Jane Austen's reputation grew very slowly, for she was in some respects ahead of her age. She could describe those about her with a humorous appreciation which amazing in one who never lived in Other surroundings or society than those which she described. Her sense of humour was quite detached from her experience, and her grasp of character and her method of delineating it, in the opinion of some of highest judges, stand almost without rival.
Her most famous book, "Pride and was published in 1813, and Abounds in the qualities which have made lowly but surely, famous. She wrote of the people she knew and the society in which she moved, and the marvellous in which her stories flow - the incidents rising one from another m the most natural and inevitable way - is only less delightful than the tiny strokes l>y which she etches every light and shade in charact
In "Pride and Prejudice " appear the
Bennet family, well-to-do people living near a small town. There is Mrs. Bcnnet, a perfect picture of the unreasonable and irritating woman, most amusing to read of. but utterly infuriating to live with . her lovely eldest daughter, the sweet and gentle Jane; her lively and fascinating second daughter, Elizabeth the studious prig; and Lydia and Kitty, two frankly vulgar harum-scarums. There is also
Bennet, a sarcastic, self-contained man. who has long ceased to receive any picas from the society of his wife except being amused at her ridiculous ignorance and the utter folly of her ways. "And this," as Miss ten remarks. "is not the sort of happiness which d would in general wish to owe to his wife"
The story opens with young, wealth but unmarried man taking a great house in the neighbourhood. And since "it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife," the keynote of the book is revealed at the very outset.
The story portrays a society in which every girl was eager to be married, and frankly thinks of every man as a possible husband. Even the delightful heroine, Elizabeth, when receiving a totally unexpected proposal from a man she loathes (accompanied by an intimation that he has held out against her charms as long as he could because her family is so vulgar!) so far reveals the husband-hunting attitude of that period as to tell him that " she had not known him long before she felt that he was the last man in the world she could ever be prevailed on to marry."
This unwelcome suitor is the friend of the wealthy young man; and he is so proud and reserved, and, as seems to us today, so intolerably self-sufficient, that it is a miracle that even Miss Austen could change him into a hero before the end of the book. His attitude is that of a little Providence. He separates his friend from Jane because of her "low connections." He is in black anger at falling in love himself with Elizabeth; and her lively spirit, though it induces some resistance in her, is not half strong enough to punish his intolerable conceit as most certainly he deserves.
However, his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is so utterly hateful, such an insolent, ill-bred, impertinent old harridan, that the nephew shows up less darkly by her side than otherwise he would. How Elizabeth tolerates a six weeks' stay in Kent is a mystery - in the neighbourhood of Lady Catherine and in the house with Mr. Collings, one of the most exquisitely drawn characters in the book. He was a clerical snob and toady, whose lengthy and ponderous proposal to his first choice can best be summed up in the actual words of another which took place only the other day in real life: "I have prayed a great deal about it, and I think you will make me happy as my wife!"
Her literary ability has placed her work among the classics. For subtle appreciation of character and skill in its portrayal she is unique in her own field, that of delineating upper middle-class society
Elizabeth's attitude to her family is one of the charms of the book. She is so keenly aware of the absurdities of most of them, and yet so loyal that one cannot help both admiring and loving.her.
The change in her feelings from utter dislike of Mr. Darcy to better understanding, and then love, is shown in a series of delightful scenes. Although, however, she is the heroine, other people in the book are also of very great importance, and are drawn with equal care.
One of the most interesting features of the book is the picture it presents of vanished customs and manners. When Elizabeth walks three miles on a muddy day to see her sister, who is ill in a friend's house, she is looked on askance as having done an absurd and q u estionable thing; she is criticised as having shown "an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum." It is a lucky thing for this generation that the very word "decorum" is out of fashion, for it seems to have hampered the girls of Miss Austen's time constantly. Miss Austen, however, although content to write of things immediately about her, was intolerant to people living in a lower state of society. This does not accord with the democratic ideas of to-day; but, in spite of this, the serious students of human nature might learn in the works of "divine Jane" much of the character of men and women.
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