"Pride and Prejudice" is undoubtedly one of the most beloved classic novels in history -- it's had countless adaptations, sequels and homages lavished on it over the years.
And Jane Austen's grand opus is still beloved for a good reason. While it's rather stuffily written much of the time, it has a vibrant core of witty dialogue and strong characters that shine like lanterns in the night -- and the best part of it is the interplay between the two strong-willed main characters, whose initial dislike of one another blossoms into love once they learn how to overcome his pride and her prejudice.
The Bennett family is in an uproar when wealthy Mr. Bingley moves into the neighborhood, and Mrs. Bennett is especially happy when he takes a liking to the eldest Bennett daughter Jane -- since their estate is entailed and there is no Mr. Bennett Jr., a good marriage is considered essential for at least one of the girls. But her forthright, independent sister Lizzie immediately butts heads with wealthy, aloof Mr. Darcy, who scorns the rural village and seems haughty about everything.
A flurry of proposals, road trips and friendships happen over the course of the following months, with Lizzie fending off her slimy cousin Mr. Collins, and befriending the flirty, hunky Wickham, who claims to have been wronged by Darcy. Lizzie believes Wickham's account -- and she's in for a shock when Darcy unexpectedly proposes, and reveals what Wickham won't tell her about both of their past lives, and what Wickham did to offend Darcy.
And finally things take a scandalous turn when Lizzie's idiotic younger sister Lydia elopes with Wickham, while staying with a friend in Brighton. The family is plunged into disgrace, which also wrecks any chances of a halfway decent marriage for the other daughters. The only one who can set things right is Darcy, who will do whatever he must to make amends to Lizzie -- and unwittingly establish himself as the man she loves as well...
Reading "Pride and Prejudice" is a bit like watching someone embroider a piece of cloth with subtle, intricate designs. Lots of balls, dances, visits and drawing room banter between Lizzie and virtually everyone else, and interwoven with some rather opinions from Jane Austen about haughty aristocrats, marriages of security, entailment, and the whole idea of what an ideal woman has (intellect and strength).
The only real problem: Jane Austen writes very much in the style of her literary era -- it's rather formal and stuffy much of the time, and the narrative is kept distant from the characters. So, not for casual readers.
But despite that formality, Austen's brilliance as a writer is evident -- she slowly unfolds the plot one act at a time, with several intricate subplots that tie together and play off each other. She also wrote some unbelievably sharp-edged dialogue with plenty of witty banter between Lizzie and Darcy ("I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine"). But Austen also weaves in startlingly romantic moments between them ("No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you, can think anything wanting").
It's hard to imagine a better fictional couple than Lizzie and Darcy, despite their rocky start (a major-league snub at a dance). Both are witty, smart, and a bit snotty in their own ways, with quick minds and even quicker tongues. Darcy is a selfish, rather haughty man man who gradually becomes warm and kind, while Lizzie is strong, independent, and Darcy's equal in every way. And neither will marry for anything but true love.
It also has a solid supporting cast: the painfully practical Charlotte Lucas, slimy clerics, virtuous-looking rakes, sisters ranging from saintly to snobby, and the lovable Mr. Bingley and perpetually optimistic Jane. Lizzie's family also adds plenty of color to the story, including the screechy and hilariously mercurial Mrs. Bennett and the barb-tongued Mr. Bennett ("Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do").
Despite its mildly stuffy style, "Pride and Prejudice" is the ultimate Jane Austen novel -- a powerful and romantic story about two people who grow and change because of love. An absolute must-read.