I first read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) as a young teenager. Like many girls, I loved the romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, the clever conversation, and the rags to riches aspects of the Bennet’s story. I’ve reread it a number of times since my first encounter, and I’ve also enjoyed the movie retellings. I was excited for the chance to discuss this favorite novel in a book group discussion format.
Pride and Prejudice has a wealth of characters to pick apart. I suggest that Jane Austen held an apparently cynical view of marriage in general, as evidenced by Charlotte Lucas’s marriage to Mr. Collins and the Bennet’s unhappy marriage. On this read, I noticed much more frequently the short-comings of the humorous Mr. Bennet. He was a rather poor father-figure for his daughters: he declined taking responsibility for raising them, instead shutting himself up in his office for hours on end. On this read, I saw him as a lazy, conceited man, just as guilty for his daughter’s poor conduct in society as his flighty and hysterical wife.
In my book group, I also enjoyed considering the complications of personality (outgoing and pleasant Wickham to the shy and introverted Darcy). Character’s motivations are more complicated than appearances suggest because so much of the novel deals with social class prejudice. In our discussion, we addressed the similarities of the discrimination by social class in the novel with other types of more contemporary discrimination, albeit via race or religion. Given the strict social structures of the time, was it realistic for Darcy to abandon his discrimination against the lower classes and marry Elizabeth Bennet? To me, it seems like a dream that Jane Austen may have harbored: that money and social class didn’t matter as much as a witty personality and true love.
I loved rereading Pride and Prejudice, and discussing it in a book group provided an abundance of delightful conversation. Three of the nine people at book group did not particularly like it (characters were too flighty and annoying, the prejudices were blah, the book was too wordy), and yet even they seemed to appreciate the book more upon discussion. It’s interesting to see how universal some things are, even if the specifics (such as prejudices and moral strictures) change.
Pride and Prejudice is definitely a book I’ll revisit again! I love it!