Last updated on June 17, 2022
What makes Pride and Prejudice work? Why is it a classic? Why would anyone want to read this book today, almost two hundred years after it was written – in almost archaic English? I was glad I read it on my Kindle so I could use the dictionary function to enlighten myself on unfamiliar words.
I was impressed with one quality about this book which I have seen in only a few other books I have read: I felt like I “knew” the main character intimately, as well as several of the supporting cast. Ms. Austen’s ability to develop unique characters was impressive, and there were quite a few, though each one was entertainingly different.
As the plot progressed, Ms. Austen used the story to enable a gradual change and maturity in the protagonist, Elizabeth. The antagonist, Mr. Darcy, did a complete turnabout in nature, which was unexpected, leading to a surprise ending. Almost all of the characters evolved, and those who didn’t—i.e., the mother, the youngest daughter who eloped—their inability to change was part of their flawed nature. Their failures created tension and added flavor to the plot. I have seen many of the personalities in Pride and Prejudice in my own life. I could relate to the dysfunctional mother, the submissive father, the complacent Mary, the beautiful Jane, the prideful Lady Catherine, the prejudicial sisters, and the nosy neighbors that gossiped—and still care about them anyway.
What makes a great book? A key ingredient is creating characters we will remember long after the book is finished—people we love and villains we hate. Perhaps it’s a protagonist who stands for something beyond the pages of the book; or noble characters who demand an audience, representing archetypes within ourselves and others. Perhaps we meet someone in a story we wish to emulate. We become that hero or heroine, or worse yet, even the bad guy we despise. We fall in love and out of love, but we are never the same having met the unique characters within the pages of a great classic.
Books I would compare Pride and Prejudice to that have characters like that are The Exodus, Gone With the Wind, and Great Expectations. I remember those books like I read them yesterday, and two of them I read over thirty-five years ago
I saw much of myself in Elizabeth—outspoken, determined, moral, and loyal. In the end, she and the protagonist married, and each overcame significant flaws to make that possible. I couldn’t be sure until the end that it would happen. There was nothing wasted; every scene followed a natural progression, leading to the next event.
I will think about this book for a while, picking apart different aspects of the characters and story as I work out how to write my own fiction. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to study the art of character in a fictional book.