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Of Austen's six novels, that which has gained most popular favour is Pride and Prejudice. Although it was her second published work, it was actually the first novel she wrote. It is all the more surprising to find this novel by a young girl so satisfying as a work of art. Not only is Pride and Prejudice considered among her best works but it is also considered among the first ten greatest novels of the world by Somerset Maugham. The exquisite dramatic quality of plot, her method of characterization, subtlety of dialogue, the captivating charm of its heroine Elizabeth, the delightful absurdity of Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins, the all pervasive irony-----all these contribute to the popularity of Pride and Prejudice.

The Simple and Symmetrical Plot:

The clarity, neatness, simplicity and symmetry of the plot movement is one of the most pleasing features of the novel. Each event, each slight incident, each conversation, each speech in a Jane Austen novel is indispensable to the plot. By means of the very limitations we have recognized in her art ------ the three to four families, the lack of grand incidents, the limitations of her fictional characterizations, Jane Austen is able to articulate all the parts of her novel down to the last detail. Nothing is missing here, and nothing is wasted. As in a drama, there is perfect integration of the sub-plots of Lydia-Wickham, Jane-Bingley, Catherine and Collins with the main plot of Elizabeth and Darcy. It is for her ability to create a perfect unity in her novel that she is respected by the critics and her fellow novelists. Cross thinks that the craftsmanship of such a high order can only be found in a Shakespearean comedy like Much Ado About Nothing. Baker has even demonstrated how its action can be divided into five acts of a drama. The commonplace incidents and characters are so skillfully portrayed that reading the novel is a delightful experience.

The Charming and Witty Heroine:

The popularity of Pride and Prejudice derives to a great extent from its charming and witty heroine --  Elizabeth. One can say that the book lives and moves in the character of Elizabeth Bennet. To create an entirely charming girl is one of the rarest achievement in fiction. Noble girls, good girls, tragic, pathetic and touching girls abound and we weep over them, esteem them, but very seldom do we feel them to be as charming as the girl next door. But Jane Austen creates with effortless mastery a heroine who has wit, sense, honesty, warm heart and the charm of the girl next door. But Jane Austen creates with effortless mastery a heroine who has wit, sense, honesty, warm heart and the charm of the girl next door. Jane Austen herself thought Elizabeth 'as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print'. R. L. Stevenson said he wanted to go down on his knees whenever she spoke. Indeed, Elizabeth is light and gay; her manners are lively. Her face is rendered uncommonly intelligent by her dark eyes. She is perceptive. She is witty and her wit sparkles without offending. Her moral courage to resist temptations as well as social and economic pressure for the sake of her principales make her an admirable character. But she is not perfect. She is capable of strong prejudices and misjudging people close to her and this makes her very human and real to us. What makes her really lovable is her honesty in admitting to her errors and her moral blindness, making fresh efforts to give a new direction to her life.

The Excellent Portrayal of Comic Fools:

To others like Harold Child the interest of the novel lies in the excellent portraiture of incorrigible fools like Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins. It is a measure of Jane Austen's skill that she is able to transform such 'bores' into amusing characters. An eminent critic comparing Jane Austen with Shakespeare has remarked, " What in other hands would be flat, insipid, intolerable piece of impertinent dullness, becomes, at her bidding, a sprightly versatile, never flagging chapter of realities." We are able to take pleasure in these amusing characters even in subsequent readings of the novel.

The Exquisite Style:

'Pride and Prejudice' is delightful too, for Jane Austen's stylistic skills. With great precision and delicacy, Jane Austen arranges words into sentences and larger patterns so as to express the personality of the speaker or writer. In Pride and Prejudice, style is effectively used to characterize all the characters, notably Lydia, Mrs. Bennet, Lady Catherine, Collins.

The dialogues in Pride and Prejudice are extremely witty. If Jane Austen could call Pride and Prejudice light and bright and sparkling, it is mainly because of its dialogues. Reuben A. Bower has rightly pointed out that many pages in the novel can be read as sheer poetry of wit, as Pope without couplets. The precision, economy and wit of the dialogues of Elizabeth are particularly remarkable as also those of Mr. Bennet.

Irony is another factor contributing to the novel's popularity. There are different levels of irony: irony of situation, irony of theme, irony of character and narrative irony in Pride and Prejudice. As irony exposes the contrast between appearance and reality, it adds interest to the novel.


That the story revolves around a stock romantic situation of girls being wedded to eligible bachelors is of course interesting. But even more interesting is the way the subject is treated. There is a depth and profundity in the way the various characters and their motives for marrying are analysed and finally the propriety of Elizabeth-Darcy marriage based on mutual love, understanding and trust is upheld. The ironic exposition of the themes of appearance and reality; intricacy and simplicity all add to our interest in Pride and Prejudice.

The skill in plot construction, in characterization, the mastery in dialogue all make the noble a classic. But it does not make stiff reading. Indeed, we can agree with Margaret Kennedy that Pride and Prejudice is popular on account of its high entertainment value.


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