Pride and Prejudice — Climbing the Stairs with an O’Fallon Librarian

This is the latest entry in “Climbing the Stairs,” a series of blog posts that explores and celebrates the classic titles painted on the O’Fallon Public Library’s staircase. Today we will be discussing “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen.

Though published in 1813, myriad fans, of the book and the films that have been made of it, say it is still as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago.


Plot Summary

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” With those words, the reader is introduced to the world of the Bennet family — five sisters of marriageable (or nearly marriageable) age. Their names are Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Lydia and Kitty.

Charles Bingley, a gentleman whose family earned money in trade, has arrived in the country and is renting a country estate next door to the Bennets. Mrs. Bennet sees Bingley as the perfect opportunity for one of her girls and sets about cultivating a relationship with him.

Mrs. Bennet gets a chance to meet the gentleman when Bingley attends the Meryton ball with his sisters and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a good friend of his. Bingley and Jane form an attachment right away and dance together a few times throughout the evening.

Darcy and Elizabeth ram heads. She sees him as arrogant because of his wealth and position, he sees her as an unattractive social climber.

Because he believes Jane to be uninterested in Bingley for anything except his money, Darcy encourages his friend to make some distance between them. Elizabeth discovers this and is furious. Meanwhile, sparks fly between Elizabeth and an officer named Lieutenant George Wickham.

Wickham tells Elizabeth that Darcy was a childhood friend of his and he cut him out of his life for no reason. His treatment of Wickham further alienates Darcy in Elizabeth’s mind.

Meanwhile, William Collins, the relative of Mr. Bennet and his male heir, proposes to Elizabeth. She refuses and Mr. Collins goes on to marry one of Elizabeth’s best friends.

Darcy proposes to Elizabeth and she turns him down flat because of what she believes to be arrogant behavior. In a letter afterwards, Darcy explains that Wickham spent his inheritance and tried to elope with his 15-year-old sister, hence the trouble between the two of them.

He also writes that he didn’t know Jane was shy and reserved and took her character as disinterest for his friend. He works to rectify that situation and Bingley is soon engaged to Jane.

Then, Lydia elopes with Wickham, a disaster to the social standing of the entire Bennet family. Darcy helps right that wrong as well. After that, Elizabeth and Darcy become engaged, and it is a happy ending for all.


Interpretation

Fans of the book say when Elizabeth meets Mr. Darcy it is one of the best first-meetings in literary history. I generally agree. It’s such a classic love story — it has spawned numerous films and new interpretations of the stories like “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”.

The characters, all of them, are written brilliantly and, it is said, Elizabeth was Jane Austen’s favorite heroine.

During her lifetime, Austen’s books were published anonymously so she received little recognition of her genius. The title of the book was changed from “First Impressions” to “Pride and Prejudice” because of the publisher who wanted to bank off of the modest success of “Sense and Sensibility” which had been published a few years prior.

At its most basic level, this is a story about overcoming internal obstacles on the way to happiness. Elizabeth could obviously have been happy with Darcy but she had her own mistaken impressions and personal bias to get over first. And he did as well.

This is also a story about mundane life and decisions, which prove to be just as gripping as an adventure tale. It was all in the skill of the writing and the sparkling conversations which Austen excelled in creating.


Reader’s Advisory

If you love “Pride and Prejudice”, you may want to give the following titles your consideration. (Click on the title to access the library’s catalogue.)

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Bennet is an English gentleman living in Hartfordshire with his overbearing wife and 5 daughters. There is the beautiful Jane, the clever Elizabeth, the bookish Mary, the immature Kitty and the wild Lydia. Unfortunately, if Mr. Bennet dies their house will be inherited by a distant cousin whom they have never met. The family’s future happiness and security is dependent on the daughters making good marriages. Life is uneventful until the arrival in the neighborhood of the rich gentleman Mr. Bingley, who rents a large house so he can spend the summer in the country. Mr. Bingley brings with him his sister and the dashing, rich, but proud Mr. Darcy. Love soon buds for one of the Bennet sisters, while another sister may have jumped to a hasty prejudgment. For the Bennet sisters many trials and tribulations stand between them and their happiness.

Longbourn by Jo Baker. In this imagined below stairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.

Bridget Jones’s diary : a novel by Helen Fielding. In her mid-thirties, still single and still being set up with dates by her mom, Bridget decides she needs to make a change in her life. She falls for her boss who uses her and then dumps her. In the meantime, Bridget keeps running into the divorced guy her mom tried to set her up with, and he happens to be ex-friends with her boss. She uses her diary as a confessional and she begins to wonder if she will ever find true love.

An assembly such as this : a novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, gentleman by Pamela Aidan. “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.” So begins the timeless romance of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen’s classic novel is beloved by millions, but little is revealed in the book about the mysterious and handsome hero, Mr. Darcy. And so the question has long remained: Who is Fitzwilliam Darcy? “In An Assembly Such as This,” Pamela Aidan finally answers that long-standing question. In this first book of her Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy, she reintroduces us to Darcy during his visit to Hertfordshire with his friend Charles Bingley and reveals Darcy’s hidden perspective on the events of Pride and Prejudice. As Darcy spends more time at Netherfield supervising Bingley and fending off Miss Bingley’s persistent advances, his unwilling attraction to Elizabeth grows—as does his concern about her relationship with his nemesis, George Wickham.

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