“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Genre: Classics, Fiction, Romance
Setting: Georgian era, Hertfordshire and Derbyshire, England
Waterstones Summary: “When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.”
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has consistently featured in many lists as one of the greatest novels of all-time and is widely considered to be Austen’s best novel. Beloved in literary circles and by readers alike, its heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, is hailed as one of the best female characters in literature (my own list differs) and the prideful hero, Mr Darcy, is no short of admirers himself.
The romantic pairing of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy has led to the creation of many modern retellings such as the highly popular ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’, ‘Ayesha At Last’ and ‘Sofia Khan is Not Obliged’ – though the latter is more loosely based on ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’.
I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was 21. Though it had been frequently recommended to me for its magical and iconic romance, I couldn’t see myself swooning over Mr Darcy. I went into reading it with little to no expectations, and found myself terribly puzzled. Though I had read other classics before including Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’, I struggled to decipher what was being said or even happening. Thoroughly disappointed and confused, I gave it two stars. Language barriers and accessibility aside, Elizabeth and Darcy’s ‘romance’ genuinely baffled me, and I still felt a lingering irritation with Mr Darcy.
The 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden, proved to be much more enjoyable than its book counterpart. It was one of those rare moments where the film outshines the book. Years later, reading positively glowing book reviews on Pride and Prejudice and with an altered expectation after watching the film adaptation, I decided to give Pride and Prejudice another go.
The first half of Pride and Prejudice, focusing on the social niceties of the Georgian era, is amusingly riveting, and has spurred me to at least watch one Downton Abbey episode (one day, that is). But the more it focused on the ‘romance’ between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, the more it began its tumbling downhill descent. Finally finishing, I gave it an additional star, amounting to a three-star ranking, mostly due to the glorious first half.
To end this long intro, here are the three reasons why Pride and Prejudice is overrated:
1. Elizabeth Bennet is Perfectly Boring
Not to be confused with Keira Knightley’s delightful performance as Elizabeth Bennet where she greatly enhanced the second Miss Bennet’s character with the welcome addition of Elizabeth being a bookworm (she’s not in the books!).
There is no denying that Elizabeth Bennet is revolutionary for her times – she turns down two marriage proposals in an era where being married was considered an accomplishment (though this expectation still persists to this day) and she turns up at Netherfield Park with a muddied dress and … and … yeah. Otherwise, Elizabeth isn’t particularly interesting, and the narrative falls head over heels over how lively and easy-going Elizabeth is, in fact, it sort of hammers it into our heads with it. Call it reeling from the effects of reverse psychology, but Elizabeth is elevated into such a high status that it is almost as if she has no flaws other than her prejudice towards Mr Darcy which could only be a natural consequence of their first meeting. Her lack of flaws make her a lacklustre character. Where other Austen heroines such as Emma Woodhouse and Catherine Morland have both strengths and flaws making them interesting, well-rounded and well-developed characters, Elizabeth seems to exist on 99% strength and 1% reasonable prejudice. It doesn’t help that the remote storytelling ensures that we aren’t privy to more insights as to what Elizabeth is thinking or feeling.
Elizabeth Bennet, after accepting Mr Darcy’s second proposal, launches on a reverse pick-me rebuke of Caroline Bingley. What is a ‘pick-me?’ A pick-me is a woman who begs for acceptance of the opposite sex by vilifying their own sex for going against the traditional gender confinements and expectations. In essence, Caroline Bingley does beg for acceptance from Mr Darcy, but Elizabeth Bennet’s indirect tirade of shade towards Caroline Bingley and how she, herself, is “different” because she didn’t strive for Mr Darcy’s acceptance is somewhat of a pat on the back for her “I’m not like other girls” self … which isn’t really any better than being a pick-me, but more or less a not so distant variation.
2. The Mythical Love Story of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet
So, I guess Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy sparked the enemies to lovers trope whilst forgetting to add even the remotest trace of chemistry. To rehash the love story of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth in the simplest of terms from Elizabeth’s POV:
- Hot, rich and single Mr Darcy at a party refuses to dance with single, plain but lively-eyed Elizabeth Bennet.
- “You mortified my pride! I hate you!”
- “We meet again, and I’m beginning to hate you more!”
- “Oh, wait… Pemberley though… damn.”
- “Oh, okay, reports of a flourishing review of Mr Darcy’s character…”
- *Still barely talking to each other*
- “Ah, you saved my sister from total shame. For me. Okay, that must mean that I love you now. Also, Pemberley. So… marriage it is then.”
… How?! How can two characters who barely talk to each other find themselves in love with each other? How are readers supposed to gauge chemistry from almost non-existent conversation? Let nobody who enjoyed Pride and Prejudice ever criticise arranged marriages ever again because, let me tell you, our first-generation parents spoke more to each other before getting married than Elizabeth and Mr Darcy spoke to each other over the course of many months. This lack of conversation does not go unmissed by Elizabeth Bennet herself as she grows frustrated towards Mr Darcy towards the end of Pride and Prejudice for this very reason. Its saving grace is that Elizabeth and Mr Darcy decide together, after Elizabeth accepts Mr Darcy’s marriage proposal, that they’ll spend some time getting to know each other before tying the knot. Well… there’s nothing like an engagement to prompt you to get to know each other. I- I am bamboozled.
Seriously, there is more palpable chemistry between our all-time favourite toxic couple – Heathcliff and Catherine. Even Fanny Price has more chemistry with nature than Elizabeth has with Mr Darcy.
Which leads me to…
3. Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley Should Have Been the Main Love Story
Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley have noticeable chemistry from the very start and make a whole bucket-load of sense. Their love story is far more appealing, and both Jane and Charles as individual characters are wonderfully lovely. I found myself more drawn towards Jane and Charles as a pair, nervously waiting to find out more, and anxious for Jane herself as she increasingly becomes reclusive and withdrawn. This pairing is far truer to life as there are quite a few Jane and Charles to be found in reality. Not only do Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet have clear chemistry, their romantic arc far outshines Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s, and we can see that they clearly get on whereas Elizabeth and Mr Darcy’s love story is bred on the idea of each other much more so than on any visible chemistry.
On the flipside, I very much liked Mr Darcy during this rereading and felt oddly protective over him.
What are your thoughts on Pride and Prejudice? Are you a fan of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy as a couple? What is your unpopular Jane Austen opinion? Who is your favourite Jane Austen heroine? Let me know in the comments!
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