Pride, Prejudice and Feminism

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200 years ago, on January 28, 1813, Jane Austen published what would become her most celebrated and widely read novel, Pride and Prejudice. Pride and prejudice is one of the most celebrated novels of all times. Jane Austen’s swan song, the novel revolutionized “chick-lit” in a time when books used to be all about adventures of men.

The story of Elizabeth Bennet, whose fate hangs in the balance because her family cannot afford a large dowry she lacks a large dowry and whose family estate is entailed to her cousin is not only loved on its own for its witty literature, but has also inspired countless adaptations and spin-offs. From The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, from the BBC miniseries that famously featured Colin Firth in a sopping-wet shirt( and half a million women simultaneously swooning in front of their TV screens!)to Kiera Knightley and Matthew Macfayden expressingtheir love quietly through their eyes to Bride and Prejudice with Aishwarya Rai charming her audience with Bollywood flair added to the classic, the novel has been interpreted in so many ways.

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I personally came across this wonderful book when I was 12. Even at that young an age, I was immediately drawn to the witty language and the simple message behind this book-  sometimes, prejudice makes you misjudge the best of people. As I grew up,the romantic in me fell in love with simple love story of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.Seriously, who can forget the scenes where Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth for the second time, and Elizabeth convincing her father that yes, Mr.Darcy is the only man worthy of Elizabeth. I can describe, in lengthy detail, all the emotions I experienced when reading the book, but that is a story for another day.

Once I became acquainted with the concept of feminism, I was pleasantly surprised to note that the book displays elements of feminism at a time when the society was largely male-dominated.

First and foremost, the author of the book, Jane Austen, chose to remain unwed for life in order to pursue a career as an author- an author of romantic fiction. Something I imagine made old English gentlemen scoff at, and created quite a stir during that time. However, Ms.Austen  chose to stick to her beliefs and decided to chase her dreams, which is commendable.

Many a young girl, having read Pride and Prejudice, has immediately identified with the witty protagonist. Elizabeth stands up for herself, and she doesn’t accept the  society’s view that her choice of a partner for life should be dictated by how rich the guy is.  She firmly stands by her belief that her partner, her paramour should be her equal in all respects. When her father’s cousin proposes to her, while pompously announcing that he is doing her a favour by asking her hand in marriage, she turns him down within the mere blink of an eyelash. Elizabeth gives him a witty retort that had most of us readers hooting in laughter and applauding Elizabeth’s courage.

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Later, when Mr. Darcy declare,s that against his better judgement ( because of her mother’s interfering nature and the lack of family fortune) he loves her anyway, she says that’s not good enough and turns him down, too, telling him straight away that no, he couldn’t just insult her family and then tell her that he loved her. Although, at this point, I was rooting for Mr. Darcy and found his proposal adorable if not equally conceited, I found myself applauding Elizabeth’s courage once again.

I could easily see why Mr. Darcy fell in love with Elizabeth. She was quick-witted, well read, thoughtful and practical. She had all the characteristics of what would later be popularly termed as a “modern woman”.

Her attraction to George Wickham, mainly because of his (concocted) sob story, proves that despite being a strong woman, she has a heart of gold. And when she realizes that Mr. Darcy is the man for her, we all find ourselves rooting for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, because Elizabeth has finally found the man of her dreams.

The novel’s  opening line is ironic in so many ways.”It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” was the mentality of the rest of the society, the protagonist, Elizabeth defied conventional idealogies. Even though Elizabeth ends up with a wealthy man,  and her sister Jane ends up with another wealthy, powerful man,but it’s their personal happiness and the triumph of their love that we find ourselves applauding.

Critics may argue saying that the book is centred around the idea of finding wealthy husbands for all 5 Bennet daughters, not something that encourages feminism and puts women in a very flattering light, but I disagree. In a society which was largely male-dominated, the protagonist stands up for herself, her beliefs and her love, which, in the end, is the true essence of feminism. Yes, the novel ends in marriage, and yes, marriage in the 19th-century was not egalitarian. But Pride and Prejudice makes us believe that strong- headed, principled women will be rightly valued and that feminism can be the most romantic trait of all.

 

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