Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice is widely regarded as a masterpiece of world literature. It is one of the best-loved books in English literature, continually ranking as the most loved and one of the most favored novels of all time. It has been adapted into numerous stage productions and even more films. Pride and Prejudice has never gone out of style nor has it ever fallen out of the public imaginations. It is, in short, one of the most loved novels in all literature. The hero and heroine, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, are generally considered one of the most romantic literary couples in history, rivaling Romeo and Juliet for capturing the public imagination. The plot, character, and style of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been so frequently emulated by her contemporaries and by modern writers alike that any novel patterned after Austen’s is immediately recognizable as being in her debt.
Pride and Prejudice is ostensibly a simple love story, as it might seem from its plot outline. However, there the novel has much more depth than this and close reading reveals more than just a simple romance, which is evident even in its summary. The timeline of the events is set in the early 19th century, between 1811 and 1812.
The central characters of the novel comprise the Bennet family: Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Bennet, and their five daughters: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. The novel opens with a focus on Mrs. Bennet and her primary concern of finding husbands for her daughters. On finding that a potentially eligible man has moved into the estate nearby, she insists that her husband, Mr. Bennet, go talk to the new neighbor, Mr. Bingley. The Bennets are a wealthy landed family, unfortunately, according to the laws of inheritance at the time, upon the death of Mr. Bennet, the entire estate will pass to a male heir leaving the sisters effectively destitute if they do not marry properly. This is what worries Mrs. Bennet and accounts for her preoccupation to see that her daughters are married.
The second oldest daughter, Elizabeth, is a free spirit and spends her days in the library. She is also committed to marrying only for love, rather than for a proper inheritance. The sisters themselves seem to take little seriously, teasing each other about finding a proper mate.
The Bennets eventually meet Mr. Bingley. They attend several formal occasions in his presence. Also in attendance are Mr. Bingley’s two sisters and a Mr. Darcy. Mr. Bingley is taken with Jane, the oldest, while the mysterious Mr. Darcy remains proud and arrogant. He is generally offensive to the girls including Elizabeth. She overhears Mr. Bingley say that Elizabeth was only tolerable and that she was not attractive enough to tempt him. The entire village finds him odious and prideful. It is here that Mr. Bingley’s sister Caroline invites Jane to visit.
On the way to visit Mr. Bingley Jane is caught in the rain and contracts a serious cold. Elizabeth pays a visit to Jane at Netherfield. Darcy now starts to find Elizabeth attractive thus arousing the jealousy of Miss Bingley who has feelings for Darcy.
Mr. Bennet’s cousin, Mr. Collins, a wealthy heir to the Longbourne estate, pays a visit to the Bennet family. He is an unlikeable and conceited clergyman who simply expects that one of the Bennet sisters will want to marry him because of the inheritance he brings. He decides he will marry Elizabeth.
Along the way, Elizabeth and her family meet the charming George Wickham who singles out Elizabeth and explains the Darcy deprived him of a position in a wealthy parish where he would have served as clergyman, a position that would have granted a living for the rest of his life. This position was a promise from Darcy’s late father. This story confirms Elizabeth’s contempt for Darcy.
Elizabeth is later compelled by circumstances to dance with Darcy at a ball in Netherfield. It is here that the Bennet family, with the exception of Jane and Elizabeth, behave with a complete lack of manners appropriate to the event and are exposed to ridicule.
Eventually Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth who rejects him. This brings the wrath of her mother while her father is relieved. Shortly after this, they find out the Bingleys must leave abruptly for London with no intention of returning. After the rejection by Elizabeth, Mr. Collins proposes to Charlotte Lucas, one of Elizabeth’s friends. Charlotte is older and willingly accepts the marriage for the comfort and security it holds for her. Elizabeth is disgusted by the thought of marrying for any reasons other than love. Jane is heartbroken by the recent events and goes to London to visit her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Because her Aunt and Uncle live in an unfashionable address, Miss Bingley expresses her disinterest in visiting in Jane which upsets Jane considerably.
As spring approaches, Elizabeth pays a visit to Charlotte and Mr. Collins. While there, they are invited to an event at the upper class home of Lady Catherine de Bourg in Rosings Park, Kent. Lady Catherine is the wealthy patroness of Mr. Collins and she is also the extremely wealthy aunt of Mr. Darcy. She also has the expectation that Mr. Darcy will marry her daughter. As it happens, Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, are also visiting Rosings Park. During this visit, Colonel Fitzwilliam explains to Elizabeth how Darcy persuaded a friend to avoid a bad marriage by convincing him that the woman he was interested in was largely indifferent. Elizabeth realizes that he is talking about Jane and becomes furious at Darcy. She is horrified that Darcy intervened in this way and caused so much pain for her sister. At the same time, Darcy has fallen in love with Elizabeth and proposes marriage to her to which, Elizabeth angrily rejects him. She further accuses him of treating Mr. Wickham unjustly. Darcy reacts angrily to this accusation and accuses her and her family of being of low quality.
Later, Darcy sends Elizabeth a letter and explains that Wickham actually refused the position he was offered and took money instead. Wickham was a spendthrift and wasted the money. He now claims he is owed the position only because he is now impoverished. Once he was refused, Wickham tried to run off with Darcy’s sister Georgiana who is only 15 so as to procure her dowry. He also explains that he genuinely believed Jane was indifferent to Bingley because of her behavior. He apologizes for the harm he may have cause Jane. Elizabeth begins to change her mind about Darcy.
Several months later, Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle Gardiner visit the Darcy estate. While there she overhears a servant describe Mr. Darcy generous and kind. Darcy returns unexpectedly to the estate during their visit and he is warm and friendly toward Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle. He invites them to go fishing with him and his sister and Elizabeth is pleasantly surprised at how kind he is toward her. Elizabeth receives sudden news that her sister Lydia had eloped with Mr. Wickham. She explains to Darcy that she must leave immediately. She fears she will never see him again since her sister’s actions will severely damage the reputation of her family.
After a difficult wait, Mr. Wickham is persuaded to marry Lydia. This restores some measure of decency to the family name. Lydia pays a visit to her own family and tells Elizabeth that Mr. Darcy was at her wedding. Elizabeth later finds out form Mrs. Gardiner that it was in fact Darcy who arranged the wedding and that he may actually have had some other motive for doing so.
Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy return to Netherfield. Bingley proposes to Jane and she accepts. Lady Catherine intrudes upon the scene after hearing rumors that Elizabeth may marry Darcy. She demands that Elizabeth refuse his proposal and Elizabeth explains that she will do no such thing. Lady Catherine leaves in fury. Darcy become heartened to hear about all of this and proposes to Elizabeth. She accepts. Darcy visits Longbourne to ask for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. Elizabeth explains to her father that she wants to marry Darcy for love rather than money and security. It is only after Elizabeth’s father is persuaded of the decency and honesty of Darcy that he accepts the marriage.
Charming and free-spirited, Elizabeth runs counter to the expectations of a young lady of her historical time. She is head-strong and thinks for herself rather than simply falling into conventional lines. She see the flaws in her own mother and father and therefore is not as apt to remain naïve about the intentions of others. Unlike her sister Jane, who follows conventions and assumes the best of other people, Elizabeth bases her views on evidence of those she meets.
Throughout the novel, Elizabeth’s encounters with Darcy are marked by wit and intelligence. Her ability to match him in intellect becomes both a feature of his reticence and his attraction toward her. Darcy is enchanted by her ability to remain in possession of herself and her refusal to be star-struck by the wealth, privilege, and power of the upper-class characters.
Elizabeth’s primary flaw is her prejudice. She is overcome by her first impressions, particularly of Darcy. The fact that she is so quick to believe the stories of Wickham and Fitzgerald demonstrate her propensity to think the worst before she has all the information. It is therefore fortunate that Darcy does not simply give up on her.
In the final analysis, Elizabeth is able to apply her intelligence and fair-mindedness to other and herself, admitting where she was wrong or mistake and becoming willing to swallow her pride in admitting her mistakes to Darcy. This final virtue is what wins Darcy’s heart.
Elizabeth Bennet is one who is both a creature of her time and one who resists the dictates of her time. She is a lady in the most conventional ways for the period in history: chaste, demure, polite, and proper. Yet, she also demonstrates intellect and self-possession which is uncharacteristic of young women of the age. It can be argued that Austen renders Elizabeth as something a feminist ideal for women of this historical period insofar as she is a fully active character rather than merely a passive recipient of the wills of men and other more empowered characters.
As much as Elizabeth plays the role of prejudice in the novel, Darcy is the figure of pride. He is arrogant from the beginning and is thus misunderstood in ways that harm primarily himself. Though he may be a source of envy by other in his good looks and wealth, he is off-putting to Elizabeth and other for his overweening pride. His mock indifference to Elizabeth at the ball, his presumption toward Jane and Bingley, all serves to render him pompous more than enviable. In the end, it is Elizabeth’s strength of character which shocks him into realizing the error of his own pride.
Though love is triumphant in the novel, Darcy does represent something of a paradox for the historical period. For a gentleman to marry beneath his station was highly unusual and came with a cost to his reputation and social standing. Clearly this is Austen’s point in making this work. Darcy’s willingness to let love prevail over the social mandates of the age make him more of a knight in shining armor than it would otherwise appear had the character followed the strict mandates to class arrangements.
Basically a sensible man, Mr. Bennet would seem to have given up on exerting his influence in any meaningful way due to his unhappy marriage to Mrs. Bennet. Her preoccupation with marriage and social arrangements are tiresome to him, and he has largely withdrawn from taking a direct role in matters which effect his family and his daughters. He emerges to express opinions in ways which are callous at times even if he also demonstrates are real affection for his daughters. In the end, Mr. Bennet does demonstrate his care and love for his daughters, particularly Elizabeth, as he takes a strong interest in managing the affairs and best interests of Jane, Elizabeth, and Lydia.
Of all the characters in the novel, Mrs. Bennet is largely a figure of her historical time period. She thinks of nothing but making the proper marriage arrangements for her daughters. She is entirely focused on marrying them to wealthy and powerful men. She has no thoughts of love or the actual wills of her daughters. For her, marriage is an economic arrangement designed to provide for the well-being of women and for the proper stature of a family.
Even as she is utterly fixed on proper relationships for her daughters, she is uncouth and lacks refinement. She is at times embarrassing at social occasions, speaking out of turn and making herself seem rude to the more refined characters in the novel.
Jane is the proper lady of her age in contrast to Elizabeth. Demure and passive, she accepts her role as little more than a lady who is destined to be married for economic reasons more than for love. She is the character foil to Elizabeth.
Bingley is young, attractive and wealthy. Yet he lacks the fire and force of Darcy. Though he is in every way the model of gentleman, he has none of the romantic appeal that Darcy expresses in winning over Elizabeth. His character works in the novel to show the both the appeal of the stereotypical gentleman as well as the dull lack of fire that such a man presents. He is likeable enough, yet he is simply not interesting to a forceful young woman such as Elizabeth and he acts as the vapid counter to Darcy’s potentially reckless pride.
The quotes from this book are widely known and often used by its readers.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (51).
The first line and the most famous line of the novel. This introduces the entire theme of marriage and money.
“The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend” (58).
This description of Darcy’s external features offer a clear juxtaposition of the exterior signs of refinement and physical appearance as opposed to the interior pride which Elizabeth notices above all else. The quotation shows us both “pride” and “prejudice” and captures the primary theme of the novel.
“You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner” (224).
This is the moment that demonstrates Elizabeth’s power as a woman in her own and right. It is also the moment of her own pride which will begin to change Darcy in his feelings toward her.
“The Bennets were speedily pronounced to be the luckiest family in the world, though only a few weeks before, when Lydia had first run way, they had been generally proved to be marked out for misfortune” (361).
This shows the ways in which characters are persuaded toward the good throughout the novel. We see the revelation of pride and prejudice toward enlightened knowledge and understanding.
Dance: When Elizabeth and Darcy dance for the first time, their steps and movements are stilted and formal. They are following both each other and the conventions of the dance. This is the symbol of the way their relationships unfolds. They come together by negotiating the cues from each other and by working with the conventions of relationships that determine them.
Likewise, the dance of Elizabeth and Mr. Collins is clumsy and embarrassing in the same way that is approach and his proposal to her.
Outdoors locations: In the scenes which unfold in the outdoors, rules and manner become more relaxed. Elizabeth becomes more free and expressive. Whereas the action that takes place indoors, it is always formal and follows strict rules of etiquette.
First published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice is Jane Austen’s second novel. It was written in 1797-1798 when she was only 21. Originally titled First Impressions the novel quickly made its way into print. It is written in the epistolary format, which is in the form of letters, that was extremely popular at the time. It is now considered an exemplary model of the epistolary form which emerged during the Romantic period in England of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
It is considered part of the genre of the novel of manners. It has been critically accepted as a novel which plays out the manners and customs of the age in which class, gender, and social standing were rigidly prescribed.
Born December 16, 1775 Jane Austen was raised in the countryside of England, a setting where many her novels took place. Not widely known in her own lifetime, she became enormously popular in the mid-nineteenth century and her popularity persists into the present day. Unlike many young women of her time, Jane and her sisters were encouraged to read and study in their parents’ extensive library. It is from this education that the author’s writing was encouraged.
Austen began writing as an adolescent. Her notebooks and early attempts at fiction are now collected in what is referred to as her Juvenalia. This is of particular interest to Austen scholars.
Jane Austen died in 1816 at the age of 41. Though the cause of death is not precisely known, it is speculated that she died of Addison’s disease. After her death her brother Henry made it known that the novels she had published were in fact written by her. The writer who wrote Pride and Prejudice is now considered to be one of the most important writers in English Literature.
- Sense and Sensibility (1811)
- Pride and Prejudice (1813)
- Mansfield Park (1814)
- Emma (1815)
- Northanger Abbey (1818, posthumous)
- Persuasion (1818, posthumous)
- Lady Susan (1871, posthumous)
- Sir Charles Grandison (adapted play) (1793, 1800)
- Plan of a Novel (1815)
- Poems (1796–1817)
- Prayers (1796–1817)
- Letters (1796–1817)
- Juvenilia – Volume the First (1787–1793)
- Juvenilia – Volume the Second (1787–1793)
- Juvenilia – Volume the Third (1787–1793)