes I do.
See, every two or three years I read one Jane Austen novel (I can only consume them in small doses), so over the years I’ve managed to get through Pride and Prejudice (of course), Emma, Northanger Abbey and, more recently, Persuasion. So here’s why I think you should give at least one of them a go.
There are people, who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves. — Emma
I know they were written a long time ago, but somehow they still feel surprisingly modern. While her characters tend to find themselves in very claustrophobic environments where what others want for you is more important than what you want for yourself, the sense that everyone is watching, judging and discussing your private matters feels eerily familiar.
While you read her books you can feel the awkward silences, the stares, the forced smiles, the whispers. Because a lot of things cannot be said there are a lot of things that are being thought, and as a reader you get to see that first hand in the mind of the main character. They will observe, they will assume and they will judge others based on what they see and think.
And then, of course, there is the romance, which in Jane Austen’s world is always linked to financial and social status. Even though male and female characters don’t get to interact much in her books, somehow it’s easier to understand why hero and heroine have the hots for each other and believe in their love than in many of today’s so-called epic romance stories.
Life is messy, and I’m not talking about year 2020 here. Life was very messy before then, and it will continue to be messy after this whole pandemic nightmare is over.
There is no such a thing as closure in life; people leave or die without having given you the opportunity to say your last words to them. Bad things happen for no logical reason and things don’t always get better. And that can sometimes be very distressing to some of us, leaving us feeling like there is some unfinished business out there that will remain unfinished. Forever.
Not in Jane Austen’s world. In Jane Austen’s world everything fits perfectly at the end, like a finished puzzle or a complete crossword. The goodies win and end up in situations that benefit them and make them happy. The baddies don’t end up so well (but also they don’t die or anything terrible like that) and they learn their lesson. And that can be very satisfying.
Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief. — Emma
Jane Austen’s main characters tend to be mostly likable, mostly nice and friendly people, but somewhat flawed in a very relatable way. Elizabeth is prejudiced, Catherine is naive and lives in the clouds, Emma is arrogant, oblivious and stubborn, and Anne is… kind of a doormat.
But that’s ok because we’ve all been there at some point in our lives (and maybe we still are), so if we look deep inside and consider their behavior from a place of empathy and understanding we will like them and we will celebrate their small wins towards a better version of themselves.
Every Jane Austen heroine has been given her own character arch. They all learn something from their trials and tribulations and come out wiser on the other side, and that’s very interesting to see.
Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. — Pride and Prejudice
In the end they always get married.
I’m sorry if I spoiled it for you, but my guess is that everyone knows by now that they get married. In fact, there is something in the way every story is set that informs you – from the start – that everything will be alright in the end (aka they will get married to the right person).
And that’s ok; that’s not where the excitement lies. What it’s interesting is how they will get to that point. It’s like watching someone taking something – like a toy, or a computer – apart and then putting it back together. It’s like saying, ‘It was great seeing you break this thing, now fix it!’
Sometimes you’re reading a book and you wonder how on Earth she’s going to make it all good again. Sometimes it almost seems impossible! And yet dear Jane goes and does it again. She just goes and fixes it.
I mean, read Jane Austen even if it’s just for the chuckles. Her social commentary is spot-on.