by Jane Austen

First Published in 1813
ISBN: xx-xxxx-xxx-xx
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There are literally thousands of excellent works published in print and on the Internet that analyze, probe, deconstruct, reconstruct and deify Jane Austen's definitive romance Pride and Prejudice. This reviewer will try to avoid all of the above, and simply just give the reader an idea of the story, the characters, the settings, and hazard a couple of guesses as to why this book has remained so amazingly popular. It is a gentle tale of manners and mores in a time almost 200 years in the past, yet it is still a much-loved book, and is often the first romance that schoolgirls are encouraged to read.

The story revolves around Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her family. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are aware that they have daughters who must be married off as expeditiously as possible, although Mrs. Bennet is far more enthusiastically involved than her husband. In fact, both Lizzy and her oldest sister Jane are given more than enough cause to cringe at their mother's shameless efforts on their behalf. Jane Austen's satirical pen is never more in evidence than when she describes Mrs. Bennet - obviously a caricature of mothers that Jane, herself unwed, knew well. A quite frightful creature, Mrs. Bennet probably does love her daughters deep down somewhere, but her raison d'etre is to marry off her girls in a suitably elegant fashion.

Jane and Lizzy are introduced to visitors to their part of the world at a small evening affair - again one can detect in the brilliance of Miss Austen's words the experience of one who has been a part of so many evenings like this one. The open and smiling Mr. Bingley immediately fascinates Jane, while Lizzy takes his elegant friend, Mr. Darcy, into immediate dislike. Mr. Darcy is a prideful man, and unfortunately Lizzy overhears his comments. She requires no urging to become quite prejudiced against him, for his attitudes and his demeanor. She also meets Mr. Wickham, a charming and handsome young man, who clearly impresses her a great deal more than the imperious Mr. Darcy.

Love is given and refused, and lost and found in this charming tale - Miss Austen skillfully skewers the upper classes with her depiction of the haughty Lady Catherine, and is equally as merciless in her treatment of those who would worshipfully cater to their every whim - the character of Mr. Collins is unerringly on target with his portrayal as an empty headed but full-of-his-own- consequence idiot. The youngest Bennet, Lydia, is a wonderful example of a fluttering, dizzy young woman, whose shallow nature leads her into trouble. Her predilection for the company of young military officers sounds not unlike a young girl of today chattering about a boy band! Again, we have no problem imagining that Jane drew upon real-life acquaintances to assemble the character of Lydia. Lizzy's friend Charlotte, whose marriage nearly gives Mrs. Bennet apoplexy, is another fine snapshot of a typical woman of the time - one who makes the her decisions based on what is practical for her particular financial circumstances, rather than following the dictates of her heart or her common sense.

The entire subject of marriage, which is central to this novel, is presented in several different ways, which Jane may well have observed within her small circle of friends and family. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have a relationship that could portend their youngest daughter Lydia's, a marriage where overwhelming and dramatic emotionalism outweighed other, calmer, considerations. Jane and her Bingley demonstrate the delight of instant attraction, not deeply thought out, but still warm and lasting. Austen has one of her characters comment that the Bingleys will certainly be taken advantage of by their servants. Surely this acerbic aside must come from Jane's own experiences. And lastly, there is Elizabeth and Darcy. Their union is a result of passion, pain and growth, one that leads to mutual love, respect and understanding. Surely the best of all types of marriage, and one that Jane probably would have wanted for herself.

Through the elegant language of this book, we are privileged to be able to stand outside a small house in 19th century rural England and peek in through the curtains at the lives of those who reside within. We can truly understand the situations the Bennet girls find themselves in, because Jane Austen herself had experienced many of them. We can hear the absurdity in many of the conversations because Jane herself heard them and wrote them into this story. We stride across the Hampshire fields and through the woods with Lizzy only because Jane herself walked those same paths and recorded her thoughts as she did so. We must be forever indebted to this quiet young woman for sharing these glimpses of her life with us in such an enchanting fashion.

While this reviewer is hesitant to recommend a movie or television show based upon a romance novel, believing that the human mind is far more suited to create a visual image than someone in Hollywood, Pride and Prejudice may be one of the few exceptions. In 1996, BBC Television produced a six-hour miniseries of Jane Austen's work (directed by Simon Langton of 'Upstairs Downstairs' fame) and it is by far the best rendition of this book that I have ever seen. Colin Firth plays Darcy with just the right amount of superiority crossed with smoldering intensity, and Jennifer Ehle perfectly captures Lizzy's bright intelligence and wit. I recommend the novel without reservation, but I also recommend that as a follow-up, you rent the video or DVD of this excellent miniseries, just to fully experience the settings of the Regency as they must have looked to Jane Austen.

Reviewed in October 2001 by Celia.

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