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
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power