Summary: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice charts the character development of Elizabeth Bennet, amidst the pressures that her family and society exert upon her to marry well. As one of five daughters without a brother to inherit her father’s estate and then look after them, Elizabeth and her sisters are pressured to marry for money. Through the ups and downs of potential suitors, Elizabeth learns about the repercussions of swift judgments and comes to appreciate the difference between superficial goodness and actual goodness. Set in the Regency era in Great Britain, the book’s themes include marriage, wealth, class, and self-knowledge.
Why this is the BEST: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Austen begins Pride and Prejudice with this classic frame for what would become the romance genre. Yet, Austen does more than tell a love story or accept the prejudices that this first sentence evokes. Like all great novels, Austen tells a story of self-discovery. She shows how this process is just as meaningful for a woman as for a man. A drawing room’s small talk becomes heroic as she paints the ultimate meaning of the relationships that are at stake.
The characters in Pride and Prejudice are both delightful and irritating. Elizabeth’s mother and younger sisters are vain, superficial and silly, everything Elizabeth and her older sister, Jane, are not. And yet, one can’t help but sympathize with these women, who are trapped in roles in which society has placed them. As irritating as Mrs. Bennet is, the reader by the end of the story, cares for her ‘nerves’ and empathizes with her motherly concerns. Don’t we all want what is best for our children? All mothers have a little of Mrs. Bennet in them, especially those with children of marriageable age (whether in a traditional Orthodox community or not).
If a tell sign of a successful book is the number of movie remakes and adaptations then Pride and Prejudice’s success be off the charts. Growing up, I was an expert in the BBC and A&E Pride and Prejudice movies. As I got older, I enjoyed several of the modern adaptations, as well. This story is simply timeless. It speaks to women and men seeking self discovery and reminds us to probe deeply to find the good in others.
In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre examines Austen’s moral philosophy in his consideration of the Western tradition of virtue, “Jane Austen is in a crucial way . . . the last great representative of the classical tradition of the virtues” (, 243). By developing good character, a virtuous man or woman achieves the moral clarity to act rightly. Austen highlights genuine virtue as being born from internal goodness. She contrasts this with the appearance of goodness, as demonstrated by adherence to the conventions of polite society that can add a deceptive veneer over what is in fact vice.
In Pride and Prejudice, these themes are built into the plot, as Elizabeth Bennet must learn to not judge others wrongly – at the same time as do Austen’s readers. In a society where everyone is judging everyone, Elizabeth presumes herself at first to be an objective knower of good character. From a series of misadventures, she comes to learn how greatly her own prejudices have blinded her. At a time of intense political and social division, this message is especially relevant.
Yael Goldfischer is the Chair of the Bible Department at Yeshivat Frisch, as well as the Director of the Israel Guidance Department for women.
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[Published on November 26, 2020]