This novel tells the story of Elizabeth Bennet (Lizzie), a young woman under pressure from her family to find an appropriate husband. Lizzie’s task is made more difficult by her mother, who believes that she should marry a rich but unattractive cousin, Mr. Collins. Meanwhile, Lizzie’s own prejudices blind her, at first, to the virtues of the handsome Mr. Darcy.
The Bennet family has five daughters but no sons and, by the laws of the time, the family home will pass to their male cousin, Mr. Collins, when Mr. Bennet dies. The only way for the Bennet girls to achieve future financial security is to “marry well.” But finding the right man isn’t easy. Independent Lizzie refuses to marry for money and is shocked when her friend Charlotte does just that. Charlotte, already aged twenty-seven, explains her pragmatic action to Lizzie:
“I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”
“Non sono romantica, lo sai. Non lo sono mai stata. Voglio solo una casa confortevole, e considerando il carattere, le relazioni sociali e la posizione di Mr. Collins, sono convinta che le possibilità di essere felice con lui siano favorevoli quanto quelle della maggior parte delle per-sone che iniziano la loro vita matrimoniale.”
The Bennet family are middle class but lack the wealth to live in the same style as the more upper class families around them. The high points of their social calendar come whenever one of the wealthier families hosts a ball. These dances provide an opportunity for local people to dress up, look for potential marriage partners, and gossip about the other guests. At the first ball attended by the wealthy newcomer Mr. Bingley, guests are delighted at his presence:
“Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; he was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield.”
“Mr. Bingley aveva subito fatto conoscenza con le persone più in vista nella sala; fu vivace ed espansivo, ballò ogni giro di danza, si rammaricò che il ballo finisse così presto e parlò di darne lui stesso uno a Netherfield.”
The humourous first line of the novel is one of the best-known of world literature, perhaps matched only by that of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, which opens with a profound statement about happy and unhappy families. Like that of the Russian writer, it sets the tone and the mood for the whole book.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
“È una verità universalmente riconosciuta, che uno scapolo in possesso di un’ampia fortuna debba avere bisogno di una moglie.”
Mrs. Bennet, the girls’ embarrassing mother, is so obsessed with finding rich husbands for her daughters that when wealthy Mr. Bingley moves into the area, she feels sure he will want to marry one of her girls.
“If your daughter should have a dangerous fit of illness, if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under your orders.”
“[...] se tua figlia dovesse prendersi una malattia grave, se dovesse morire, sarebbe una consolazione sapere che tutto è stato fatto per dare la caccia a Mr. Bingley, e a seguito dei tuoi ordini.”
One of the main themes in the novel is prejudice and how, sometimes, first impressions can be wrong. Several of the characters make poor judgments that almost lead to disaster. Lydia Bennet is seduced by the handsome but untruthful soldier George Wickham, and runs away with him aged just fifteen. Lizzie Bennet’s first impressions of Mr. Darcy as a rude and arrogant man make it hard for her to see that he’s actually in love with her. At the first ball attended by Mr. Darcy, many guests, including Lizzie and her mother, jump to conclusions about him:
“His character was decided, he was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped he would never come there again.”
“Era l’uomo più superbo e antipatico del mondo, e tutti sperarono che non si facesse più vedere.”
Never out of fashion
Pride and Prejudice is probably the best-loved of Jane Austen’s six novels and there have been various successful, and some not so successful, film adaptations made of it. The most recent of the successes was released in 2005 and starred Keira Knightley as Lizzie.
Traduzione di Giuseppe Ierolli, 2010, www.jausten.it