Passed White Glove, spent an evening as Nancy Drew, and read chapter two of William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education. While the weekend was incredibly busy, it was definitely worth my time. The reason: I savored thinking about my favorite Austen novel, Pride & Prejudice. While I enjoyed blogging about Emma, I couldn’t wait to read Mr. Deresiewicz’s thoughts on Pride and Prejudice.
A lot of my friends went into a Darcy/Lizzy craze when I hit 15. It seemed that no matter where I went, P&P is all people talked about. So I ignored the frenzy and waited to watch the series and read the book until I was nearly 20. Do I wish I had discovered Elizabeth Bennet earlier? Not really, I think age lent appreciation to the context.
The author of A Jane Austen Education and I have at least that in common, we both waited a while to enjoy Pride and Prejudice. William Deresiewicz waited to read this classic until his prep for final examination to begin his PhD program. While devouring literature, Mr. D dived into the most famous – and presumable favorite – Jane Austen work.
And like all of us, he fell in love with Elizabeth Bennet. It’s hard not to. Sarcasm, humor, and righteous indignation are a pretty perfect blend. As a reader, you understand Lizzy’s temperament, and the case she builds against Darcy. It all makes perfect sense for the first half of the book. Austen literally sets you up as a prosecutor, compelling the jury to declare Darcy guilty. But like any good trial, the defendant has his share. And the house of faults falls apart. Everything you assume about Darcy proves to be wrong and with Elizabeth Bennet we can mutter, “How despicable I’ve been, blind, partial, prejudiced and absurd”
But I am relieved that Austen enjoyed comedy, not tragedy. Because in spite of Lizzy’s charms, the story could have gone quite awry. It’s not incredibly often that we make terrible mistakes about people and still live to see a happy ending.
Austen opens your eyes to how easy it is to judge others and ignore our own mistakes.
Owning up to your faults is part of growing up. A slice of maturity is not accepting the reality you’ve built for yourself, but taking off the rose colored glasses and facing truth.
I’ve always taken Pride & Prejudice at face value, as a simple story about two characters overcoming their own pride and prejudice. But Mr. D subtly reprimands my own shallow thinking. Dig deeper into Austen’s work, and you’ll discover P&P is a ‘coming of age’ novel.
It’s no secret that Jane Austen identified herself with Elizabeth Bennet. Perhaps she understood her most of any of her characters because of her own personal experiences. I love how the author shows Austen’s similarities to Lizzy through her letters. Austen was caustic, critical, and witty as she elaborated on her neighbors. But as she grew older, her tone softened. She advised a niece contemplating matrimony, “Wisdom is better than Wit.”
I rather wish I could write Austen a letter today, just to know how she figured all this out.
Elizabeth Bennet’s pride was severely shattered, but through that pain she gained maturity. Darcy could have let her keep her vanity but he pointed out her family flaws in a stinging letter. At first, I’m annoyed with him. Lizzy already knew her sisters were an embarrassment, not to mention her mother. Why drag this up to her? But I realize, we all know our own family flaws. We expect other people to blindly accept them. We know our own issues, but think others should just deal with them. I know that I can come across as blunt, impatient, and maybe full of myself. But like Lizzy, I practically expect others to overlook that. After all, for all the times I’m blunt, I still smile and pass out nice compliments. That makes up for it right?
Maturity means that I don’t expect you to look at me through rose colored glasses. It means owning up to my own character flaws, and seeing how I really treat other people.
It also relates to a very current lesson in my life, one Lizzy also had to deal with. No matter how much you pretend, your family isn’t perfect. Sometimes it’s more Hallmark-like but many times families are terribly flawed. You can’t expect people to ignore obvious problems, and you must stop lying to yourself about the problems that do exist.
That’s a lesson I’ve been grappling with the last year or so. I used to pretend my life was perfect, yes there were problems, but I wanted to imagine them away. If anyone dared mention something was out of place, I was quick to jump to my family’s defense. Maybe if I had been a little more willing to recognize the problems, help might have happened sooner.
In the end, we cheer when Lizzy does mature. We cheer when Darcy overcomes social expectations. We cheer when Lizzy forgives his prejudice, and Darcy forgives her pride. (Or is it the other way around?)
In the end, we’re celebrating our favorite characters growing up.