Pride and Prejudice
It is a truth universally acknowledged that
a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Pride and Prejudice is easily Jane Austenís finest work. It is a story loaded with romance, a great deal of humor, colorful characters, and even a little scandal. We are immediately introduced to the Bennett family. Mr. Bennett is a gentleman with a comfortable income, but whose estate is entailed away from his five daughters. Therefore, there is very little to leave the girls upon his death. So although they are a gentlemanís daughters, it is important that at least one of them must marry well in order to be of help to the other sisters. (Kind of a complicated thing, but reading the book, it becomes a little clearer.) The sisters, therefore, need to rely on their charms in order to marry well, since they have little financially to offer.
The eldest of the Bennett sisters is Jane. She is the prettiest of all the girls, and also the sweetest of them all. She is very hard pressed to find fault with anyone, and is extremely generous. When confronted with the infamy of another of the characters later in the story, she is absolutely determined that he could not possibly be as bad as he is made out to be, and attributes his reputation to a serious misunderstanding by one person or another. Another of her qualities is a very serene and reserved sort of countenance, which ends up causing a little misunderstanding, which directly affects her.
Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and arches in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody, and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed that if it werenít for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.
The second of the sisters, and the main character of the novel, is Elizabeth (Eliza) Bennett. Very nearly as pretty as her sister, and much more insightful. She is extremely clever, and has a real knack for reading peopleís characters. She is probably one of the best of Austenís heroines. She has such a wonderful wit and sense of the absurd that as a reader we become like her, and appreciate the humor in the story all the more. Determined from her first impression not to like Mr. Darcy, she learns as the tale winds along, that perhaps she isnít as clever as she thinks she is.
The other three sisters have relatively minor roles in the story, but they are as wonderfully developed as the main characters. The youngest, Lydia, is a spoiled, unreserved, free spirit, who repels every attempt from her two eldest sisters to keep her wild character in check. Having a mother who turns a blind eye to this inappropriate behavior, and even almost encouraging it, doesnít help much, and indeed actually gets Lydia into a great deal of trouble later in the book. The other two sisters are Kitty, who is two years older than Lydia, but is governed by what Lydia does, and Mary, who is the plainest of all the girls, and prefers books and reading to balls and dancing.
The men of the story are no less dynamic than the Miss Bennett. Mr. Darcy is extremely wealthy and handsome, but he is proud, and is determined to look down upon the Bennett family, without exception, from their first meeting. (Sound familiar?) Determined from the first to only find fault with Eliza Bennett, he soon finds himself seeing quite the opposite in her. Mr. Bingley, who is Mr. Darcyís closest friend, has a character very much like Jane Bennettís, and in fact is smitten with her almost immediately, much to the alarm of his two sisters, and his friend, who want him to marry someone closer to his equal in wealth and upbringing. Enter Mr. Wickham, a very fine looking young man, and a new member of the local militia. He takes a fancy to Eliza Bennett almost immediately, and is delighted when he finds out her dislike of Mr. Darcy. He tells her a tale of Mr. Darcyís true character, one that makes Darcy out to be a very sly, mean-hearted, selfish, and jealous man.
A truly awesome story, well worth reading (or in my case reading over and over and over!). In 1996, the BBS made a 6-hour mini-series version of Pride and Prejudice staring Jennifer Elhe as Eliza and Colin Firth as Darcy (both pictured above). This is an exceptional production that does a fantastic job of telling the story. The characters are perfectly cast, the sets are very authentic, and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. The production has been shown on A&E in the U.S. and Canada, and is for sale or rent on video.