I am reading Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. I do just a few pages a night, just enough to make me smile before I go to sleep. I’m near the end now. The business with Lydia is all patched up, Jane and Bingley are happily engaged and Lizzy and Darcy are finally on the same page and have shocked the world with the announcement of their intention to marry.
As Phil Robertson would put it: “Happy, happy, happy.”
I love this part of stories. My favorite part of the whole Tolkien trilogy is the few pages at the very end where we learn of the peace and celebrations in the kingdom once all has been restored. But nobody does happily ever after as well as Jane Austen. It is somehow new to me every time I read it just how much is at stake in the story. In those days marriage, for a woman of Lizzy’s station, was everything: a place in society, money, security. The alternative was dependence and shame. Thus, her risk in refusing Darcy’s first proposal was profound and her triumph in winning him again, reconstituted and appropriately humble, complete.
The story teaches me (a man) once again how much the female friendships that will continue because of Darcy’s renewed proposal mean to each of the girls. Yes, being married to a man who was rich and handsome and understanding and moral and brave is quite something. Good enough. But when with that comes the assurance of unbroken community with one’s own favorite sister and, added to that, the close friendship of Miss Georgiana, well, that is a piece of heaven.
Near the end of the book Austen uses a long conversation between Lizzy and Darcy to explain what it was about Lizzy that captivated Darcy. Austen’s psychology is very accurate. She understands men. She understands our hesitations and fears and what gets to us – what makes us move the way we do. I think some modern writers would not have included this conversation, preferring to allow the reader to make the connections and conclusions for himself; to let the action and dynamics of the story do the talking. The story alone is certainly strong enough to do that – to give a perceptive reader the reasons for Darcy’s being so smitten – but I for one am glad this conversation is included. If only for this.
This time through I noticed a couple of lines that were like a surprise restatement of the theme of a great symphony, coming near the end and taking everything that has been suggested or hinted at and putting it together in a way so convincing that it takes your breath away. At one point Darcy says something that Lizzy immediately sees opens him up to one of her sharp barbs. Things are all settled between them now, so she could get away with it, but yet she forebears. She knows that he in some sense deserves it, and she knows that as time passes and he learns of her ways and learns the art of laughing at himself he will take such things in his stride. But she also knows he is not quite there yet and so she swallows her witticism in deference to this man she loves.
In thirty words or less, Austen tells us so much about Lizzy – how quick witted she is and yet how sensitive and how much she has learned along the way. This, folks, is love. This is what it really is.