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Why Pride and Prejudice Remains The Ultimate Social Survival Guide

The next offering in our week-long series of articles celebrating the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice examines some of the universal themes that cemented the novel’s timeless and endearing quality.

Article by Taran B.

Head here for more articles in our Pride and Prejudice at 200 series.

Over the course of its 200 year existence, Pride and Prejudice has sold more than 20 millions copies. That figure in itself is sufficient evidence that Austen hit upon many universally enduring themes of life and love that ring as true today as they did in the early 19th Century.

Even in the days of texts and tweets and the many other ways we can connect to – and communicate with – each other, Pride and Prejudice can be a handy guide for surviving everyday social situations – awkward or otherwise – with members of the opposite sex. Don’t believe me? Below I’ve taken some memorable Pride and Prejudice quotes and applied them to modern life to prove it.

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’

These are the famous first lines that introduce the reader to the world of Pride and Prejudice and the world that Austen herself inhabited. Now, no offence to Ms. Austen, but it is obvious that she had never met a Premiership footballer! Austen transports the reader to a time and a type of man that many females still are searching for. ‘The One’. Ah, ‘The One!’ This is a pesky ideal promoted by chick lit, a certain type of woman’s magazine, and all-girl sleepovers and suggests that every rich man just wants a really nice wife to settle down with. Sadly, the concept of dating has since moved on from the time of Ms. Austen.

The Message: Men actually did then what Disney promises you that they do now.

‘The first two dances, however, brought a return of distress; they were dances of mortification. Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn…’

The discothèque. Dreamy nights spent shimmying away to the delights of the music. Well at least that’s how we try to imagine our nights out to be. Let’s just admit it, we’ve all been with a Mr Collins. And for those of you who say this has never happened, you are lying to yourself. Night out, good music, good people and you just happen to end up being lumbered with someone who is so socially awkward that the phrase ‘two left feet’ is a severe understatement.

In fact, someone who is so bad that having two left feet, and dancing on broken glass, while attempting to star jump simultaneously is a more flattering description. Oh the embarrassment! You desperately look round for an avenue of escape, but all exits are blocked. Evidently Ms. Austen is only all too aware of the awkwardness of dancing with someone who simply cannot dance, and the overwhelming desire to play dead as an only means of escape.

The Message: Bad dancing is something that is not confined to just one era, and there is still no actual means to escape it.

‘A young man, such as you describe Mr. Bingley, so easily falls in love with a pretty girl for a few weeks, and when accident separates them, so easily forgets her…’

Dating is something which we have all experienced (probably), and it seems that Ms. Austen was very keen to explore how this relates to everyday life. Throughout the pages of Pride and Prejudice Ms. Austen explores the unfortunate situation of, having had an amazing time with someone, the object of your newly-awoken affection develops temporary amnesia and pretends to have forgotten all about you.

It seems that even in Ms. Austen’s time, men were just as easily victim to forgetting all about their *ahem* past acquaintances [And women never do that! – male ed]. Sadly, an accident in Ms. Austen’s time would be separation by war or a family scandal. A real devastating accident. An accident now would be, ‘whoops I accidentally deleted you from my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I swear it was a technical glitch.’

The Message: Dating is a risky minefield at the best of times and developing amnesia is not a new condition.

‘Wickham’s affection for Lydia was just what Elizabeth had expected to find it; not equal to Lydia’s for him.’

The issue of love and the different types of it bind together the very storyline of Pride and Prejudice. The fear of rejection is something which is not a new development. We all have that one friend that always seems to be head over heels in love with somebody new, but it is clear to see that those feelings are not always returned. And nobody wants to be ‘that friend.’

So everyday life is consumed by such following thoughts: Do I put an ‘X’ at the end of a text? Is this a retweet too far? If I like a photo on Facebook within the first seven seconds of it being posted, does this make me an obsessive stalker? Evidently the fear of coming on too strong is not something that we battle with today, but is something that even the most courteous characters of Ms. Austen’s time also had to deal with.

The Message: Rejection is best dealt with by inner reflection, not social network stalking, or a fixation with the amount of ‘x’s’ to put at the end of a message.

Have I tempted you to dust off a copy of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and use it as a social survival guide? Please do leave thoughts and opinions below.

Article by Taran Bassi

When she’s not busy reading the works of Jane Austen, Taran can be found blogging on her website about popular culture and issues relating to women. She also has a fondness for Twitter.

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