Pride and Prejudice: First Impressions

I must admit, I have never really loved Pride and Prejudice. I have a typically British love of the underdog, and a desire to promote what I believe to be underappreciated. Pride and Prejudice is most often quoted as being Austen’s ‘best’ novel, and the vast majority of people who read Austen seem to claim it as their favourite. I suspect this is largely thanks to the 1990s adaptation starring Colin Firth, whose rise from the lake in see through shirt and skin tight breeches, dripping with irresistible, repressed English male sexuality (and water, of course), earned Pride and Prejudice legions of new fans. As such, Pride and Prejudice doesn’t need my promotion, and so I have reserved my praise and raptures for Austen’s less read masterpieces; namely, the exquisite Persuasion, and the marvellous Emma. I have always found Pride and Prejudice somewhat lacking in comparison to these two younger sisters; it is witty and sparkling and has engaging characters a-plenty, but it never really inspired my affection. I read it several times during my teenage years, and studied it for my A levels, and each time I failed to see the magic others did. It has been a good seven years since I last picked it up, and now, older, wiser and more open minded, I am seeing it with fresher and less critical eyes. Especially as I am reading it so soon after Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility, both of which I think are rather flawed, at last I can see what others do; this really is a close to perfect novel, and one in which you can see the development of Austen’s style and confidence as a novelist. At present (100 pages in), I can’t fault it.

The first thing that has struck me is how hypocritical, proud and a poor judge of character Elizabeth is. After Mr Darcy’s brilliantly catty put-down ‘not handsome enough to tempt me’ – Elizabeth, though she laughs it off and pretends not to care, obviously takes the comment deeply to heart. Her resentment is so keenly felt that regardless of Darcy’s behaviour after his initial criticism of her, she is determined to hate him and find fault in all he does. This is rather ironic, as she is very quick to criticise Darcy for his inability to give people second chances. Darcy – which I had totally forgotten – actually realises his mistake within seconds of his ill advised comment and is not shy about making his admiration of her known. He defends Elizabeth when the Bingley sisters mock her and attempt to put her down, and makes a genuine effort to build up a repartee and earn his way back into her good graces. He is never unkind or short with her – except when he begins to worry that he may have taken things too far, on her last day at Netherfield during Jane’s illness – and in an environment where Elizabeth is out of place and uncomfortable, and the Bingley sisters do their utmost to make her feel small – Darcy makes it clear to the Bingleys that he approves of her, both in appearance and intelligence, and does his best to lessen the impact of their incivility. His former brusqueness is obviously down to shyness; his close friendship with the amiable and rather simple Mr Bingley suggests to the more astute reader that Darcy is an entirely different man to those he trusts and loves, and his reputation as being proud and aloof is only really evidenced when he is in the company of a large group of strangers. This all points to a social awkwardness, a hatred of small talk and a hatred of being looked at (he hates dancing, I am sure, because he dislikes being paid attention to) that Elizabeth, as a gregarious and confident girl, cannot understand or relate to. Therefore, she misreads Darcy’s shyness for pride and snobbery, and makes no attempt to try and understand him further; which, as we all know, will turn out to be a big mistake.

Enter Mr Wickham, who I always want to call Mr Willoughby; they are so similar! The awkward encounter between Mr Wickham and Mr Darcy on the street in Meryton piques Elizabeth’s interest, and she revels in Wickham’s dirt-dishing on Darcy. She doesn’t stop to wonder why a perfect stranger is so keen to tell her his dirty laundry, or blacken the name of Mr Darcy so thoroughly in their very first conversation; to someone a little more mature, this would ring alarm bells. Why is Mr Wickham so anxious to get Elizabeth on his side? Why is he so vocal about Mr Darcy’s apparently dastardly behaviour, despite the fact that he has only just met Elizabeth and they haven’t established anywhere near a level of intimacy that would merit him telling her such personal confidences? Obviously he is up to something, but Elizabeth doesn’t even think to doubt him. So bitter is she towards Darcy for his comment at the ball that she delights in a further excuse to think ill of him, and happily trusts a perfect stranger who clearly has several chips on his shoulder. Jane, who I had previously thought of as a bit of a drip, shows some sense and does raise doubts as to Wickham’s trustworthiness, but Elizabeth will have none of it. She is determined to hate Darcy, and though she is normally possessed of plenty of good sense and intelligence, her vanity over the slight she has received overrides all other considerations. When she mentions Wickham to Darcy, and Darcy refuses to say much on the issue, this should have shown her that Wickham was the one to distrust; Darcy is the true gentleman in declining to trample on someone else’s reputation. However, she takes this as a further sign of his guilt, and, silly thing that she is, falls even more in love with the handsome and supposedly hard done by Wickham in the process. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, after all; and no woman can resist a man in a uniform.

So here we are, at page 100, with a lively, fun loving, passionate and intelligent heroine who, through her own pride, is getting herself into a very tricky situation indeed. Normally I would find such lack of insight infuriating, but I actually love Elizabeth for it. Love is blind, and haven’t we all been in a position of failing to see what is right under our noses because of our misguided affection for a man (or woman!) who is very handsome and says all the right things? Of course we have! Elizabeth is marvellously human, and a magnificent creation. So is Mrs Bennett; I had forgotten how awful she is – the epitome of the embarrassing mother – and don’t even get me started on Mr Collins! He deserves a post of his own. Mr Darcy has especially warmed my heart, however; his awkward attempts at showing Elizabeth that he actually admires her rather a lot and is sorry for what he said are very endearing, and it’s obvious that he finds Elizabeth’s curtness hurtful. He is not very good at communicating with people, and this social shyness is debilitating, giving him a reputation he doesn’t deserve. I just want to give him a hug; what woman can resist a vulnerable man?! I am delighted to be so thoroughly enjoying myself and am looking forward to reading further and getting into some interesting discussions with you all. There are so many characters I want to explore and so many issues bubbling under the surface; what a magnificent novel this is! More to come over the next week!

32 comments

  1. Booksnob, I can tell you that each of her novels is perfect, but each in a different way. Emma is her St Matthews Passion, in celestial 12 part harmony, Pride & Prejudice is Jane Austen’s K.488 23rd piano concerto, light bright & sparkling to the uninsightful, but as deep as any of her novels, the more you study it closely, as I have.

    Browse in my blog, I have written a great deal there about Pride & Prejudice, particularly re Mary Bennet as a veiled alter ego of Jane Austen herself.

    There are wheels within wheels within wheels in Pride & Prejudice.

    And your irritation with Lizzy is a good sign, stick with it and see where it takes you, it just might shock you.

    Cheers, ARNIE
    sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com
    @JaneAustenCode on Twitter

    1. Thanks Arnie – I look forward to reading some of your posts!🙂

      I like the idea of Mary as an alter ego of Jane…though surely she was not so pompous!

  2. Reading this post made me feel all giddy! I love love love this novel and Mr. Darcy is fantastic. He’s like an amazing treasure – an honest, kind, thoughtful, polite, loving, sensitive man – wrapped in newsprint haha. His social awkwardness hides the goodness inside and his inability to express himself and show who he really is make us feel so strongly, right along with him. I also want to give him a hug! Elizabeth is so much fun, and complements him wonderfully.

    Sorry this was rather inarticulate, I love this book too much😉

    1. Yes indeed – his social awkwardness is SO endearing! I had totally forgotten how adorable he is! I love them both and am just curling my toes in joyful anticipation of their happy ending! Not inarticulate at all – you have expressed Darcy wonderfully!🙂

  3. This is a lovely summary of the opening chapters of Pride & Prejudice and makes me want to dust it down! I only read this for the first time 2 years ago, because funnily enough, the adaptations you mention in your post completely put me off. I thought it would be twee and sickly, not for me at all. Of course the book is nothing like that, the plot is well thought through, the characters alive on the page and the prose just beautiful to read. I think it’s interesting how coming back to a book with mature eyes can really change your perception of it, studying a book at school can be a death knell for many of the classics (I wrote a piece about To Kill a Mockingbird on my blog and how my opinion of it suffered from over analysis in my youth). I’m glad you decided to give P&P another go.
    ps like the new banner!

    1. Thank you, I’m so pleased you enjoyed it! I’m glad you did eventually give it a go – so many people are the opposite to you but don’t read the book because of it – they think the book can’t possibly improve on the film version, which is obviously completely untrue!

      Yes – I have found this to be so true lately. I have especially seen so much more value in Austen’s novels as I have grown older – it’s definitely made me think I should re-read them all once a year!

      Thank you – it’s an Eric Ravilious painting – I love it!

  4. I think that Elizabeth is a wonderfully likeable heroine – as you say, she has faults, but they are a major part of her charm. I love her vivacity and wit and her refusal to be cast down.

    And as for Mr Collins I would love to read a post on him.

    1. Yes she is – she reminds me of me actually! Stubborn to the core but not afraid to admit when she is wrong!😉

      Oh you might get your wish, Sue!🙂

  5. I love how passionate all your reviews are. I too read Pride and Prejudice many years ago, and wasn’t impressed with it. I couldn’t see what it was that made so many people love it. Because of that I haven’t bothered to re-read P & P. Many thanks for your enthusiastic review – you have definitely tempted me to pick P & P back up and give it another go!

    1. Thank you! That’s a lovely compliment!🙂 Oh you must re-read it – I have been simply DELIGHTED with it this time around. I can’t praise it enough!

  6. I agree with you in considering Persuasion to be my favorite of Austen’s novels. There’s just something so lovely and subtle about the way that Anne and Wentworth’s relationship develops. That being said, though, I’ve always loved P&P and your summary was a perfect reminder of why I do. It will hold me over until the next time I reread it.

    1. I’m so glad to read so many positive Persuasion comments – it’s such a special book and one that explores the pain of losing someone you love – Anne and Wentworth really suffer before getting their happy ending and it just feels more realistic somehow. I’m pleased you enjoyed my summary and hope you’ll find my other posts equally tempting!

  7. looking forward to second impressions. Persuasion is my favourite too but must admit that I love Pride and Prejudice, it really is the perfect love story – I suppose that’s why so many people have copied it or written sequels. Happy reading.

    1. Thanks Hayley! Yes, it really is the perfect love story – I had a little squeal when I read it last night – so romantic! I have totally fallen in love with Mr Darcy!

  8. If a little dramatisation bring a younger crowd to read Pride and Prejudice (one of my favourites) can’t be bad I say (and who can resist a dripping Colin Firth).

    1. I agree – and the 1990s version is very faithful to the book, and a great tool to use when teaching the book to teenagers! It just makes it a little more accessible!

  9. i love Pride and P but my favourite of all of Austen is Persuasion. I read it every single year and love it all over again. However, this is a wonderful take on the first 100 pages of P&P and I agree with every word!

  10. One of the many reasons I love Pride and Prejudice is watching how instantly wrong Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are about each other and other people, and the fun as they have to maneuver around those earlier impressions.

    As characters go, Mrs. Bennett is a gem. For someone who gets a bad rap as vulgar and silly, she’s so often right.

    1. I had totally forgotten how wrong both of them are – but also how quickly Darcy realises his mistake compared to how long it takes Elizabeth to have her eyes opened. They are fantastic – and the whole book’s emphasis on miscommunication and misunderstanding is fascinating. I’m loving re-reading it!

      Oh yes – the irony is, she does know what she’s talking about!

  11. I most heartily agree with your endorsement of Persuasion! I’ve always found Anne a more likeable character than Lizzie. I think P&P has received more attention because it’s a livelier, brighter story whereas Persuasion is quieter and reserved.

    1. Oh Anne! I know, I quite agree – it’s a more mature novel and a slow burner…I love it for those reasons but most people seem to just want the quick thrill of P&P. It makes me sad that so many people don’t read Persuasion!

  12. It’s funny because Pride and Prejudice has always been my favourite Austen novel, although as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate Persuasion more and more. The thing that has always fascinated me about P & P, is that each time I read it I’m rooting for Elizabeth and Darcy to get together, as if I don’t know that’s what happens.

  13. Hi Rachel, my name is Rebecca. I have only recently discovered your blog and am enjoying it enormously! I am reading P & P with you and am surprised this time around at how silly Elizabeth is! Her wilful hatred of Darcy is seeming a bit over the top this time. I had never noticed before, I always thought she was a model of good sense, and the artful smirk. I just want to slap her and say ‘Shut up you stupid girl’, she is making me cringe so much! Maybe that would be a little over the top.

    As an aside, thank you for introducing me to Dorothy Whipple. My mother and I have read Greenbanks and High Wages over the last few weeks and absolutely loved them.

    1. Hi Rebecca, it’s so lovely to hear from you! I’m delighted to know you’re enjoying reading my blog!🙂 I know just what you mean about Elizabeth – she is so self satisfied and smug about hating Darcy when really she doesn’t know him at all! But she will change her tune don’t you worry!

      Oh you are so welcome – Dorothy Whipple is such a joy and has been a favourite discovery of mine too. Spreading the word of her brilliance is the least I can do – I want everyone to know the pleasure of her work!

      I look forward to getting to know you better!

  14. What years of reading experience can do! I always get butterflies in my stomach whenever I start rereading P&P. It’s just one of those books that you trust to give you warmth and enjoyment every time. Like most everyone, P&P is my favourite because it never fails to excite me. (Must tell you: Sense and Sensibility is my other favourite. And then Mansfield Park. Ha ha. I don’t think them flawed, none of Austen’s books are to me, really. Funny how Marianne and Fanny, the least-liked Austen heroines, are the ones I connect with most.)

    I’ve been away from blogging so long I just found out you weren’t in NY anymore!

    1. Warmth is just the right word, Claire – and hello again! So lovely to hear from you! Yes I’m back in London…it’s only been eight months!😉

      I am so intrigued at your love of S&S and MP – it’s so interesting how different people’s perceptions can be. I find them quite weak in their characterisation and I think Austen fails in her ability to bring key characters in both novels to life – but I can also see why others may find them wonderful books. A lot of people can’t stand Persuasion but that’s the Austen that most resonates with me…it just goes to show! We all bring a little piece of ourselves to what we read, don’t we?

      1. Rachel, I do understand why others would think Marianne or Fanny to be inferior, because one’s too emotional and the other too nice. The reason why I love them is not because of their literary merits but because they connect with me on a personal level. An embarrassing confession: Marianne’s story is so close to my own. I had a Mr Willoughby and glad he’s out of my life but I acted the way she did, eep. My sisters are exactly like Elinor and Margaret, too. Just a personal connect that it made it a special story to me.😀 So nice to be back!

  15. Hi there Booksnob

    I have just found your blog and started reading your reviews of all the Austens while I do my own re-read of the collection. Can I just say that with this first review article you articulate pretty much exactly why I like the 2005 movie version of P&P just as much or (dare I say it) more than the 90s BBC series. Matthew MacFayden’s Darcy is not as snobbish and haughty as Colin Firth’s – his standoffish-ness comes from shyness and social awkwardness. I love that in the movie version, when Elizabeth and Charlotte overhear that ‘not handsome enough to tempt me’ comment, she actually looks hurt, compared to the vaguely amused “how rude!” disposition Jennifer Ehle’s Elizabeth shows. Then when Darcy realises he actually quite likes Elizabeth, he tries to be nice but Lizzy holds onto that insult and it sort of becomes a filter on everything he says and does. So her view of everything is coloured from the start.

    I’ve not yet started my reread of P&P, but I remember it being very much through Elizabeth’s POV. With your review in mind I’ll be interested to see if Austen conveyed any sense of hurt at Darcy’s remark.

    Can’t wait to read the rest of your reviews!

    1. Hello, it’s lovely to hear from you and I’m delighted that you’re enjoying my reviews!

      It’s interesting to hear from someone who actually prefers the newer P&P adaptation! I didn’t love it but I can see what you mean. I hope you enjoy your reread and I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts!

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