Pride and Prejudice Turns 200

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. — Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice

Today is the 200th anniversary of the publication of one of the most loved—and hated—books in the English language, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The book has spawned film adaptations, zombie parodies, and even naughty updates.

Sheila Heti, writing in the Globe, commemorates the anniversary by reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time.

[T]he plot revolves around the efforts of the Bennets, a relatively well-off rural family, to marry off their five daughters, the only way then to secure their futures. By this time, we have a good idea of the characters of the Bennets and of their daughters, especially Elizabeth and Jane.

The Bennets admire their wealthy new neighbour, Mr. Bingley, and praise him for his attentions to Jane, but are sore over the aristocratic, snobbish treatment of their younger daughter, Elizabeth.

Seeing the world differently because of Austen

I know from writing fiction that we don’t see the world and record it; we invent a world from the one we inhabit – which has few innate characteristics of its own. But it was impossible to deny the patterns Jane Austen painted, everywhere I looked. Did she hold the master key to the truth?

Or perhaps this is the gift of the greatest artists: Their vision is so fascinating that when you’re not in their book (or painting, or film) you still want to be there, so you look at everything through their eyes – the same way we look through the eyes of the person we most love.

Austen’s vision is just so convincing that I may be encountering my world differently; am seeing it through her eyes.

Commenting on the appeal of Jane Austen, Sarah Marian Seltzer writes:

From its very first pages, this novel engages not merely with love, sex, family and money, but with the notion of reading—how we read each other, how we read art, and how pathetically encumbered by our own egos we are in both endeavors.

Have you ever looked differently at a job prospect or a acquaintance after you found out how they felt about you, knowledge that swung your own feelings violently one way or the other? If so, you’re probably human, and Jane Austen knew you well.

Still curious? Throwing out the latest best-seller on your nightstand and replacing it with Pride and Prejudice is not the stupidest thing you can do today.