As Ken says, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is an “enduring classic of romantic comedy.” “Enduring” is almost an understatement. Austen’s work, always well loved, has exploded in popularity in recent years—with the help of film and TV adaptations and even updates and spinoffs. And Pride and Prejudice is by far the most popular of all.
Ken explores the reason for that popularity, and finds plenty to celebrate. Austen, he says, shows “incredible wit and moral insight” in this “novel of the mind and of the heart.” Even within her relatively narrow field of experience, she was a highly skilled observer of the human condition. Her work provides “rich social commentary” that still rings true today, along with “subversive satire and elevation of the status of women.”
Ken traces Jane Austen’s remarkable depth of insight to her Christian faith. As her brother wrote, Austen “was thoroughly religious and devout.” Yet, as one critic said, her faith was “not forced upon the reader.” Yet it certainly helped to give her a deep understanding of both the faults and virtues of human nature, as well as a concern for showing the importance of character growth in her work.
(As some of you may recall, my former colleague Lori Smith has written extensively about Austen’s faith and morality in her book A Walk with Jane Austen, which I highly recommend if you haven’t already read it.)
Pride and Prejudice, as you may know, is the love story of two intelligent people who nonetheless start by completely misunderstanding each other. Austen excels at helping us identify with the viewpoint of Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine. We see through Elizabeth’s eyes, experience her mistakes along with her, and, as Ken says, we “go through the same learning curve that she undergoes.” So by the end of the novel, we too have learned something about snap judgments, first impressions, complacency, and cynicism.
All these qualities in Austen’s work add up to make Pride and Prejudice something far beyond a conventional romantic novel. And I think it’s telling that Austen’s work is so incredibly popular in an era that lacks so many of the beliefs, values, and manners that she held dear.
It’s ironic that while a society like ours may love Austen’s work, it’s not always willing to change to reflect her principles.
It was true in Austen’s own time, and it’s doubly true in ours. But no matter how far short our society falls of the Christian ideal, something in us hungers to read about people of character and virtue—about what Ken Boa calls “the need for recognition and reconciliation between the conflicting claims of the individual and the culture as a whole.”
Above all, it is this reflection of timeless ideals and standards that makes Pride and Prejudice truly enduring—and a great choice for this month’s installment of Ken Boa’s Great Books Audio CD Series.
With summer coming up, hopefully you’ll have some time on your hands. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.