Pride and Prejudice
Different Values towards Marriage in Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth, Charlotte, Lydia
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice begins with a statement of fact; ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ This identifies that Austen’s main theme throughout this novel will revolve around the institution of marriage, followed by the many limitations marriage consists of. Austen portrays the realistic picture of what a woman’s life was like during the eighteenth and nineteenth-century, with the desire of marrying for love having many limitations placed on it due to elements such as money and security playing a bigger factor towards what a woman would aspire to have in order to thrive. The main heroine in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet, challenges the social norm of marriage as she is portrayed as an intelligent, enlightened figure who holds the attitude to step away from the norm of marriage with her desire to marry for love rather than money. Elizabeth and her sisters hold a variety of different opinions and outcomes whenever they decide to marry the man they deem right for them, which will be discussed throughout this essay.
The institution of marriage is an important theme throughout Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as it was portrayed as a dominant force during this time. Marriage circulates around each of the Bennet daughters with their mother, Mrs. Bennet being consumed by the desire to see her daughters married to a wealthy man. This can be distinguished whenever the third person narrator states; ‘the business of her life was to get her daughters married.’ This exemplifies that during Austen’s period women believed that they could do nothing but what was expected from them. Due to this, marriages were arranged mostly within the same social class as Charlotte Betts, a literary academic states, ‘a good marriage to a man with a comfortable income was vitally important for a woman as she rarely had any other means of financial support.’ This further adds to the reason why Mrs. Bennet desires to have her daughters marry a wealthy man as he can provide money and security to them. Her actions can also be considered on her behalf a loving act as she wishes nothing but the best opportunities for each of her daughters. This is enhanced through her statement, ‘if I can have one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield and all the others equally married, I shall have nothing to wish for’. Austen therefore expresses that parental approval is vital to a woman’s happiness until she becomes married, as further identified by academic Swords ‘woman can be seen as oppressed victims of a patriarchal society, subordinate first to their fathers and, then to their husbands who had, of course, been selected by their fathers.’ This portrays the many limitations placed on women as it factors in the issue that they could not inherit property as once married, they do not have control over their possessions and their fate becomes their husbands property.
Elizabeth does not conform to the expectations listed out from her mother as she follows her own morals and does not wish to marry for money. With her rejecting Mr. Collins proposal, it can be suggested that Elizabeth’s actions to not marry him can be seen as one of the most revolutionary things a woman during this period could possibly do. Charlotte Betts expresses in her article about women throughout the Georgian era, ‘many marriages were arranged between families where the bride had little say in the choice of her husband.’ This can show that Elizabeth’s differs from the traditional woman’s role in society as she preferably would marry for love than to indulge in her husband’s wealth. Elizabeth can also differ from a traditional woman’s role in society as she disregards Mr. Collins’ proposal due to the many irrationalities in his tone regarding his proposal to Elizabeth. She does not appreciate that he decided to have ‘set about it in a very orderly manner’ with all the observances which he supposed a regular part of the business.’ For a nineteenth-century man, marriage became an act of economic utility- a strategy by which he could increase his personal fortune. This can be said through Mr. Collins viewpoint of marriage, he overlooks his proposal to Elizabeth as a minor business transaction which is why Elizabeth intends to marry a man who makes her happy, and not purely for the care of financial stability that would be provided for her. However, noted in Elizabeth’s letter to Jane stating the relocation of her family to London, she recognizes that marriage is vital during her time as she is not independently wealthy. She comments in the letter that ‘we are not rich enough or grand enough for them.’ This shows that it is critical to underline that income matters as a ‘good marriage in the society Jane Austen depicts, is always one which enhances status, and status is primarily a matter of wealth.’
In contrast to Elizabeth’s values towards marriage, her closest friend Charlotte Lucas represents a traditional woman’s viewpoint, as she states whenever she discusses Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley’s wedlock, ‘if she is secure of him, then she will have the leisure to fall in love as much as she chooses.’ Here Charlotte prioritises security rather than love, as (Reena 130) has pointed out, ‘Charlotte finds herself with little to recommend her and even fewer options on the marriage front.’ Underlying the societal views of marriage, Charlotte is not a young woman anymore and would be considered a spinster if she did not accept Mr. Collins proposal. Due to this, she states to Elizabeth;
‘When you have had time to think it all over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not a romantic, you now. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr Collins’ character, connections and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair, as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.’
Charlotte has decided that she wants security to be prioritised before love, she is not as strong willed as Elizabeth as her concern is to secure herself financially without necessarily wanting a happy relationship with Mr Collins. Much like Mr Collins, marriage is a sort of business transaction whereby marriage is a high priority to them. The romantic plots throughout Pride and Prejudice can be seen as ironic in many ways, with Austen showing dismissal of romantic love through characters such as Mr. Collins who has openly suggested marriage being a meer ‘business transaction’ and Charlotte who would signify marriage as ‘decorous’ as she embraces the simulacrum of the ‘Proper Lady’ Poovey has identified. Mary Poovey’s study of the struggle of three prominent writers to accommodate the artist’s genius to the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century ideal of the modest, self-effacing ‘proper lady.’ Interpreting novels, letters, journals, and political tracts in the context of cultural strictures, Poovey makes an important contribution to English social and literary history and to feminist theory.
</p><p>Unlike Elizabeth who has chosen to marry ultimately for love rather than anything else, her sister Lydia Bennet can prove that the societal views of marriage during the eighteenth and nineteenth-century suggested that scandal might prove the death of reputation. This is evident whenever Lydia Bennet elopes with Mr. Wickham. being an officer who was coloured by his contemporary reputation for sexual dalliance. Lydia was captivated by the officers dazzling uniforms, likewise to her mother, Mrs. Bennet who admits that she remembers ‘the time when I liked a red coat myself very well.’ Like her mother, Lydia does not think, therefore she simply acts on her impulses that lead her to near ruin which positions her family in despair due to her being a respectable lady who ends up marrying a common soldier. Tim Fulford further adds that ‘from the beginning soldiers are seen in terms of the romantic naivete of the younger sisters and of the nostalgia of Mrs. Bennet, who has learned nothing from her greater experience.’ A woman’s reputation depended on her social status, this was especially true for the women who were young and unmarried. However, Lydia has ruined any opportunity for an advantageous alliance. Her immatuirty has lead to her reputation being lost, as it is stated in the text that ‘once a woman’s reputation is lost, it is lost forever.’ This passage deems her marriage to Wickham losing her reputation, as Austen represents the relationship between them being purely based on physical gratification, neither for financial security or love. By stating this, Mr. Collins highlights that ‘this will be injurious to the fortunes of all the others.’ Here he is highlighting that Lydia’s elopement and the scandal associated with Wickham will impact negatively on the reputation of the other Bennet sisters, which is why their relationship was poorly rejected by her sisters and both her parents.
An attentive reader such as Marie N. Sorbo believes that Austen’s ‘attitude towards marriage is thoroughly ironic.’ Through characters such as Lydia, who marries out of vanity and not love. Sorbo further states that ‘Austen comes close to giving us a disillusioned dismissal of romantic love, as if the narrator is teasing us that she knows we have come to the book for romance, but romance does not exist, only speculation.’
Vivien Jones argues that in Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice that the relationship between marriage and money are the main plots of each novel. However it seems that Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley are an exception as they fall into the category of marrying preferably for love rather than money, with Bingley being identified as ‘modest and had no opinion about his marriage.’ Both of them genuinely love each other despite Mr. Bingley’s sisters not accepting Jane as they wanted their brother to marry Mr. Darcy’s sister, who they deemed more ‘superior’ to Jane. However, he does not conform to his sister’s wishes and marries Jane, who seems to have little concern over money and stability, with Bingley also swaying from the challenges of social norms, as he is not preoccupied with the background of the Bennet family. Similarly, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are an exception to societal norms as they both marry each other for love rather than money. Austen’s major study of the links between intelligence and freedom is cast as a love story and of a sort which she delighted in characterizing as ‘rather too light, and bright and parking.’ As Suan Morgan identifies, ‘Most of the action in Pride and Prejudice can be accounted for as a tale of love which violates the traditions of romance.’
Lady Catherine De Bourgh through Mr. Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth believed that Pemberly as well as the family associated alongside it would lose its status and grandeur due to Elizabeth’s inferiority. However, Mr. Darcy states during his proposal to her ‘in vain I have struggled. It will not do.’ Here he suggests that he loves Elizabeth against his will due to their class differences, rather he admires her as she presents an incongruent example of maidenly decorum with her displaying intellectual curiosity and independent thought, which was an alternative to the average Georgian lady. As Mrs. Bennet states, ‘Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters’. Elizabeth embodies the enlightenment ideas of John Locke; ‘the reason and free will are great indications of one’s success and fate.’ Furthermore, noting that she also has many similarities to a blue-stocking woman with considerable scholarly, literary, or intellectual ability or interest. This was a literary society led by Elizabeth Montagu and others in the 1750s in England. Elizabeth Montagu was an anomaly in this society because she took possession of her husband’s property when he died. This allowed her to have an impact in her world.
The main heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet marries solely out of love, rather than money or physical gratification. She is therefore rewarded at the end of the novel with the satisfaction of finding happiness within herself, but also accepts the luxuries that she is presented with as Lady of Pemberley House.
Charlotte and Elizabeth: The Pragmatist and the Romantic
Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice introduces the modern reader into a world where marriage is a mere business transaction and true love is a matter of luck. The novel takes place during the Regency Era, a time plagued with political upheaval and economic uncertainty; particularly among upper class English families. Marriage is presented as the simplest way to preserve a family’s estate and inheritance, which could potentially allow these families to climb the arduous social ladder. For women in particular, this is seemingly the only way to achieve any success or satisfaction. As a result of this societal pressure, the main female characters within the novel are preoccupied with marriage because it is their only way to seal not only financial security, but social satisfaction. Throughout the novel, it is clear that Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas have very different perspectives on marriage: one being romantic and the other being practical. In no way does the author make it clear that she writes with the purpose of acting as a revolutionary. Instead, Austen satirically presents two outlooks on marriage, emphasizing that women of this time had limited opportunities. Specifically, the author juxtaposes the pragmatist, Charlotte, with the romantic, Elizabeth, to criticize the Regency Era’s limiting social standards of which women were expected to adhere.
Charlotte Lucas believes marriage is a social exchange of status and wealth rather than of true companionate love. From one of Charlotte’s first interactions with Elizabeth in the novel, Austen makes a clear distinction between Charlotte and Elizabeth through their attitudes about marriage. Charlotte, the pragmatist, is focused on procuring a marriage that can satisfy her financial and social needs. She has a calculated and deliberate approach on the subject, describing happiness in marriage as something that is due to chance alone: “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance… It is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life’ (Austen 24). The author points out that Charlotte is willing to sacrifice her own happiness in order to conform to society’s standards and secure a stable life. Furthermore, Charlotte agrees to marry Mr. Collins, despite his exasperating disposition, because she greatly values the social approval that the match will bring over romantic aspirations of any future relationship. Further underscoring her intentional approach, Charlotte freely shares with Elizabeth her knowing calculations about securing a good match regarding Jane Bennet’s new interactions with Mr. Bingley: “Jane should therefore make the most of every half hour in which she can command his attention” (23). Following a failed and embarrassing proposal, Elizabeth is taken aback by hearing the news of Charlotte and Mr. Collins’ courtship:
You must be surprised, very much surprised — so lately as Mr. Collins was wishing to marry you. But when you have had time to think it over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’ character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state. (123)
Charlotte reminds her dear friend Elizabeth of her own practicality, and continues to acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation by saying that “Mr. Collins was wishing to marry you” (123). The marriage with Mr. Collins appears to be out of mere convenience because of the reference to “[having] time to think it over” (123). Charlotte outright declares that she is “not a romantic,” clearly highlighting Austen’s purposeful contrast between Elizabeth and her perceptions of marriage (123). The author writes this interaction between these two characters to underscore their opposite intentions: Elizabeth, who is frankly repulsed by Collins refuses his proposal because she rejects any connection that is not love with an intellectual equal, whereas Charlotte accepts it in order to procure the stable life she imagines as the ideal.
On the contrary, Elizabeth’s desire for marriage is less than practical; in fact, as the firstborn daughter during this era, she should not be searching for love, and instead should be focused on the implications of her potential marriage and impact that the failure to marry will have on her family just as Charlotte has done. Mrs. Bennet’s erratic reaction to Elizabeth’s refusal of Mr. Collins’ proposal is Austen commenting on the futility of the social expectations placed upon women: “Oh! Mr. Bennet, you are wanted immediately; we are all in an uproar. You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins, for she vows she will not have him, and if you do not make haste he will change his mind and not have her” (109). Mrs. Bennet claims that this is an urgent matter and that Mr. Collins will “not have her [Elizabeth],” as if Elizabeth should have no say in this matter (109). This telling reaction from her mother exemplifies why Elizabeth refuses to marry out of necessity. A marriage without love would never have the threat of forcing someone to do something they didn’t want to do or have one party “change his [their] mind” (109). Austen portrays Mrs. Bennet in a panic to add tension to Elizabeth’s refusal of the proposed marriage plans because by turning down this offer and practically alienating herself socially, her family potentially loses the security they possess in both the Bennet family’s residence and social status. Furthermore, Austen explores Elizabeth’s romantic intentions further by clarifying what love truly means to Elizabeth. As Elizabeth realizes that indeed Darcy is the man she wants to marry, Austen highlights that Elizabeth too will obtain something personally beneficial from this relationship:
She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was a union that must have been to the advantage of both; by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance. (295)
The author uses Elizabeth’s realization to show that the sought-after companionate love she desires is actually a mutual respect and understanding of each other. The author’s usage of the phrase “would have answered all her wishes” reveals that Elizabeth has been fantasizing about fulfilling her romantic destiny for a long time (295). Additionally, Austen writes “a union that must have been to the advantage of both” to emphasize Elizabeth’s romantic intentions are mutualistic (295). Interestingly, Elizabeth points out Darcy’s flaws describing them as “unlike her own,” highlighting the growth she has undergone as a character throughout the novel (295). The usage of the word “judgement” affirms their love, as Elizabeth symbolizes prejudice and she views their relationship as positively accepting of “judgement” (295). Following Elizabeth’s realization that Darcy is the man she wants to marry, in true romantic fashion, she also realizes her happiness and love for him.
On several accounts throughout the novel, Austen makes it clear there are stark differences between Charlotte and Elizabeth’s approaches to marriage; however, these two characters are ultimately after the same thing— marrying to have financial security and strong social status. Both women would leave themselves and their families destitute if they do not marry equally or better. The opening line of the novel poses a unique comment on their society’s rules and how Charlotte and Elizabeth follow them accordingly: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (5). Austen writes this line with a sarcastic tone, referencing the later marriages between Charlotte and Mr. Collins and Elizabeth and Darcy. Austen’s statement reiterates the limited options for women like Charlotte and Elizabeth who have no choice but to marry in order to save their families. On the same note of reinforcing a toxic double standard upon these women, Mrs. Bennet reminds Elizabeth that refusing a marriage is also damaging to the entire family. Mrs. Bennet’s anguish begins to place guilt on Elizabeth for choosing love and equal intellect over the annoying and obsequious Mr. Collins. She implores Mr. Bennet to convince Elizabeth that she’s making a grave mistake. To her shock, Elizabeth’s equally romantic father instead exclaims, “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do” (109-110). Elizabeth’s refusal of marriage is a risk of her family’s prosperity and inheritance, which results in alienation from her family as she is described as a future “stranger” (110). Mr. Bennet also claims that the alternative to marriage is unhappiness, as if Elizabeth, and therefore all women in this era, are unsatisfied unless they are married. This appears to be a threat to Elizabeth as she risks isolation from her family if she doesn’t agree with the proposal from Mr. Collins as well as social alienation for marrying a laughingstock.
Both Charlotte and Elizabeth are held to a high standard when it comes to marriage as it essential to their personal and familial well-being. Austen uses the intricate interchanges and banter between the characters to underscore the societal pressures of the time. Marriage, for Regency era women, is the key to opportunity, financial security, and social approval. While the pair may have different interpretations on what the justification behind marriage is, they share the same motives: protecting and defending their family’s good name.
The Feminism of Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice
Back in the Victorian Era, the British society was ruled by Queen Victoria, yet the society was a male centered thinking society. The book of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen satirized the 19th-century British society through contrasting Elizabeth to other following characters: Caroline Bingley, Jane Bennet, and Charlotte Lucas. Each of them represented stereotypes of traditional women who adapt themselves to fit the society for seeking marriage. The feminism of Elizabeth differentiated her from rest of the characters and stated the strong independence of women during the Victorian Era.
First of all, Caroline Bingley represented the type of woman that was educated according to the expectation of the society, but she doesn’t have too much of academic achievements. Caroline mostly focus on fulfilling her role of women of the society, such as playing piano or drawing. However, when Caroline heard Mr. Darcy stated his expectation for women, Caroline added, “How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” (Austen 42-43). Caroline’s reaction to Mr. Darcy’s expectation was the perfect example where a Victorian Age woman tried to impress a man. Caroline tried to adapt herself to a form where Mr. Darcy would find her attractive and to meet his expectation. On the other hand, Elizabeth is fascinated with intellectual pursuits, but she doesn’t receive the proper education that a woman should possess. “‘Has your governess left you?’ ‘We never had any governess’ ‘No governess! How was that possible? Five daughters brought up at home without a governess! I never heard of such a thing.’” (Austen 126). This conversation between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth displayed that fact that most families in the country hired governess to educate the girls, but the Bennets didn’t hired one before. Governess were hired to teach the youngest girls reading, writing, and arithmetic, while teaching older girls French conversation, history, and geography. Also, the eldest girls were required to learn skills such as drawing, playing piano, dancing and deportment (British Library). Although Elizabeth wasn’t properly educated by a governess, but her display of erudition was considered an unfeminine behavior, since men wouldn’t appreciate women to have more knowledge than them. While Caroline fulfill her role of being a less intelligent woman, Elizabeth wasn’t afraid of showing her intelligence to Darcy.
Second, Jane Bennet, Elizabeth’s sister, represents the typical Victorian-Era woman. Jane was beautiful, incredibly polite, and shy. During the Victorian Era, shyness was considered one of the expected traits a woman should possess. (Pride, Prejudice, and Shyness). Throughout the novel, Jane remained very shy according to the society’s expectation. When Jane and Mr. Bingley first met at the Meryton Ball, Mr. Bingley was attracted to Jane’s beauty and sweetness, but her following indifference almost caused to her to lose the love of Mr. Bingley. As Mr. Darcy wrote to Elizabeth about why he is against the relationship between Jane and Mr. Bingley, “Her look and manners were open, cheerful and engaging as ever, but without any symptom of peculiar regard, and I remained convinced from the evening’s scrutiny, that though she received his attentions with pleasure, she did not invite them by any participation of sentiment.” (Austen 150). Jane’s affection for Mr. Bingley was hidden because she was shy, moreover, is because the society expected her to be.
Thirdly, Elizabeth’s best friend Charlotte Lucas was a sharp contrast between Elizabeth and the traditional Victorian Era women. When Charlotte told Elizabeth about her engagement to Mr. Collins, she said, “I am not romantic you know, I never was. I ask only a comfortable home – and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.” (Austen 98). Charlotte’s pursue of marriage reflected the fact that she married Mr. Collins because he could provide her with connection, social status, and a comfortable home, which was what the society expected women to pursue in a marriage. Women pursued marriage because it would provide them with financial sense rather than sexual or emotional satisfaction (Hughes). Despite Charlotte doesn’t have much feelings for Mr. Collins, she believed he could provide her with financial secure in the future. Although Elizabeth understood why Charlotte would make such decision, but on the contrary, she would never forfeit her own happiness for financial reasons. The views of marriage between Elizabeth and Charlotte marked the feminism of Elizabeth, who wouldn’t be compromised even if a man with great wealth offers her a marriage proposal. This explains why Elizabeth turned down Mr. Darcy’s first proposal; Elizabeth believed Darcy couldn’t give her the happiness she intended to have (Austen 147).
In conclusion, by contrasting three different stereotypes of characters in the novel, Jane Austen emphasized the feminism of Elizabeth where she boldly presented her intelligence, assertiveness, and independence throughout the story. While other characters tried to adapt to meet the expectation of the society and to seek marriage, Elizabeth demonstrated how a woman could remain her feminism and also secure a husband.
Evolution Of Darcy and Elizabeth From Pride And Prejudice
Change is an inevitable part of life. It can brought about in numerous of ways and the result of it can either negatively or positively impact a person’s life. However, several ups and downs are likely to occur before the results of change can be reached. In the novel, Pride and Prejudice, the two main characters, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy experience the process of change. Written by Jane Austen between 1796 and 1813, Pride and Prejudice follows Elizabeth Bennet and how she deals with several society issues during the 19th century. She encounters Mr. Darcy, a wealthy gentleman, whose flaw is being too prideful which causes Elizabeth to immediately dislike him. On the other hand, Elizabeth has a flaw of her own which is being too judgmental. Both characters, however, are able to overcome these flaws and in turn, better themselves. Throughout the novel Pride and Prejudice, several specific events cause Darcy to become more humbled and Elizabeth to become less judgmental which brings them together and leads them to their happy ending.
In the novel, Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s natures are apparent from the very beginning and cause them to have a bad start to their relationship. Darcy’s prideful attitude is prevalent and in turn creates a bad reputation for himself during the ball at Meryton. Austen shows that Darcy’s reputation has turned for the worst by saying, “…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” (Austen 7). Darcy’s pride has caused him to appear as though he was completely above everyone and has also caused others not to make an attempt to try and know his true nature. He does not make an attempt to try to correct his attitude as shown when he insults Elizabeth. When Mr. Bingley, his close friend, tries to convince him to dance with Elizabeth, Darcy says, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me” (Austen 8). This insult leads to Elizabeth to immediately accept everyone else’s view of Darcy and in turn judge him as a rude, inconsiderate man. She was willing to forgive Darcy of his prideful nature as shown when she states, “I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine” (Austen 15). Elizabeth was going to look past Darcy’s pride, however, once he insulted her, she does not allow him a chance to clear up any misunderstandings. Due to her judgmental attitude, Elizabeth’s initial opinion of Darcy remains the same and only becomes worse as time progresses. While conversing with Wickham about Darcy, Elizabeth gives her opinion of him and says, “I think him very disagreeable… Upon my word I say no more here than I might say in any house in the neighborhood, except Netherfield. He is not at all liked in Hertfordshire. Everybody is disgusted with his pride. You will not find him more favourably spoken of by any one” (Austen 66). Elizabeth’s judgmental nature causes her to believe that she has a right to state her opinion of Darcy anywhere she pleases because she is certain that she is right about him. She shows that just based on two encounters of dealing with Darcy, she is quick to judge him without really being able to get to know him. With that being said, Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s natures are established early on in the novel and lead them to have a shaky start to their relationship. However, both characters’ walls begin to come crumbling down as time progresses.
Darcy and Elizabeth both begin to change their natures as time moves on. Darcy’s prideful attitude begins to dwindle away after Elizabeth rejects his marriage proposal. After being proposed to in an offensive manner by Darcy, Elizabeth tells him, “Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner” (Austen 165). Elizabeth’s statement to Darcy makes him realize that his actions towards her or anyone have not been those of a proper gentleman. Her statement gives him a wake-up call and causes his walls to start to crumble, thus causing his prideful nature to dissipate. Elizabeth’s statement to Darcy clearly matters to him as shown when he writes her a letter to explain himself. In the beginning of his letter, Darcy says, “I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten” (Austen 167). Darcy’s transition into becoming more humbled is apparent in his statement. He decides to express himself in a way that does not appear to Elizabeth as being self-centered and offensive to her which leads to them coming together. Darcy’s letter makes Elizabeth realize that Darcy is not as bad as a person as she originally thought. She makes an attempt to not to believe Darcy as shown when she exclaims and repeats, “This must be false! This cannot be! This must be the grossest falsehood” (Austen 174). Elizabeth is trying to convince herself that Darcy is lying in order to win her affection, however, after reading the letter once again, Elizabeth accepts the fact that she was wrong. Her walls she put up begin to crumble down as well and is shown when she says, “How despicably have I acted! I, who have prided myself on my discernment! … Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself” (Austen 177). Elizabeth realizes that her judgmental nature has clouded her reasoning, just from her and Darcy’s first meeting. Her first impression of Darcy caused her to act rude and have prejudice against him which did not allow them to properly form a relationship with him. Her realization will eventually lead her to come together with Darcy and ultimately their happy ending. Clearly, Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s natures change over time and eventually allows them to reach their happily ever after.
After realizing their flaws, Darcy and Elizabeth change their ways and are thus able to come together and achieve a happy ending. Darcy’s humbleness is apparent when it is revealed he helped alleviate the situation between Lydia and Wickham. While talking to Elizabeth about what he did to help, Darcy says, “If you WILL thank me, let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your FAMILY owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of YOU” (Austen 331). Darcy has no intention of receiving a token of thanks from Elizabeth’s family. He helps them out of selflessness and with the thought of making Elizabeth happy. Darcy has completely discarded his prideful nature and is able to receive and give love to and from Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s change is also clear as shown through this conversation with Darcy. She no longer talks to him with a sharp tongue and is somewhat bashful in front of him. After Darcy reveals his reasoning to Elizabeth for helping, Austen describes Elizabeth’s actions: “Elizabeth was too much embarrassed to say a word…Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances” (Austen 331). No longer being blinded by her first impression, Elizabeth is no longer able to hide her feelings for Darcy and is able to fully accept his love and give him hers as well. However, it is not until both Darcy and Elizabeth are able to admit to each other their faults that finally brings them together. Darcy admits to Elizabeth that his actions to her and others were unbecoming of him. As he continues his conversation with Elizabeth he tells her, “…My conduct, my manners, my expressions… is now, and has been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: ‘had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.’ Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me;—though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonable enough to allow their justice” (Austen 314). Darcy reveals that Elizabeth’s words had greatly affected him and that she was right and her words caused him to change his prideful attitude. By admitting this to, Darcy lets Elizabeth know that he cares about her opinion of him which leads to Elizabeth fully realize his feelings for her. Elizabeth also admits her actions towards Darcy were rude due to her prejudice against him. When Darcy says he was attracted to her “liveliness”, Elizabeth corrects him and says, “You may as well call it impertinence at once; it was very little less. The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused and interested you because I was so unlike them. Had you not been really amiable, you would have hated me for it” (Austen 325). By admitting this to Darcy, Elizabeth reminds Darcy of the reason why he fell in love with her and is also able to let him see that she realizes her actions were wrong as well which ultimately brings them together in the end. In short, Darcy and Elizabeth change their prideful and judgmental ways which in turn allow them to be happy with each other.
Due to specific events, Darcy and Elizabeth are able to fix their flaws of being too prideful and too judgmental which in turn brings them together for their happy ending. At first, Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s relationship has a rough start due to Darcy’s arrogance and Elizabeth judging harshly based on their first encounter. According to Mary Lascelles in “The Mutual Misunderstanding of Elizabeth and Darcy” on Elizabeth’s dislike of Darcy, she states, “Her initial impulse towards this misunderstanding comes, of course, from Darcy himself, in that piece of flamboyant rudeness” (Lascelles). This reiterates Elizabeth’s initial disdain towards Darcy due to his utter rudeness and pride. As time progresses, however, Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s walls come crumbling down due to Elizabeth’s rejection and Darcy’s letter. These events cause them to realize the errors in their ways and lead them to change and come together. In the end, Darcy and Elizabeth are able to achieve their happy ending and better themselves. Change can help others become more self-aware of themselves and in turn bring forth profound results.
Question Of Marriage in Pride And Prejudice
In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen examines society’s focus on the superficiality of marriage. Many readers assert that the engagement between Elizabeth Bennet and William Darcy diminishes the message of the satirical novel. However, Austen utilizes the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet and William Darcy to underline how marriage needs to be based on passion and admiration.
In the novel, Elizabeth Bennetand Darcy’s relationship represents the ideal relationship that people in Victorian society should attain for. In the novel, Austen satirizes the relationships of the secondary characters to highlight how wealth and status define a marriage. For example, Charlotte’s desire for a comfortable secure living situation led to an unfulfilling marriage: “I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state” (Austen 87). Joshua Rothman assertshow Charlotte’s desire for financial stability and unrewarding marriage was influenced by society’s stringent rules in marriage and social rank:
Charlotte’s been thinking about marriage for years, and she’s developed for herself a code of conduct for marriage, a set of rules that recognize the reality of her situation and direct her toward a solution. Long ago, she recognized that she was trapped in a social web; rather than ignoring her predicament, she set about understanding it…Charlotte, therefore, is too wealthy, educated, and upper-class to marry a working man—that would be a kind of social demotion for her family—but too poor and average-looking to attract a truly wealthy one. She can’t marry up or down—she can only marry sideways. She knows and understands all of this. Collins, awful as he is, is actually her social equal (Rothman).
Charlotte’s situation was very similar to a situation Austen had personally experienced. Austen did receive a proposal from a man who was very similar to Mr. Collins who was, “very plain in person—awkward, and even uncouth in manner… [but] marrying him would have given Austen a family life of her own, as well as financial security…” (Rothman). Even though Austen accepted the proposal that night, she experienced a “revulsion of feeling” and called the wedding off the next morning (Rothman). Austen utilizes the character Charlotte to underline how young women felt the heavy influence of society of making financial stability a priority in marriage. Even though Elizabeth felt this weight on her shoulders, she remained adamant about not marrying Mr. Collins.As Julia Brown asserts, while Elizabeth’s actions of declining the marriage to Mr. Collins, “is not ponderously portrayed as an act of courage,” Austen does highlight Elizabeth’s “exceptional spirit” due to her on financial situation (Brown). Through Elizabeth’s actions, Austen emphasizes how one’s happiness cannot be defined by wealth.
Elizabeth’s choice to choose happiness over wealth is also demonstrated when she turned down Darcy for the first proposal. Joseph Wiesenfarth discussed how Elizabeth had “a chance to make a mercenary marriage and refuses to take it: ‘You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it’” (Austen 131).However,after a change of heart, Elizabeth accepts the second proposal from Darcy:
She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man, who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was a union that must have been to the advantage of both; by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved, and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance. (Austen 208-209)
Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet have a genuine connection that is not based on social rank or wealth, but on intrinsic qualities. Austen underlines how a strong foundation is vital in a marriage. Austen ridicules the relationships of secondary characters to highlight how many relationships in the Victorian era were malleable and focused on superficiality. Austen utilizes the relationship of the protagonists to highlight how people should desire a marriage that is based on respect and compassion.
The marriage between Elizabeth and Darcy also highlights essential character development for both protagonists in order to emphasize how people must continue to challenge their spouses in marriage. When Darcy first proposed to Elizabeth, Elizabeth was disgusted by Darcy’s actions since he did not act like a gentleman: “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” (Austen 131). These words had a profound impact on Darcy and eventually, he saw the error in his ways:
Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: `had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.’ Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me;—though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonableenough to allow their justice. (Austen 247)
The time between the first proposal and the second proposal marks extraordinary growth for both characters about their own values. Susan Kneedlerstates how Elizabeth Bennet’s reaction to Darcy’s first proposal pushes him to change his outlook on their relationship: “Such faith that if need be she can outlive her affection for Fitzwilliam Darcy is based on the new idea that he will be unworthy if he cannot continue to love…” (Kneeder). In addition, Kneeder argues that the second proposal is the answer to the vital question of whether Mr.Darcy can justify her affection. Austen underlines how people in a marriage need to challenge their spouses in order to grow as individuals. Austen argues that a marriage based on intrinsic characteristics than superficial qualities will lead to respect between the two individuals.
Austen highlights how respect and compassion are vital in marriage through Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet’s engagement. Ina Victorian society where wealth and social class dictated marriage, Austen demonstrates how a relationship that is focused on more than superficial qualities will improve the development of an individual.
Depiction Of Man And Woman in Pride and Prejudice
Throughout Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, she often discusses the roles and qualities of an “accomplished” woman. Using the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, she tells the story of a non-traditional girl who stands against these social expectations. This leads the reader toward believing the book is about feminism and defying social expectations. However, the way in which the story ends explains that women are weaker than men and will always follow them in the end. Elizabeth fails to prolong this idea of a strong, independent woman by marrying a rich man, Fitzwilliam Darcy.
According to the characters that Jane Austen writes about in her book, the ideal woman is expected to possess very specific traits. The first and arguably most important trait is that an accomplished woman should be physically presentable because men choose women based mostly on aesthetics. Her poise and manners should display through her ability to hold polite conversations. She should also have “a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word” (Austen 41). On top of all these necessary talents that would make up an ideal woman in the story of Pride and Prejudice, she should also have good connections. This would allow the woman to meet and impress a larger array of rich men who are in search of wives; an extremely important concept throughout the book. The first sentence says so, itself, that “a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Austen 5). It is these women’s responsibility to objectify themselves by attending balls in honor of rich, single men in an effort to convince the gentlemen that they are the right women for them. All of the women in Austen’s story are expected to abide by these guidelines of a perfect woman if they intend to get married before the age of 28, at which point they will be considered old maids with very little chance of success.
The protagonist of Pride and Prejudice is Elizabeth, one of the Bennet daughters who seems to have a mind of her own, unlike the rest of the female characters in the story. The main tactic used in Austen’s story for the women to meet their hopeful future husbands was to go to balls hosted by the wealthy, single men. Elizabeth did not refuse to go to a ball hosted by a rich man, Mr. Bingley, that had just moved into the neighborhood. However, she did not seem as vulnerable as the other women; if she did not like a man’s personality she would leave it at that as opposed to continuing to pursue him solely in the hopes of finding a husband. When the host, Mr. Bingley, first suggested that his friend Darcy dance with Elizabeth, his conceited wealthy companion’s first though is that “she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me” (Austen 15). He is quick to judge the girls he sees by appearance, rather than first getting to know them. As a result of his attitude and poor personality, Elizabeth is immediately repulsed and develops a strong dislike for Mr. Darcy.
We are led to believe, at first, that Elizabeth is going to be the woman who defies the social normalities of ladylike behavior. Jane Austen leads us to this quick conclusion because of how Elizabeth acts toward Darcy, Mr. Bingleys extremely rude and rich friend. Despite his conceited behavior, especially toward Elizabeth, Fitzwilliam Darcy decides to propose. He says “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” (Austen 165). He goes on and Elizabeth “could easily see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security” (Austen 165). In his point of view she has no reason to not say yes; he is rich and offering her a husband which most every other girl in the story would think to be foolish to pass up. Her denial leaves her in shock; she was not expecting the proposal in the first place. It is clear to Elizabeth that “he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride” (Austen 165). This shows the reader that Austen has finally introduced us to a woman capable of denying a man, despite his materialistic advantages – like wealth and property. At this point in the book, the perspective in which the plot is being told has begun to sound like that of a feminist; someone to prove woman can be stronger than man.
Despite the sudden change in perspective in the story, Elizabeth soon proves that she is not that strong after all. After an unexpected encounter with Darcy on a visit to Pemberley, seeing his wonderful house, and realizing she was the one apparently at fault for judging him too quickly, the once seemingly independent Bennet daughter changes her mind about wanting to marry him. At this point in Pride and Prejudice, this protagonist takes a moment to dwell over her newly altered feelings for Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. “The proposal which she had proudly spurned only four months ago, would now have been gladly and gratefully received!” (Austen 264). Not surprisingly, Elizabeth is starting to ease her way back into the mold of what a proper woman should represent. At this point, when Elizabeth hears a rumor that Darcy is planning to propose again, she is ecstatic. She claims she is going to say yes solely to “act in that manner, which will, in [her] own opinion, constitute [her] happiness” (Austen 303) but Jane Austen has made it a very strong point that women can never truly do things for themselves and be unique from each other. They are a weak sex that will do anything to obtain a wealthy husband.
As things come to a close in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the readers learn that although a female may seem strong at first, she is ultimately part of the weaker sex; it is, perhaps, a truth universally acknowledged. The women of this time were expected to abide by their proper roles and to have to the qualities that men expected when in search for a wife. Austen upholds this social expectation for women through the romance of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, proving that one should not be quick to label a female as a feminist because she will always fall vulnerable as the weaker sex, in the end.
The Original Title and Its Resonance in the Novel
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a novel about characters overcoming hardships that are necessary for their happiness. Before Jane Austen decided on the final title, she chose the title First Impressions, which acknowledges that the main barrier that the characters must overcome is their first impressions of each other. The novel’s main characters, Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy are faced with first impressions that prevent them from realizing their love for each other. These first impressions, although very strong and long-lasting, dissipate by the end of the novel and their views of each other change completely. Although this title seems to depict the novel very well, Jane Austen chose a different title, which gives the correct impression that Darcy and Elizabeth possess pride and prejudice. First impressions influence the characters’ actions and events that take place in the novel, pride and prejudice cause the characters to behave the way that they do, but Pride and Prejudice is a more appropriate title for the novel.
Elizabeth forms her impressions of Darcy before even meeting him, solely off of his disposition at the Netherfield Ball. According to Elizabeth, “He [is] the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everyone [hopes] that he would never come there again” (Austen 7-8). Not only is Darcy an unexciting man to be around, he refuses his friend Bingley’s suggestion that he dance with Elizabeth by saying, “‘She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me’” (8). As if Elizabeth does not already dislike him enough, this comment from Darcy contributes to Elizabeth’s negative first impression of him. After listening to Wickham explain how Darcy robbed him of an inheritance, her opposition toward Darcy grows even stronger. Throughout the novel, Elizabeth finds herself going back and forth between disapproval of Darcy and wanting to get close with him. It is not until after Darcy proposes, Elizabeth refuses his hand in marriage, and Darcy explains himself in a letter that Elizabeth starts to realize that her original impression of him does not reflect his actual personality. When Elizabeth finally overcomes her wrong first impression of Darcy, she starts to recognize that her feelings toward him are quite the opposite of the way that she originally feels.
Although Darcy acknowledges his feelings toward Elizabeth before she does, he develops the wrong first impression of Elizabeth when he first sees her. When he sees her at the Netherfield Ball, he says that he would rather not dance with her because she is not handsome enough for him and her family’s social status is not admirable. Darcy becomes blinded by the fact that her family is not wealthy and that he would be marrying down, so he tries to convince himself that he is not in love with her. When Elizabeth refuses to dance with him after Sir Lucas suggests it, his opinion of her changes immensely. Soon after he makes these first impressions of Elizabeth, Darcy decides that he wants to pursue her. “‘I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow…Miss Elizabeth Bennet’” (22). Because Darcy is able to overcome his first impression of her, he finally starts to fall in love with her and their relationship starts to grow.
With the title, Pride and Prejudice, most readers assume that Elizabeth is prejudice and Darcy is pride, but further analysis proves that both characters possess both traits. Before even meeting him, Elizabeth forms prejudices against Darcy and allows for those prejudices to outweigh everything else about him. She ignores that he tries to compliment her by saying that a woman must be smart and engage in a conversation about books, which he knows she appreciates. When he attempts to compliment her love of books, she assumes that he is being ignorant and has unachievable standards for women. Her prejudices against Darcy are further built upon when she accepts the lies that Wickham feeds her about Darcy’s past without questioning if they are true. Although Elizabeth is most commonly paired with prejudice, she does possess the characteristic of pride. She pays so much attention to the faults of others that she fails to recognize her own faults. When she sarcastically says, “‘Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise’” (49), she is inferring that he has too much pride, but her saying this proves that she has too much pride as well. Because Elizabeth has too much pride and thinks that she is never insensitive toward anybody else’s feelings, she finds everything that he says insulting and negative. Elizabeth’s pride and prejudice are possibly the two most prominent traits that influence her actions and thoughts throughout the novel.
Darcy, commonly mistaken as solely pride, like Elizabeth, possesses both of these impulsive qualities. Darcy’s pride is perhaps the most obvious character trait in the novel because he displays it in many ways. When he proposes to Elizabeth, his arrogance and pride are present because he expects her to accept his hand in marriage because he is doing her a favor. In his proposal, he compares her family’s money with his own and admits that he looks down on her family’s status. After she refuses his hand, he continues to say, “‘Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own’” (165)? Not only do Darcy’s assumptions represent his pride, they also reveal that he has prejudices against Elizabeth. Since he first meets her, he is prejudiced against her because of the low social ranking of her family and therefore tries to convince himself that his feelings toward her mean nothing. He is also prejudiced against the lower class in general because he assumes that any poor woman would accept a rich man’s hand in marriage. Darcy’s pride and prejudice cause him to form the first impressions of Elizabeth that originally prevent him from loving her.
The original title suggests that the novel primarily revolves around the characters forming first impressions of each other. While the novel does include some aspects of first impressions and the characters overcoming these first impressions, the novel is more importantly about the characters realizing that they have the impulses of pride and prejudice. These impulsive traits that Darcy and Elizabeth possess become the main cause of their first impressions of each other. Not only do these impulses prevent the characters from recognizing their love for each other, they eventually lead to the strong and happy relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy. When the characters finally realize that the faults that they see in each other are the same faults that they possess, they are finally able to come together in marriage and love. The title of the novel perfectly represents almost every event that takes place throughout the novel because of the pride and prejudices of the characters displayed throughout the novel. Thus, the final title that Jane Austen chose, Pride and Prejudice, is more appropriate and psychologically more complex than First Impressions.
How to Balance Personal Happiness and Financial Security
To what extent is social class and wealth perverting to judgment? Jane Austen’s 19th century novel Pride and Prejudice explores the precarious theme of social standing to create an ironic depiction of its relation to love and happiness. Rather than describing her characters in detail, Austen utilizes “showing” rather than “telling” through dialogue to fully reveal their personalities. With irony as her guide, the author sardonically creates a paradigm revealing the connection of social class and reputation to courtship and marriage. Specifically, the relationship of class to marriage is a central concept depicted differently in the relationships of Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley, Mr. Collins and Charlotte, and Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.
First, the value of social class is pivotal in the relationship of Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley. Originally, the Bennets’ bourgeois status is unobtrusive to Mr. Bingley’s opinion of Jane. His initial reaction to meeting the Bennets at the ball is characterized by auspiciousness: “Bingley had never met with pleasanter people or prettier girls in his life…he had soon been acquainted with all the room; and as to Miss Bennet, he could not conceive an angel more beautiful” (Austen 14). An amiable symbol of all that is unprejudiced, Bingley is enthralled by Jane when he meets her. As he and Jane get to know each other and begin to fall in love, the consistent impropriety of her parents and three youngest sisters does not affect his wishes to eventually marry her. Only when Mr. Darcy intercedes and convinces Bingley of Jane’s indifference is he swayed from his original feelings for her. Though he does not stop loving her, he values Mr. Darcy’s opinion: “On the strength of Darcy’s regard Bingley had the firmest reliance, and of his judgment the highest opinion” (Austen 15). When Darcy urges him to abandon his wishes of matrimony with Jane, he obliges and leaves Netherfield for London. Upon Mr. Bingley’s abrupt departure of his country home, Elizabeth muses to Jane that “they [Darcy and Miss Bingley] may wish him to marry a girl who has all the importance of money, great connections, and pride” (Austen 133). Of this assertion, Elizabeth is correct, as Darcy later cites the reasons for his endeavor to keep the two from marrying as being firstly, his belief of Jane’s indifference, and secondly, the indecorum of the rest of the Bennet family, excluding Elizabeth (Austen 188). However, the impact of social class on Mr. Bingley and Jane’s association is in due course irrelevant, as they cannot ignore their mutual feelings, and they proceed to marry and live happily. Evidently, social class ultimately remains inconsequential to their relationship.
Alternatively, reputation and social class is the foundation of the relationship of Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas. Mr. Collins originally proposes to Elizabeth Bennet, but she is appalled and quickly refuses him. Upon Elizabeth’s rejection, Mr. Collins quickly reverberates and proposes to Elizabeth’s best friend Charlotte Lucas, who accepts. Austen clarifies Charlotte’s sentiments on marriage when she says: “Without thinking highly of either men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune” (Austen 118). Here, Austen juxtaposes the lofty marital ideals of Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, exploring the idea that marriage cannot be based on love for everyone. This concept is paralleled later when Charlotte explains her reasons for marrying Mr. Collins to Elizabeth: “I am not romantic…I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collin’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast…” (Austen 120). Obviously, Charlotte only seeks consistency and financial security, which she finds in the proposal of Mr. Collins. Elizabeth ironically is appalled that anyone could marry for anything besides love, despite the precarious economic situation that her family is in; she remains adamant in her sentiment that she would not compromise her marital desires solely to give her family financial refuge. Additionally, Mr. Collins’s own social status is nothing estimable, but he pursues marriage in the exertions of pleasing Lady Catherine de Bourgh rather than in efforts of finding love. The absence of romance on both sides leads Elizabeth to doubt their relationship’s long term tenacity. Clearly, because of Charlotte’s social status and lack of fortune, she marries an obsequious but condescending man whom she does not love to secure a more comfortable future.
Finally, the impact of social standing is demonstrated in the relationship of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. In the beginning of the novel, Mr. Darcy rejects Elizabeth in conversation with Mr. Bingley, where he states his hasty opinion of her: “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me” (Austen 11). The first ball where Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth meet is a crucial depiction of their difference in social class. Mr. Darcy, being obscenely rich, believes the people he is associating with to be middle class, and therefore, inferior. Elizabeth continually feels the effect of his opinion on her family. When Darcy finally confesses his tormented love to Elizabeth, he prefaces with: “In vain I have struggled…My feelings will not be repressed” (Austen 180). Here, he unintentionally insults Elizabeth when he says that he is in love with her despite her family and circumstances. Mr. Darcy’s tragic flaw is made evident: though he believes his love for Elizabeth to be pure, his pride clouds how his words could be offensive to her. Later, in his letter of explanation to Elizabeth, he explains: “The situation of your mother’s family, though objectionable, was nothing in comparison of that total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly betrayed by herself, by your three younger sisters, and occasionally even by your father” (Austen 189). Mr. Darcy’s words elucidate that it was not his wish for Mr. Bingley or himself to be married into a family so lacking in dignity. However, he redeems himself in Elizabeth’s eyes when he first flatters her level of sophistication, despite her family, and then later when he corroborates the marriage of Mr. Wickham and Lydia. Furthermore, social class plays a significant role in Elizabeth’s view of Mr. Darcy. Long after his marriage proposal when Elizabeth visits Pemberley with her aunt and uncle, her feelings for Mr. Darcy begin to experience a shift. She is enchanted by the estate’s elegance and rustic charm, just as she is later captivated by its owner. The thought of being the mistress of Pemberley pleases Elizabeth and makes her feel that she may have missed out on something. She contemplates that: “And of this place…I might have been mistress! …Instead of viewing them [the rooms] as a stranger, I might have rejoiced in them as my own…” (Austen 234). The raw beauty and stateliness of Pemberley stirs regret in Elizabeth’s heart, thawing the hard feelings that she had previously felt for Mr. Darcy. Evidently, apart from his kindness to the Bennet family in the end, Mr. Darcy’s social standing and wealth appeals to Elizabeth in a way that prepares her to give him a second chance. For him, the woman who was originally not handsome enough to dance with is eventually regarded as deserving enough to marry. Though the social class difference initially seems like a hindrance to their relationship, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth ultimately overcome these obstacles, resulting in their matrimonial bliss.
The intertwining of class and marriage is a principal theme born out differently in the relationships of Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley, Mr. Collins and Charlotte, and Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Jane Austen begins Pride and Prejudice with the famous line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” (Austen 1). However, the contrary is revealed; truly a single woman in possession of little fortune must be in want of a wealthy husband. Marriage transforms into an economic activity rather than a romantic one, and love is often abused as a means to social and financial advancement. Clearly, social class perverts the initial judgment of many of the characters. However, it does not always overshadow their ruling of true personality and motive, and the characters who discern this are the ones who find true love and contentment.
Charlotte’s Character and the Societies Expectations of Women
Throughout the Romantic Era, young women struggled to balance the traditional values of their elders with the revolutionary ideals of the period. Radical female writers such as Jane Austen attempted to give women a voice in the literary world so that they would have the opportunity rise above the restrictive societal views that limited them to the roles of obedient wives and mothers. In the novel Pride and Prejudice, Austen’s character Elizabeth Bennet is representative of the contemporary young women of her time who were in search of love rather than “suitable husbands”. Yet, in her characterization of Charlotte Lucas and Charlotte’s views on marriage, wealth, and social status, Austen reveals how women not as fortunate as Elizabeth were forced to either conform to the roles that they were born into or risk being alienated from their communities.
In his adaptation of the novel, Joe Wright attempts to capture the essence of Austen’s classic and her characterization of Charlotte Lucas on film. Without the narrative element of the novel, however, Wright uses casting, camera angles, and dialogue to reveal Austen’s theme without having to resort to creating a voice-over narration that would distract from the overall ambiance. Austen does not address Charlotte’s appearance in the novel until Mrs. Bennet discusses Charlotte on her visit to Netherfield. In her conversation with her daughters, Bingley, and Darcy, she makes it clear that Charlotte “is very plain. Lady Lucas herself has often said so, and envied my Jane’s beauty”(Austen 30). Charlotte is not as beautiful as Jane or Elizabeth, and Mrs. Bennet feels that her plain looks are a shame because it is necessary for a woman to be attractive in order to find a wealthy suitor who is similar to or above her in class. Charlotte herself realizes that her lack of beauty may be the reason she has not found a husband; therefore, her views on marriage are quite the opposite of Elizabeth’s. When discussing the idea with Elizabeth, Charlotte explains, “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least…and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life”(Austen 16). While Charlotte and Elizabeth are discussing the defects of their suitors, the mention of personal faults leads the reader to question Elizabeth’s and Charlotte’s personal character flaws. For Charlotte, whose personality is agreeable and kind, her defect would certainly be her lack of beauty. She has no control over her own appearance because it was completely by “chance” that she was born plain. Therefore, her inability to be selective about a potential husband directly relates to her misfortune regarding her looks, and she realizes that she must take a “chance” in accepting any offer of marriage she may receive and hope that happiness will be the end result.
In Joe Wright’s adaptation, Charlotte’s marital beliefs and personal appearance are revealed to the viewer simultaneously at the Netherfield ball scene. Wright cast Claudie Blakley as Charlotte, positioning her alongside Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Jane (Rosamund Pike): by conventional standards, she is perhaps not as beautiful in appearance as either other actress, as she is not as slim or as tall as Knightly or Pike. When Charlotte is first seen standing next to Mr. Collins at the ball, their dark features and shorter frames actually complement each other. The similarities between their appearances are striking considering the contrast between Mr. Collins and Elizabeth, who is at least half a foot taller than him and much more attractive. Casting an actress who is relatively plain looking and similar in appearance to Mr. Collins foreshadows their connection and eventual marriage. While the reader must discern Charlotte’s desperation to find a husband through her conversations with Elizabeth, the film reveals her interest in pursuing Mr. Collins the moment that he is introduced to her at the ball.
While Elizabeth and Jane appear shocked and bemused that Mr. Collins is asking Elizabeth to dance, Charlotte pays attention to him and has a friendly and hopeful smile on her face. Also, while Collins is dancing with Elizabeth, Charlotte can be seen in the background standing directly behind him while watching him dance. Charlotte’s voice is also very pleasant throughout the scene. She never sounds nagging or negative and, in contrast to Elizabeth’s, her voice has less strength behind it. The qualities that Austen develops in Charlotte throughout the beginning of her novel are all present in this initial ball room scene when the viewer is introduced to Charlotte for the first time. Before Collins proposes to her, the viewer knows that she will accept based on her plain appearance, her age, her kindness toward him, and the apparent lack of other proposals, even though Wright never fully addresses any of these issues outwardly in the dialogue that has taken place in the film thus far.
Wealth and material possessions are not as important to Charlotte Lucas as the social implications that surround them. Although Charlotte never believes that she will have the opportunity to marry someone as wealthy as Mr. Bingley or Mr. Darcy, one of the reasons she sets her sights on Mr. Collins is that “his prospects of future wealth were exceedingly fair”(Austen 83). Mr. Collins will be the heir to the Bennet estate and by marrying him Charlotte will not have to burden her brothers with taking care of her. The prospect of such financial stability is the best that she would be able to hope for as a twenty-seven year old unmarried woman. Charlotte sees Mr. Collins as her “chance” to conform to the role of wife and mother and find happiness in a domestic lifestyle.
After Charlotte marries Mr. Collins and goes to live with him near Rosings, Elizabeth visits her and notices that she has made her new home “neat and comfortable” and that the living room is in “good proportion… in its aspect and its furniture”(Austen 104). Charlotte is clearly proud of her house and her belongings, and she takes great care in making her home seem as beautiful as possible. She is content with her household because to her social acquaintances she appears to be a financially secure, proper, married woman. Charlotte believes in making the best of the opportunities she has been given: she feels lucky to have found a suitable husband and she takes comfort in being able to conform to a more traditional role because, unlike Elizabeth, she would rather be married to a man that she does not love than be considered an old maid.
Wright introduces Charlotte’s need for wealth and material possessions in the film through the dialogue between her and Elizabeth, particularly when she relates the news of her engagement and in the scene in which Elizabeth arrives at Charlotte’s new home. When Charlotte comes to the Bennet home to tell her closest friend of her engagement, she smiles and hurriedly tells Elizabeth that she will be marrying Mr. Collins. She says that she should be as happy with him as with any other man and that by marrying Mr. Collins she has been offered a comfortable home and protection. Although Elizabeth seems stunned that her friend would marry someone she does not love, Charlotte makes it clear that she is marrying Mr. Collins because with him, she has the opportunity to socially elevate herself as a married woman. She tells Elizabeth that she would never have this same opportunity as an “old maid” and that Elizabeth should not judge her for making the decision to conform to the role of the domestic housewife.
Later, when Elizabeth is invited to visit Charlotte in her new home, Charlotte tells her that she has a parlor all to herself and that she loves being able to run her own household. She never believed that she would ever be able to have control over her own affairs and she seems very happy to be able to contribute domestically to her marriage. Her happiness undoubtedly arises from her newfound social status as a married woman, and one who maintains a fairly large household, rather than from the joy of being Mr. Collins’s wife. Nonetheless, as illustrated through her dialogue with Elizabeth, the fact that it is her husband’s home that brings her happiness rather than her husband himself does not change the fact that she is content with her new life.
In order to maintain a respectable reputation as a married woman, Charlotte follows societal rules of conduct regarding her new domestic activities. She strives for the approval of Lady Catherine (the ultimate example of the upper-class elite), who could help the Collins family attain valuable social connections. Even when Lady Catherine insults her by instructing Charlotte on how “every thing ought be regulated in so small a family as her’s”(Austen 128), she remains calm and listens politely to the advice, even though Lady Catherine has most likely never cleaned or taken care of a household herself. Charlotte knows that pleasing Lady Catherine will have a positive effect on how the rest of the community views her, and that kind of high regard is consequential in her mind. Her status as a newlywed and middle class wife has not provided for many invitations to social engagements in the community because “the style of living in the neighborhood in general, was beyond the Collinses’ reach”(Austen 112). This is why Charlotte feels that she must be diligent in praising Lady Catherine, so that she will be invited to dine at Rosings more often. If Lady Catherine approves of Charlotte as a wife, Charlotte believes that the rest of the community will agree.
Although she may never be completely welcomed by upper-class society, Charlotte is content with her middle class status and believes that her decision to marry Mr. Collins has pushed her socially upward. In Wright’s film adaptation, Charlotte’s desire for social approval is revealed through the use of varying camera angles in the scene in which she, her husband, and Elizabeth visit Lady Catherine at Rosings. When they enter the room where Lady Catherine is expecting them, the camera flashes from Mr. Collins who walks in first, to Charlotte who comes in second, and then to Elizabeth who enters last. As the camera shows Charlotte walking into the room, her lead on Elizabeth seems somewhat aggressive. She appears to want to be seen behind her husband and in front of her unmarried friend. When Charlotte addresses Lady Catherine a few moments later, the camera stops first on her own face while she is speaking and then it goes in for a close up on Lady Catherine’s face as if Charlotte is searching for approval in her expression. The camera angles here reveal Charlotte’s own ideas about her self-importance as a married woman and her need for the approval of a woman of Lady Catherine’s stature. During the dinner scene, once more the camera flashes from Lady Catherine to Charlotte; however, Charlotte is slightly out of focus and all the viewer notices about her actions is that she is mimicking Lady Catherine’s movements. When Lady Catherine takes a sip of her soup, the camera then moves to Charlotte, who is also taking a sip of her own soup. These camera movements represent Charlotte’s adoration of such a wealthy and high-class woman. Her mirroring of Lady Catherine’s actions only reinforces the idea that Charlotte seeks her approval and believes that it is imperative for her to be known as a close acquaintance of the Lady if she wishes to have a reputable image in her new community.
Charlotte is an incisive representation of why women in Austen’s time were seeking husbands, material wealth, and social status. Without conforming to these societal ideals, women such as Charlotte would be alienated from their own communities and forced to rely on their parents for support. Wright artistically represents this theme in his film through his use of casting, dialogue, and camera angles. Although he does not have the narrative voice of Jane Austen to tell the viewer how to feel about each situation Charlotte finds herself in, Wright artistically replicates Charlotte’s viewpoint using visual techniques, making Austen present in every scene of the film: in the music, the scenery, the facial expressions, the dialogue, and the staging.
The Historical Wartime Context and Its Influence
Literary movements of the early nineteenth century were undeniably, at least to some extent, defined by a backdrop of wartime context. It was a time period not only caught up in the midst of the Napoleonic War, but also still suffering from the aftermath of the American Revolution. Certain texts from the time period offer relevant and explicit commentaries on war; Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Walter Scott’s Waverley serves as key examples. The former offers an account of personal reflection on war whilst the latter focusses on a historic conflict of the mid eighteenth century. However, along with these more obvious treatments of war there are those which, although initially appearing to be largely uncolored by these conflicts, are actually deeply embued with wartime subtext. Jane Austen’s novels, namely Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park serve as key instances of such novels, as they focus on characters who retain separation from the disruption, but are repeatedly unable to escape the permeating ripples of the war that surrounds them.
One of the more self-evident depictions of war within early nineteenth century literature appears in Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, written in a time period that spanned the latter part of the Napoleonic War as well as its aftermath. Byron’s most apparent comment on war throughout the poem is one which denounces the glorification of battle in favor of more grim allusions to its horror. Agustin Coletes-Blanco aligns himself with this view as he suggests that “Child Harold was an avowedly anti-war poem which denounced the absurdity of all conflicts, and in this sense it was revolutionary: creating an uncomfortable dissonance at variance with what was an already large corpus of Peninsular War poetry categorized by sharing and fostering, almost unanimously, the Establishment position”. Indeed, Byron continuously hints at the cost of victory, and seems each time to resolve that this cost is substantially higher than its worth. The seventeenth stanza of the third canto opens with a line borrowed from Juvenal’s tenth satire: “Stop – for thy tread is on an Empire’s dust!”. The “Empire” in question seems at first to allude to one of the great ancient empires of Rome or Greece, due to its present status as “dust”. However, the “Empire” referenced is actually that of Napoleon Bonaparte, with this “dust” having been created only a short time beforehand as this particular stanza was written just a year after the definitive end of the Napoleonic War at the Battle of Waterloo. In creating this confusion, Byron refuses to acknowledge any distinction between the conflicts of his present day and any other conflicts in the history of man. The absurdity of which Coletes-Blanco speaks is particularly evident here, as the “tread” of Great Britain’s victory march is centered on the metaphorical “dust” alluding to the destruction of a once great, and now wasted, empire. Byron utilizes the image of blood flowing; the first canto refers to a “bleeding stream” as the narrator makes passage from Portugal to Spain. The stream in question alludes to the river Guadiana, whose current joins the Iberian Peninsula to the Atlantic Ocean, which in turn opens links to Britain, America and France. This is significant, as Byron selects a body of water which is not only the site of a historical battle, but that also serves as a geographical link to the key belligerents of his present. The links forged by Byron run deeper than geography as the continuity and the repetition of the stream’s motion allude to the passage of time, whilst the blood symbolizes the violence of armed conflict. Subsequently, Byron suggests that the “Moor and Knight” that once marched on the Iberian Peninsula have much in common with the Napoleonic and British soldiers. The implication here is that wartime technology may evolve, with the “Knight” on horseback giving way to the rifle wielding soldier, but the universal spirit of conflict within human kind endures. In alignment with the prevalent anti-war sentiments occurring throughout the poem, the “bleeding” nature of Byron’s imagery ensures that his past and present links are not read a glorious, but are instead read as tragic.
Another of the more obvious treatments of war and conflict within early nineteenth century literature occurs in Walter Scott’s Waverly. On the surface, it is a historical novel centered on the Jacobite rising of 1745, a conflict which occurred over half a decade before the publication of Scott’s novel. Throughout Waverley, Scott offers a commentary on this particular conflict by the use of his eponymous hero, who acts as a vessel for his contemplations. Indeed, Waverley is a man who experiences both sets of belligerents first hand, and ‘wavers’ between their causes. His loyalties to his government and to his Whig father are countered by his sympathies to the Jacobite cause instilled into him by his uncle. Therefore, Edward Waverley is the ideal character through which to discuss themes such as conflict and tolerance as they relate to the Jacobite rising. However, although Scott’s novel directly portrays a conflict of the past, it can be argued that there is some degree of affiliation between the wars of Waverley’s historic setting and the wars of Waverly’s present day. Indeed, Scott’s resolution to depict a conflict of the past during a conflict of the present is certainly significant; to scrutinize the novel through this lens is to incorporate a much wider scope of analysis. When read in light of this notion, Scott’s commentary on war throughout Waverley is embued with far more profound suggestions regarding human conflict in general, as opposed to simply representing that which occurred between the Jacobites and the Hanoverian Government. In this sense, Scott utilizes the past as means by which to examine and comment on the present. Crucially, Great Britain at the time of Waverley’s publication was not simply in a state of war, but was rather marred by the effects of multiple conflicts with the rise of Napoleon allowing for little time to recover from the American Revolution of the late eighteenth century. The selection of the Jacobite Uprising as the lens for this critique is notable in itself. Occurring in the mid eighteenth century, it was previous enough to be considered a subject of history, without being so previous as to be rendered unrelatable to an early nineteenth century audience. According to Georg Lukacs, “If experiences such as this are linked with the knowledge that similar upheavals are taking place all over the world, this must enormously strengthen the feeling first that there is such a thing as history, that it is an uninterrupted process of changes and finally that it has a direct effect upon the life of every individual”. The implication of Lukacs suggestion is that the relatively short spacing between the Jacobite Uprising portrayed in the novel, and the Napoleonic Wars of the novels present day together with the American Revolution, colors the period as one of multiple and interlinked conflicts which together created a profound movement of worldwide change. The alternate title of the novel, Tis Sixty Years Since, strengthens this notion, as it references the present in relation to this near past and suggests that the events set in motion sixty years prior are still in motion at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Waverley is, in its most obvious analysis, a novel that uses a war that occurred in its own recent history as a case study for all aspects of war in general. It is neither wholly anti-war nor wholly pro-war, but rather an exploration of both sides. The eventual pardoning of Edward Waverley highlights the meaninglessness of organized conflict and puts Scott in some alignment with Byron’s negative attitude towards war; Mac-Ivor, as a ‘foreigner’, is condemned to death whilst Waverley is entirely pardoned despite his pursuit of the same efforts. It could be argued that this acts as a comment intended to denounce war, as inherent prejudices against outsiders masquerade as the genuine pursuit of ideological intentions. To this extent, Waverley can be read as a lesson in the practice of tolerance as an alternative to conflict. However, this negativity is delivered alongside a subtler yet prevalent sense of hope, which becomes evident during the aforementioned practice of using the setting’s past as a means by which to examine the novel’s present. Waverley depicts Great Britain as a divided nation, a depiction which accurately represents the nation’s history. However, the conflicts across Great Britain appearing in Scott’s novel had healed by the time of its publication, with it standing as a united nation against Napoleon’s forces. Subsequently, there arises the suggestion that conflict can be entirely overcome, perhaps even leaving a stronger nation in its wake. The final defeat of the Jacobite cause, both in historical fact and in Scott’s fiction, signals the reunification of Britain under the Hanoverian government; this unified Britain would eventually gain victory in the Napoleonic Wars, an event which defined the early nineteenth century. Waverley’s pardoning, together with his marriage to the peaceful and reserved Rose as opposed to the passionate revolutionary, Flora, alludes to a new found cooperation arising from shadow of war. Indeed, Rose possesses the capability for compromise which is so lacking in Flora. This notion stands in contrast to the absurd nature of war conveyed in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, as it is shown to hold more a more positive outcome than simply reducing each other to “dust”. Lukacs returns to the aforementioned idea of conflict surpassing time and location in its adherence to the consistency of human nature, but in relation to Waverley as opposed to Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. However, he suggests that history and humanity are fundamentally intertwined rather than either factor dominating the other, as he argues that “this is no otherworldly fate divorced from men; it is the complex interaction of concrete historical circumstances in their process of transformation, in their interaction with concrete human beings, who have grown up in these circumstances, have been very variously influenced by them, and who act in an individual way according to their personal passions”. From this, it can be deduced that for Lukacs, certain events of history, and more specifically war, are phenomenon which cannot be broken away from from until humanity’s responses to particular circumstances diverge away from the incitement of conflict.
Amongst Scott and Byron’s comments on the wider scope of war, both can be seen to adhere to what is perhaps the most significant diversion of the early nineteenth century literary movement in its relation to the theme of war: the rising trend of depicting the impact of wartime disruption on the individual. Neil Ramsey comments on this transition as he states that “Combined with the emergence of sentimental literature in the late eighteenth century, with its interest in the inner experience of ordinary people, a new kind of historical sensibility was taking shape. History was no longer viewed simply as the exploits of great men, but was defined as something in which ordinary individuals could participate”. The adherence to this transition is of a more obvious nature in Byron’s text, right down to his selected title. Indeed, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage implements the individual identification of the main character by name, whilst simultaneously making reference to a physical journey of personal and spiritual development. By utilizing a narrative which is not only first person, but delivered as a direct product of the narrator’s own thoughts and feelings, Byron’s poem appears as a journalistic travelogue of sorts. Consequently, the entire text revolves around the toll of national conflict on one man, as he seeks to escape the shadow of war via the practice of traveling. It is often suggested that the character of Childe Harold serves as a proxy for Byron himself; this notion intensifies the theme of war and the individual as he publicly pushes his personal thoughts about war at a time of substantial national conflict. Simon Bainbridge suggests that the conveyance of the significant individual is achieved through Byron’s use of an additional elegiac verse, added to the first canto during its revision, and dedicated to his late friend John Wingfield. According to Bainbridge, “In his elegy for Wingfield, Byron reclaims the [elegiac] form from its uses for ‘the boasted slain’, emphasizing the effect of one individual loss and act of remembrance over the anonymizing tributes of official culture”. It is notable that John Wingfield was not a wartime casualty, but rather succumbed to a fever shortly before Byron’s completion of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. It is therefore tempting to argue that Byron’s dedication to him may be subject to diminished relevancy to the treatment of the individual in relation to war. However, its relevancy springs from the reflection on personal loss, and its juxtaposition against the masses of wartime loss. The latter can, in line with Bainbridge’s view, become anonymized by its scale. By implicating his elegy for Wingfield, Byron effectively reminds the reader of the significance of each and every one of those human losses, and their equal importance to those occurring outside of a war setting.
This sense of a shift towards the individual at war can also be observed in Waverley. The focus is certainly subtler here, but this diminished obviousness by no means renders it absent. George Lukacs, in his notable criticism of Walter Scott’s rendering of the historical novel, argues that “What matters in the historical novel is not the retelling of great historical events, but the poetic awakening of the people who figured in those events. What matters is that we should re-experience the social and human motives which led men to think, feel and act just as they did in historical reality”. Indeed, Scott’s attention to the individual figure within the context of war encompasses the implication of moral ramifications. In Scott’s envisioning, he presents a kind of wartime horror which, although smaller in scale, is perhaps more deeply profound than a depiction of mass horror; the psychological impact on the individual. Kathryn Sutherland adheres to this notion as she insists that “After all the excuses and justification, Waverley has blood on his hands. Among the novel’s most powerful scenes are those that confront the moral enormity of civil conflict at the individual level”. Scott further explores these individual moral implications of war as he considers the struggle of soldiers to reconcile their personal beliefs with the necessities of duty. The surname of the eponymous protagonist Waverley alludes to his redirection of loyalties. Indeed, as discussed previously, there is an internal conflict between his loyalty to his government and his sympathy to the Jacobite cause. Having been raised under the influence of his uncle’s Jacobean loyalties, his reluctance to aid in the quelling of their rising seems inevitable. His decision to abandon his posting in the Hanoverian army and to defer to the opposition raises important questions regarding the motivations and beliefs of the individual soldier. Scott seems to suggest that the collective ambitions of a belligerent nation do not necessarily correlate with those of each man enlisted, and highlights the difficulties this poses to an individual who must betray one or other side of their identity. As Scott traces the journey of Waverley, there is a distinct focus on his emotional motives as opposed to his ideological ones, which mirrors the personal ‘pilgrimage’ on which Childe Harold embarks in Byron’s poem. Certainly, Waverley goes on his own journey during which his beliefs are explored and his loyalties are tested. As he becomes familiarized with the ways of the Jacobites and the rugged beauty of the Highlands, his own belief system adapts in a way that supersedes the official outlook of his nation.
It is tempting to argue that beyond the scope of works which, like that of Byron and Scott, set their literary worlds against the context of national unrest, much of early nineteenth century literature was far more concerned with the insular lives of civilians than with the subject of war. The works of Jane Austen may appear to staunchly encapsulate this notion, as her novels have been widely accused of lacking awareness to the nationally detrimental effects of the time period’s consecutively occurring wars. Indeed, the settings of her novels revolve around the landed gentry, romance and unspoiled rural communities; it is an imagining which can be seen as being somewhat out of touch with reality. However, this very absence of ‘reality’ is what hints at the period of conflict from which Austen’s novels emerged; it can be argued that they offer a form of literary escapism in reaction to traumatic events. Indeed, when juxtaposed against the disillusionment and uncertainty of the American Revolution, the settings of Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park offer an image that is refreshingly removed from the difficulties of early nineteenth century society. This is not to say that military affairs are entirely ignored, but they are often portrayed in an idealistic and romantic manner. Pride and Prejudice epitomizes this kind of portrayal, as the female characters Lydia, Mrs. Bennett and Kitty all display an open attraction to soldiers; in this sense, the soldier appears largely as a romantic figure, and an object of desire. This is evident as the Austen describes Lydia’s imagining of a military camp: “she saw all the glories of the camp – its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet”. Here, the figure of the soldier is undeniably glossed over as any signs of battle-weariness and trauma are engulfed by her envisioning of a perfectly romantic and regimental ‘hero’. However, although Austen’s texts do feature a significant degree of this literary whitewashing, more negative treatments of the themes of war and conflict also manage to penetrate her insular settings. They do so in a multitude of subtly self-evident ways, as the ripples of conflict reach even the most disconnected and rural communities. Robert Morrison disputes the notion of what Kaelyn Caldwell calls a “backdrop of pastoral peace”, as he argues that “Austen is an author of remarkable range and force who did confront some of the central conflicts of her age, and who in Pride and Prejudice combines provincial preoccupations and the intricacies of courtship with an incisive and thoroughgoing response to a series of revolutionary anxieties and pressure points”.
As an envisioning of the more indirect shockwaves of war, Austen pays subtle yet close attention to the individual; in this sense, she aligns herself with the works of Byron and Scott. Roberts underpins the individual impact of the Napoleonic War on Fanny Price, the heroine of Mansfield Park, as he states that “This background of gloom is the condition leading to Fanny’s departure for Mansfield Park, and it helps explain the pale, timid, shy and sad girl who appeared at her aunt’s estate”. Indeed, the severe injury of Fanny’s father during his service in the military acts as the root cause of the Price family’s hardship; this, in turn, is the main contributor to the decision of Fanny’s mother to send her to be raised by her wealthier relatives at Mansfield Park. This decision drastically alters the course of Fanny’s future and, subsequently, there arises a suggestion that war significantly impacts each individual, whether or not they experience it first-hand, whilst recalling Ramsey’s comment on the “interest in the inner experience of ordinary people” which helped to shape literature of the early nineteenth century. Fanny’s brother, William, as the most prominent of those characters who have actively participated in battle, serves as the novel’s main source of war influence. However, the novel divulges only what William offers in his renditions of his experiences, and these are largely glorified as they are delivered in the form of adventure tales. It is only by connecting the dots of Fanny’s backstory that the impact of war on her own situation becomes evident. Interestingly, her individual story of war holds far more basis in reality than William’s, and yet it is never explicitly outlined. This can be seen to imply that the previously referenced “anonymizing tributes of official culture” of which Bainbridge speaks, such as the glorified war stories of William, must be bypassed in order to recognize the often overlooked participations of each individual at war.
Although the theme of war is certainly prominent within Austen’s work, her primary focus falls to an alternative form of conflict: personal conflict. This is predominantly conveyed through the characters of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy who become entangled in their own war due to their conflicting personalities. When read in light of the novel’s backdrop of war, this portrayal of personal conflict takes on a greater significance as it appears to interact with Austen’s commentary on war. Indeed, Darcy and Elizabeth possess opposing values and, much like the belligerent nations of any war, this becomes a source of active conflict. Perhaps, Austen is trying to convey a sense that the predisposition to conflict is one which is imbedded within human nature and, from this view, war has little distinction from any other occurrence of conflict, with the exception of scale. The eventual union of the rivaling protagonists can be seen to hold a subtle message with regards to war: differences, when supplemented with tolerance, can result in something greater than war. It can be deemed that Darcy and Elizabeth do not overcome their conflict and then fall in love, but rather fall in love as a result of this conflict. Jibesh Bhattacharyya underpins this sense of unifying conflict as he states that “It is interesting to note that Darcy and Elizabeth become attracted to each other almost as soon as the conflict between pride and prejudice begins…it is this conflict or psychological tension that paves the way to their final union” . For Bhattacharyya, Austen’s conflict is more than merely a source of attraction, it also serves as a means of character refinement, supplementing character deficiencies and counterbalancing unfavorable traits. Indeed, he suggests that “Darcy’s gentlemanly qualities, civil manners, and warmth of love conquer the prejudice of Elizabeth against him. And Darcy’s pride is also humbled by Elizabeth’s strength of character, intelligence and personality”. Therefore, parallels can be drawn with Waverley, and the aforementioned suggestion of the unifying nature of conflict and, together, Austen and Scott discuss this notion with regards to two different conflicts of of two opposing scales: national and personal.
A persistent theme throughout the works of Austen, Byron and Scott is the importance of art and the creative mind in response to both wartime and personal conflict. Warren Roberts consolidates the aforementioned ideas of wartime individuality within Mansfield Park, with this idea that the creative mind can serve as a means by which to express that which cannot be expressed directly: the reality of war. He states that “When William returned to England on furlough he brought stories of the war to the insular world of Mansfield Park. In working out this part of the novel Austen did not focus attention on the war, but on the responses of various characters to William’s stories”. Indeed, it is interesting to note that William’s stories are an instance of a fiction within a fiction, with both layers possessing a backdrop of the real-life Napoleonic War. In many ways, they are a continuation of Austen’s tendency to whitewash the realities of this war, and in a wider context, war in general. William’s stories of his time in the Navy are adventurous and incite a response of jealousy in Henry, who has not experienced the war first hand. In alignment with Roberts’s suggestion, reactions such as these stand at odds with the more expected responses of pity or horror. Although William’s stories are reminiscent of Lydia’s romantic envisioning of the military in Pride and Prejudice, the former can be attributed to simple naivety, while William, as a first hand participant in the war effort, appears to be rewriting his own experiences. Therefore, creative fiction appears as a healing mechanism of sorts, with William managing to communicate his experiences at war without having to relive the harsh truths of them. The importance of creativity as a means of healing and expression can also be observed in Waverley. Sutherland epitomizes this notion as she asserts that “for those who survive battle, art can form part of the cure”. The “cure” for Waverley comes in the form of a “spirited painting” which appears in his house near the end of the novel is a different medium of creativity to William Price’s war tales, but their natures are aligned. Indeed, Fergus McIvor and Waverley appear side by side, set against the rugged natural beauty of the Highlands; it may not be a complete fiction, but it is certainly a selective one. With McIvor’s execution and the crushing of the Jacobite rebellion shortly preceding the painting’s unveiling, Waverley’s selection of this whitewashed memorabilia is particularly conspicuous. Unlike William, he has more to repress than the memory of battle, as he must carry the burden of his own pardoning where his former allies received no such leniency. Sutherland underpins this use of art as a means of “bridg[ing] the terrible divide between soldier and civilian”, as both Waverley and William utilise creative depictions, rather than solid fact, to communicate their experiences. However, she also acknowledges that Waverley’s painting may bridge the gap, but it does so in a misleading, even immoral, way. According to Bainbridge, the relevancy of art in war is also stressed by Byron in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, as he suggests that the elegiac final stanzas of the first canto “anticipate Byron’s later emphasis on elegy as the mode that can give meaning to war, they also reveal an awakening to the role that poetry and the creative powers might play in response to the loss of war”. Indeed, Byron does not attempt to conceal the brutality of war; as discussed previously, he emphasizes it throughout. However, the “unavailing woe” is accompanied and contrasted by the “Fancy” of the poetic imagination, as a means by which to express and to make sense of loss.
In conclusion, the themes of war and conflict are so crucial in the literature of the early nineteenth century that their treatment can be observed even in those texts which abstain from handling them directly. War forms the central backdrop of Waverley and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage; the former traces a character’s assimilation into armed conflict whilst the latter recounts the narrator’s attempts to escape from its shockwaves. In this sense, they are a clear product of a time period colored by wartime unrest, and are examples of the more clearly evident manifestations of this unrest within the period’s literary movements. However, a reading of Jane Austen’s texts provides a case study for those early nineteenth century literary works which do not offer explicit commentary on war, as her settings initially appear to be particularly untouched by the effects of wider current events. On the contrary, from this reading it can actually be deduced that, in a manner reflecting the reality of the novels’ present day, war and national conflict saturate far more than a nation’s military; they are manifested in the ordinary lives of its people and in the arts produced by these people. These reflections are subtle, but not absent, as war affects characters in indirect but fundamental ways, and comments on war appear in the form of allusions and subtext. Notably, conflict is directly portrayed throughout the works of Austen on a personal scale as opposed to a national one. When considered in light of Lukacs’s focus on the significance of human nature in the formation of history and, more specifically, its wars, the treatment of ‘ordinary conflict’ appears to convey ideas about war by generalising the human disposition of belligerency.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Enhanced Media Publishing, 2016. Kindle edition.
Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Kindle edition.
Bainbridge, Simon. British Poetry and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: Visions of Conflict. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Bhattacharyya, Jibesh. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distributers, 2015.
Byron, George Gordon. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. London: Heraklion Press, 2013. Kindle edition.
Caldwell, Kaelyn. How to Speak Like Jane Austen and Live Like Elizabeth Bennett: Your Guide to Livelier Language and Lovelier Lifestyle. Pennsauken: BookBaby, 2013.
Coletes-Blanco, Agustin. “Byron and the ‘Spanish Patriots’: The Poetry and Politics of the Peninsular War (1808 – 1814)”. In Byron: The Poetry of Politics and the Politics of Poetry, edited by Roderick Beaton and Christine Kenyon Jones. Abingdon: Routledge, 2007. Kindle edition.
Lukacs, Georg. The Historical Novel, translated by Hannah Mitchell and Stanley Mitchell. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962.
Morrison, Robert. “Contextual Overview”. In Pride and Prejudice: A Routledge Study Guide and Sourcebook, edited Robert Morrison, 9 – 16. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Ramsey, Neil. “Military Authors and the Commemoration of War”. In The Military Memoir and Romantic Literary Culture, by Neil Ramsey. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2011. Kindle edition.
Roberts, Warren. Jane Austen and the French Revolution. London: A&C Black, 2001.
Scott, Walter. Waverley. New York: HarperPerennial Classics, 2014. Kindle edition.
Shaw, Philip. “Byron and War Sketches of Spain: Love and War in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”. In Palgrave Advances in Byron Studies, edited by J. Stabler, 213 – 233. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Sutherland, Kathryn. Introduction to Waverley, by Walter Scott, vii – xxvi. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
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