I'm reading P&P for about the third time; I read it once in high school, again in college, and now again at the mature age of 25. This time around, I'm enjoying it immensely as always, and am paying closer attention to what makes it such a good book, and in particular, why it is that so many well educated and thoughtful women seem to love it :)
I'm almost 2/3 of the way through right now, and at the point, for those of you familiar with the story, whether through reading it or through the film versions, where Elizabeth has visited Pemberley for the first time with her Aunt and Uncle, and has run into Mr. Darcy. She has not seen Mr. Darcy since his failed proposal. Since that time, Elizabeth has learned many important things: 1, that she was wrong about his dealings with Mr. Wikham, and Mr. Darcy is not to blame in that regard; 2, that she really does have a pretty ridiculous family, and not just because they don't have so much money; 3, that he's got a really, really nice house and grounds; 4, that his housekeeper thinks he's the most wonderful man ever; 5, that upon this next meeting at his house, he treats her and her aunt and uncle with the utmost care and respect; and 6, perhaps most important, she has realized her own pride and prejudice that caused her to make too hasty a judgment on Darcy's character. (see the following dialogue, that is omitted in all film versions, but which captures Elizabeth's developing self-awareness quite well:
And yet I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him, without any reason. It is such a spur to one's genius, such an opening for wit, to have a dislike of that kind. One may be continually abusive without saying anything just; but one cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling upon something witty.)
Back to the love story--I think the reason that it's so attractive to so many of us is because of the nature of Darcy's love. It's full of grace. At first, he certainly doesn't get it quite right, but the grace is still there; he makes clear how ridiculous it is that he love someone like Lizzie, with her family and connections as they are, and indeed, given the times it is a pretty ridiculous and perhaps unmerited confession of love. Of course, her pride and prejudice and his own pride that comes out in his proposal make it fail miserably.
However, the love continues, and upon their next meeting, Darcy has softened considerably; Elizabeth wonders how it could be possible that he could still love her, given her earlier rejection of his proposal:
She certainly did not hate him. No; hatred had vanished long ago, and she had almost as long been ashamed of ever feeling a dislike against him, that could be so called. The respect created by the conviction of his valuable qualities, though at first unwillingly admitted, had for some time ceased to be repugnant to her feeling; and it was now heightened into somewhat of a friendlier nature, by the testimony so highly in his favour, and bringing forward his disposition in so amiable a light, which yesterday had produced. But above all, above respect and esteem, there was a motive within her of good-will which could not be overlooked. It was gratitude; gratitude, not merely for having once loved her, but for loving her still well enough to forgive all the petulance and acrimony of her manner in rejecting him, and all the unjust accusations accompanying her rejection. He who, she had been persuaded, would avoid her as his greatest enemy, seemed, on this accidental meeting, most eager to preserve the acquaintance...Such a change in a man of so much pride excited not only astonishment but gratitude--for to love, ardent love, it must be attributed.
That's as far as I've gotten this time around, but those of you who know the story will know that this ardent love will perservere through a bit more before it's all done.
Two conclusions from all this:
1. I think we young women like this love story because despite of our initial screw-ups and misconceptions, the man keeps his cool and presses forward with his life and with a purpose, not necessarily directly towards the girl, but towards a greater purpose and end which will truly demonstrate his worth and nature and love.
2. As I've seen the grace that's involved in this love, I'm of course reminded of the much greater love offered by our dear heavenly father. There's some real pursual. And despite our initial rejection or our pride or our misconceptions, that love presses forwards with its greater purpose and toward a greater end. And when the scales finally fall from our eyes, we see the wonderful, true nature of God and Christ, and we can't help but accept the love he offers.
p.s. Mr. Darcy, if you're reading this, do let me know.