Yes, yes; I am horribly amiss in the fact that I’ve not, at 26, read this book. And here’s the conclusion to my finally having done so: I wish I’d read it sooner.
I’m fairly certain that had I read this book when I was, say, half my age, I’d be a completely different person so far as my relationships are concerned. These characters are all concerned with being agreeable to potential mates, to the point that several of them make particularly large sacrifices in order to do so. Not that I’d ever make a particularly large sacrifice on behalf of a man (those of you who know me will scoff, because I totally do, and often) but the experience of having read this book at a more formative age would likely have instilled in me a greater sense of an other’s experience of me, and more consideration thereof.
Now, I thought I would despise Austen. Everything I’d heard through the grapevine seemed negative to me. I thought I would find the women insipid and marriage-obsessed, the men either rakish or dreadful or boring. But there’s something so utterly charming about these tittering women, for all their marriage obsession and their airy minds. I will mark, though, that the two sisters with whom the book is chiefly concerned are remarkably intelligent; this is not a benefit of any formal education but through their own self-driven one. I respect that. And the men, with the exception of Mr. Bingley, tend to be pretty likable fellows even when you’re obviously not supposed to like them at all. For instance, I actually rather like Mr. Wickham – for all his profligacy he’s still good company. I would hang out with him. Just not marry him.
I actually think this is the ultimate lesson to the reader: there are many, many varieties of men out there. Some of them are the kind that are fun to hang out with for an evening, some of them are fun to hang out with for the rest of your life. Choose wisely, because under many circumstances they’re not combined in the same person.
I do have two major criticisms. One: I wonder how much of Elizabeth’s relationship with Darcy is a product of her own imagination. Darcy obviously loves her, but I wonder whether she does, or just feels like she should. She obviously feels guilt over her having treated him so harshly, but this is certainly no reason to go marrying a guy. We don’t see her falling in love with him the same way we see him falling in love with her. Austen just informs us that she is, and we are expected to believe it. Sure, it works better for the story, but is it the character’s real attitude?
My second criticism is less severe. I feel as though the book ended abruptly. Obviously, there was going to be a final word, but it felt as though there was more to be said. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I could have stayed immersed in that little world forever. I needed to be weaned off all the charm and felicity, not cut off.