A'pursuit of Happiness' That Transcends the Years; This Week Marks the 200th Anniversary of the Publication of What Is Perhaps Jane Austen's Most Loved Novel, Pride and Prejudice. Professor Karen O'Brien, Austen Expert Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) and Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham, Explains Why Its Appeal Has Spanned Two Centuries - and Is Still Growing

The Birmingham Post (England), January 31, 2013 | Go to article overview

A'pursuit of Happiness' That Transcends the Years; This Week Marks the 200th Anniversary of the Publication of What Is Perhaps Jane Austen's Most Loved Novel, Pride and Prejudice. Professor Karen O'Brien, Austen Expert Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) and Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham, Explains Why Its Appeal Has Spanned Two Centuries - and Is Still Growing


Byline: Karen O'Brien

Pride and Prejudice is read and enjoyed all over the world, and I think it always will be.

Not for the obvious reason that it is an absorbing love story with an intelligent, witty, admirable heroine with whom we all want to identify. And not because it is one of the most keenly observed comedies of social class and social niceties ever written.

Although it clearly is enduring for both of these reasons, there have been many novels that do this almost as well: Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield, for example, which was such an inspiration to Jane Austen.

Pride and Prejudice is an enduring classic because it is really about the human instinct to pursue happiness, to insist that happiness is something we are all entitled to (no matter what the Lady Catherine de Bourghs of this world tell us) and to believe that those who are generous, affectionate and self-aware stand the best chance of becoming happy.

The love story is fundamentally about that path to self-awareness, and how a genuinely intimate relationship is a mutual journey in which we come to know ourselves, each other and the world.

And, as the novel shows us, no selfknowledge or happiness is remotely possible without a sense of humour, an alertness to the ironies of life and to the vanity of others.

We tend to think of Pride and Prejudice as a quintessentially English novel, a celebration, indeed, of a traditional Englishness '' of country estates, vicarages, and subtle social etiquette. But it is in fact a novel, as I discovered when teaching it in China recently, that translates remarkably well, and gathers meaning wherever it goes.

Austen's famous irony notwithstanding, it is a highly translatable, and in that sense, a universal novel. Austen's style is spare, precise, and rarely descriptive for its own sake. Every detail of place, dress and setting is there to tell the story. …

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A'pursuit of Happiness' That Transcends the Years; This Week Marks the 200th Anniversary of the Publication of What Is Perhaps Jane Austen's Most Loved Novel, Pride and Prejudice. Professor Karen O'Brien, Austen Expert Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) and Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham, Explains Why Its Appeal Has Spanned Two Centuries - and Is Still Growing
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