‘Miss Bingley’s attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy’s progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation; he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his, she gave a great yawn and said, “How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”’ – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.
The first time I read Pride and Prejudice was when the TV series aired on the BBC in 1995. I was hooked and I wanted to know what happened next rather than waiting for the next episode, so I decided to read the book. It was hard work at the time – I was only 10! – and I didn’t pick it up again until I was a teenager. Every time I re-read it, I find something new. Her character sketches, subtle wit, and use of irony point to a writer with a sharp and observant mind.
To my young mind, Elizabeth was a role model. She could speak her mind, she knew what she thought, she was warm and open, yet stubborn and protective of her family. She was bold and yet restrained, though we know that she was also prejudiced and too quick to believe the words of others without seeking the full story. But who of us can say that we haven’t also had moments when we have made judgements without first looking at the whole picture?
Austen was a writer of her time, yet her books and characters still stand up to modern standards, still have plenty to offer. At the time, they were less about escapism, and more a commentary on social and domestic, and classist behaviour. She opened up the private world of women and family, and created scenarios where women, with the little choices they had (marry or become spinsters), took some control over their destinies and married for love.
Jane was never published under her own name during her lifetime, unlike the Brontës. They were written ‘By a Lady’, to avoid bringing some kind of shame to her family: women being published novelists had a stigma attached. I still feel that she did, in her own way, blaze a trail for the women of the future, particularly in comic and witty writing. The Brontës did even more to break down barriers for women writers, but for me, Jane Austen will always be an inspiration.
Print from Infinite&Darling.