Many years ago, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was among my many books. I had picked it up several times, only to put it down because it didn’t hold my interest. After a mention of it in one of my favorite Anna Quindlen columns in The New York Times in 1991, I tried again to no avail.
After about 10 years, it was among the books I donated to a used bookstore. Cultural references to it — like in the film You’ve Got Mail, for instance — have always given me pause and even a pang that I’m missing out on something. A few weeks ago, after catching the movie Becoming Jane on cable, my interest in Jane Austen was piqued; it provided context for her novels and I became intrigued once again.
So I went back to the used bookstore and bought well-worn copies of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I began the former with a bit more openness than before, but still wondered at how it captured people so. And then I was caught off-guard by how it gripped me and I knew I would not be sleeping tonight until I had turned page 520.
The aforementioned Quindlen column was a testament to the joys of reading and it stuck with me so much that here I am almost 18 years later poring through a collection of her columns on my bookshelf to find it. She tells of lending Pride and Prejudice to her sister and of her sister saying, “Look, tell me if she marries Mr. Darcy, because if she doesn’t I’m not going to finish the book.” While Quindlen clung to what she knew about the ending, she wrote, “somewhere inside I was shouting, yes, yes, she will marry Mr. Darcy, over and over again, as often as you’d like.” That exclamation really captures the essence of the book.
As for me, I feel richer for having at the very least an understanding of why smart, independent women so relate to Elizabeth Bennet. And at the very most, for having knowledge of why a classic is indeed a classic.