Pairing: very rich man and not as rich woman
First Sentence: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Climax: Not even close -M.R.
Knowing myself, I'm frankly shocked that it's taken me so long to finally read Pride and Prejudice. I have many friends who are fans, and I've been curious about the book for a long time, I just simply haven't prioritized it.
But what better way to cap off my Romance half of the Two Hectobooks project than by reading Jane Austen's practical invention of the genre*, and its most well-regarded classic? While I did eventually change over to Random novels, I've honestly never stopped thinking of the project as being "great" novels in contrast with romnovs. Thanks to my early course-correction of being dragged by a romance novelist whose book I didn't like at all, I ended up learning a lot about romance as a genre and really reevaluating my opinions about it.
One quite frequent issue is that books like Pride and Prejudice are stripped of their romnov status by earning the prestige of being considered classics. Perhaps something could be made of the pride and prejudice of the literary establishment in that case. But for the moment, we have a romance novel to review.
I always thought I was fairly familiar with the broad strokes of this novel: man and woman meet, man is kind of a dick and woman is a bit unconventional, they hate each other but eventually fall in love. Not quite. Spoilers ahead for a book that's over 200 years old. Some may be a bit out of order but oh well.
There are five Bennet sisters: good to a fault Jane, sassy Elizabeth, forgotten middle child Mary, Kitty, and lusty Lydia. Because there are no boys in the family, they will not inherit any of their father's money upon his death, and therefore need to find husbands to save them from poverty.
Enter Bingley, who is single, pretty rich, and a gem, and Darcy, who is single, very rich, and a jerk. the two of them are friends who end up in the Bennet's neighbourhood. Jane and Bingley quickly fall for each other, while Elizabeth takes an instant dislike to Darcy. This dislike is confirmed by a very charming, handsome young man named Wickham, who is a member of the militia encamped in the neighbourhood (to the younger Bennet sisters' endless delight). Wickham tells Elizabeth that Darcy wronged him severely in the past.
Mr. Collins, a ridiculous man, cousin to Mr. Bennet and due to inherit his money, comes to visit. He wants to marry one of the Bennet girls as a n act of charity, and proposes to Elizabeth. She is not on board for this idea and declines, whereupon Collins marries her friend Charlotte Lucas, who views marriage in a much more practical light than Elizabeth. Charlotte wants to be the lady of a house, but Elizabeth wants to love her husband.
Bingley has been spirited away from the area by his sisters and Darcy, which Elizabeth assumes is a ploy to get him away from Jane. Jane goes to London to visit some relatives and in hopes of meeting Bingley there. Meanwhile, Elizabeth goes to visit Charlotte.
Mr. Collins' patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is Darcy's aunt, and he happens to visit her while Elizabeth is staying with the Collinses. Having spent some quality time together, Darcy finds that he absolutely must propose to Elizabeth. He does so while telling her it's against his better judgment about her and her terrible family.
Elizabeth basically tells him to fuck off: she isn't going to sit and listen to him castigate her family, and besides she knows how terribly he's treated Wickham, plus he's kept Jane and Bingley apart.
Darcy writes Elizabeth a letter, telling her his side of the Wickham story. Basically, Wickham is the real villain. He even tried to elope with Darcy's much younger sister! As for Jane and Bingley, besides Darcy's objections to the Bennet family, he just didn't think Jane was that into his friend. Elizabeth ponders these revelations, but ends up trusting them thanks to various proofs and guarantees.
Elizabeth and Jane both return home, Jane having not seen or heard from Bingley in months. The militia is leaving for Brighton and Lydia gets an invitation from Colonel and Mrs. Forster to join them there. Shortly after, Elizabeth is supposed to travel to the Lake District with her London relatives, but the trip has to be cut short because of her uncle's business schedule. Instead, they can only go to Derbyshire, where Mr. Darcy's residence, Pemberley, is located.
After confirming that Darcy is absolutely not at home, Elizabeth goes to tour Pemberley with her aunt and uncle. Of course, after being awed by the house, they run into Darcy, who's arrived home early. This is tremendously awkward for Elizabeth but Darcy is acting like practically a different person: one who is actually polite and cares for her well-being. She also meets the very shy Miss Darcy.
Things are going swimmingly when Elizabeth suddenly learns that Lydia has run off with Wickham. She happens to be with Darcy at the time and tells him what's happened before immediately hurrying home to her family. Her mother is concerned that Mr. Bennet is going to be killed in a duel if he finds Wickham and Lydia, so all arrangements and searching are left in the London family's hands. Lydia and Wickham are found living together out of wedlock and Wickham insists on some small financial assistance in order to marry Lydia. Elizabeth and her father realize that their family in London have likely paid a much higher sum in secret.
After the wedding, Lydia and Wickham visit the Bennets. Lydia lets slip that Darcy was at her wedding and Elizabeth quizzes her aunt on the subject. Thus, she learns that Darcy was the one who found the couple and arranged everything.
Bingley and Darcy return to the neighbourhood. Bingley and Jane rapidly rekindle their romance and get engaged. Elizabeth and Darcy have some awkward moments (not least of which involve Lady de Bourgh threatening Elizabeth) but then they also get engaged. Everyone lives happily ever after.
I can't deny that I enjoyed reading Pride and Prejudice. It's fun! I really enjoyed the characters, especially the witty ones like Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet, but also Jane who can't bring herself to think ill of anyone, Lydia, who can't think of anyone but herself, and Mr. Collins who maybe just can't think. My favourite of all was the narrator, actually, who is subtly sarcastic in the most delightful way (presumably this narrator gets us close to Jane Austen herself and if so she is certainly someone I'd like to spend more time with).
The struggle of young women to find rich husbands in order to avoid penury isn't altogether relatable, but is always a good reminder of what we'd rather not go back to.
However, I didn't love the book like I'd hoped, and I think it's mostly just a matter of personal taste: I like my 19th century novels best when they have at least a tinge of darkness in them, and yes, I'm think of the Brontës here most of all, but I'm also thinking about Beth in Little Women, and The Woman in White, and Dickens as well. In listing those, I realize I need to read more from the Regency period because it's possible the only other thing I've read from this time is Frankenstein and you may be sure that's dark as well. In any case what I'm saying is that there's nothing wrong with Austen's sunshine and comfortable rooms and lack of dead bodies, especially when written in such an amusing way. It's just not my personal preference.
Thus I found myself also not fully buying in to the romance. It seems like Elizabeth really falls in love with Darcy only after seeing his beautiful mansion. Which I don't really fault her for, honestly.
I'm struggling with how to wrap up this review, the last official one of the Two Hectobooks project. While there's a sense of finality, I also have an even greater sense of opportunity: I want to explore more of the romance genre, and more of the authors I've come across during the last 11 years, and I'll have more time to do so now. Next week, I'll be looking back one more time, and then I'll be looking forward.
* I'm aware this is an extremely controversial statement and probably just flat out false according to many definitions but I don't care.