Enjoying Pride and Prejudice
Young Lankan students living in the second decade of the 21st century
are asked to read and enjoy a 19th century English novel called Pride
and Prejudice by the celebrated writer Jane Austen.
Young people who are used to reading (if at all they read anything in
English) horror and mystery novels and cheap romances would find it
difficult to enjoy a fairly long novel on love, marriage and social
status with values that were accepted a few centuries ago. Present day
students, particularly in Colombo imagine that their values are
Pride and Prejudice
A Tale of Two Cities
Perhaps students studying in urban government and international
schools might understand and perhaps even enjoy this novel with the aid
and assistance provided by the dedicated teachers in schools. Of course
they have the option to download notes and aid books from the Internet.
There is a jungle of information on Wikipedia and different websites.
But it is nothing when compared to what one enjoys reading the book
itself and interpreting it in his or her ways. In fact the examiners
want the student’s own interpretation and justification rather than
blind reproduction from different sources.
Even here they prefer to view the film adaptation of the novel
written in three volumes rather than sit and read the novel for whatever
So to make them pass the public exams, the teachers have to break
down the structure of the novel and explain briefly the plots and
characters. Within a 40 minute period in the classroom, it is very
difficult for the teacher to bring out the finer points in the novel
taking chapter by chapter, because the students do not read the novel by
themselves and depend on the teacher to narrate what happens in each
Critic and creative writer, Yasmine Gooneratne
For the benefit of a large number of students, particularly for those
in the provincial towns, let us try to give in bullet form some aspects
of the novel. First, let us know something about the author.
Jane Austen (1775-1817) lived into the 19th century, but her novels
were published only after 1800. She made fun of Romanticism in poetry.
Nor did she care to mention the French revolution (1789) or the
Napoleonic wars of which she was aware of. She was unsentimental and had
her own style of looking at things. But she was honest and sincere in
portraying characters in an ironical manner. Somerset Maugham aptly
described that “Her experience of life was confined to a small circle of
provincial society, and that is what she was content to deal with.”
One can assume that the author is trying to post her own middle class
views through the eyes of her main character Elizabeth. She is
impassioned as opposed to Emile Bronte, who wrote The Wuthering Heights.
Austen is selective in observing social behaviours that lend to ironical
treatment (Mrs Bennett, Collins, Wickham and others). In her novel, she
abhors hypocrisy, pretentiousness, self-deception and incongruities in
speech and conduct.
She could not write like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina nor Dickens’ A Tale
of Two Cities. But she could write enjoyable novels to read at leisure
like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma,
Northanger Abbey and Persuasion- all of which is fine writing in
She enjoys amusing her readers with a sense of humour and a bit of
sarcasm-characterisation of Mrs Bennett, Collins and Wickham come to
She is fond of making ironical statements either through her
characters or in her own narration. She is not a moralist but her
portrayals have depth.
She constructs her conversations among characters dramatically. Also
her dramatisation comes through the actions (Darcy, Wickham, Lydia and
Caroline) and letters Collins and Lydia)
Her characters are very often compared (Mrs Bennett and Lady
Catherine), contrasted (Wickham and Darcy, Elizabeth and Jane and
Caroline Bingley) with others
She creates her characters in an objective manner even though she
shows some sympathy to them. As the novel progresses, we notice that the
characters gain maturity from naivety.
The vain gloriousness (excessively proud) of the female characters is
psychologically crafted in her novel.
Her characters are real men and women with strengths and weaknesses.
There is psychological realism in her novel. Elizabeth dislikes Darcy
first taking it for granted that he was proud, and is charmed by Wickham
only to learn later what his true colours and subsequently falls in love
with Darcy slowly (Wickham and Lady Catherine made it possible for the
two- Darcy and Elizabeth- by their villainous.
Jane Austen brilliantly exposes the pretentiousness, hypocrisy and
absurdity and even insanity of some of her characters both from upper
class and the middle or lower middle class English people of her time.
In some respects her novel is social (class and status),
psychological (changing attitudes on account of felt understanding and
maturity) and even feminist (independent choices by Elizabeth and Lydia)
novel. One could read our own critic and creative writer Yasmine
Gooneratne and another British critic and academic Arnold Kettle for an
insight into her novel.