“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
Thus begins Jane Austen’s classic novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’, which has reached the venerable age of 200 years today (January 28). In the firmament of world literature, Austen stands with Cervantes, Shakespeare and Goethe. Even after two centuries, her novel remains one of the best loved novels of English literature throughout the world. She herself considered it as her own heart’s darling. About a million copies of this novel are sold every year and numerous films, TV serials and stage adaptations have been produced over the decades.
Jane Austen (1775-1817), the youngest of seven children of George Austen, a country parson, had a little education at her home. She led a quiet and uneventful life. At the age of 21, she wrote a novel, ‘First Impressions’. Her father approached a publisher, Thomas Cadell, in London, but the latter refused to publish it - without even having a look at the manuscript. In utter dejection, Jane Austen put the MS in a trunk and locked it. Her first novel to be published was ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (1811). Encouraged by the success of this novel, she rewrote ‘First Impressions’ and renamed it ‘Pride and Prejudice’.
This novel, which hit the stands on January 28, 1813, created a storm in the literary world. People were mesmerised as soon as they encountered its opening lines. Although she wrote half-a-dozen novels, the most popular has always been ‘Pride and Prejudice’ because of the brilliant creation of the central characters, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. Any reader would instantly fall in love with them. It is undoubtedly an unputdownable book. Her novel may be opened at random and on every page one finds the same sweet diction, the refined style and the same simplicity, sincerity and sagacity. She portrays her characters with great dexterity, delicacy and subtlety. One does not just read but lives this novel. One sees people coming and going, almost hears them talking to one another.
As a storyteller, Jane Austen was aware of her limits and did not transgress them. She herself speaks of the “little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work”. But her stories have the bewitching beauty of a fine miniature.
‘Pride & Prejudice’ revolves around the marriage prospects of the five daughters of Mr and Mrs Bennet. The mother is obsessed with seeing her girls married. She desperately tries to find a suitable match for her daughters, but fails. Their daughter, Elizabeth, a young lady with wit and wisdom, meets Mr Darcy - a handsome and wealthy young man. But Darcy’s Pride and Elizabeth’s Prejudice build a tough barrier between them. Only when they cross the barrier of Pride and Prejudice are they united in a happy marriage.
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), the most distinguished novelist of his times, paid a rich tribute to the creative genius of his young contemporary: “Read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. That young lady has a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. But the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me.”