When I first picked up "Pride and Prejudice" it was with a certain sense of dread. Yes, I saw and enjoyed the movie by Joe Wright, but I was convinced that the book would be something that only a woman could enjoy. Guys don't do romance novels, right?
Well...The famous opening line made me laugh, but I was determined not to be drawn in. I tried to pass it off as a fluke. Surely the rest of the book could not be this intelligent and witty. I pressed on, looking for excuses to stop, but Ms. Austen anticipated every objection before it could be raised. Sentimentalism? None without enough irony to show that she could not abide it. Melodrama? Same thing. Sappy, weak, sad-eyed heroines? Nope. Unrealistic heroes? Nada. Long-winded, boring dialogue? Nothing like as boring as this review. Pride and Prejudice is populated by characters that are vivid and well defined, written in language that is lovingly used and delightful to read.
The plot feels authentic, as though it might have been drawn from everyday life in 19th century England, and it proceeds in an unforced manner to a believable conclusion. I found the book to be more satisfying than the movie in every way. Of all these excellent attributes, though, Austen's characters are what I found most attractive. The plot could not feel authentic if the characters were not. They are real and true, with flaws and qualities that can be found in people still. As with real people, some are static, caught in a rut without the will, intelligence, or imagination to escape. Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, Mrs. Bennett all fall into this category to a certain extent. Others, most notably Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, but also Jane and Bingley, grow and deepen as human beings. They learn from their mistakes, owning them, taking responsibility, and moving on. There are some caricatures but no stereotypes. Ms. Austen seems to have had genuine affection for her creations, even those who are not particularly likable.
Taking this one step further, I found the men particularly striking. The heroes, the ones who have flaws but are humble enough to see them and strong enough to try to overcome them; these men are men of sterling character. They embody true nobility and are worthy of emulation. After finishing P&P, I wanted to be like Darcy, not because of his wealth or because of Lizzie, but because of his character. He gave me something to aspire to. I believe that to be one of the marks of great art; it ennobles those who participate in it. Pride and Prejudice is not less than a romance novel, but it is so very much more. It is something that even a guy can read. Maybe something that every guy should read.