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Why does Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice maintain its popularity, with enduring resonance in its characters, relationships, and writing?

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Jane Austen's novels are still so popular, inspiring numerous adaptations, because within them she captures the complexities of human nature, which transcends era and setting. Pride and Prejudice, in particular, is filled with relatable characters of all varieties, making it an easy task for readers to empathize with their situation, criticize their behavior, or laugh at their quirky antics. Although we've done away with empire-waist dresses and breeches on the every day, Austen shows us our nature remains the same.

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The reason that Jane Austen's novels have been popular for over 200 years, even though the world she lived in no longer exists, is that Austen has the ability to get into the psyche of her characters and convey their quirks, inner feelings, and concerns in a humorous and understandable manner. Human emotions and attitudes are timeless, even if they are displayed in different ways depending on the society or era. People might dress differently today than in Austen’s time, but despite changes in social customs, dress, and speech patterns, in many important ways, people remain the same now fundamentally.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

This brilliant opening to Pride and Prejudice shows Austen’s skill. To what truth does Austen refer? A man with money must need a wife. Is this a truth? Of course not. However, this is a truism or fact because the mothers of eligible mates want it to be. This book has been adapted as a movie many times, beginning with the 1940 version that starred Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy, again in 1995 with Colin Firth, and in 2005 with Keira Knightley as Elizabeth. The story remains popular today because it is the classic tale of boy-meets-girl with several twists that are so true to human nature. There are elements of snobbery, fear of rejection, foolishness, interference from busybodies, irresponsible behavior, and cads. These characters and elements ring true today because the same range of people, behavior, and emotions exist. That is why Austen’s stories resonate with modern readers and audiences. Plus, her wit is so sharp and ironic that it is a delight to read her works or watch them adapted to the screen.

Another popular Austen book, Emma, has also been made as a movie, with a new version just this year. The 1995 version, Clueless, transports the characters and the story to modern day Los Angeles. This is a far cry from Austen’s Britain, but the story still holds true because Austen was able to capture human nature and relate her characters’ stories in a way that people could understand and that evoked the reader’s sympathy. We all know someone who has good intentions but is clueless about the real emotions of people around her (or him), as well as her own emotions.

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Austen's characters and their situations are completely realistic and can be transferred seamlessly to today's world, which is why we still read and adapt Pride and Prejudice.

The situations, for example, that Elizabeth finds herself in are completely relatable. We may not be wearing empire gowns or breeches, but we can understand Elizabeth reacting with anger when the mighty Darcy says she's not pretty enough to tempt him to dance. We all know this kind of rich, arrogant jerk who is too good for everyone around him, so we root Elizabeth on as she refuses to cater to what my students call a "buzzkill," who is used to having everyone fall at his feet.

Likewise, we relate fully when Elizabeth blows up at Darcy's marriage proposal. In one of the classic female rage scenes in all of literature, Elizabeth loses it when Darcy informs her that he, from his great heights, will deign to marry her despite despising her family as idiots; he will marry her despite his breaking up her sister and Bingley, and he will marry her knowing she has no money. It is completely satisfying when Elizabeth let's him have it and essentially tells him she would rather be ripped apart with hot pincers than marry a jerk like him.

In a real world way, we relate to Charlotte Lucas: she is smart, competent, and unattractive and very much needs to land the "job" of a husband—we grow to understand why a woman with her talents would marry a doofus like Mr. Collins. Austen shows us how life is in the real world where most of us have to make compromises: this is no romantic fairytale, even if Elizabeth does, very satisfyingly, get the fairy-tale ending.

Austen offers us realistic characters and situations, and she does so with wit, liveliness, and grace: it is hard not to love this novel.

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Jane Austen's novels have persisted far past the early 1800s (in which they were written) for two main reasons: the characters and their experiences, and Austen's writing style. The plot lines of Austen's novels are relatively universal across time; they focus on dysfunctional families, misguided attempts at love, and the distinctions between money and class. There is a particular focus on why women marry and who they marry—a very common theme even in today's media and arts.

The fussiness of Mrs. Bennett is not unlike many sitcom mothers, and Mr. Wickham is surprisingly similar to a cast-member on the Bachelor. Many central characters in Austen's novels experience the same comical ups-and-downs in romance as characters in modern TV shows such as Girls and Broad City. While the actual situations may be different, we can identify and understand the emotions tied to them. It is easy to get lost in the plot of the stories and forget that they are set in historic English society; the reader can connect to the tension between class, love, and family as well as the struggle between choosing one's own path while still meeting societal expectations.

A significant portion of this "relatability" is a result of Austen's writing. It is simple and straightforward; it is comical and sarcastic at times without losing the structure nor flow. The characters are richly developed, and Austen's focus on their daily lives gives the reader an opportunity to understand their flaws and motivations. This writing style lent itself to film scripts, and modern film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion have cemented Austen's novels in popular culture. Readers and viewers of all ages can connect to Austen's work and pass that connection on to the next generation.

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