6 Lessons from Pride and Prejudice

1. We can see ourselves and sin in its characters.

If we read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with an eye on our own tendencies, we may recognize some of the more unappealing qualities of some of its characters in ourselves. Jerram Barrs, author of Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts says this:

‘Pride and Prejudice’ is a comedy of manners and a critique of individual and social snobbery, as well as class folly. The story is subversive and works like Jesus’s parables. The humor and the ironic insight into human weaknesses and moral failure are very attractive to our hearts and minds, for we readers and viewers are invited to join Austen in her awareness of these flaws and to hold them up for our amused critique and rejection.

But then we find ourselves caught up in the story and our own ironic dismissal of others’ behavior, and we discover that we are on board for Austen’s very serious journey of understanding into the human condition. And it may very well be that we discover in ourselves the very flaws at which we have been laughing with such enjoyment. . . . the humor and the brilliant characterization make it easier for us to be touched by the moral issues at the core of the book.

2. Marriage is an honorable estate.

Given the emphasis placed on marriage in Austen’s works, it is safe to say she valued the institution and had thoughts about what a good and wise marriage looks like. Barrs says:

In ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Austen presents husband and wife as moral and intellectual equals—that is her ideal, and it is clearly the teaching of Scripture. We see this in the developing relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy; though we should also notice that each of these two thinks of the other as the superior, which is what genuinely Christian love and a Christian approach to marriage require of us.

3. It is good to honor thy parents.

Familial relationships in the novel express the importance of honor and respect. Jane and Lizzie exemplify what it looks like to their parents this way. Barrs explains:

Despite the many flaws in their parents, particularly their mother, they are unfailingly polite and respectful in their presence and when speaking about them. They maintain this respect even when they finally feel the need to express problems, for example, when Elizabeth talks to her father about his failure to restrain Lydia.

Echoes of Eden

Jerram Barrs

Art is all around us, but few people truly understand it. Barrs helps readers evaluate and define great art through an investigation of the work of Lewis, Tolkien, Rowling, Shakespeare, and Austen.

4. Kindness should not be reserved for those like us.

Status and wealth may influence who we decide who to spend time with, but this is not the reality in the kingdom of God. In Scripture, Jesus is often turning old stereotypes on their heads, teaching that the first will be last, and the last first. Austen’s writing seems to reflect the same belief. Barrs notes:

Fairness and generosity to those who are under one socially are shown to be thoroughly praiseworthy, and also rare; for Austen recognizes that most people with money, status, and power get carried away only with their own interests.

In this regard Darcy is a paragon of virtue. He is viewed with the greatest respect by those who have worked in his house and on his estate. A man who is well spoken of by those under him is indeed a good man. There are very few such men in this world. Basic decency, kindness, and a willingness to give oneself to the service of others are virtues held up for our praise.

5. Gentleness is a virtue.

Oftentimes, we find ourselves gravitating towards characters who display qualities that we esteem as admirable. Jane is an excellent example of this, notable for her gentleness of spirit. Barrs explains:

She is a portrait of the qualities of love as set out by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. Jane is patient and kind; she is not envious or boastful; she is not arrogant or rude; she does not insist on her own way; she is not irritable or resentful; she does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Jane bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Her love never fails. One of the remarkable achievements of Austen is to present Jane as a lovable and delightful person.

6. We are to love what is good.

The characterization and narrative of Pride and Prejudice lend themselves toward a celebration of morality—even Christian morality. The book, Barrs, says:

. . . constantly touches deep moral chords in the human soul. The book and the films teach the importance of self-control, courtesy, a mannerly consideration for others, humility, love, kindness and generosity, respect and honor—and many other virtues.

But these virtues are presented not simply as pleasant social behavior that will make society run more smoothly, but as truly moral characteristics—ones that arise from the profound sense of a Christian moral order pervading this book and all of Jane Austen’s novels.

We are invited to love what is good, what is kind, what is just, what is merciful and faithful. And we are invited to laugh at, and to loathe, what is unfaithful, dishonest, selfish, proud, and mean. Perhaps the deepest issues of all that are dealt with in this book are the importance of personal humility, the readiness to see one’s weaknesses and failings, and then to desire to change.

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