Today marks the bicentennial anniversary of the publication of one of my most favorite novels, Pride and Prejudice. A novel which has outlived its era and proves, by its universal themes that a story, once written, is immortal.
I remember precisely where I was when I first read it. For college, I was assigned to read the novel for one of my many English courses. I knew nothing about Jane Austen or the novel itself. I had no idea of the era from which it came (except that it was categorized in that literary period referred to as “romantic”). I expected to find something lifeless and dry like much of the work I’d sampled from the previous period, which while flawless in its own right, spoke little to me and my 20th century sensibilities.
From the moment I cracked open the book, sitting on the uncomfortable couch in my college apartment, and read that world-famous first line–you know one—I was hooked.
The voice, the cadence, the sardonic wit. The characterizations, both satirical and serious. The themes. And the romance. Ah, yes the romance. I had no idea that Darcy would be Elizabeth’s hero. I was shocked, shocked, when he proposed to her. “You must allow me to tell you…”
And strangely, I felt sorry for him after Elizabeth slapped him down so hard. I mean, yes, I was cheering her on when she dressed him down for his unbelievable arrogance, but then I read his letter. The letter, which must have been so difficult to write, filled with all the ugly truths about that likeable guy, Wickham, and explaining Darcy’s real reasons for separating Bingley from Jane.
My prejudice, as a reader, reversed a bit sooner than Elizabeth’s. But by the time she had run into him at Pemberley, I was hoping they’d get together.
I blew through the book in a few days (I read slow, I know). I savored the language, the tone, the unmistakable voice of Jane Austen speaking to me across nearly two hundred years. And every time I pick up this novel and read it, I have that same feeling.
Jane Austen could not have known that her work would be so well appreciated and venerated two hundred years after she wrote it. Countless reading groups, adaptations, fan-fiction and literary clubs surrounding her are the proof of that.
Her themes are universal, her voice immortal and her stories and characters, just plain addictive. If you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice in a while, I suggest you give it a try. Especially in this, the 200th year of continuous publication (it has never been out of print!). It won’t be hard to see the relevance. I suspect in the year 2213, someone, maybe some descendant of mine, will be writing a post along these same lines. And in 2413, however books will be consumed then, the name of Jane Austen will be known and appreciated.
For more posts about Jane Austen works, see:
This post has been part of the “Pride and Prejudice 200th Anniversary Party Blog-hop”