Happy Birthday Lizzie!

by nike, January 30, 2013

Oops! I had this post half-written and forgot to post it on THE day. Better late than never.

January 28th was the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. One of those novels that has so strongly influenced English-speaking literature and culture that it is hard to imagine how we might think about (romance) novels (and films) without it.

If I were at home, I might have considered throwing a bonnet party in her honour. But here I am in Amsterdam. Instead, I have been doing an anniversary reading on my kindle, and feeling ever so awed and grateful for Jane Austen’s wit, modesty and courage.

If the value of literature is, as some people argue, in its ability to offer comfort and pleasure – to entertain – then P&P is an exemplar of the form. It is easy to read, even at two hundred years old, and offers laughter, heartache, longing and satisfaction all wrapped up in a neat bundle.

If the purpose of literature is to educate, then I have a few dot-points to offer in defence of P&P.

10 things I learned from reading P&P:

  1. It is better to walk than to take any other form of transport, whenever possible.
  2. Other people’s happiness, and the requirements for it, are a mystery and will possibly always remain so.
  3. Ditto one’s own happiness. Although one can be convinced that one knows what is necessary, that knowing is always subject to change.
  4. It is better, even if one does so internally and privately, never to publicly declare one’s prejudices too quickly. If at all.
  5. Family is both a blessing and a curse.
  6. Playing games only ever ends in disaster, or at the least embarrassment
  7. “… people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.”
  8. “Do not give way to useless alarm; though it is right to be prepared for the worst, there is no occasion to look on it as certain.”
  9. There are as many good, happy marriages made in haste as with consideration, out of lust as out of good sense. Lizzie may or may not be happy with her choice, but the degree to which she will be happy, and has made a good match, is no different to the potential happiness afforded to Jane, Lydia, Mary or – my favourite pragmatist and – in this reading at least – my favourite character – Charlotte Lucas.
  10. And finally, of course, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

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