My second try at Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice, her second novel, and definitely a better read than the first, Sense and Sensibility. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy together present a contrasting double-edged critique of 19th Century English courtship culture, Elizabeth acting as Austen’s proxy moving through the spheres of the middle to upper class, while the stereotypes of the day surround her to illustrate. Single-mindedly marriage-obsessed Mrs. Bennett exemplifies the attitude of the era, with witty and cynical Mr. Bennett as the foil, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her beneficiary Mr. Collins act as the status-inclined and money-oriented aspects of the equation, wild and vapid Lydia and sinister Mr. Wickham provide the tension which defines the boundaries of acceptability within that culture, and Mr. Bingley and Jane serve as the “control” subjects, I suppose.
The treatment of Mr. Darcy’s gradual sweetening of disposition relative to Elizabeth’s change in perception of him is handled far better than the comparative two-dimensionality of other characters’ depictions in the story. Their personalities evolve against a flat cultural backdrop, in service to the storyline’s ultimate lesson that true love can grow to reach across uneven social standings, family issues, and bad first impressions.
Next book on the list was Memoirs of a Geisha. More on that some other time.