It has often been said that first impressions are lasting impressions, even if they do not tell the whole story of the person we have just met.
First Impressions was the initial title of Jane Austen‘s immortal classic, Pride and Prejudice.
Today is the 206th anniversary of the book’s initial publishing.
Elizabeth Bennet is far from the simpering, fainting “save me” heroine who is waiting for a version of prince charming to sweep her off her feet. She is lively, intelligent and not afraid to share her opinion. Unlike other women of the time, she is not going to just marry the first man who asks her because it is her only option in life. Marriage in her eyes is about compatibility and affection, not someone’s income or family connections. But even with her strengths, she is thoroughly human and learns that judging someone based on a brief first impression is not the best way to figure out who someone is.
Fitzwilliam Darcy is equally imperfect. I have to admit that there are moments in the first few chapters when I just want to smack him or call him a very unladylike name. But the genius of the character is that as the book goes on, Elizabeth and the reader learns that Darcy is not a snob. He is responsible for many people’s happiness and security, especially his much younger sister. He also finds large parties and social gathering difficult to maneuver socially. There are some people for whom they would rather stay home than go to a party where they know almost no one.
The thing that strikes me every time that I read Pride and Prejudice is that Elizabeth Bennet is a modern heroine. In a time when women had no rights, no voice and were basically chattel to the men in their lives, Elizabeth Bennet is not afraid to stand up for her rights. She is caught between a rock and a hard place. In Jane Austen’s world, marriage was more often about family, status and income than love, companionship and affection. She could remain single, but given her meager inheritance, she would likely be beholden to the generosity of others. She could marry her cousin, Mr. Collins and stay in her childhood home, but that marriage would be extremely unhappy.
I keep going back to Pride and Prejudice not just because it is one of my favorite books, but because I find reassurance and comfort in the book. When I am feeling down or unsure of my voice, Pride and Prejudice gives me strength to move forward. For that reason, among others, I keep coming back to this treasured masterpiece.