This, my friends, is a real romance novel. By that I mean this is a real novel, which means a story told in prose, about a real romance, which means the courtship and development of love between a man and a woman. While the world and writing of Jane Austen will undoubtedly seem antiquated and foreign to a generation of readers who believe that a novel is a string of monosyllabic words strung together in with semi-coherency and that romance is the literary equivalent of pornography, Austen has a great deal to teach readers — and would-be lovers — today.
There are undoubtedly aspects of Victorian social mores which deserve some criticism. The customs which governed the relations of the sexes, however, are not among them. Instead, what we see are a set of rules that reinforced the mutual respect of men for women and women for men. The result was a harmony of the sexes. It is only when the proper decorum is violated — when the woman behaves with unreasonable flirtatiousness, when the man refuses to take responsibility, and when the family is treated with disdain — that the results are unhappiness and disorder. The marriage of Mr. Collins with Lydia is, of course, the case in point. When women behave with decency and men are responsible and respectful, however, the effect is the obverse: a truly happy and fulfilling marriage.
All of this is not to say that Austen does not engage in a critique of contemporary customs. In her presentation of Lady Catherine as an overbearing busybody, she presents to us the rust that had grown up on certain traditional institutions. But Austen would not have us throw away the baby with the bathwater, as can be seen by the benevolent patriarchy of Elizabeth’s father, and his representation as a reasonable and goodhearted head of his family.
While I believe that anyone who enjoys a good story with enjoy this book a great deal, I recommend this book in particular for young teenagers. Young ladies and young gentleman today would benefit a great deal from imbibing the lessons that Austen has to offer us. They would also, of course, have the privilege of reading one of the greatest novels ever written in the English language.