Five daughters without husbands. Handsome, wealthy bachelors. Dancing at balls. Misunderstandings. Love letters. The English countryside. Scandals. Sacrificial love.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, we’re talking Pride and Prejudice today. And it is quite possibly the best book to start with on a blog about feisty leading females in literature (among other things).
This post covers volume I, chapters I – XII (volume 1, chapters 1 – 12, if you prefer Arabic to Roman numerals).
Note: This post may contain spoilers. If you don’t want to know, this is the place to stop.
The Bennet sisters — Jane, Lizzy, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia — need husbands, and it’s their mother’s sole mission to find them some. Luckily, a wealthy and jovial bachelor — Charles Bingley — has just moved into the neighborhood. A mutual affection develops between him and Jane, though she is shy and difficult to read.
Unluckily, Bingley’s friend — Fitzwilliam Darcy, who has come to the village with him — isn’t quite so pleasant. Lizzy overhears him call her merely “tolerable” and deems him snobbish. Though Darcy’s feelings about Lizzy begin to soften, Lizzy remains unaware — supposing his eavesdropping on her conversations and silence in her presence as further proof of his pomposity.
Pride and Prejudice has no shortage of great lines, and I would be remiss in not sharing some of the best. (I’m sure there are more, so share in the comments if you think I’ve left some from this section of the book out!)
- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” — Narrator (Ch. 1)
- “You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.” — Mr. Bennet (Ch. 1)
- “Affectation of candor is common enough; — one meets it every where. But to be candid without ostentation or design — to take the good of every body’s character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad — belongs to you alone.” — Lizzy (Ch. 4)
- “. . . I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.” — Lizzy (Ch. 5)
- “A lady’s admiration is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment. I knew you would be wishing me joy.” — Darcy (Ch. 6)
- “Well, my dear, . . . if your daughter should have a dangerous fit of illness, if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under your orders.” — Mr. Bennet (Ch. 7)
- On joining Lizzy and Caroline in “a turn about the room”: “You either chuse this method of passing the evening because you are in each other’s confidence and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; — if the first, I should be completely in your way; — and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.” — Darcy (Ch. 11)
Understanding & Articulating
One of my favorite things about Jane Austen (and we’ll get to some of the others as the Pride and Prejudice series continues) is how well she understands the way people work — be it a self-focused, sniveling worry-wart like Mrs. Bennet or an earnest, congenial bachelor like Bingley … or even the absurd pageantry of English society as a whole!
But understanding, though important, isn’t enough to write like Jane. Coming up with interesting ways to articulate these truths is as important (if not more so!). In Ch. 3 she illustrates the exaggerations and inaccuracies of speculation and rumor:
“. . . a report soon followed that Mr. Bingley was to bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with him to the assembly. The girls grieved over such a number of ladies; but were comforted the day before the ball by hearing, that instead of twelve, he had brought only six with him from London, his five sisters and a cousin. And when the party entered the assembly room, it consisted of only five altogether, Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the eldest, and another young man.”
That truth and reports can vary greatly isn’t a big secret — we all learn that playing the telephone game in grade school. Her ability to illustrate it through the dwindling number of Bingley’s guests and their varying relations to him — rather than stating “Truth and rumor don’t always match” — is what makes Jane one of the greats.
Ten Random Thoughts While Reading
- Mr. Bennet is hilarious. If I could be any Pride and Prejudice character (aside from the obvious choices of Lizzy or Jane), it would totally be him.
- Mrs. Bennet is getting on my nerves with all this talk of her nerves.
- I wish I had sisters like Lizzy and Jane to have late-night boy talks with.
- Oh, Darcy . . . isn’t that the way it always works? You make up your mind to dislike someone, only to realize that the things you dislike are actually kind of cute.
- Why the heck would you tell Caroline you like Lizzy’s eyes? Moron . . .
- Sending your kid out in the rain. On purpose. So she’ll catch a cold and have to stay at a potential boyfriend’s house? Okay, Mrs. Bennet would totally be on CPS’s radar if it had existed in 18th century England.
- What could be more romantic than debating whether poetry starves or feeds love? Keep on flirting, Darcy. You’re winning her over now!
- Caroline is so transparent it’s sickening. Practically throwing herself at Darcy who couldn’t be less interested. I want to punch her in the face.
- I LOVE how the way you know Darcy is captivated by Lizzy is that he unconsciously closes the book he was voraciously reading just moments before because he’s watching her. #LiteraryLove
- That comment about admiring them from the fire was either really flirtatious or really creepy . . . For Darcy’s sake, we’ll go with flirtatious.