Funny how Pride and Prejudice is everybody's favorite romantic book. Actually, it's not that romantic at all, at least not in a fairy-tale way. It's the story of how Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy forge a genuine partnership, including lots of conflict over family and money and where to live and how feelings get expressed. The usual stuff, right?
And how do Elizabeth and Darcy finally get together? The same way couples make progress today: they get past their negative ideas about each other (yes, their prejudices) and learn to connect in a way that is more open, more vulnerable. Every time the reruns are on television, women tell me how much they wish they could bring a little Pride and Prejudice-type conversation into their own relationship.
How to do that? Here's the Sparknotes version: First step, soothe yourself before you talk ("Angry people are not always wise," as Austen's narrator observes); if you can't stroll the English countryside, taking a few yoga breaths can work wonders. Second, express yourself calmly and candidly, as Mr Darcy does in his surprisingly humble letter to Lizzie explaining his apparent pride. Third, listen with a willingness to be changed by the encounter, as Lizzie does when she reads the letter: "Till this moment I never knew myself," she says. A glimmer of something very new has passed between them.
In real life, getting there takes plenty of practice. In the meantime, if you'd like to join today's anniversary celebration and get some inspiration, here are some links:
Facsimile from the British Museum: https://twitter.com/britishlibrary/status/295853656115388416/photo/1
Online text: http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/pridprej.html
Fun commentary from the United Kingdom: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jan/26/pride-prejudice-200th-anniversary?CMP=twt_gu
And some great material from the Morgan Library, a block from my Manhattan office: http://www.themorgan.org/collections/works/austen/default.asp