Pride and Prejudice, Part I: Chapters 1 ~ 10
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
With this famous sentence the book opens – and if you are like me, you are sick of hearing this one sentence over and over as if it is the most profound sentence in the book.
I actually don’t understand why that phrase is so popular other than the fact that it is a pretty funny mockery. And it’s an example of Austen’s sense of humor.
I watched the BBC serialization (with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth) before I “read” the book. I say “read” because I didn’t really read the book; I just attempted to. Even now I have some struggles understanding a sentence here and an expression there, and I have quite a few vocab problems. Well. And I first “read” the book about four years ago when my English wasn’t fluent at all.
Anyway, back (did we even start?) to the story: The third paragraph already introduces us to the unpleasant chatter of Mrs. Bennet. (I say ‘unpleasant’ because I always have Ms. Alison Steadman’s voice in my head whenever I read Mrs. Bennet’s dialogue. She [Ms. Steadman] is an amazing actress, though.) In the course of the next few chapters, we meet the whole Bennet family: Mr. Bennet (who, for the life of me, I can’t fathom why he married Mrs. Bennet), the head of the house and already used to Mrs. Bennet’s chatter (he prefers his quiet library, though); Mrs. Bennet, who is quite silly; Jane, the eldest daughter and the most beautiful, who is of a gentle and rather timid nature when it comes to expressing her feelings; Elizabeth “Lizzy”, father’s favorite and a young woman of a lively spirit who likes to make fun of many things; Mary, the most plain sister who turns to knowledge and musical accomplishments to make up for her lack of beauty; Catherine “Kitty”, who is quite influenced by Lydia and thus equally silly even though her nature is less daring; Lydia, the youngest and the tallest (“… for though I am the youngest, I’m the tallest.”) who acts without any thought spent on its consequence, and the silliest of all, in my opinion.
We also soon meet up with the heroes of the story, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. (We also meet less-than-nice Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst.)
Mr. Darcy, who made the famous remark “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me” (“… he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, ‘She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other man. …'”, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 3) soon changes his mind at the next opportunity he sees her: “But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. …”, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 6)
Elizabeth, who overheard Mr. Darcy’s first opinion of her, immediately finds him disagreeable (Jane, for example, would have given him the benefit of doubt) and makes her opinion of him very clear to other ladies. She is irritated when Mr. Darcy attempts to listen in to her conversation with others and stare at her because she can’t understand why Mr. Darcy, who finds her just so tolerable, doesn’t ignore her like she does him. And Lizzy can’t understand that because she isn’t allowing him the room to change. People change, and people’s opinions change. Yet her first impression of him was so strongly negative – supported by the fact that he made it clear that he did not wish to mingle with the people in the ballroom – that she has already made up her mind: Mr. Darcy is a proud, standoffish gentleman she shouldn’t pay a single thought on.
She’s not offended, per se. I think it’s because she doesn’t know him well enough to let his opinion affect her. That’s admirable because I care what a stranger thinks of me. Speaking of which, I’m reminded by Mary’s observation:
“Pride … is a very common failing I believe. … [H]uman nature is very prone to it, and … there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. … Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 5)
Mary also says it is possible to be proud without being vain. So is it also possible to be vain without being proud? Oh dear, I’m afraid that would be me. I care too much about what others think of me while I try not to sound like a show-off.
It is most peculiar. Our society teaches us (at least mine did) that we should not down-play our abilities, that we should showcase them and even exaggerate them (on a CV/résumé for example) but at the same time, it is frowned upon to be boastful. Not exactly ‘frowned upon’, perhaps, but nobody likes a boaster. Such a person just sounds so full of oneself.
I have digressed yet again. Back to the story, in which our heroine judges Miss Caroline Bingley and Mrs Louisa Hurst to be not very agreeable persons. Their affection towards Jane, however, seems genuine, which softens Lizzy’s judgment a bit. When Jane gets a nasty cold thanks to her mother and has to remain at Netherfield and Lizzy makes her way to Bingley’s estate, she later observes that Miss Caroline’s and Mrs Hurst’s concerns for Jane seem to be coming from their heart. Of course, it does not escape her notice that Caroline becomes anxious to remove Jane – and thus Lizzy – from Netherfield and from Mr. Darcy’s attentions. Because it is obvious to anyone how hard Caroline Bingley is trying to impress Mr. Darcy.
During her stay, Lizzy does not seem to have become any better acquaintance of Mr. Darcy’s. Whenever he does something thoughtful, she waves if off as him being pretentious or half-hearted. She is puzzled when Darcy does not say what she expected him to but that does not seem to change her opinion of him – not one iota. Oh, Lizzy! We wish you were less stubborn!