Happy 200th, “Pride and Prejudice”!

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride & Prejudice.

The trivia surrounding the book is vast and entertaining — my favorite, perhaps, is the account of a 40 year old Polish orangutan who is a Pride & Prejudice devotee. And the adaptations are legion — from the amusing “Bridget Jones’s Diary” to the delightful 1995 BBC miniseries to the (in my opinion) execrable 2005 Keira Knightley vehicle to the hideously inaccurate,but nonetheless charming, Laurence Olivier/Greer Garson movie.

Likewise, feminists have sought to appropriate the book, either because of its heroine’s supposed “oppositional relation to power”  or as a cautionary tale. Reams have been written about Pride & Prejudice‘s “significance,” the unjust underrating of Jane Austen as a literary figure, and the like.

But I have never been able to put Pride & Prejudice into any sort of intellectual construct. Perhaps that’s because I fell in love with it before loving Austen was cool — around 1979, when I read it in the fall of my seventh-grade year. I was entranced by the elegance of the language; by the characters (who doesn’t know a Mr Wickham or Mr Collins?!); by the wit, spirit, and intelligence of the heroine; and (yes, I admit it!) by the love story — which is distinguished by the fact that Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy actually earn their happy ending by transcending major character flaws for each other.

These days, it’s obvious I’m hardly alone in my affection for the Austen oeuvre. The question is why. I suspect that it has something to do with the modern state of intersex relations — that despite the significant and manifold disadvantages women confronted in Regency England, modern women nevertheless yearn for a social system in which some rules govern the behavior of men, women and the relationships between them. (For more on this — and the lessons modern ladies could extract from Austen’s heroines, do read Elizabeth Kantor’s absolutely wonderful The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After.)

But maybe there’s more to it than that. To what do you attribute the reawakening of interest in Pride & Prejudice and the rest of Austen’s work?