Author: Jane Austen
Characterization and badassery
Elizabeth Bennet is, for me, the original literary woman of badassery. Jane Austen published this book in 1813, so it’s astonishing that this is a book that calls me back to it over and over. The writing and the characters are like a dear friend whose house I love to visit. The fact that there is always a new movie adaptation or television series attests to the timelessness of this novel.
Elizabeth is an English noblewoman of no means. With four other sisters and no brother to inherit the estate from her father, Elizabeth is in desperate need of marrying well. Doing so would lift the burden of her upkeep from her family, as well as save her from the certainty of homelessness and poverty are inevitable upon the death of her father.
With Elizabeth’s intelligence, wit, and reasonably good looks, she would have no difficulty in procuring a good marital transaction. So does she? No way! She refuses to settle for a match based only on the merits of not starving to death. She insists upon finding a man who can challenge her intellectually, and has a moral character so strong that she can love him wholeheartedly.
Plot and pacing
This is not a classic that lies about pontificating upon the rolling hills and the misty meadows. There isn’t a single place in this novel that the energy lags or the plot drags. Every page is essential to the story and keeps my fingers poised, eager to turn to the next one. If this book were a cake, it would be German chocolate with a thick layer of sticky coconut frosting. I would be pushing it into my mouth as quickly as I could while rolling my eyes and making “mmmmmm” sounds. The story ends at exactly the right time, with every nuance satisfactorily brought to its conclusion.
Prose and editing
Perfection. This book, written so long ago, has managed to strike a perfect balance of liveliness and properness. There is nothing overly froufrou about the text, yet the precise phrasings are so masterfully composed. Although I am a notorious skipper-and-skimmer of books that go on too long here or there, I savor the words of in this book as if they were luxurious little bonbon delights. (I’m using food metaphors again…either I am hungry or I love this book so much I literally want to devour it.)
Hilarious! For anyone who enjoys British humor, this book offers laugh-out-loud moments quite regularly. Elizabeth has such a sharp wit and a tart tongue, belied only by her gentility, that her set-downs and upbraidings are thoroughly delightful. She’s not the only funny one, either. There is poor Mr. Collins, who is so impressed with himself that he is completely unaware of how hysterically ridiculous he is. Elizabeth’s father Mr. Bennet is as witty as she is, though lacking her good judgment. His interaction with and observations of his foolish and frivolous wife also provide a particular glint of amusement.
“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”
“Very well. That reply will do for the present. Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. But now we may be silent.”
“With three younger sisters grown up…your ladyship can hardly expect me to own to it.”
I know this is an old book, and old novels are often outdated or just written in a dull style. I myself find many classics an exercise in boredom. But this book is brilliant, beautiful, funny, and full of different varieties of love. Moreover, Elizabeth Bennet is independent, disobedient, and wildly funny. In a time when women were merely the property of the men to which they were attached, Elizabeth possesses a fiery will that is utterly badass for a properly bred young noblewoman of the early 1800’s. She will not be cowed, embarrassed, or forced into anything she doesn’t want. In a time and situation when women have no rights and no power, she acts like a modern woman would. In fact, I know few modern women who could employ her cleverness, good taste, loyalty, and iron will. This book is a treasure whose relevance has, in my opinion, only flourished over the past hundred years.