THEN AND NOW: THE RELEVANCE OF JANE AUSTEN’S PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Originally by Nuala Szler; Translated by Mercedes Pajuelo
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” That’s the opening line to Jane Austen’s most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, first published on January 28th, 1813.
However, two centuries later, that first line—known to a lesser or a greater extent—echoes in the hearts of everyone. For its part, sixteen years ago, Joe Wright’s on-screen adaptation of the novel premiered on September 16th, 2005, in the UK.
Starring Keira Knightley as Elisabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfayden as Mr. Darcy, even now, the movie’s relevance is especially impressive when it comes to social media. Every day, users share snippets from certain scenes and dialogues as comments, tweets, memes, etc. reaching, in that way, several hundred more users. The resulting question is, then, why does Pride and Prejudice, a period rom-com, have such a significant impact nowadays?
Jane Austen´s Pride and Prejudice phenomenon
The story of Elisabeth Benneth and Fitzwilliam Darcy takes place in the British lands of Longbourn, Hertfordshire, during the early years of the 19th century. Both characters have to overcome their pride and their prejudice to accept and live through a required love that, at the same time, has to face family, class, and social tradition issues. Elisabeth’s strong and confident personality, who defies the social conventions of her time, is at odds with Mr. Darcy’s imposing and reserved nature, for whom education and social behaviour mean everything.
Elisabeth’s defiance and Darcy’s mystery and seriousness are constantly standing in each other’s way, preventing their feelings from being easily abated. In this love story, not only the social norms and conventions of the time are challenged, but also the immobility of the social classes, and even the emotional regulations of the British society during King George III’s mandate.
Pride and Prejudice: a timeless story
Although this now seems a long way off, the novel’s relevance—which is, for good reason, one of the first rom-com in this genre’s history and one of the most popular novels in English literature—is striking and unchangeable. Today, the words “Pride and Prejudice” can’t be syntactically arranged in any other way, or thought of as something separate from Austen’s novel, because, in a way, we all have a little bit of Elisabeth and a little bit of Darcy in ourselves.
Maybe being so relatable is what makes it timeless. This story is much more than just captivating: it’s human, global, and captures the very essence of human nature. Unintentionally or not, Austen puts into words something that hadn’t been said at her time, and that, since then, no one has been able to improve. We relate to Pride and Prejudice so much because every single one of its words, respectfully portrayed in Wright’s film, talk about us.
There’s a truth in the novel that could be said at another time, at another place. And, while it isn’t very clear, we all feel and sense it. Both the book and the film stay with us and sensitize that part of us given by the history of mankind, generation after generation, beyond space, time, and cultural and social bonds.
All the great struggles are there: the struggle for women’s emancipation, for society’s freedom, for economic survival, the struggle against the conservative social and cultural conventions, against pride and prejudices, the struggle for love, etc. It’s in genuinely living for what we feel, for what we are, where Elisabeth’s, Darcy’s, and our real struggle lies.
A story that embodies this can’t be anything other than timeless, like its truth. This is the reason why Pride and Prejudice continue to be a current phenomenon. Even though the novel was published more than two hundred years ago, there still exist numerous reprints, translations, and adaptations.
While it’s true that the literary critics and theorists studying this novel (or Jane Austen’s complete works) found one hundred different more technical, literary, or more prestigious reasons that turn this novel into a famous and canonical text; its relevance is due to something simpler, more spiritual.
We could almost venture to say that’s the reason why Elisabeth and Mr. Darcy, Jane and Mr. Bingley, Mrs. And Mr. Bennet, along with Bennet’s sisters and even Lady Catherine de Bough reach the deepest parts of ourselves, why they remain changeless, suspended in time. Some people’s sensitivity to be able to say what we’re thinking and feeling is just what art and literature are about. Jane Austen, whether consciously or inadvertently, was able to express that feeling, that sensitivity. In that way, her story wins the battle against time.