10 of the best lines from Pride and Prejudice and what they can teach us

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The Independent Culture

Jean Burnett is the author of Who Needs Mr Darcy? To celebrate the release of her latest work The Bad Miss Bennet abroad - here she chooses 10 of the best lines from perhaps what is Jane Austen's best-loved work, Pride and Prejudice.

“Daughters are never of so much consequence to a father.”  

Everything in Austen’s world of the landed gentry related to inheritance. A son was needed to carry on the family name and ensure that the land remained in the family. Daughters, therefore, were a misfortune.

“The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.”

Mrs Bennet had little else open to her. Women were restricted entirely to the domestic sphere, either as the lady of the house or as a servant. As for gossip with friends – that never goes out of fashion. 

“Mary wished to say something sensible but knew not how.”  

Well, we’ve all been there. Despite her intensive regime of reading in her father’s library, Mary was tongue-tied in public whereas Lizzie would have managed a quick and witty retort. 

“He is not at all liked in Hertfordshire.”  

The world was a much smaller place in those days. The gentry would have known each other pretty well and an outsider would be judged en masse – which can still happen today.

“Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.”

Austen’s attitude appears to say, ‘don’t waste time bewailing past misfortunes’.

We can’t know if she followed her own advice faithfully or whether it was just for her fictional characters.

“I should infinitely prefer a book.”

Will anyone say this in the future? Jane knew that writers must read but many would-be writers today do not seem to be aware of this necessity.

In Northanger Abbey one of her characters gives the ultimate literary put-down: “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel must be intolerably stupid.”

“Where does discretion end and avarice begin?”

Being careful with money is necessary and unavoidable for many, but it can become an end in itself. The term ‘miser’ has fallen out of use lately but there are still people who fit that description. Jane would say that life is too short for constant self-denial. 

“To be sure it would have been more for the advantage of conversation if Miss Lydia Bennet had come upon the town.”

This is a euphemism for prostitution and it appears scandalous gossip is the only thing that made country life bearable – how often does salacious gossip distract us from the more important things in life?

The ultimate disgrace for a woman was to fall into prostitution, though there were few other avenues open to a single woman without means.  

“What pin money, what jewels, what carriages you will have!”  

To a cynic, this line captures the entirety of Pride and Prejudice though obviously Austen wrote with tongue firmly in cheek.

Mrs Bennet’s dislike of Mr Darcy was nothing compared to the pleasures of his income and status. When no other means of support was available for women they could hardly be condemned for this obsession.

“Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility; it is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”

Jane once again nails human behaviour neatly. It  is one of Darcy’s more pompous remarks but shows his dislike of hypocrisy and deviousness and perhaps he was thinking of Mr Wickham’s behaviour at the time – a scoundrel who along with the spirited Lydia, inspired my series of novels.

The Bad Miss Bennet Abroad by Jean Burnett is out now via Canelo Books

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