THE GIFT OF ASTRINGENCY

Darcy at 200: the novelist Ali Smith believes that Elizabeth Bennet gets what she deserves...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2013

Perhaps predictably, it isn’t Darcy who does it for me, it is always Elizabeth Bennet, whose quickness of wit, cleanness of expression and layered human fallibility has won me over since I first read "Pride and Prejudice" at 16. I was off school, in bed with something unidentified and dermatological; by the time I had got to the end of this first experience of reading Jane Austen, laughing, mind-sharpened and properly in thrall, my skin was healed and intact again. Clinique or Elizabeth Bennet? They’re both a gift of astringency.  

Fiction, though, goes deep, and it’s still the confluence of Austen and Elizabeth (who share a skin themselves) that delights me in this great work. Austen’s intelligent, unflinching, mischievous eye, part-caricature, part-forgiveness, works a miracle that’s humane, moral, but above all satisfying; her heroines get what they deserve, and we don’t just want them to, we need them to.  In "P&P", Elizabeth deserves the transformation and revelation of Darcy in the hall of mirrored transformations and relevations of herself.  There’s no better way to end the story and it will never stop being a perfectly calibrated piece of narrative satisfaction, with Austen working, both warmly and drily, as in all her fiction, on that deep cellular level of getting the balance right.

For other views on Mr Darcy, read Allison Pearson on The Immovable Mr Darcy, John Carey on The damning first proposal, Adam Foulds on Jane Austen's alpha male, Helen Simpson's Not a bad boy and P.D.James's The Master of Pemberley.

Ali Smith is a playwright, critic and the author of "There but for the" and "The Accidental", which was Whitbread Novel of the Year in 2005

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