It is a truth universally acknowledged that all chicks love Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and that is because P&P is a f***ing awesome book. Many people dismiss P&P as a "romance" novel, which it is, insofar as there is a romance in it, or a comedy, which it is insofar as there are some funny parts, but I prefer to think of it as just a Really Good Book, one that you can read over and over again, because the characters feel very real and relatable, which is not, I should point out, the same thing as "likeable" because, as you know, I do not believe in "likable" as an asset.
Wow. That is a very long sentence.
Anyway, even though none of my seven intrepid blog readers don't know the plot of P&P, it's basically this:
-girl meets boy
-girl thinks boy is a snob (which he is)
-boy thinks girl is beneath him socially (which she is) and also may be a bit of a money grubber (which she is not--that's just her mother)
-boy starts to like girl anyways, because she is cute, and also is not a money grubber, and also is smart and doesn't put up with his crap, even though he's totally the Richest Character In All Literature*
-boy proposes to girl
-girl is all "WTF, dude? NO!"
-boy writes a heartbroken letter explaining that he's not as bad as he seems
-girl feels guilty for being so mean, so she takes a trip and wanders around boy's Incredibly Big House, where everyone loves him
-girl finds out her sister is a tramp
-boy rescues girl's sister from a life of poverty and (probably) prostitution
-boy proposes to girl
-girl says yes. YAY!
The beautiful thing about P&P is that the main obstacle to the characters' love is themselves. In the beginning, Elizabeth is too full of herself. She is easily the cleverest person in her family, and so thinks she is the cleverest person wherever she goes. She misses that other people aren't her and have different perspectives on the world. When her friend Charlotte, for example, secures herself a husband by accepting a suitor that Elizabeth has rejected, Elizabeth is horrified. But Charlotte has made a practical choice--if she wants a household of her own (and with it the concommitment financial security), then Mr. Collins is a decent enough choice. Sure, he's annoying and full of himself, but he makes good money and he's a kind man and he's easily bent to his wife's will on most things. Elizabeth may have the (temporary) luxury of saying no to him, but Charlotte doesn't, and it's not the end of the world for her, a conclusion Elizabeth finally seems to come to after visiting Charlotte after she's married.
Darcy, on the other hand, is totally stuck up. No one is good enough for him or his friends, not even if there is real affection between them. Even after he admits to himself that he's in love with Elizabeth, his marriage proposal is basically "even though your family is awful and I don't think you're worthy of me or will ever be worthy of me, I love you, and you should marry me anyways, okay?" Worst. Proposal. EVER.
In addition to Elizabeth and Darcy, the rest of the characters are fantastic. Boy-crazy Lydia and Kitty; pious Mary; sweet Jane; Elizabeth's money-grubbing mother and her laissez-faire father; Wickham, the player; Bingley and his devious sister Caroline; practical Charlotte; smarmy Mr. Collins...all of these characters seem vibrant and fully realized, even though we don't see a lot of all of them.
It's not so much what happens in P&P that matters, but how it happens, how two characters with the flaws of Elizabeth and Darcy can overcome those flaws and come together and seem, to the reader, like they will be a successful couple. Which is why it's so popular--because at the beginning of the book the reader cannot imagine them together, and by the end, the reader cannot imagine them apart.
* Seriously, his income of 10,000 pounds a year is roughly the equivalent of $6 million dollars a year nowadays. That's his income, aka, the amount he earns from his holdings, not the value of the holdings themselves. I don't do math, but you gotta figure to earn $6 million dollars in interest a year, they've got to be pretty effing big.