For this month’s book review, I decided to revisit a classic that is probably one of my all-time favourite novels ever. Pride and Prejudice written by Jane Austen in 1813 is a witty and satirical social commentary revolving around the lives of Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters. Austen’s brilliant wit undercuts the narrative throughout the book, drawing the reader into the 19th century, middle-class society.
At first glance, this book may feel boring and a product of its time, but on delving deep into Austen’s social commentary, you realise that the book aims to critique the world it is depicting. The portrayal of Mrs Bennet shows the importance for women to marry young and to marry someone of “good breeding.” Her desperation to have her daughters marry reflects the idea that society would look down on a woman if she were still single in her early 20s, and that marrying was the only way for a woman to secure a stable financial future. This emphasises Austen’s views on marriage – the fact that it was the only option for many women is completely ridiculous and unfair.
The reader follows Elizabeth’s journey as she discovers the truth about those around her, but she also learns more about herself
Not only does this novel have a feminist approach, but it also highlights the blatant classism within society. Mr Darcy’s initial prejudice against Elizabeth was because she wasn’t from an upper-class family, and he didn’t want to marry below his station. Marriage in the 19th century was very rarely based on just love, there also had to be beneficiary financial means to both parties for it to be deemed acceptable.
Furthermore, Austen also shows how pride can blind us to true happiness in life. Elizabeth’s snap judgement of Mr Darcy’s character blinds her, and it isn’t until much later in the book that she realises she loves him and will find happiness being with him. The reader follows Elizabeth’s journey as she discovers the truth about those around her, but she also learns more about herself. Although this book could be labelled as early feminism, the fact that the book ends with both Elizabeth and her sister, Jane, getting married, implying that they only managed to find happiness from their respective husbands, suggests that Austen is perhaps less radical than we give her credit for.
Whilst Austen might have been a pioneering woman novelist, she was still conservative and her reviews reflect those of time
Although Austen criticises the society that she lives in, most of her novels do end in a happy marriage for the protagonists. She refuses to completely disregard that world altogether, and instead finds ways for her characters to thrive in it. Whilst there are many issues in the book that are relevant today, such as gender roles and expectations, classism and elitism, there are still some things in the book that were contemporary. The fact that all of her characters are white, living in white neighbourhoods reflects how white skin was very much seen as the norm, and anything else was seen as “otherness.” Not only that, but the novel is also very heteronormative, with only straight couples being depicted. Both of these issues represent that whilst Austen might have been a pioneering woman novelist, she was still conservative and her reviews reflect those of time.
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