I recently bought myself a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a Penguin edition with a beautifully-designed cover by Ruben Toledo. I read Pride and Prejudice three or four times every year. Like chicken soup, chocolate, my grandmother’s hug, or taking a bath, Jane Austen’s novel is one of my greatest sources of comfort when I’m sick or sad.
Partly the book comforts me because the story stays the same. Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley dance the same intricate game of courtship and love over and over again. But partly, with every reading of the novel, I discover something new: new words, new connections, surprises that I have not noticed before.
I have not read any of the novels continuing the story of Elizabeth and Darcy. I don’t want to know what happened to them after they got married. What I love is the beautiful cotillon they go through as they grow into love.
Elizabeth must accept that she has been too quick to judge. Darcy must learn humility and openness. Bingley has to stand up for himself. Jane, well, Jane is too perfect, and though it must please her to think she can bend all men and women into goodness, she needs to understand that some people make bad choices and no one, not even Jane, can take the consequences of those choices away.
Pride and Prejudice, to me, is a miniature representation of life, the essence of what we have come here, to this world, to do: to grow and to love. That entails accepting not only what is marvelous in the people we love, but sometimes what is ridiculous, difficult, annoying or just plain bad.
Jane Austen pokes loving fun at those characters who live with a veil of prejudice and vanity over their eyes: Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Collins, even Mr. Wickham, the wicked character in the novel. She gently raises those characters who are willing to accept each other as they are, leading them to see their mistakes, and follow the wonderful path that appears to the open heart.
I woke up yesterday with a sore throat, and so I rushed as fast as my sick little legs could carry me to my book cabinet and pulled out this new edition of my favorite book. “It is a truth universally acknowledged,” Jane Austen begins, already poking fun at us, “that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
I already feel better, just reading that.