A Novel Revisited: Pride and Prejudice

By Kaye Rhoads

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is one of Jane Austen’s most widely read novels. I read the novel for the first time when I was thirteen years old. At the height of its popularity, the Twilight franchise published versions of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Romeo and Juliet to promote the premiere of the Twilight movies.


Each book had an absurd caption printed on the cover. In my annoying, pre-pubescent obsession with all things Twilight, I begged my parents to buy at least one of the novels and chose Pride and Prejudice because it said “THE LOVE THAT STARTED IT ALL” printed across the top. Little did I know that I would pick up one of my favorite novels of all time. Today, my original copy sits on the windowsill of my room, the edges tattered and torn, worn from the countless times I’ve read it over the years.

I was drawn to Pride and Prejudice because I fell in love with Elizabeth Bennet. She became my role model. Elizabeth loves to read, which I related to considering that  I used to read one book per day in middle school. She’s strong and independent – the scene where Elizabeth rejects Mr. Darcy was, is, and always will be my favorite scene in the entire book, hands down (For the record, her showdown with Lady Catherine at the end of the novel is a close second).


I admired Elizabeth’s ability and readiness to say no, her conviction in defending both her sister and Mr. Wickham (despite how awful of a character he ends up being), and the intelligence in her responses. Above all, Elizabeth marries for love – the decision I admired most about her as a thirteen-year-old girl who had no idea what “love” truly meant (at twenty-one years old, I’m still unsure).

Elizabeth and Darcy’s love set the standard for all other romance novels for me. So, my world was toppled when I read Pride and Prejudice again for class this semester and learned that every pre-conceived conclusion I had about it was wrong. As a twenty-one-year-old college senior, Elizabeth Bennet disappoints me. Pride and Prejudice is no longer a love story. Rather, it is a story about Elizabeth’s dissent into conformity: Marrying Mr. Darcy not out of love, but out of gratitude for helping her family, and a want of station since Darcy owns all of Derbyshire and lives in an extravagant mansion.


By the end of the novel, Elizabeth’s character flattens so much so that only her relationship with Mr. Darcy defines her identity. Elizabeth Bennet loses what makes her interesting: her independence.

The trap I fell into this semester was thinking that this was the only way of reading the novel. I was almost angry at younger me for thinking that it could ever be a love story. Except, what I’ve come to think about is that most people do read it as a love story. Movies and T.V. shows depict Pride and Prejudice as such – an absolutely stunning rendition is the 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice with Kira Knightely and Mathew MacFadyen. (MacFadyen proposing in the pouring rain gets me every time).


To quote Elizabeth Bennet, “I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either was concerned.” As the semester comes to a close, what I’ve remembered is that it’s okay to read for readings sake, and that I will probably never read a novel the same way twice.


I’ll likely have different conclusions about Pride and Prejudice as a middle-aged woman than I do now, just like how my initial perceptions about the novel in 2011 are completely different from how I read it in 2017. Each time we read something, we bring with us not only the text, but also the past experiences that make us us –  ultimately shaping our perceptions about the media we ingest.