January 28th marked the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of one of the world’s most beloved books: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The story of Elizabeth Bennet, her family, their trials and tribulations, and her romance with Mr. Darcy is one that translates the world over, regardless of culture or era. It is as much about the search for self as it is about class and culture, money, matchmaking and marriage, reminding us that discovering “who we are” takes place as much amid the day-to-day of small talk and petty circumstance as it does in the hunt for adventure or folly.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.”
A variety of Pride and Prejudice cover images
With the book’s opening lines we are swept into Mrs. Bennet’s hunt for suitable life partners for Lizzie and her sisters, caught up in the sly and often misguided search for romance and happily ever after to which the Bennet sisters succumb. We are also made abundantly aware that the man in question is as of little consequence as his views on the subject of matrimony as long as he is well fixed and able to provide — and likely to eventually succumb to the machinations of matchmaking mamas.
“In her own past behaviour, there was a constant source of vexation and regret; and in the unhappy defects of her family, a subject of yet heavier chagrin. They were hopeless of remedy. Her father, contented with laughing at them, would never exert himself to restrain the wild giddiness of his youngest daughters; and her mother, with manners so far from right herself, was entirely insensible of the evil. Elizabeth had frequently united with Jane in an endeavour to check the imprudence of Catherine and Lydia; but while they were supported by their mother’s indulgence, what chance could there be of improvement? Catherine, weak-spirited, irritable, and completely under Lydia’s guidance, had been always affronted by their advice; and Lydia, self-willed and careless, would scarcely give them a hearing. They were ignorant, idle, and vain. While there was an officer in Meryton, they would flirt with him; and while Meryton was within a walk of Longbourn, they would be going there forever.”
In short, P&P is about everything we still go through today: the search for happiness and love; the desire to make not only a palatable but joyful future; the realization that both who we are, where we come from, and how we go on can aid or impede the successful progress of our lives.
Pride and Prejudice has been filmed more than once for both movies and television, including an India-set musical that I love. It has been translated into hundreds of languages and reached millions of readers.
Like much of Austen’s work, Pride and Prejudice has been reinterpreted numerous times, in a variety of venues, including the zombified version, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”
By far my favorite interpretation of any of Austen’s works is the absolutely brilliant Tooth & Claw by Jo Walton, which does Sense and Sensibility using dragons.