Donna Leon's book of a lifetime - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Thursday 27 March 2014
Yes, it is about love, but sometime later in life the reader realizes it is also about the love that comes from resignation, seen when Charlotte Lucas accepts the offer of the unspeakable, plodding Mr. Collins. She knows she is not young, and she is poor; she knows she is not a catch, and so she will accept Mr. Collins’ proposal and love him until death do them part. Mr. Bennet is mildly concerned for his daughters’ futures and puts up with his wife: it’s as close to love as this disappointed man can come, the best he can give. Lady Catherine probably loves her daughter, poor thing.
To read the book a half century later is also to see how overwhelmingly the book is about money. (Breaks your heart to read this, huh?) Every man has his worth, and it is expressed in pounds per year. Mr. Darcy is thus worth more than his friend Mr. Bingley, and indeed, he gets the sparkling Lizzie, and Mr. Bingley gets the sober, even-headed Jane. And Mr. Collins, who is not worth as much as either one of them, gets Charlotte Lucas. Frivolous – not to use a stronger word – Lydia gets Wickham, who has to be paid off to have her.
Lizzie and Jane and their sisters are pretty much – I don’t like having to say it – worthless. No dowry, father’s house entailed, no education, not even enough to enable them to be governesses: failed the arrival of Darcy and Bingley, what would await them?
What woman is worth the most? Lady Catherine’s listless, ailing daughter, Anne. One of the comforts of age is that even this grim knowledge of social reality does nothing to diminish the sparkle of life that fills every page of this most glorious of novels, and so the reading of it is a lifelong joy.
By Its Cover is published in hardback on 3 April (William Heinemann, £17.99)
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 4 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
- 5 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens trailer: Luke Skywalker's bionic hand sends fans into a frenzy
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
General Election 2015: Polish prince challenges Nigel Farage to a duel over immigration question