The Classics Calculator: Pride and Prejudice
June 12th 2021
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Lizzy Bennett only falls for Darcy once she’s seen the size of his house…
Or rather, it should be universally acknowledged.
Every time there’s a new adaptation of the Austen classic, my other half sighs in complete bewilderment at its popularity. “I don’t get it – isn’t it just a bunch of posh people dancing, being rude to one another and then getting married?”.
Reader, this is what I have to deal with.
It’s true that endless adaptations have a lot of dancing which leads one way or another to a soppy ending. They always leave me wondering what Austen would have thought about them. Colin Firth’s wet shirt aside, the magic for me lies in the book.
The truth is, I find Pride and Prejudice to be a really funny novel. From the very first sentence mocking the gossip of women like Mrs Bennett, Austen’s satire screams from the pages, roaring with laughter at the shallow middle classes who look down on one another and gossip behind fluttering fans. There’s the ridiculous vicar, sexist entails and silly swooning over military officers. From her early works such as Love And Friendship, Austen enjoyed taking down society through sharp wit and unflinching observations. Everyone is of course at liberty to make of the book what they like but I’ve always read Pride and Prejudice as a book and women and economics.
A woman in that era, if not born into a rich family, had a difficult path to tread: she couldn’t of course work to earn her money so she must marry well – and not just to a man with enough money in his pocket for them both, but to someone whose generosity could afford to extend towards any unmarried sisters and a windowed mother. There’s no point of a knight in shining armour if he hasn’t got enough dosh to pay off a philandering officer threatening a younger sister’s good name. Marriage was often an economic proposition, not a romantic one. A good choice would maintain or improve financial and social status; a bad one, could lead to penury.
To secure a good husband was hard work. A woman must be witty in conversation but not too bold; pretty enough to attract the attention of eligible bachelors but not so made-up as to seem false and ridiculous; she must be accomplished in all the arts expected of her and most importantly of all – her family’s character must be completely spotless, especially if they’re not rich. Difficult if you’re one of five irascible sisters. [Thank god we live in a different era.]
Elizabeth Bennett finds herself vulnerable: born without riches or extraordinary beauty and with an entail hanging over the family, threatening to crash down on their father’s death and leave them all homeless. While Jane is beautiful, she’s not particularly forthcoming and there’s no guarantee that she’ll bank a man who can save the family financially. She’s not much of a fan of Darcy (because she does have principles about what makes a nice human) but when he proves himself financially able to get her sister out of a scrape and when she sees the enormity of his house and grounds – well, the deal is sealed.
Within the bounds that restrict her, she plays a clever accountant, protecting herself and her sisters from the drudgery of a penniless future. Her dad’s right – she’s clever, that one.
WELCOME TO THE CLASSICS CALCULATOR: THE PRIDE AND PREJUDICE EDITION
Now that I have sapped your favourite Austen novel of all romance, here’s a helping hand to choose some modern novels that might equally appeal to your taste.
- A woman who will use any man to protect herself and her family financially. Meet Lacey May in Naima Coster’s What’s Mine and Yours.
- Enjoy the witty depictions of somewhat silly adults? You’ll love Marian Keyes’ fantastically funny Grown Ups.
- Agree with me about P&P being a book about women and economics? Here’s a book to keep you informed (and maybe make you rage a little).
- Choosing one’s future – whether a social or economic future – is a huge part of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. A world away from Austen, yes – but thematically, not so much.
- Bridget Jones. I mean, it’d be foolish to leave this gem off the list. Like forgetting your absolutely enormous pants.
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Vicki & The LoveMyRead Team x