Forced Survival: A Review of Pride and Prejudice

What are basic survival needs? Food, clothes, shelter—these seem obvious; they have been so for centuries. But what about survival in a world slightly different, survival in a world of complicated social rules and hierarchies—what else would we need besides food and shelter? Perhaps we would need money, an education, good connections. But what if there was something more, something that would make the difference between living comfortably and scraping by; what if the last element was a profitable, well-negotiated marriage?

Pride and Prejudice is a classic romance novel by Jane Austen. It tells the story of Elizabeth Bennet, an intelligent young woman living with her parents and her four sisters in the country. When a rich young bachelor named Charles Bingley moves in nearby with his sister and his equally eligible friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Mrs. Bennet dreams of marrying off her daughters. But while Mr. Bingley is soon in love with Elizabeth’s older sister, Mr. Darcy is haughty and unpleasant, and Elizabeth dislikes him immediately. So when Elizabeth’s younger sister becomes involved in a scandalous affair, will Elizabeth be able to swallow her pride and approach the one person who can help her—Mr. Darcy?

Social status and hierarchy play a huge role in this novel. The Bennets are relatively low on the social ladder—although respectable enough, they have little land, a scant income, and few connections. Mrs. Bennet tries to marry her daughters off to the richest young men she can find, but Elizabeth knows the chances of a lucrative and happy marriage are low. It seems that everyone is against her: Mr. Bingley’s sister, Caroline, who gossips about the Bennets’ small income; the rich and esteemed Lady Catherine, who tries to steer Elizabeth away from a rich young man who Lady Catherine has her eyes on; and even Mr. Darcy, who warns Mr. Bingley against marrying Jane. What starts out as a simple hierarchy is soon a dark and complex game . . . and what if the only way to win is to rig it with unhappy unions?

The resulting marriages are often disappointing and ill-fated. Elizabeth knows this all too well. Her father is burdened with a silly, materialistic woman as a lifelong companion; indeed, in a flash of surprising sincerity, Mr. Bennet pleads with Elizabeth only to marry someone she can respect. But Mrs. Bennet and the rest of the world deem this as foolish and unwise; Mrs. Bennet herself cares only for land and income. Elizabeth knows her turn is coming soon. But how, or who, will she choose? Will she be forced to make a choice that everyone but she desires?

Pride and Prejudice is many things: a breathtaking romance, a subtle critique of loveless marriages, a tale of dark social tangles. More than that, Pride and Prejudice tells of what happens when survival is forced.

High school romance, ages 14 and up.