As our young people learn about love, romance, and marriage, the last thing we want is for them to get caught up in unrealistic expectations—or to fill their heads with ideas and storylines from romantic movies and novels. Just think of the “Twilight” series—or don’t.
And yet, as my friend Karen Swallow Prior of Liberty University points out, there’s one “romantic” novel that may prove the exception to the rule. I loved her recent article in The Atlantic Monthly titled, “I Learned Everything I Needed to Know about Marriage from Pride and Prejudice.”
That’s right. “Pride and Prejudice.” Now, as you may know, “Pride and Prejudice” has gotten kind of a bad rap in recent years. Pop culture tends to sell it as a fluffy romantic vision of girls in pretty dresses swooning over gruff men usually in wet shirts.
But Jane Austen’s most popular book actually offers a witty, insightful, and surprisingly realistic look at what marriage is and ought to be—even some two hundred years after its publication.
As Karen Swallow Prior shows us, “Pride and Prejudice” is filled with sound marital maxims. For instance, “mutual respect is essential to a happy marriage.” Prior points out that even a sympathetic character in the novel, Elizabeth Bennet’s father, is shown as seriously flawed because he married a woman he didn’t respect, and “constantly puts [her] down.”
Then there’s this one: “Romance is not enough.” Elizabeth’s parents married “out of youthful passion.” Elizabeth’s sister Lydia eventually makes the same mistake. These marriages turn out to be unhappy because they were based on nothing but fleeting emotions. Neither partner had come to truly know or value the other before saying “I do.”
That’s not to say that Austen—or Prior—discount the need for romantic love, what C. S. Lewis called Eros. But, Prior explains, “The best marriages balance prudence and passion.” The central love story, that of Elizabeth and Darcy, is a relationship “of both the heart and the head,” and that’s exactly why it’s held up as a successful love story.
Another lesson is “You really do marry a family, not just a person.” This is a major theme in “Pride and Prejudice,” affecting the lives of all the main characters. And, Prior reminds us, it should lead us to enter into a marriage with “open eyes,” prepared to deal with all the messiness that comes with life as part of a family. (Prior gives an example from her own life, as her aging parents have recently moved in with her and her husband.)
There are no romanticized “us against the world” themes in Austen’s works; her romantic couples have to learn to deal with their relatives and neighbors and the world in general, not to defy them.
So you see, “Pride and Prejudice” is anything but a romantic fantasy. It’s a perennially popular novel because it’s a well-told story firmly grounded in truth. Just like its central romance, it’s a novel that appeals to both the heart and the head. And though it’s never dogmatic or preachy—on the contrary, it’s more lighthearted and satirical—it really does offer tried-and-true formulas for a good marriage.
If you know a couple that’s considering marriage, consider giving them a copy of “Pride and Prejudice.” It might even make a good Christmas present for someone you know and love. It’s available at the BreakPoint online bookstore.
And come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and we’ll link you to Karen Swallow Prior’s excellent article.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Publication date: January 10, 2014