Timeless or tedious? 'Pride and Prejudice may not address the social problems of the time but it is as relevant now as the day it was written'

As Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy reappear in yet another dramatisation, we ask if Jane Austen's classic really is the most perfect English novel - or just a 19th-century Mills & Boon

The leading man of Jane Austen's novel is also shockingly rude, which, according to Bridget Jones, the mid-1990s reincarnation of the book's heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, makes him even more irresistible, although she added that "being imaginary was a disadvantage that could not be overlooked".

But why on earth should a man so, well, wooden; so prone to long periods of silence; so likely to ignore you and not return your calls had the mobile phone been invented almost 200 years ago, have endured so well? And why does Lizzy Bennet - not the most beautiful of literary creatures, or the most spirited, or the most complicated - remain the woman we still root for; most want to be like?

First, let me address the unique appeal of Mr Darcy. He is a bastard and, although I hate to admit it, women love bastards. Just look at Heathcliff, or Sex and the City's Mr Big, or ER's Doctor Doug Ross. We like a challenge. We aspire to the unattainable, the slightly out of our league. We don't hanker after men who are too nice, who return our calls and send us giant appliquéd birthday cards.

Jane Austen was the very first writer to be honest about this, to acknowledge that women would be intrigued by "the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world". Mr Darcy was most definitely not a new man; neither, I hasten to add, was he a metrosexual (when I first read the book, aged 12, I had in mind a vision of Jason King, very manly and covered with wiry hair). Of course, we all say we want our husbands to recycle and go to M&S in their lunch hour, but these are not qualities we masturbate over.

And, of course, Lizzy is the perfect literary heroine. We warm to her in the same way we warm to Carrie Bradshaw or Bridget Jones, because she has flaws. She isn't calculating in the way Emma is, or pathetic in the way Jane Eyre is when she wanders off to pine in a vicarage. No, our Lizzy is self-sufficient and determined. She isn't girly, thank Christ, nor desperate. She doesn't fawn or simper. She is intelligent, unafraid, and very much her own person.

Pride and Prejudice is, to my mind, the greatest novel in English literature. No, it doesn't address the social problems of the day - I think there is one reference in Austen's novels to the slave trade - but its honest depiction of early 19th century life; of the constrictions in which women were forced to operate, and its sharp observations about the relationship between men and women, with no self-deception, is as fresh and relevant now as the day it was written.

Nothing much, really, has changed since the book was published in 1813. Men and women still don't understand each other. Women are still trying to get men to do things they don't want to do. We are still trying to get off with people who don't fancy us. Take Mr Bennet. He doesn't listen, he feels hen-pecked, he wants peace and quiet and to be left alone in his chair.

The best thing about this book, apart from the love story, is the humour. Take the scene where Mr and Mrs Bennet are discussing the merits of their daughters. Mr Bennet is railing at their foolishness and their obsession with young men. "My dear Mr Bennet," says his wife. "You must not expect such girls to have the sense of their father and mother. When they get to our age, I dare say they will not think about officers any more than we do."

But do we really need yet another film adaptation of this comic classic? In the latest screen version, which premieres in London on Monday, Keira Knightley plays Lizzy Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen is Mr Darcy - not a patch, I am sure, on Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, whose on-screen chemistry in the BBC version was infinitely more erotic than Nine Songs, which I thought was, frankly, rather boring.

But at least another outing for the story will prompt a new generation of young women to read the book and laugh out loud and marvel at how Jane Austen, the seventh child of a country parson, who never ventured far beyond Hampshire; who only ever did chores and read books and who died aged 42, could have created the most perfect romance ever written. Ooh, and there is a happy ending. Always, always a bonus.

"Liz Jones's Diary: How One Single Girl Got Married", is out now, published by Quadrille, £12.99.

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
arts + entsFor a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past