Happy 200th Birthday, Pride and Prejudice!
On this day in 1813, Jane Austen's "light, and bright, and sparkling" second novel was published. I'm sure she had no idea that it would become one of the most popular and best loved books in English literature or that it would lead to numerous sequels and spin-offs.
There are two books that have had the most profound impact on my love for books - shaping me into the reader I am today. One of those is Anne of Green Gables... and the other is Pride and Prejudice.
I think every reader has "that book." It's the book that causes your voice to get high, your eyes to widen and your arms to flail when asked for your opinion on it. You know, the book that you're so enthusiastic about that you almost scare other people away from reading it because your book-thusiasm is so over-the-top that you become a force of nature in your desire to share your love with everyone who asks (and even sometimes those you don't).
Pride and Prejudice has been, is and always will be "that book" for me. It would make my "if you could only have X number of books on a desert island" list every single time. And it's the book I'm most likely to re-read - just to spend a little more time with the characters I know and love so well.
On the surface, it's the story of Elizabeth Bennet. Set in 19th century England, she's the second of five daughters with a mother whose is determined to marry them all off. It's about first impressions, prejudices and pride and the affect each can have on our relationships of all kinds. But it's also so much more than that.
I recently read Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen's Masterpiece, and author Susannah Fullerton explains so much better than I ever could:
"Pride and Prejudice is an invitation: it demands to be talked about. It asks reader today, and readers to come, to enter its world, engage with its characters and issues, find answers for the questions it poses. It makes us think about friendships, about relationships with parents and siblings, about finding happiness in marriage, about demanding employers, about chance and the role it plays in human affairs [...], about clergyman and military men and their role in society, about social rankings, about self-knowledge, about... The list goes on and on. It encourages us to find role models in its finer characters, to strive for self-awareness, to learn how to cope with aggressive bosses or false friends. Human nature has not changed in 200 years and so Pride and Prejudice can still tell us what makes people tick (220)."
I'm so invested in these characters - in their choices, their attractions, their flaws and their futures. Each time I read the book, I always feel a little anxiety at all the misguided first impressions and miscommunications that take place. I know how it all turns out in the end, and I still get swept away by the story.
It's a small story about people in a place just like any other at the time. But Austen takes what may look like a rock and transforms it into a diamond. There may be differing opinions on her place in literature, but I can't think of another classic author who still has such a profound role and impact on our culture today.
Just visit the bookstore and marvel at the number of Austen-inspired books lining the shelves. Search etsy and you'll find thousands of handmade goods paying tribute to Austen, her novels, her characters and her words. There's even a new Austen movie every few years... Our culture is as obsessed with her as I am!
And while every Austen lover has their own favorite of her novels, Pride and Prejudice is mine. Persuasion comes close, but I think I'll always come back to Pride and Prejudice because of the memories I have associated with my reading of this book.
I could throw a little glitter and eat a sweet dessert to celebrate, but I want to do something even more exciting. I'm dedicating this entire week to celebrating my favorite novel! I've got something special in store for every day, and I hope you'll join in on the fun. If you've read and loved it, I hope it inspires you to revisit the novel again soon. If you've read it and didn't love it, I think I just feel sorry for you and maybe just keep that information to yourself. And if you've never read it, I hope this is the push you need to pick it up and fall head over heels in love!
Happy birthday to my favorite novel and a heartfelt thank you to the woman who brought it into the world!