by Jane Austen“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Next to the exhortation at the beginning of Moby-Dick, “Call me Ishmael,” the first sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice must be among the most quoted in literature. And certainly what Melville did for whaling Austen does for marriage–tracing the intricacies (not to mention the economics) of 19th-century British mating rituals with a sure hand and an unblinking eye.
And though the novel is rife with romantic misunderstandings, rejected proposals, disastrous elopements, and a requisite happy ending for those who deserve one, Austen never gets so carried away with the romance that she loses sight of the hard economic realities of 19th-century matrimonial maneuvering. Good marriages for penniless girls such as the Bennets are hard to come by, and even Lizzy, who comes to sincerely value Mr. Darcy, remarks when asked when she first began to love him: “It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.” She may be joking, but there’s more than a little truth to her sentiment, as well. Jane Austen considered Elizabeth Bennet “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print”. Readers of Pride and Prejudice would be hard-pressed to disagree.
… or request it free*