Pride And PrejudiceJane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice is a lighthearted tale of love andmarriage in eighteenth-century England. It centers on the elder sisters of theBennet family, Jane and Elizabeth.
Their personalities, misunderstandings andthe roles of pride and prejudice play a large part in the development of theirindividual relationships. The spirited Elizabeth and softhearted Jane have todeal with not only their own feelings but also the status of their family, bothof which affect the outcomes of their prospective marriages. Pride and Prejudiceis an apt name for the book. These notions permeate the novel thoroughly,especially in the views of Elizabeth and Darcy. Jane’s temperance does notallow for these qualities to exist in her personality. Our first introduction topride and prejudice is at a ball Mr.
Bingley throws. His sisters and a dearfriend of his, Mr. Darcy, accompany him. Mr.
Darcy is characterized as a proud,haughty, arrogant man and ends up almost immediately alienating himself from thetownspeople. This opinion arises after he refuses to dance with the young ladieswho have attended the ball and his obvious reluctance to talk to anyone. Hispride was said to come from his extreme wealth. Eighteenth-century England wasquite preoccupied with status, especially concerning wealth and reputation. Darcy’s reluctance to speak with anyone stemmed from his lack of respect foranyone outside his close knit circle.
His good breeding was obvious only tothose whom he knew well. Elizabeth is prejudiced against Darcy for entirelydifferent reasons. She received information that was one-sided and made unfairassumptions on Darcy’s character. She prejudged him; combining the superficialview she had of him and some rumors. The roles of pride and prejudice can besummed up in the exchange between Darcy and Elizabeth, after he proposed.
Darcyclearly defines the reasons for his prejudice: “Could you expect me to rejoicein the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope ofrelations whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?” (Pg. 164)Elizabeth’s prejudice against him withstood even as her pride did not, underhis assault on her family. Her opinion of him from the very beginning impressedher with ” the fullest belief of (his) arrogance, (his) conceit, and (his)selfish disdain of the feelings of others”. (Pg. 164) Elizabeth Bennet is aspirited character. She has a playful and lighthearted disposition.
She isconfident, loyal, clever and funny. She found delight ” in anythingridiculous”, which included an insult to her beauty. (Pg. 12) Her loyalty anddevotion to her sister was shown in her three-mile trek to Bingley’s house “so early in the day” and “in such dirty weather”, to visit her while shewas ill.
(Pg. 30) Elizabeth is also more a skeptic. This particular quality inevident in the surprise she expresses in her sister’s tendency to look atpeople through rose colored glasses. She is quite frank and very honest eventhough she occasionally professed “opinions which in fact are not (her)own”. (Pg. 149) She expresses her feeling regardless of the commotion that itmay cause and more often than not, for the shock it will cause.
She has a clearunderstanding of who she is and what will make her happy. This is most obviouswhen she refuses to marry Mr. Collins. And when she refuses to marry Mr. Darcywhen he initially proposes. Even her shock at the mercenary actions of her bestfriend proves Elizabeth’s understanding of what is right and what theingredients of happiness are.
Later, her playfulness can be seen in the way sheendeavors to find out the moment Darcy fell in love with her. She declares thathe fell in love with her impertinence, mainly because he was tired of all thewomen who fawned over him. Elizabeth’s pride and other failings were all onesshe eventually overcame. At one point in the novel, the readers are taken abackby a comment that Elizabeth makes.
She tells her sister, she fell in love withDarcy after seeing his estate at Pemberly. At first glance the comment makes herseem as mercenary as her friend, Mrs. Collins but the reader realizes the realmeaning behind the comment. Her love began not with sight of the estate, per se,but rather the taste and refinement that is expressed in the beauty of theestate. The fine taste of the estate reflects the taste of the owner.
Elizabethalso first as hears stories of Darcy’s generosity when she visits Pemberly. Elizabeth’s overall character is one defined by intelligence, wit, confidenceand amiability. “Pride is a very common failing, I believe. . .
human nature isparticularly prone to it and, there are very few of us who do not cherish afeeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other. . . “.
(Pg. 19) This observation by Mary is an accurate account of a characteristicfound in most people. The human condition allows for the faults of vanity, prideand prejudice. Austen presents these qualities as normal.
She understands howthey can arise and presents circumstances in the novel, which promote thedevelopment of these characteristics. “Pride relates more to the opinion ofourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us”. (Pg. 19) Pride, asin the case of Darcy, occurred because his family allowed him to follow hisprinciples ” in pride and conceit”.
(Pg. 310) He was taught to care andrespect only his family and himself. Darcy had no vanity because he didn’tcare for other people’s opinions. The eighteenth century promoted a pridefuland prejudiced mentality.
Pride and prejudice were the products of wealth,power, and influence. The lack thereof was labeled as inferior. Marriages in theeighteenth century were ones of convenience. They were more similar to businessarrangements than the union of two inseparable souls. Women and men were soughtafter according to their wealth and eligibility. Women’s property became herhusband’s when she finally married.
Of course all marriages, of all youngwomen, had to be approved of by the family. The young women were introduced intosociety at an early age. The introduction was an indication of theiravailability. Young girls spent their entire lives preparing for marriage.
Theylearned to read, play the piano, sing and developed other talents in order toincrease their desirability as a potential wife. There were many different typesof marriages in the eighteenth century. Some marriages were based on love butmost were based on the financial security that could be provided. In manymarriages, paramours were acceptable as long as they were discreet. The elderBennet’s marriage was a marriage of security.
Mrs. Bennet had a small fortuneof her own, as did Mr. Bennet. They did not love each other but stayed together,proving to an extent the family values of the time. Mrs.
Collins married for thesake of getting married and settling down. Her desire to have a family of herown overrode the many failings of the man she married. Fortunately somemarriages were based on love. Jane and Elizabeth found the perfect matches. Their beaus were good, principled, financially secure men. Austen presents thetwo major contrasting types of marriages.
Both kinds reflect the mentality ofthat time period. I enjoyed this book immensely. Jane Austen’s style ofwriting delights me. Her work may not be profound but it is insightful, andlighthearted. Her characters are distinct and universal.
Elizabeth is one of myfavorite literary characters. Her confidence, wit and spirit can only beenjoyed.