Confession time: I am an unapologetic Austenite, and yet I can’t remember precisely when I first encountered this eminently readable author. I know that the first book of hers that I read was Pride and Prejudice, but for the life of me, I have no idea when that was. I think it may have been in junior college, but I’m really just guessing. Regardless, read her I did, and I fell in love with not only the story, but the characters and the setting and the writing and… well, you get the idea.
Given that my love of this novel is best described by a Kermitflail gif, it might be a little difficult to pin down all the cool things about the book that inspire my devotion. Not only that, but the novel has become pretty much inextricable from the movie/TV versions, so separating them is challenging. But, here we go.
This has become one of my “comfort books”—you know, the ones that you turn to when you’re stressed or upset, and when you read them they just make you feel good. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read P&P, because I often jump in and out of it at random points. It’s a book that I keep on tap for when I’m having trouble sleeping—not because it’s boring, but because it’s so familiar that it’s soothing to my often overactive brain. Lizzy and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, and all the rest of the characters have turned into old friends over the course of many, many years.
Speaking of the characters, this book contains some of the best ones in literature. I’m mostly drawn to the witty ones, like Lizzy. I think most female Austenites want to be like Lizzy at one point or another. She’s energetic, quick to defend herself or her loved ones, intelligent, and self-assured. I also like that she gains a better degree of self-awareness over the course of the story, as she turns that intelligence to analyzing her own actions. Another one in the “witty” category is Mr. Bennet—I absolutely adore his wry humor, and Austen’s descriptions of him feed that profile (such as him being “fatigued with the raptures of his wife”).
In a slightly more complicated way, I love Mr. Collins. It’s not so much him that I love him as the fact that I love watching the other characters interact with him. Mr. Collins is smarmy in the highest degree, often to the point of being ridiculous, which gives Mr. Bennet ample fodder for poking at him during several scenes. His high self-opinion and lack of true social graces is a great foil for Lizzy, especially during the Netherfield ball.
Much of what attracts me to this book, and to Austen’s writing in general, is the writing style. She sets her scenes in such a way that Austenites would be willing to live in the Regency world despite the terrible lack of things like women’s rights and indoor plumbing. Austen’s books paint a softened picture of the Regency period, one that is romantic and genteel, and it’s hard not to feel an attraction to a portrayal of such a time. We imagine ourselves in lovely gowns, dancing in an elegant country dance (which I’ve done, and they’re great fun), and being introduced to polite gentlemen who bow and compliment us. I’m not one for dresses and fripperies, and even I sometimes wish for a world like this.
I guess what it boils down to is that, for me, this book has it all: romance, humor, drama, great characters, beautiful writing, and above all else, the familiarity of an old friend. It will always be one of my all-time favorite novels.