Other novels of the time, such as "The Swiss Family Robinson" and "The Dairyman's Daughter," were moralistic Christian tales, and novels of fear and terror were also becoming popular, such as "Tales of the Dead" and tales of Dracula-like beings. Thus, Austen was bucking tradition with her novel, combining wit, romance, and satire against the very society that was reading it. Her novel was exceedingly popular at the time, leading the reader to think that at least some contemporary readers saw the reality of her criticism in its pages, and appreciated it. That could be at least part of the reason the book has retained its popularity for so long.
There is another important element of the novel that continues to send a moral message to the reader, and that is the element of pride, also present in the title. Another literary critic notes, "Elizabeth's pride not only inclines her to a prejudice against Darcy, it engenders an arrogant certainty that her reading of events is the only possible one" (Bonaparte). Indeed, Elizabeth is contemptuous of Darcy's seemingly arrogant and prideful nature, and yet, she cannot contemplate that he might be any different from her own assessment of him and his flaws. It takes her nearly half the book to admit she may be wrong, illustrating to the reader that her own pride is just a serious flaw as the prejudice and misunderstandings that crowd the novel.
Two critics call the "rise of the novel" in the early 19th century as a rise based on changes in ideas and society. They write, "The rise of the novel, then, represents an expression not only of new ideologies of gender and marriage but also of universal desire explained by evolutionary psychology; nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the most canonical of domestic novels, Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice'" (Stasio, and Duncan). Thus, they include this novel in the literary canon of the time, but it still continues to be canonical in nature. Thus, Elizabeth represents a new breed of heroine in the romantic novel, as well. She refuses marriage several times (nearly unthinkable at the time), and is not afraid of her lower social position or the possibility that she may remain unmarried, a "spinster" in a society geared toward marriage and the upper classes of society. Another critic notes that this "new," novel heroine is also unconcerned with the architectural and design details that seemed to permeate other novels of the time. She writes, "Until Elizabeth reaches Pemberley, architectural issues seem only to be the preoccupation of comic and shallow characters who, presumably, do not have the resources of mind that would render such details less important" (Thornton). This is another deviation from the "female" novels of the time, but it is another witty criticism by the author, as well. By creating a heroine who is atypical, with atypical outlooks on society, she has created a canonical novel that stands the test of time and still seems relevant in many ways today. True, the language reflects the time it was written, but the content and characters are far ahead of their time, and this makes this novel a true part of the canon of western culture and novels that truly influence thought and the entire genre.
In conclusion, "Pride and Prejudice" is a witty romantic novel that contains social commentary as well, and it remains a viable member of the literary canon of western culture. It has witty characters, memorable messages, new ideas, and a tone that sets it apart from other novels of the time, which certainly makes it an important and valuable member of the literary family. Its continued popularity helps indicate just how important this work has become, and how it has influenced the literary landscape for nearly 200 years.
Armstrong, Isobel. "Introduction." Pride and Prejudice. Ed. James Kinsley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980. vii-xxvi.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. James Kinsley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Bonaparte, Felicia. "Conjecturing Possibilities: Reading and Misreading Texts in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice." Studies in the Novel 37.2 (2005): 141+.
Gilman, Priscilla. "Disarming Reproof': Pride and Prejudice and the Power of Criticism." Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal (2000): 218+.
Stasio, Michael J., and Kathryn Duncan. "An Evolutionary Approach to Jane Austen: Prehistoric Preferences in Pride and Prejudice." Studies in the Novel 39.2 (2007): 133+.