Pride has Prejudiced men against great literature
Today marks 200 years since Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published for the first time.
This is a significant birthday. To celebrate, I’m going to re-read (again) the novel which I first opened at the age of 13, and have returned to many times since. Many people around the world will do the same thing.
I have a feeling, though, that most of them will have something in common. Yep, they’ll pretty much all be female.
If I suggested to my boyfriend that he read Pride and Prejudice, or anything else by Jane Austen, he would scoff. He is more likely to read the Twilight books. In fact, one of his dirty secrets is that back in high school he did read all four of the Twilight books.
But Pride and Prejudice, with its talk of dances, tea, bonnets and the dashing Mr. Darcy? Never.
Sometime over the course of the last 200 years, Austen’s masterpieces got pushed firmly into the literary category known as “Chick Lit”.
This has especially been the fate of Pride and Prejudice. And it’s all Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy’s fault.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Darcy as much as the next Austen fan. He was my first literary crush, even before I watched the BBC adaptation featuring Colin Firth and his infamous wet shirt.
But after almost ten years, my feelings for Darcy have turned rather more circumspect.
In most long-term romances we realize that Mr Perfect actually isn’t quite so perfect. Darcy, on the other hand, is too perfect – so perfect that every girl who reads Pride and Prejudice falls hopelessly in love with him.
There is no greater cliché than the single, female Jane Austen fan who is desperately searching for her own Mr Darcy. This has been the inspiration for countless rom-coms, from the hilarious but very girly Bridget Jones’s Diary to Bollywood extravaganza Bride and Prejudice.
Taken on their own, I have no problem with these movies. My problem with the “cult” of Darcy is that it detracts from the true value of Jane Austen’s work.
It’s also the biggest turn-off for male readers. They don’t want to read about this old-fashioned, apparently perfect gentleman whom they could never hope to emulate, even if they wanted to.
In that respect, he’s a bit like Edward Cullen in the Twilight series. Except that Darcy is not to Pride and Prejudice what Cullen is to Twilight.
If you took Edward out of the Twilight series, not an awful lot would be left – except for a few lame vegetarian vampires and a pathetically love struck teenage girl. Pride and Prejudice would still be brilliant without Mr Darcy.
It is true that Pride and Prejudice, written by a young lady back in 1813, deals with what were then the largely female concerns of domestic family life, small town society, courtship and marriage.
But as Sir Walter Scott states, Austen’s greatest achievement was to “render ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting”.
Interesting really is an understatement. There are countless places in the book where you cannot help but laugh out loud, and the characters’ witty dialogue echoes in your head long after you’ve turned the page. No other author has ever written with such skill.
The fact that Pride and Prejudice is told from a female perspective does nothing to detract from the brilliance of Jane Austen’s writing. Nor should it detract from the greatness of her achievements. Two hundred years after the book was published, it remains one of the greatest works of fiction in the English language.
Doubtless, Austen’s books will not be every man’s cup of tea - just as books about war might not appeal to every girl.
But I can sit on the bus reading Game of Thrones without feeling embarrassed. A man who appreciates Austen’s artistry with the English language should be able to pick up Pride and Prejudice without people wondering why on earth he’s reading “Chick Lit”. Let’s move it out of that section of the library.
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