Happy birthday, Elizabeth Bennett
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
1/29/13 at 6:39 AM
It was 200 years ago Monday that people first discovered that it was a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Jane Austen's second novel, "Pride and Prejudice," was published Jan. 28, 1813. Of course, those first readers did not know that Austen was the author - like "Sense and Sensibility," the novel that preceded it in 1811, "Pride and Prejudice" was attributed only as being written by "A Lady."
It was an immediate success, with contemporary reviews calling it "very far superior to almost all publications of the kind." It has remained in print ever since and - thanks to its various adaptations, most notably the 1985 mini-series that starred Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth as Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy - is the novel most people think of when they think of Jane Austen.
It is a simple, romantic story, about two people who are truly made for each other, although it takes a good deal of time and trouble before the two of them - well, the one of them, as in the very independent and confident Elizabeth - come to that realization.
It's also a story told with marvelous economy and rich, if slyly applied, wit - even the characters with whom Austen herself most identified are shown complete, with all their flaws as well as their virtues put on display. Even the most ridiculous characters have moments deserving of empathy, just as there are times when the heroes and heroines behave like buffoons.
Austen's novels - she completed six during her lifetime, with two ("Northanger Abbey" and "Persuasion") published after her death in 1817 at the age of 41 - have inspired countless other writers, including Helen Fielding, whose "Bridget Jones' Diary" is a modern reworking of "Pride and Prejudice," and P.D. James, whose latest book is "Death Comes to Pemberley," set on the Darcy estate some years after the end of "Pride and Prejudice."
That inspiration has also led to writers using Jane Austen as well as her characters in other situations, from detective stories to erotic romances to horror mash-ups like the surprisingly best-selling "Pride and Prejudice with Zombies."
And Austen's work has inspired generations of academics who have produced millions of words about Austen and her work (the most recent biography, "The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things" by Paula Byrne, tells Austen's life story through various objects that evoke scenes from her books), as well as rabid fans known as Janeites, who rival Trekkies and the Baker Street Irregulars in the intensity of their obsessions.
However, the best thing to do to mark this anniversary - or to see what all the fuss is about this woman who wrote six romantic novels 200 years ago that people are still talking about - is to get a copy of "Pride and Prejudice," turn to the first chapter, and start reading. And be prepared to fall under the spell of Jane Austen's storytelling.
Thanks to its various adaptations, most notably the 1985 mini-series that starred Jennifer Ehle (left) and Colin Firth as Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy, "Pride and Prejudice" is the novel most people think of when they think of Jane Austen. Courtesy