“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” [1:1]
Characterized by its delightful mixture of comedy, romance, drama and classic irony, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen remains one of the most loved novels in the history of literature. Often regarded as Austen’s best work, the story portrays the traditions of the Regency era and manages to depict the dominating themes of marriage, courtship, education and societal norms and values in an ebullient, charming manner.
However, what is most striking about this Austen work is how it resonated with this author; the themes that appeared throughout the novel; marriage, feminism, women empowerment, class discrimination were very much relevant to Pakistan, especially in these times.
There seems to be a striking similarity between the Regency England that Austen wrote about and the societal conventions of our country in this age.
Published in 1813 by T.Egerton of Whitehall, the book gained instant fame as it managed to describe the everyday lives of two parties from separate social circles; the commons and the elite (known as the ton). With its appealing fairy-tale gratifications, the novel portrays a time when intellect in a woman was uncharacteristic. They were expected to know all the arts of matchmaking, marriage and household duties but not literature or politics.
This theme appears in flashes all throughout the novel when the secondary characters are shown to disapprove of the protagonist Elizabeth’s reading habits; a clear depiction of Austen’s tendencies being projected onto her own heroine. Furthermore, this reflects the stereotypes that still breed within our society; women are either expected to be beautiful or intelligent, never both and are expected to learn everything they can about household duties even if it comes at the expense of being ignorant about politics and literature.
The novel follows the emotional development of the heroine Elizabeth Bennet over the course of time for the seemingly arrogant and aloof hero, Mr. Darcy. It also deals with the lives of their friends, family, and acquaintances, particularly with that of Elizabeth’s sister, Jane and Darcy’s best friend, Charles Bingley. When Bingley and his sisters move into the neighborhood, Mrs. Bennet longs for a social connection as she plans for one of her five daughters to marry the rich Mr. Bingley who takes an immediate fancy to the eldest – Jane. Elizabeth develops an intense dislike for Mr. Darcy when he arrogantly refuses to dance with her at a ball party.
As the Bennet property, Longbourn is entailed, none of the Bennet sisters can inherit it upon the death of their parents which meant that one had to marry in wealth so as to support the others in ill times. The property will instead be given to a distant cousin, Mr. Collins who is an obsequious clergyman living under the patronage of Lady Catherine De Bourgh, Darcy’s aunt. The entire novel is about Mrs. Bennet lamenting the fact that she has no son to inherit Longbourn; something that can be fully expected of anyone in Pakistan today.
As this author was reading the book, she couldn’t help but notice the clever way Austen weaves in irony whether it be through dialogue or the description and the fact that Regency England was very much similar when it comes to conventions as Pakistan is today. the class discrimination which led to Lady Catherine opposing a match between Darcy and Elizabeth, the way women were expected to behave in the nineteenth century, even the pressure to marry young and well. The reason it still garners attention to this date is that the prose and the underlying themes are relatable for women even after an entire decade.
Moreover, the underlying feminist themes in the novel also contribute to its popularity and amazed me in their simplicity and effectiveness. Through literature, Austen teaches girls to understand that marrying early and/or well does not vouch for the strength of their character. Lydia was the first Bennet sister to get married, much to Mrs. Bennet’s mirth but it turns out that she remains immature, selfish and spoilt despite her marriage, something that we as a nation still need to understand.
Why we’re still stuck in an infinite loop of old traditions still remains a mystery to this author, she does, however, hope that reading Austen’s novel will encourage everyone to mend their ways, shed old stereotypes and work towards strengthening character through knowledge rather than marrying off their daughters to the first person they find.