Tory Historian's blog: 200 years ago

Posted by Tory Historian Monday, January 28, 2013 , ,

Tory Historians should really have mentioned this yesterday as one of the greatest novels in the English language was published on January 27, 1813. It was advertised at 18s, rather a lot of money in those days and it had one of the most famous opening lines: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.". That line has been adapted by numerous hacks for numerous purposes, most of which ignore the sublime irony in it.

Tory Historian has protested before at the Mills and Boonification of Jane Austen and her novels. There is no need to repeat all the arguments. Though a few paragraphs might be worth quoting:
The famous TV series of “Pride and Prejudice” with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr Darcy starts with the young men riding into town (Meryton, one assumes). This places them at the centre of the subsequent plot.

Nothing could be further from the novel, which is about the Bennet family and, famously, starts with them discussing the recent arrival of Mr Bingley about whom they know very little but whom they suspect to be extremely eligible.

“Pride and Prejudice” is a clever picture of contemporary society. Unlike some Victorian novelists, Jane Austen has a clear idea of money. Mr Bennet has £2,000 a year and has been unable to increase that income or to save money for his daughters, largely because of his abdication of responsibility.

Mr Bingley has £4,000 or £5,000 a year and has not yet settled down. His sisters have an income of their own, so their father must have made quite a fortune in his business in the Midlands, something that they do not want to remember.

Mr Darcy is, of course, the representative of the old aristocracy, related to all sorts of people, the owner of a handsome estate that, unlike Mr Bennet, he pays attention to (though when exactly is hard to tell) and has £10,000 a year. This is to be viewed more like turn-over in a modern business rather than clear profit, as the money has to be used for the upkeep of Pemberley, the household, the estate as well as his lifestyle.
Miss Austen's novels were about women and their families, usually written from one point of view, that of the heroine. In the first chapter we meet the entire Bennet family but realize very soon that we are not going to know much about four of the sisters. Elizabeth is the one who matters and we see the world, including its male inhabitants through her eyes. It is her fondness for her father, whose favourite she is that prevents her and us from realizing for a long time how inadequate he is in his role.

One can go on about Pride and Prejudice for a very long time but the best advice TH can give to those who do not know it is to read it and to those who do is to read it again.


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