• Jennifer Abella

‘Pride and Prejudice’: What critics said


Jane Austen was (rightfully) proud of “Pride and Prejudice.” She called the novel “My own darling Child.” In one letter she said of Elizabeth Bennet: “I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.”


But what did critics and other readers have to say about the novel? Read on.


The Critical Review, March 1813

“Although these young ladies claim a great share in the reader’s interest and attention, none calls forth our admiration so much as Elizabeth, whose archness and sweetness of manner render her a very attractive object in the family piece. … Many silly women as Mrs. Bennet may be found; and numerous parsons like Mr. Collins, who are every thing to every body; and servile in the extreme to their superiors. Mr. Collins is indeed a notable object. … There is not one person in the drama with whom we could readily dispense — they all have their proper places; and fill their several stations, with great credit to themselves, and much satisfaction to the reader.”


The British Critic, 1813

“We have perused these volumes with much satisfaction and amusement and entertain very little doubt that their successful circulation will induce the author to similar exertions.”

Readers


Mary Russell Mitford, 1814:

“The want of elegance is almost the only want in Miss Austen. … in every word of Elizabeth, the entire want of taste which could produce so pert, so worldly a heroine as the beloved of such a man as Darcy. … Darcy should have married Jane. He is of all the admirable characters the best designed and the best sustained.”


Mark Twain

“Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig [Austen] up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone,” Twain wrote in one letter to a friend.


Charlotte Brontë

“I had not seen Pride and Prejudice till I had read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped [photographed] portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck [stream]. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.”


Anna Waterston

Waterston — an American reader in the 1850s — thought Darcy’s proposal to Lizzy was “one of the most remarkable passages in Miss Austen’s writings.”


Sources: Flavorwire, Deirdre Le Faye’s “Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels,” Juliette Wells’s “Reading Austen in America.”

Winner of the North Carolina Humanities Council’s Joel Gradin Award for Excellence in Public Humanities

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