Life lessons from Jane

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Emily Linz, Contributing Writer

Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 1.10.50 AMBefore you turn your eyes away in disgust or giggle with glee, I would like to address a singular point of interest: I am neither a Colin Firth nor Matthew Macfadyen fangirl. I first read Pride and Prejudice as a senior in high school—though, I admit, I grew up watching the mini-series of Pride and Prejudice starring Firth and Jennifer Ehle, and in fairness, I first fell in love with the story because of its romance. But I maintain that there is more depth to Jane Austen’s work. It is a fitting novel for us college students as we seek to discover who we are.

Miss Austen’s blissfully linear world of narrative begins with the sweeping statement that summarizes what UDers will experience now or in the next few years: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” If we take that sentence literally, this is the ultimate gold-digger novel. Miss Austen’s narrative, however, is not for the faint of heart. Her prose rings with irony as she challenges you to determine whether she is serious or playful. Miss Austen also introduces her narrative with this provocative first sentence to emphasize that she will not lock her characters into specific castes. She delves into the moral dramas of her characters’ souls, and whom they choose to marry affects their interior ascent or decline. Miss Austen probes a fundamental question: How do we become who we are meant to be?

With this prelude, the first characters we meet are Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. They do not exemplify the hallmarks of a loving, self-giving marriage. Mrs. Bennet is less than the ideal mother and focuses on her own vexations: “You [Mr. Bennet] have no compassion on my poor nerves.” Mr. Bennet, likewise, is less than the ideal father; with his dry wit, he detaches himself from his family and is not present to them.

Miss Austen presents us with bad role models. We later learn that Mr. Darcy also grew up with melodramatic and prideful role models—specifically, his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lizzy Bennet and Mr. Darcy grow up in these selfish environments, which affects them at the beginning of the novel. I know my next statements will incur severe criticism, but I will endeavor to persevere.

Gentlemen, Elizabeth Bennet is snarky.

Ladies, Mr. Darcy is a snob.

At the dreadful proposal, yes, ladies, Mr. Darcy professes the great line: “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” However, Miss Austen notes that he understands their marriage will be “a degradation.” Lizzy, quite rightly, refuses him, but she wounds him with her bitter words: “…and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” If they had married then, think of the children …

They both need to grow. The couple who shows Lizzy and Mr. Darcy how to act with charity and kindness is Lizzy’s aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. In a series of letters between Lizzy and her aunt, Mrs. Gardiner banters with her and shows her how to use her vivacious wit to be playful. Mr. Gardiner, in his attempts to help his brother-in-law, Mr. Bennet, salvage Lydia’s reputation, shows Mr. Darcy the humility and charity necessary to be a gentleman. Miss Austen ends the novel with the Gardiners—the couple who first brought Lizzy and Mr. Darcy together. She frames the novel with a bad and good marriage, which highlights Lizzy and Mr. Darcy’s moral transformations and growth. Lizzy and Mr. Darcy fit well together because they achieve a union of mind and heart and help each other grow morally.

To my fellow UDers, Pride and Prejudice was written for us! Austen offers insightful, realistic representations of virtue and vice. At these critical times in our lives when we are trying to discover the mettle of our souls, I encourage you to turn to Miss Austen, Blessed Jane Austen, nay (dare I say it, if permissible?) Saint Jane Austen, and know the hardest and most daring journeys are the interior ones toward a life of virtue, humility and love.

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