Pride and Prejudice
From Contempt to Love: Elizabeth and Darcy’s Evolution
The need to reconsider first impressions runs throughout Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Both Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy judge one another harshly based on first impressions, while Elizabeth also forms judgments of Mr. Wickham and Miss Darcy. Throughout the novel, as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy see each other and others in a new light, more accurate opinions based upon fact and understanding replace their first opinions based upon impressions, rumors, and prejudices. Because they allow their ideas to evolve throughout the novel, they open themselves up to the possibility and reality of love. Mr. Darcy’s initial contempt of Elizabeth is evident when he forms an immediate impression of Elizabeth the first time he sees her at a ball. He says, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me” (Austen 7). Mr. Bingley suggests that Darcy take Elizabeth as a dance partner, but Darcy declines on the grounds that she lacks beauty. He also says that he does not want to stoop so low as to dance with a girl all of the other men at the ball reject. After that, he persists in criticizing her and will not allow himself to see her as pretty. However, his attitude toward her changes fairly rapidly. By chapter six, he finds that instead of looking for fault in her, her manners please him and he notices her expressive eyes, intelligence, and nice figure. To his own surprise, he “wish[es] to know more of her” (15). Thus, the evolution begins. Elizabeth also starts out with a negative first impression of Mr. Darcy, but it takes her a little longer to change her mind. She judges Mr. Darcy to be too proud not long after he arrives at the dance, but when she overhears his reasons for not asking her to dance, she “remain[s] with no very cordial feelings toward him” (7). Following the dance, Mrs. Bennet comments on Darcy’s pride and rudeness, to which Elizabeth replies that she “may safely promise…never to dance with him” (12), clearly demonstrating her initial disdain. Even after Mr. Darcy begins to warm up to Elizabeth, she tells Mr. Wickham that she finds Darcy to be “very disagreeable” (53). Upon hearing Mr. Wickham’s woeful tale, in which Mr. Darcy is the villain, she further judges Mr. Darcy’s character as despicable. When Mr. Darcy pays a visit to the Collins’ abode during Elizabeth’s stay at Charlotte’s new home, Charlotte observes that without Elizabeth’s presence, “Mr. Darcy would never have come so soon to wait upon me” (116). This observation attests to Darcy’s growing affection for Elizabeth. Later, Elizabeth attends Rosings, the home of Lady Catherine, with Charlotte and Mr. Collins. Mr. Darcy visits Rosings at the same time and engages in a very civil, at times even playful, conversation with Elizabeth regarding the misfortunes of prejudgment. He reveals that he regrets having made such hasty judgment of Elizabeth. His feelings of fondness for Elizabeth continue to grow until he can no longer repress them, and he calls on her at Charlotte’s to tell her, “How ardently I admire and love you” and to ask for her hand in marriage (129). Unfortunately, though he has come to love her, he still sees her as below him because of her financial and social situation. He makes no effort to hide his feelings of superiority from Elizabeth, causing her to turn him down. During her frequent encounters with Mr. Darcy at Rosings, Elizabeth begins to see a more civil side of him, and during her playful conversation with him, he admits that he regrets his hasty judgment of her. However, she still does not view him as a good man due to her misconceptions about his treatment of Wickham. Darcy’s arrogant marriage proposal infuriates her. She tells him that she cannot express gratitude for the offer because, she says, “I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it unwillingly” (129). She recognizes that he still sees her as beneath him and that he views this prejudice as something merely to deal with rather than to expel. After his rejection by Elizabeth, Darcy writes her a letter in which he assures her that he will not reiterate his marriage proposal, but writes to amend her misconceptions of the situation with Wickham, because Wickham has told Elizabeth that Mr. Darcy has cheated Wickham out of money left him by Mr. Darcy’s father. During Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberley with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, they explore Darcy’s beautiful estate. When Darcy arrives unexpectedly, Elizabeth is embarrassed, but he treats her with the sincerest kindness, care, and concern. He realizes that though her aunt and uncle are not of a high social position, they have perfect manners and he likes them much more than he likes Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennet. He invites the three of them back to Pemberley and insists that Elizabeth meet his sister whom he cares about very much and to whom he has been a father-figure, demonstrating how very much he wants Elizabeth to be a part of his life. When Elizabeth receives Darcy’s letter, she at first wants to disregard it, “protesting…that she would never look in it again” (139). Then she recalls Wickham’s behavior when he told her of all of Mr. Darcy’s misdeeds. The realization hits her for the first time that Wickham’s words had been inappropriate and that he had had “no scruples in sinking Mr. Darcy’s character” (140). As much as she wants to believe the best about Wickham and the worst about Darcy, she can no longer deny that Wickham is clearly in the wrong and Darcy must be telling the truth. Upon meeting Wickham again, she sees “in the very gentleness which had first delighted her, an affectation and a sameness to disgust and weary” (157). Elizabeth now sees the error in her first impression of Wickham. Visiting Pemberley proves itself the real turning point for Elizabeth. A beautiful and natural landscape surrounds Darcy’s home. His elegant furnishings demonstrate exquisite, but not ostentatious, taste. His housekeeper has nothing but wonderful things to say about him and confirms Darcy’s version of Wickham’s story. As Elizabeth stands in his home, she thinks, “Of this place… I might have been mistress” (164). Darcy’s unexpected arrival surprises and embarrasses Elizabeth, but he treats her kindly, which left her “amazed at the alteration in his manner since they last parted” (168). When she and her aunt and uncle dine with Darcy, she meets his sister and likes her very much, regardless of her preconception of Miss Darcy’s exceeding pride. When Elizabeth finds out that her sister, Lydia, has run off with Wickham, Darcy immediately sets out to find them, and when he does find them, he uses his own financial means to settle a marriage between them. He keeps it a secret, but Lydia lets it slip to Elizabeth. When Bingley comes back to visit Jane, he brings Darcy with him, giving Darcy and Elizabeth ample time alone together. During a walk, Darcy proposes again, but this time he has evolved into a person who can do so without any prejudices against Elizabeth’s social and financial standing. Hearing of Mr. Darcy’s concern and generosity in her sister’s scandal cements her new view of him as a very good man. By the time he comes back to visit her with Bingley and proposes, now free of his former prejudices, she has grown to love him and accepts his offer. Because Elizabeth and Darcy allow their impressions of one another to continually change throughout the novel as more truths are revealed to them, they fall in love. If both of them had clung to that first judgment of the other, Elizabeth and Darcy would never have seen in each other the person they were meant to love for the rest of their lives. However, their evolution from contempt to love does not happen all at once. Rather, bit by bit, as their encounters reveal more, they let go of their prejudices because to hold onto them would be to lie to themselves and to each other. Both characters must step back from the first judgments they made and rejudge one another based on the new information and understanding they have acquired.
Pride and Prejudice-Dowries and Marriage in 19th-Century England
First published in 1813, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice aptly describes the nature of courtship and marriage in 19th century England. In this novel, Elizabeth Bennett eventually marries Fitzwilliam Darcy, a man who has a considerable estate. This is, presumably, a romantic love, and romantic love was only available to those who could afford it (MacFarlane 205). For the most part, “whom one marries will be heavily circumscribed by which rank one is born into” (MacFarlane 252). According to Park Honan, “romantic love among the gentry was more preached than practiced…a desirable match was engineered by person’s unswayed in feeling” (Honan 193). Courtship came before marriage, and was seen as the chance to determine compatibility. Prospective partners met at church or at dances (where Elizabeth meets Mr. Darcy) and continued to meet for some time after (Honan 312). One interesting tidbit of information is that some people considered sex acceptable after the betrothal (MacFarlane 306). In fact, “1/3 of women were pregnant when they married” (MacFarlane 306). People in 19th-century England placed far more importance on courtship than today’s young couples: “Once you propose, your course is to acquaint the parents or guardians of the lady of your intentions, at the same time stating your circumstances, and what settlement you must make upon your future wife, and on their side, they must state what will be her fortune as near as they can estimate…” (Pool 191). Marriage seemed more of a business arrangement than a matter of desire. For example, a husband often had to take a rich wife to further improve the ancestral family name (Pool 181). There were also certain social regulations regarding whom one could marry. A man, for instance, could not, marry his deceased wife’s sister, but two first cousins could marry. This occurred frequently, as evidenced by Mr. Collins’ proposal in Pride and Prejudice (Pool 180). People mainly married within their station, although this was not a formal rule. Because women depended on their parents to provide their dowry, many chose to wait and let the money accumulate to make a better match. “If a girl wished to marry well, she would be advised to bide her time. Often her economic attractiveness increased at the very point when her physical charms were diminishing” (MarFarlane 277). This typically occurred during a woman’s mid-twenties. (MacFarlane 277). Men typically waited for marriage until they could make an independent living (MacFarlane 278). “The longer he delayed his marriage, the greater his chance of a comfortable middle and old age” (MacFarlane 278). Before the wedding could take place, parental permission might be needed. “Until 1823, a man or woman under the age of 21 could not marry without parental permission” (Pool 180). Lydia Bennett and Wickham take care of this problem in a fashion typical to the early century. “In the early years of the century, people who wanted to evade the requirements skipped across the border into Scotland to a little town called Gretna Green” (Pool 183). There were also legal matters to be taken care of before the wedding. The lawyers would figure out the dowry: the wealth required by the bride and her family for the marriage. “The going rate for a woman of rank among aristocracy marrying a person of same level in 1870’s was between 10 and 30 thousand pounds” (Pool 301). The jointure (a legal term designating a portion of the husband’s estate for the widow after his death) was also formed in these marriage settlements (Pool 327). This would include the portion, which could be used for their own children’s dowries. “The bride’s family had to worry about making sure she and her children would have something to live on if her husband died or was a wastrel” (Pool 181). For this reason, pin money, an allowance given to a woman upon her marriage, was “frequently bargained for explicitly as part of the marriage settlement between the families of a prospective husband and wife” to be spent on household items or for personal adornment (Pool 353). Funnily enough, bride-wealth, or bride-price (the amount the husband and his family paid the bride’s family for the bride) was not seen in England after the 15th century. It was relevant in other countries, and still is in some (MacFarlane 277-278). As one can imagine, having more than one daughter was a strain on the family finances. “Bennett’s ill-luck was to have five daughters, and his dilemma is exaggerated in wartime when men are scarce and daughters burdensome…” (Honan 310). But in reality, only the eldest son seemed to have the upper hand in 19th-century life. “Only the eldest son, except in areas of partial inheritance, would receive the major estate” (MacFarlane 280). They could, of course, use their money to help their younger brothers and sisters, but they did not have to. “It would appear that younger sons and daughters were treated as equal” (MacFarlane 280). With the business taken care of, the wedding could finally be announced. Banns were the cheapest and most public way to get permission to marry (Pool 264). This required the parish rector or vicar to announce an impending wedding during the service on three consecutive Sunday mornings. “If no one arose to forbid the banns in the course of the reading, the couple could marry in the following three months” (Pool 264). One could also obtain a license to marry, if one did not want to marry by the banns. There were three different kinds: the archbishop of Canterbury could provide a “special license” to get married anytime, anywhere; a local minister could grant a much cheaper license that permitted marriage in the parish (Pool 332); or “one could also get a license to have a simple civic ceremony at the local registrar’s office or a ceremony in a nonconformist place of worship” (Pool 332). Elizabeth Bennett’s mother in Pride and Prejudice pushes her to get a special license to marry, since Darcy is wealthy enough to afford it. One needed four types of asset to marry: a home, furnishings for both the house and body, an assured income, and ready cash (MacFarlane 263). The actual wedding was required by law to be a morning affair (typically nine o’clock) until the late 1880s, but it could go on until three in the afternoon (Pool 183). This is why most 19th century novels featuring weddings describe the traditional wedding breakfast. The bride and groom were not required to invite their immediate family, although it was generally the social custom to do so (Pool 183). It was also the custom to throw shoes after the couple after the ceremony (Pool 183). In another interesting fact of the time during which Pride and Prejudice was written that the bride could ask a female companion to accompany her on the honeymoon. Upon marriage, a woman lost all control over her fortune, except for her land. Her husband could neither sell nor rent it, but he owned any income that came from it (Pool 184). Men were able to control their wives however they wanted, but were also legally liable for their spouses’ debts and civil wrongs (Pool 185). “When the husband and wife exchanged vows, they became one person, and, in the words of the jurist William Blackstone, ‘the husband is that person'” (Pool 184). During this era, divorces were extremely difficult and expensive to obtain. Up until 1857, there were three types. A vinculo matrimonii took place when a marriage was declared a nullity from the beginning because of too close a blood relationship, insanity, or impotence, among other reasons (Pool 185). A mensa et a thora forbid a person to remarry, but allowed a couple to separate because of adultery, sodomy, or cruelty – although it made the children spawned from the union illegitimate (Pool 185). Finally, a parliamentary divorce gave the petitioner (normally the husband) a divorce a mensa et a thora, then sued the spouse because of adultery. This way, the children were not declared illegitimate (Pool 185). During the later part of the century, three different acts were put into law that make England more recognizable to people of the 21st century. The Divorce Act of 1857 made it possible for men to divorce because of adultery, and for women to divorce because of incest, rape, sodomy, bestiality, bigamy, physical cruelty, or two years’ desertion (Pool 186). The Married Women’s Property Act of 1870 stated that money willed from others to the woman was her own, and not her husband’s (Pool 186). This was expanded in the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, which made all the property of a woman her own (Pool 186). These three acts marked a transition from one century to the next, and led England to where it is today.Works Cited Honan, Park. Jane Austen-Her Life. London, U.K: Phoenix, a division of Orion Books LTD, 1997. MacFarlane, Allen. Marriage and Love in England: Modes of Reproduction, 1300-1840. Oxford, U.K: Blackwell Publishers, 1986. Pool, Daniel. “What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist.” The Facts of Life in 19th Century England. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1993.
Mind over Matter in Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a story of courtship and marriage. In Austen’s world most matches were made according to circumstance and convenience. So it is with many of her young couples in the novel. The social sense of filial responsibility and financial prudence is so pervasive that Austen is, at times, questioned for her seeming lack of passion. Indeed, over half of the couples in the book end up with a mediocre marriage. The fact is, however, that Austen is giving her reader an extremely accurate depiction of the way in which society persuaded its citizens that love was secondary. This frame of mind offset romance by a large margin, but the author wants her readers to know that love is not a lost cause altogether. Austen’s tale is one where passion and desire are the unexpected cavalry in the skirmish of head verses heart. To this end, Pride and Prejudice is a brilliant novel in which love and longing, though treated contemptuously by the social mentality, prove victorious at long last. The relationship between passion and desire is deeply intricate. The desire for something usually precedes having a passion for it; however, there are times when uncalculated fervor rouses some secret yearning and entreats it to reveal itself. Moreland Perkins points out that the mind takes part in the revelation of desire, however, because a given mentality has the potential to subdue one’s conscious feelings. As he puts it, “The deeply felt emotions of a normally socialized human being are, in general, richly imbued with thought that figures as a defining ingredient in the emotions.” (Perkins 83). This may not be universally true for all Austenian characters, but the fact that Austen depicts this in her most ardent lovers, the bewitching Elizabeth Bennet and her charming Mr. Darcy, is an indication that she very much wants her readers to be aware of this struggle between the mind and one’s emotions. That a number of other characters in Pride and Prejudice share similar dilemmas is evidence that passion and desire face a formidable foe in their confrontation with social mindframes.Austen’s novel of manners has a plethora of characters to evaluate. Beginning with Lady Catherine de Bourgh, we encounter a creature whose disposition is not inclined to make allowances for the heart. Her allegiance to aristocratic propriety is such that marriage is entirely a matter of duty. Protests of passion and desire, the authors of love, are of no consequence to her when they bear the slightest indication of social degradation. Her own wish that her daughter should wed Mr. Darcy, her nephew, is supported by her hegemonic ambitions to preserve class order in a society where that distinction is becoming less and less rigid. Her indignation is powerfully expressed towards Elizabeth at Longbourn, when she demands submission to her own “claims of duty, honour, and gratitude.” (288). Because she does not possess one fibre of romantic sensibility in her body, Lady Catherine is Austen’s embodiment of conservative ideology that views marriage as both a social advantage and a family responsibility. Another character who adopts a socially constructed role at the expense of passion and desire is Caroline Bingley, an elegant but unfeeling woman whose only design in life is to marry Mr. Darcy. That Miss Bingley is a miniature of Lady Catherine is obvious. Each woman has a superiority complex that renders her exceedingly vain and extremely insolent toward anyone whom she believes inferior. Miss Bingley’s sensible evaluation of connections makes her insensitive to the satisfaction that her amiable brother finds in the company of country folk. In fact, her prejudice toward this class is as ill-founded as Elizabeth’s disdain for Mr. Darcy. With such a mindset, then, Miss Bingley is immune to the pull of tender sentiments on her fixed will, which has determined upon marrying well. There is even no pity for her disappointed intentions with Mr. Darcy because she never hurts over her loss; she merely envies her rival. What’s more, Miss Bingley’s jealousy really covets the status and fortune that Mr. Darcy’s wife will have, not her husband. Because of her hopes as a profiteer, Miss Bingley’s chance at a happy marriage depends wholly on money. To transform Miss Bingley into a woman of passion would jeopardize the verisimilitude that Austen labours to create in her characters. This profiteer mentality also manifests itself in George Wickham. The proper scoundrel of the story, Wickham has a history of scandalous indiscretion in matters of both love and money. Wickham’s current state of affairs when he is first introduced to Austen’s audience is desperate indeed. Because of his circumstances (i.e. significant debt and a sketchy reputation) he eventually elopes with Lydia Bennet, the youngest sister of Elizabeth. Confirmation that he neither esteems nor loves Lydia comes when he suddenly desires to marry her as soon as it becomes essential to his material security to do so. The lust that instigated the affair, however, quickly fades. The reader is told, “…his affection for her soon sunk into indifference.” (311), and their marriage state is one where Lydia visits Pemberly on the occasions when “her husband was gone to enjoy himself in London or Bath.” (311). For both Lydia and Wickham, then, the fervor of youthful fancy proves to have very little longstanding desire when tried by years of marriage. Although Lydia and Wickham are prey of a harsh ideology, Austen withholds pity from their affairs for the sake of preserving the integrity of her point. The failure of passion and lack of desire is sad, yes, but it is also realistic. As shown, Austen gives her readers several examples of how society so easily degrades passion and desire. It is important to bear in mind, however, that she does not always look down upon matches of prudence. If this were the case then the marriage of Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins would have been more negatively regarded, particularly on the part of Charlotte. How is it otherwise that Austen could design a character of good sense and general compassion, and yet allow her to wed the most annoying character any author ever put to paper? For an unmarried woman of seven and twenty years, a proposal from a stable clergyman was more than welcome. It is also worth considering that Charlotte is conveniently unconcerned with romance. Her only requests are a comfortable home and a quiet lifestyle, which fits perfectly with what Mr. Collins offers. It is no coincidence by Austen that Charlotte’s desires are so simple. Rather, it reminds the reader that all weddings do not necessarily unite passionate lovers. The fact that Charlotte is very content with her married life attests to this as much as it supports the idea that social security is good enough to support Spartan complacency. Austen’s material point with Charlotte is this: where the mind is satisfied with security it will substitute comfort for love. Here there is no yearning above polite affection, therefore, little or no passion grips the heart.That Austen portrays Charlotte Lucas as so practical a character makes it surprising that she should also be chosen as an intimate friend of Elizabeth, whose candor and liveliness far outshine the masses. Beyond that, she is quick to judge and slow to reconsider her partiality. She is sensible of social prejudices but generally unaware of her own begrudging disposition. Elizabeth is so preoccupied with disliking Mr. Darcy that she is actually numb to his appeal. The fact that her biased perspective determines what she actually sees is very critical in her struggle of mind and heart. Although Elizabeth is intelligent and fairly mature, she treats passion and desire with as much clumsiness as the naÃ¯ve Georgiana Darcy does with her early regard for Wickham. Like Georgiana, Elizabeth must break free of Wickham’s charming spell before her true feelings for Darcy can be discerned. It takes nearly two-third of the novel for this revolution of thought to take place, but when it does she finds that her estimation of Darcy rapidly escalates. It is not long at all before her newfound passion for him usurps the throne of her affections. Her mind clear, she is ready to receive her reward of what the reader assumes to be a very fulfilling marriage with Mr. Darcy. Austen’s indulgence of their love is duly significant. First of all, it shows that Austen herself believes in love; second, its context implies that she believes it exists in real life. Thus, Pride and Prejudice is truly a novel of romance and passion, it just tells the unabridged version of love’s labours in the world.All things considered, passion and desire travelled a rough road in the days of Jane Austen. That many marriages suffered as a result of mental obstacles is clearly demonstrated by the behaviour of nearly every character in the book. Even where society was not the culprit of lovers’ trials, some other power of mind interfered with one’s capacity to recognize his or her feelings. The accusation that Austen’s work is devoid of passion must be demanding a very conspicuous presentation of wild love from the author. But this is a courtesy that Austen very purposefully avoids; in fact, her design is to show that passion and desire are an uncommon force among genteel social circles. To her credit, she does just that. But as much as Austen does not advertise ardour she does not try to hide it either. This disguise is entirely the work of mind over matter.
Epistolary Study of Austen
Some of the greatest novels in history were masterfully written with twists and turns often achieved through the existence of complex characters that are either unpredictable or clever at disguising their true motives or desires. Just as a child loves piecing together a puzzle, so does an adult enjoy piecing together clues gathered throughout a story that lead to a well-rounded picture of a character. What makes Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice so popular and appealing to many readers are her unique methods of providing them with information that assists in the development of the plot and the personalities of her characters . One important way in which Austen does this is through the ancient art of letter writing. Through letters that are written between various characters, the reader becomes fully engrossed in the affairs of the parties involved. By following closely, the reader can try to determine the end results of the story as well as attain true understanding of the characters in eager anticipationSet in early nineteenth century England, the story’s primary focus is on the Bennets, a modest upper class family with five daughters and no male heirs. Through Mrs. Bennet’s incessant prattling, the reader can see that the mother’s apparent goal in life is to have all of her daughters married off in quick succession, and she gropes at every opportunity that comes within reach. At the outset, the Bennets learn that they have new neighbors, the Bingleys. Through them, the Bennets meet Mr. Darcy, who originates from a very rich family. The story now proceeds to unfold the nature of the lives of these characters and their relationships with each other.The first letter mentioned is from Miss Caroline Bingley to the eldest and most nubile of the Bennet daughters, Jane, inviting her to dine with the Bingleys at their estate. Significantly, it hints to the reader of a budding romance between Jane and Mr. Charles Bingley, Caroline’s brother. The event of a rainfall during Jane’s stay with the Bingleys causes her to fall ill, prompting the next letter informing Elizabeth, the second Bennet daughter in age and beauty, of her sister’s condition. The news motivates her to trek three miles through muddy roads to the Bingleys’ estate to assist in caring for her sister. Elizabeth’s journey through the night and unaccompanied in bad weather exposes to the reader her headstrong and independent attributes. Such traits were not common to the “proper woman” who was deemed as becoming, discreet, and beauty-conscious. As a result, Elizabeth’s character becomes a topic for animated discussion, particularly between Caroline Bingley and Mr. Darcy, a future admirer of Elizabeth.The next letter introduces a significant character, Mr. Collins, the much despised cousin of Mr. Bennet. Right from the start, one questions the sincerity of Collins and his true intentions. A superficial quality of benevolence is rampant throughout the letter, causing the reader to be skeptical of the genuineness of Mr. Collins’ apparently kind nature. For example, despite mentioning the desire to make amends with the Bennet family, he adds that he fears disrespecting the memory of his father by being “on good terms with any one with whom it had always pleased him [the father] to be at variance.” The fact that he gives notable consideration to his late father’s opinions–which should be irrelevant–of the Bennet family shows the insincerity of his wish to heal the breach between the households. Additionally, he boasts of being in favor with high nobility as well as with the clergy, suggesting that he is superior to the Bennets. He insinuates that his including them in his clerical duty of establishing “the blessing of peace in all families” within reach is an act of mercy and kindness on his part. Thus, this letter is important in that it already gives the reader the correct impression that Mr. Collins and the Bennets will never make amends.Thus far, one can see that letters provide not only a means of communication, but also a means of introducing and even foreshadowing future events. The next letter is sent by Caroline Bingley to Jane informing of the Bingleys’ move to London with no intention of coming back. Miss Bingley writes another letter that confirms the contents of the previous one and which provides the wood for a key argument that will flare up between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. The relationship between Jane and Mr. Bingley seemed so promising that the Bingleys’ sudden departure did not seem right. Therefore, Elizabeth begins to suspect that Miss Bingley and Mr. Darcy somehow masterminded the move in order to sever all ties between Jane and Mr. Bingley, for some cruel and unjust reason. From those suspicions, the reader anticipates that something major will occur later in the story.As the plot thickens, the reader now finds Jane in London with her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. Three letters are sent home by her to Elizabeth. The “London Trilogy” starts off with the first letter informing of Jane’s safe arrival in town. The second discusses Jane’s encounter with Miss Bingley and reveals that Jane had not seen and probably would not see Mr. Bingley. A possible explanation of the Bingleys’ quick move to London is revealed in the third letter, where Jane discloses to Elizabeth Miss Bingley’s plan to make Mr. Bingley and Miss Darcy, Mr. Darcy’s sister, a permanent pair. Indeed, much information has been uncovered, leaving the reader ample opportunity to mull over where the plot is going.The next significant letter is from Elizabeth to Aunt Gardiner concerning a previously introduced young officer, Mr. Wickham, who seemed to be attracted to Elizabeth. Thus far, the reader has an impression of Wickham as an honorable, veritable, and thoughtful man with exemplary manners. However, Elizabeth’s letter speaks of Wickham switching his partiality to a Miss King, who had recently acquired ten thousand pounds. Elizabeth reveals a mature attitude by the way she accepts the new situation without any ill feelings toward Mr. Wickham. However, to the reader, the letter enables him to detect imperfections in Wickham’s personality and, perhaps, misconceptions Elizabeth may have concerning this man’s character.The most critical letter in the novel is probably the one sent by Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy recently had his pride wounded by Elizabeth’s vehement rejection of his marriage proposal, which was accompanied by a downpour of accusations. As the reader predicted, this letter is Darcy’s attempt to respond to the two charges that Elizabeth had hurled against him. The first was his role in separating Mr. Bingley from Jane. According to Darcy’s observations, Mr. Bingley had an unusual attachment to Jane and it appeared that Jane seemed indifferent, not returning any of his attentions. Darcy did not want his friend to make what appeared to be a mistake and objected to any union between Jane and Bingley. Elizabeth later admits that Jane’s true, sincere feelings are not always exhibited by her countenance. Darcy also opposed the relationship because he had a bad impression of Mrs. Bennet and her three youngest daughters. The reader can easily sympathize with Darcy after reading much about the improper manners and the immaturity exhibited by those four characters. In reference to the second charge of having eliminated all chances of prosperity of Mr. Wickham, Darcy truthfully reveals the officer as being nothing more than a capricious, insatiable, and conceited profligate and a good actor. Insincere about his diligence in studies concerning the clergy and law, he only took advantage of the support he had attained from Darcy to lead an indolent life. Full of avarice, which explains his prior turn of attentions towards Miss King, he seduced Miss Darcy to marry him just for her monetary worth, though his iniquitous scheme failed. Overall, one finds out much about Mr. Darcy in this pivotal letter, realizing that he is quite misunderstood by many; in a sense, one rediscovers Mr. Darcy’s character from here on. Elizabeth’s impression of an arrogant, conceited Darcy ebbs after reading this letter; she is able to rid herself of prior prejudices against Darcy and to observe his behavior more objectively. Thus, as the saga continues and each piece of truthful information falls into place, the reader, along with Elizabeth, constantly adjusts and refines his views with regards to the characters involved. The next stream of letters from Jane to Elizabeth informs the latter of an unfortunate situation involving Wickham and the youngest and most extravagant of the Bennet daughters, Lydia. Having been permitted to spend time in Brighton to stay with the soldiers stationed there, the fickle girl complicates matters by running away with Mr. Wickham. (This letter also sets the stage for a significantly noble deed performed by Mr. Darcy that plays an important role in uniting him and Elizabeth.) At this stage, the reader is fully absorbed in the family affairs.By the time the two fugitives are found, marriage plans have already been settled and only require Mr. Bennet’s approval. Notably, the terms of the marriage were quite mild on the Bennets, for Wickham had previously acquired a considerable debt. At this point, the soldier’s reputation has degraded so that it seemed strange for him to run away with a girl who obviously did not have a wealthy inheritance; this fact leads one to conclude that someone had to have paid off Wickham’s debts. Initially, everyone credits Mr. Gardiner with the good deed. However, Elizabeth accidentally stumbles upon information that suggests a link between Mr. Darcy and the benevolent act, and she writes a letter to Mrs. Gardiner, hoping that her aunt can shed light on the matter.The letter Elizabeth receives in response to hers can be considered as one of the more important of the many letters found in the novel. Mrs. Gardiner reveals that it was really Mr. Darcy who located Lydia and Mr. Wickham and paid off Wickham’s debts. By doing so, Darcy tied up all loose ends resulting from the profligate life of an irresponsible soldier, enabling the couple to marry and to have a fresh start together. Such a maneuver on the part of Mr. Darcy is completely unexpected by the reader; there is no clear motive for his actions, though one could surmise that he desired to assist the family of the one he loved, Elizabeth. However, all of Darcy’s actions were done in secret which would mean that no one would ever thank him for this generous deed, nor would he get any credit for it. This letter clearly expresses the true nature of Mr. Darcy and his invaluable role in the recent matter. To the reader’s delight, Elizabeth is now more clear about Mr. Darcy’s emotions and is more prepared to accept him if he ever proposes to her again. Thus, the reader waits in eager anticipation for exactly what is going to happen to this special couple.Letter writing certainly plays a crucial role in Pride and Prejudice. Without it, the story would not be nearly as exciting, nor would the plot be as masterfully designed. The plots, subplots, and character revelations that the letters unveil throw the avid reader amidst the fray of early nineteenth century social gossip, immediately arousing and maintaining interest. By linking different parts of the story together, the letters enable the reader to anticipate and predict events at will, perhaps changing his view of the end result countless number of times. Furthermore, with the invaluable assistance of pen on paper between Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner, the novel has a happy ending–Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were finally able to admit and accept the love they really felt for each other. Perhaps, in time, there would be more who can ignore the pride and prejudices conditioned in their hearts by society today and will, perhaps through the use of letters written in all honesty and sincerity, find their own Elizabeth Bennet or Mr. Darcy.
The Influence of Society
In order to fully understand the meaning of a text, different approaches are used in analyzing or interpreting literature. When dealing with Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, one approach that is particularly appropriate is the topical/historical approach, as it stresses the relationship between the novel and its historical setting. By understanding the world in which Austen lived, a better understanding of her novel and her characters can be reached. Through the character of Elizabeth Bennet, most importantly, Austen both could reveal her own feelings about her society and satirize the practices and beliefs held by the upper classes. Although often considered a Victorian author, Jane Austen lived during the time of the Romantic Period, from 1775 to 1817. The era was turbulent. As Reidhead writes, “England experienced the ordeal of change from a primarily agricultural society, where wealth and power had been concentrated in the landholding aristocracy, to a modern industrial nation” (Reidhead 2). This was the beginning of what was called the “two nations”- the division between the rich and the poor in England (Reidhead 4). In terms of social structure, the Industrial Revolution “witnessed the triumph of a middle class of industrialists and businessmen over a landed class of nobility and gentry” (Cashell). Varying degrees of economic independence, social influence and power created firm distinctions between the classes. The gap between the upper and middle classes is especially apparent in Pride and Prejudice between the Bingleys and the Bennets. Mr. Bingley is financially well off, having “inherited property to the amount of nearly a hundred thousand pounds from his father…” (Austen 11). Like Mr. Bingley, those who were born into wealth usually stayed wealthy throughout their lives because of inheritance. In addition, individuals who belonged to the middle or lower classes tended to be reminded of their status by those who belonged to the upper class. Mr. Bingley’s sisters demonstrate this in their reaction to Elizabeth Bennet’s appearance, as it “created a great deal of surprise.— That she should have walked three miles so early in the day, in such dirty weather, and by herself, was almost incredible to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley…” (Austen 23). Elizabeth was thought less of because of her “less-than-proper” behavior. Similarly, Elizabeth and her family also experience the ill favor of Lady Catherine De Bourgh because of their social status and lack of wealth. Lady Catherine describes Elizabeth as “a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world” and “without family, connections, or fortune” (Austen 231-232). By underlining the pretention and snobbery of the nobility, even toward families as sympathetically-rendered as the Bennets, Austen lampoons the British upper classes. Her critique makes sense in the context of the time: Aristocrats often held the belief that a powerful family, connections and a fortune were what made a person worth something. It is clear that Austen depicts the harsh realities of the society in which she lived throughout the novel. As difficult as it was to belong to the middle or lower classes, being a woman in the eighteenth century had similar disadvantages. Women “were provided only with limited (or no) schooling, were subjected to a rigid code of sexual behavior, and (especially after marriage) were bereft of legal rights” (Reidhead 5). When it came to the education of women, the attitude was that their education “needn’t be of the same extended, classical and commercial character as that of men” (“Women’s Rights”). Lady Catherine De Bourgh shows this attitude when she questions Elizabeth on her lack of education and creative outlets: “Do your sisters play and sing?” “One of them does.” “Why did you not all learn?-You ought all to have learned. The Miss Webbs all play, and their father has not so good an income as your’s.-Do you draw?” “No, not at all.” “What, none of you?” “Not one.” “That is very strange. But I suppose you had no opportunity…” (Austen 109).Lady Catherine only inquires Elizabeth’s talents in playing instruments, singing and drawing, not in the intellectual education that a man would be expected to receive. This is because “the professions, the universities, the politics were not open to women” (“Women’s Rights”). For the most part, “women were instructed to…accept that their roles in life involved child rearing, housekeeping, and nothing more” (Reidhead 5). Women were also not permitted to ever live alone. Women “were dependent on their male family members” to “secure their future in case their husband treated them badly or they did not get married at all” (“Women’s Rights”). Lady Catherine supports this regulation as she states “young women should always be properly guarded and attended, according to their situation in life” (Austen 139). This also explains the reason that “Miss Bingley [was] to live with her brother and keep his house…,” as she was still unmarried (Austen 11). To sum it up, “women survived by pleasing and charming if they were in the middle classes…” (Weldon 35). The most practical way for women to survive was to be married. Many women “were willing to marry just because marriage was the only allowed route to financial security or to escape an uncongenial family situation” (“Women’s Rights”). This was certainly the case with Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte Lucas. “Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune…” (Austen 83). Charlotte finally receives what she wants when she accepts Mr. Collins’ proposal. She tells Elizabeth, “I am not romantic you know, I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’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 on entering the marriage state” (Austen 85). Charlotte, like most women in the eighteenth century, treats marriage as a business arrangement rather than a decision out of love. Similarly, Mrs. Bennet makes it “the business of her life to get her daughters married” (Austen 4). She is afraid, like many women, that if she does not marry her daughters, they will not be taken care of when she and her husband pass away. Far from limited to fiction, her worries were echoed by other women across eighteenth-century Britain. Despite the attitudes of many of her contemporaries, Jane Austen had a range of opinions on matters like love and marriage, which she showed through the character of Elizabeth. As most of the other characters throughout the novel are complying with the demands and expectations of society, Elizabeth refuses to treat her life as a business endeavor and follows the desires of her heart, not of society. Importantly, Elizabeth turns down a marriage proposal which would have been a very good decision to accept from an economic standpoint. When talking with Mr. Collins, Elizabeth explains that “my feelings in every respect forbid it”–because she is not in love with him, she cannot accept his proposal (Austen 74). Unlike her friend Charlotte, and most women of her time, Elizabeth refuses to be married unless it is out of sincere love for another. This is definitely the opinion of the author. As Harding writes, “we know too, at the biographical level, that Jane Austen herself, in a precisely similar situation to Charlotte’s, spent a night of psychological crisis in deciding to revoke her acceptance of an ‘advantageous’ proposal made” (Harding 298). When Elizabeth does decide to marry, the union between herself and Mr. Darcy “is not only to their mutual advantage, but brings together widely separate outlooks and social positions” (Duckworth 308). Mr. Darcy, being very well off financially, does not hold the same beliefs that are held by his aunt, Lady Catherine, when it comes to people of the middle and lower classes. He chooses to look past the prejudices and the labels that society pins upon groups of people based on their social and economic status; he loves Elizabeth for who she is. Elizabeth does the same as she learns that individuals should not be judged by what others say about them or by their reputation. Thus, Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage bridges the gap between the upper and middle classes. Yet it also reveals Austen’s idea of a truly “good” marriage arrangement. Austen proposes that one must rid themselves of all pride, and of all prejudices, in order for this kind of great union to be attained. With this idea, Austen shows herself to be ahead of her time–but still shaped by it.Works CitedAusten, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. 3-254.Cashell, Brian W. “Middle Class.” Wikipedia. 20 Mar. 2007. 18 Apr. 2007
The Power of Seventeen Letters
Jane Austen is one of the most revered female writers in the history of literature. Her accomplishments with her novel Pride and Prejudice are still recognized to this day. This satire has withstood the test of time largely because of the narrative techniques Austen uses throughout the novel. One method in particular is the epistolary technique, or the telling of a story through corresponding letters between the characters. Jane Austen uses the epistolary technique with seventeen letters to help reveal the characters of the story. The personas of Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins, Jane, Lydia, and Mr. Bennet are greatly embellished by the existence of the letters. Mr. Darcy’s character is embellished and revealed using the epistolary technique. His entire image during the first half of the book is of a pompous and arrogant nature, but this is entirely altered when he writes his letter to Elizabeth after his proposal. Before the letter, Elizabeth has a firm dislike for Darcy. She blames him for keeping her sister Jane away from Bingley, and for cheating Mr. Wickham out of his rightful money. But Darcy’s letter reveals to her the true reasons for his actions. He separated Jane and Bingley because he was looking out for his friend. He thought that Jane was “indifferent” (170), towards his friend and did not truly love him. This clearly reveals that Darcy is in fact a very caring and a loyal friend. If he were as self-centered and rude as everyone at first thought him to be, he might not have separated Jane and Bingley for the same reasons. The letter also shows that Darcy is very loyal, and not greedy. This is revealed when Darcy describes his conflicts with Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth believes that Darcy was just being greedy and keeping the money from Wickham, when in fact he is being loyal to his father and honoring his wishes. “In town I believe he chiefly lived, but his studying the law was a mere pretence, and being not free from all restraint, his life was a life of idleness and dissipation… as he well assured that I had no other person to provide for, and I could not have forgotten my revered father’s intentions. You will hardly blame me for refusing to comply with this entreat, or resisting every repetition of it” (173). Darcy also shows his loyalty to his family when breaking up the marriage between Wickham and his little sister. It was obvious to Darcy that Wickham wanted to marry his little sister only because she had a “fortune, which is thirty thousand pounds” (174) to her name. In Darcy and Elizabeth’s situation, it was better to have a letter to convey Darcy’s feelings than to have a normal conversation, because Elizabeth most likely would not have listened to what Darcy had to say due to her anger towards him. So, after the letter, Darcy’s character seems to have become something very different than what it was in the beginning of the story. Mr. Collins, in fact, almost entirely reveals his interesting character through his letters to Mr. Bennet. Collins first writes to Mr. Bennet to say that he will try to be as hospitable as possible to the unfortunate family as he is going to inherit the entire estate when Mr. Bennet dies. He does not ask permission to stay, simply states that he is coming “without any inconvenience” (54). He almost immediately mentions his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and begins to ramble about how great and powerful she is. He means well, it seems, but is extremely arrogant. He says that, “…as a clergyman, moreover, I feel it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in all families within the reach of my influence…” (47). He seems to think that he is being charitable by blessing them with his presence. His second letter further reveals his pompous state of being. This letter is in response to Lydia’s unfortunate situation with Mr. Wickham. Mr. Collins seems to be attempting to console the family on their unfortunate situation, but his stupidity makes it difficult for him to do so. He basically says that Lydia has been spoiled and let run wild and that there is no saving her now. He states that, “The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this…” (220), says that none of the other girls will ever be married now, and ends with how grateful he is that he did not marry into the family. Mr. Collins’ final letter comes when he hears of Jane and Mr. Bingley’s engagement and the supposed engagement of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. He has enough self-worth to caution Elizabeth because, “…Lady Catherine de Bourgh, does not look on the match with a friendly eye,” (272). Collins reveals in his letters that he thinks of himself sitting on a pedestal when really, the reader knows, he is a babbling idiot. By using letters, the reader knows the opinion of other characters that are not present at the time. Jane Bennet’s letters to her sister are some of the only times that she actually speaks and therefore reveals more character. She believes everyone to be good and have honorable intentions. In her letter to Elizabeth from London, she finally admits that Caroline Bingley is not her very best friend. Jane has come to realize that Miss Bingley does not want her brother to marry her and she believes that she wants him to wed Miss Darcy. She is still forgiving of the Miss Bingley and says that, “…I pity her, because she must feel that she has been acting wrong, and because I am very sure that anxiety for her brother is the cause of it,” (111). Jane does not realize that the reason Miss Bingley wants her brother to marry Miss Darcy is to provide her with a greater connection to Mr. Darcy. In reality, Miss Bingley doesn’t care at all about her brother’s happiness, but Jane is innocent enough to not see that. In her later letters to Elizabeth in Derbyshire regarding Lydia, Jane’s modest character shows itself once more. Lydia’s situation is extremely serious and could mean tragedy for the family and yet Jane does not write in a panic for Elizabeth and the Gardiners to come immediately. Instead, she outlines the situation in a somewhat subdued manner and becomes modestly distressed near the end of her second letter. Instead of demanding that they come at once she says, “…I long for your return…I am not so selfish, however, as to press for it, if inconvenient…” (203). During this era, letters were the only communication device to report news. Austen utilizes this setback to further the notion of Jane’s modesty and selfless nature. Lydia Bennet’s two short letters further the sense the reader gets of her materialistic, shallow, and oblivious nature. When she recklessly runs off with Wickham, she writes to her friend in Brighton, Mrs. Forster. She exclaims, “What a good joke it will be,” (216) when her family finds out about her elopement. She has no clue that she is causing an enormous uproar at Longbourn. She cares about herself and has no notion for anybody else. This is demonstrated further when she writes to Elizabeth after she has married Mr. Darcy. She says, “It is a great comfort to have you so rich…I hope you will think of us,” (290). Lydia shows that she is completely self-absorbed and simple-minded by her letters. By using this technique, Austen can emphasize Lydia’s flaws without affecting the plot. Mr. Bennet’s character and sense of humor is brilliantly demonstrated in his letter to Mr. Collins regarding Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. His hatred for Mr. Collins manifests itself in a funny and joking manner in this letter, although he is quite serious. He advises Mr. Collins to, “Console Lady Catherine as well as you can. But, if I were you, I would stand by the nephew. He has more to give,” (287). Mr. Bennet’s entire character is demonstrated by this. It is direct; it is sarcastic; it is humorously insulting; it, in essence, is just like Mr. Bennet. The epistolary narrative technique is used by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice to further highlight all of the main characters. This technique is one of many that provide the binding force of the novel. It was because of these letters that the reader is able to understand characters such as Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins, Jane, Lydia, and Mr. Bennet. When analyzed, there are so many literary techniques to take notice of, but when one is simply reading, the mind is overtaken by the story that all those little parts serve to create.
The Role of Balls and Gossip in 18th Century England
Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra, written between 1796-1801, shed much light upon the social events Austen includes in Pride and Prejudice. Frequently, the entire substance of Jane’s letter was a description of a ball she had just attended, a ball she was going to attend, a ball her sister might go to, and references to balls in which her sister’s name was mentioned. During the time period these letters were written, Austen was composing Pride and Prejudice. A modern reader of Pride and Prejudice might conclude that Elizabeth is a reflection of Jane’s personal nature, and that Jane was therefore above all the gossip that transpires during these balls. However, when viewed in the context provided by these letters, these conclusions may not be entirely accurate, as the girlish glee and deliciously catty descriptions that appear in Austen’s letters are almost identical to her descriptions of the assembly at Meryton and the ball at Netherfield. Although not immediately obvious to the reader of Pride and Prejudice, “ball society” during the 18th century provided a safe way for young people to come to know each other, court, and compare experiences. The number of guests at a ball becomes an important factor because a large, mixed event better provided young people with a safe opportunity to socialize and meet prospective mates. In describing the Meryton Assembly, Austen hints at this, telling the reader that “a report soon followed that Mr. Bingley was to bring 12 ladies and seven gentlemen with him to the assembly. The girls grieved over such a number of ladies” (Austen 7). While the social importance of this could easily be dismissed by the reader or written off as commentary on the girls’ superficiality, Austen’s letters leave no such ambiguity as they repeatedly catalog the number of attendees, their gender, their ages and their relative desirability. For example, in her letter to Cassandra dated November 25, 1798, Austen writes “the ball on Thursday was a small one indeed, hardly so large as an Oxford smack. There were but seven couples and only 27 people in the room” (LeFaye 22). In a letter from the following month, Austen describes another event saying, “our ball was very thin, but by no means unpleasant. There were 31 people and only 11 ladies out of the Number and five single women in the room” (LeFaye 29). The repeated emphasis on how many gentlemen and ladies were present continues throughout the letters written in the late 1790’s and leaves no doubt regarding what constituted a desirable event. Viewed in the context of the letters, what appeared to be Austen’s cutting social commentary becomes a genuine concern regarding the nature of the event.The social “safe haven” provided by “ball society” was all the more important when we remember that the late 1700’s were a socially de-stabilizing time. The American Revolution, French Revolution and the declining mental health of George III created much uncertainty and changing social roles. Although politics did not intrude into Pride and Prejudice, the number of military officers speaks to the relative social instability of the time. These men are generically referred to as officers or more obliquely (for the modern reader) as “red coats” (Austen 61). The presence of these men at the Meryton Assembly and Netherfield ball is included in Austen’s accounting of the ball guests. Her letters are frequently more explicit with references to rank.Austen’s letters to Cassandra also provide insight into the importance of gossip in Austen’s life. While it is easy for the reader to assume that Jane Austen (speaking through Elizabeth) was above the petty concerns evidenced by Elizabeth’s sisters and mother, the letters to Cassandra suggest otherwise. For example, the anticipation with which Kitty and Lydia look forward to the Netherfield ball appears to be calculated to make the reader question the judgment of the girls. Austen notes “nothing less than a dance on Tuesday, could have made such a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, endurable to Kitty and Lydia” (Austen 61). However, this eagerness was shared part and parcel by Austen. While the first sentence of her letter dated January 10, 1796 deals with perfunctory matters, in the second sentence, Austen plunges in saying “After that necessary preamble, I shall proceed to inform you that we had an exceedingly good ball last night” (LeFaye 1) – and the balance of the letter describes the event at length. Clearly, Austen shared every bit of Lydia and Kitty’s eagerness for these social events. Similarly, observations made by those who attended the Meryton Assembly and the gossipy “post-mortem” of the event afterwards, lead the reader to assume that Austen is perhaps offering it as social commentary. However, when viewed from the context of the letters, it becomes apparent that Austen is an inveterate gossip herself. For example, Mrs. Bennet’s rapturous comments (“he is so excessively handsome! And his sisters are charming women. I never in my life saw any thing more elegant than their dresses. I dare say the lace upon Mrs. Hurt’s gown” (Austen 10)) leads the reader to conclude that Austen has staked out some moral high ground above her characters. However, the letters clearly establish Austen as equally gossipy. In her letter to Cassandra dated May 12, 1801, Austen reveals, I am proud to say that I have a very good eye at an Adultress, for tho’ repeatedly assured that another in the same party was the She, I fixed upon the right one from the first. – A resemblance to Mrs. Leigh was my guide. She is not so pretty as I expected; her face has the same defect of baldness as her sister’s, & her features are not so handsome;- she was highly rouged, & looked rather quietly & contentedly silly than anything else. Mrs. Badcock & two young Women were of the same party, except when Mrs. Badcock thought herself obliged to leave them, to run round the room after her drunken Husband. His avoidance, & her pursuit with the probable intoxication of both, was an amusing scene (LeFaye 85). Austen clearly takes delight in being catty – and is as inveterate a gossip as any of her characters. Austen’s letters to Cassandra also provide greater understanding as to why Darcy’s snub of Elizabeth was so devastating to her and why Elizabeth initially viewed him in so little esteem. Pride and Prejudice provides a veritable bookkeeping of who is a wallflower and who is engaged in the social world. Darcy’s snub of Elizabeth (“she is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me” (Austen, 9)) was preceded by Elizabeth being removed from the action for lack of a partner. Austen tells the reader, “Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged by scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances” (Austen 8), leaving the reader to conclude that this somehow factored into Darcy’s rejection of her. This rejection (and the underlying reason) was reciprocated by Elizabeth who observed that “At Meryton, Mr. Darcy only danced once with Miss Hurst, and once with Miss Bingley” (Austen 8) – thereby making him a person of little account in the world of 18th century ball society. What remains unclear from this exchange, however, is just how tightly coupled one’s self esteem is to popularity at a ball. Here, the letters are very illuminating because they repeatedly recite a litany of how many dances were danced, who was formed to sit out and who was standing alone. In her letter of December 24, 1798, Austen writes, There were 20 dances & I danced them all, & without any fatigue. I was glad to find myself capable of dancing so much and with such satisfaction as I did; – from my slender enjoyment of the Ashford balls (and assemblies for dancing), I had not thought myself equal to it, but with cold weather and a few couples I fancy I could just as well dance for a week together as for a half an hour. My black cap was openly admired by Mrs. LaFroy and secretly I imagine by everyone else in the room (LeFaye 29-30).On January 8, 1799, Austen was less in demand, as she wrote, “I do not think I was very much in request -. People were rather apt not to ask me until they could help it;-One’s Consequence you know varies so much at times without any particular reason” (LeFaye 35). The same concerns are apparent in a letter of November 1, 1800 in which Austen writes, “I danced nine dances out of ten, five with Stephen Terry, T. Chute & James Digweed and four with Catherine. There were commonly a couple of ladies standing up together, but not often any so amiable as ourselves” (LeFaye 53). This repeated emphasis makes it patently clear that one’s self-worth and social standing were intimately tied to being in demand, being an active participant and being fluid on the dance floor. Viewed in this context, Darcy’s snub – which immediately followed a period in which Elizabeth was not in demand – was emotionally devastating.In summary, Austen’s letters to her sister provide a window into the world of 18th century “ball society” that enhances the readers’ understanding of Pride and Prejudice. It is significant that Austen was avidly involved in ball society during the writing of Pride and Prejudice. Her running commentary of these seemingly superficial events provides a deeper understanding of the characters’ motivations, particularly with regard to Darcy’s snub and the conversations between the sisters. Shortly after the turn of the century, Austen’s letters turn to other matters and she becomes an observer of balls rather than the giddy girlish participant she was in the late 1790’s. However, during the writing of Pride and Prejudice, Austen was as catty as any of her characters – a trait that makes Pride and Prejudice a delicious read.BibliographyAusten, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 1813. 3rd ed. Ed. Donald Gray. A Norton Critical Edition. New York: Norton, 2001.Le Faye, Deirdre, ed. Jane Austen’s Letters. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1995.
The Tao of Austen: The Philosophy of Concordia Discors in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
“Opposites attract” may be a modern adage, but the concept has been present in many incarnations throughout history. In Chinese philosophy, the yin and yang are presented as opposing dynamics. To understand one, it is requisite to know the other. One of the most eloquent renderings is the philosophy of “concordia discors,” or discordant harmony. According to this philosophy, the universe consists of opposing entities. The universe, in seeking a balance, must thus couple the opposing entities to create equilibrium. In her novel Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen weaves this philosophy into a social commentary in which an entire society suffers a fixation on coupling. In her four most prominent characters, Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and Charles Bingley there exist greatly opposing temperaments. However, in observing the interactions between these characters, Austen reveals an underlying harmony in their relationships. At first, Austen emphasizes the differences between sisters Jane and Elizabeth through comparisons of temperament. These differences are made quite clear when both characters remark on the same occurrence, as their opinions and personalities present startlingly different dynamics. Having both attended a ball, Jane and Elizabeth compare impressions of the guests, among which are Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. Immediately, a disparity between the two appears. Jane, who “never see[s] a fault in anyone,” is surprised at having been paid the compliment of being asked to dance twice by Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth, however, was not surprised. “Compliments always take you by surprise, but never me,” (11) she remarks. This is due partly to Elizabeth’s “quickness,” (2), as her father puts it. The dynamic put forth by Elizabeth is of an analytical nature, while that of Jane is more receptive and open. “I would wish not to be hasty in censuring anyone, but I always speak what I think,” (11) says Jane. Yet Elizabeth accuses Jane of “affectation of candor” (11). Elizabeth is quick to notice the “follies and nonsense of others” (11). Elizabeth’s personality may seem probing and critical. Austen observes that this characteristic is not balanced by “attention to herself” (11). Austen understands that a friendship is greater than a sum of its parts. Her characters work best when in the presence of someone who possesses what individually they lack themselves. Elizabeth thus compensates for Jane’s lack of perceptiveness. Jane compensates for Elizabeth’s overtly analytical mindset. Austen illustrates a parallel relationship in that of Darcy and Bingley. The friendship is a strong one “in spite of a great opposition of character,” (12) just like that between Jane and Elizabeth. Bingley’s temperament presents “openness” and “ductility of temper” (12). Shortly upon arriving at the ball, “Bingley had made himself acquainted with all the principle people, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early” (7) and was contemplating residence in the town. “No disposition could offer a greater contrast” (12) to Darcy’s, observes Austen. Although “clever,” Darcy is “haughty, reserved, and fastidious.” Unlike his friend, he refuses to dance and resigns himself to being a wallflower. When asked to dance with Elizabeth, he dismisses her as “not handsome enough” (8). This further illustrates the divide. Darcy commits the very opposite of the compliment Bingley pays Jane. Bingley is presented as a social butterfly, who is “sure of being liked everywhere he went” (12), while it is the opposite case with Darcy. Austen has thus created another friendship greater than the sum of its parts. Harmony exists between Bingley and Darcy in that Darcy lacks Bingley’s social graces, and Bingley lacks Darcy’s discerning eye. The similarities between Elizabeth and Jane are revealed when Elizabeth couples with Darcy and Jane with Bingley. Austen observes that they have more in common than is apparent at first. While Bingley and Jane share an open-mindedness, Jane presents a less socially adept front. Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte Lucas observes the lacks of understanding between these two. While both share feelings for each other, Bingley “may never do more than like her if she does not help him” (17). Jane appears aloof to Bingley’s advances, and does not show any marked interest in pursuing a relationship. Bingley, on the other hand, is drawn to her and makes this apparent whenever they chance to meet. Eventually, his sisters and Darcy are able to convince him that Jane does not share these feelings simply by alluding to her aloof appearance. Elizabeth was presented as less socially endowed than her sister in the former relationship, but Jane is now the less socially cognizant dynamic in the relationship. Bingley is presented as the more adept participant, whereas in his relationship with Darcy, the opposite is true. Austen further emphasizes the similarities when she describes the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy. Darcy initially insults Elizabeth, yet it is his continued arrogance that draws her to resent him. Upon his unexpected proposal, Darcy is unable to rise above his feeling of superiority. Elizabeth, alas is “decidedly below [his]self” (165) and he would marry her in spite of his own convictions and those of his family. It is no surprise that Elizabeth refuses, considering he admits to separating Jane and Bingley (which Elizabeth cannot forgive). Her decision was further tainted by a conversation with the son of a family friend of Darcy’s, Mr. Wickham, by whose account Darcy has committed a great wrong. Yet Elizabeth is unaware of the rationale behind either of these events. In a letter, Darcy reveals the true circumstances of both. These circumstances absolve Darcy of any blame, which Elizabeth might have held against him. Elizabeth is at first distraught, and unable to believe herself to have judged Darcy unfairly. Darcy, for his part, removes his haughty faÃ§ade to reveal a a much more tender and socially-aware personality. This hidden personality is markedly similar to that of his friend Bingley. He is sociable and courteous to Elizabeth and her family. Elizabeth reveals a lack of insight as to the behavior of Mr. Wickham (who on later inspection seems a much more sordid character) and Darcy’s motives for separating Jane and Mr. Bingley. This lack of acumen reveals she is very much like Jane. These similarities create the harmony of the “concordia discors.” Austen’s novel presents a society very much fascinated by couples. Her characters are shrewdly developed and differentiated. This can be seen as a master-class in good writing technique. None of her characters are perfect – if that had been the case, we would be in for a rather dull novel. In fact, her characters are given to reverting to extremes of temperament. Had Austen not presented a foil for each of her characters, the novel itself would not have been balanced. Too much analysis, like that of Elizabeth and Darcy, leads to a sour experience. However, too little insight, like that of Bingley and Jane, makes one blind to the true nature of things. Austen reveals a Zen of sorts that develops within the context of societal relations. The greatest relationship is one in which each person understands what they lack themselves, and is aware of what the other has to offer.
The Community Made Me Do It
It is a truth universally acknowledged: an individual who wishes to belong is inevitably influenced by his or her community. The extent to which the village actually raises the child is the crux of William Deresiewicz’s argument in his critical analysis of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, entitled “Community and Cognition in Pride and Prejudice.” According to Deresiewicz, the community serves as an actual character within the novel. It has its own expectations, conventions, and activities; in essence, the community is the impetus that drives the plot. Furthermore, because the community is the stimulus, the way in which it thinks, talks, and exerts influence over the characters actually drives the plot, therefore creating the plight of the novel’s heroine. This community, however, is admittedly imperfect; the plot thus serves as constructive criticism, enabling Austen to contrast the community in the novel with her idealized community. To better understand the developments of the human characters in the novel, the community’s personality and idiosyncrasies must first be understood. According to Deresiewicz, the community not only dictates conventional social activities and behavioral norms, but also provides a set of “cognitive processes” or “mental processes” which guide the other characters (504). The community acts like any other individual: gathering information, making judgments based on that information, and communicating its decisions to others – but on a far larger scale. The community serves as the basis on which all of the other characters learn to glean information. Because the neighborhood is limited and relatively homogeneous, “beliefs once accepted harden into ‘universal truths'”(505). These edicts that guide perception then translate into the mentality that evaluates (or makes judgment on) all input from the outside world. Deductive reasoning is the thought process of choice within Austen’s community because it is definite and quick. This syllogistic thought process can be illustrated by the fact that:All single men in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Mr. Bingley is a single man in possession of a good fortune. Mr. Bingley must be in want of a wife. (505)It requires far less energy for this community to passively accept generalizations and apply them to specific instances than to aggressively seek out patterns upon which to formulate an overview. Deresiewicz uses examples in which “everybody” is in agreement about Darcy’s rude and haughty disposition to convey the fact that many specific assessments are accredited to the community, rather than to specific characters. This implementation of deductive reasoning yields a mental response which in turn triggers a gag reflex (506). As soon as Mrs. Bennet hears of an eligible bachelor, her mind races ahead to a potential marriage because society has trained her to do so. Even Elizabeth is susceptible to this ill-informed mentality: she first deems Darcy insufferable only after she tells her friends of how he dismissed her at the ball and witnesses their horrified reactions. She falls victim to society’s dictates again when she regards Wickham as a good man because of his “good countenance.” This critic believes that the ultimate shortcoming of this form of judgment is its inability to deal with contradictions and exceptions to the syllogism. The plot is thus propelled by one character’s desire to break the patterns and think beyond the boundaries of her restrictive society. Beyond the homogeneity and ingrained Pavlovian reactions lies a complex internal environment that looks slightly different to each character. The way in which the community thinks, talks and exerts its influence is crucial to its exposition as a character and to its effect on the members of that society. In essence, the community thinks as a singular body, using communication to clarify and homogenize these thoughts into a collective and slightly broader worldview (511). After the women gather to discuss the ball, the consensus about Darcy’s temperament is that he suffers from “pride,” regardless of the distinct perceptions each had before that conversation. The community’s mentality gives Elizabeth the framework within which to determine her response to reality, because she “could not stand apart from the group were she not standing firmly within it” (513). No space exists that is not social in this neighborhood because there is a multiplex of relationships wherein individuals are “connected in a plurality of ways” and continually encounter each other (515). This “density” enables the community to talk on many levels-as friends, couples, etc-because these interconnected people have a reason and right to talk to one another. Furthermore, the community exerts a certain level of influence over the individuals within it because density provides the “matrix of the novel’s plot” (515). The freedom to comment breeds the freedom to meddle in others’ affairs and complicate relationships. Such is the case when the community circulates rumors of Jane and Bingley’s pending engagement, which makes Darcy perceive the Bennets as vulgar (516). One benefit of this dense communal situation is that men and women are free to converse without having to declare romantic feelings and establish friendships that can lead to romantic relationships. Therefore, the community serves as the intermediary between strangers and friends. While the community has many faults and shortcomings, there are some redeeming aspects. As with many Jane Austen novels, Pride and Prejudice depicts an ideal community that contrasts with the reality known to the characters. According to Deresiewicz, Elizabeth’s dealings with men in Longbourn enable her to see the cognitive constraints established by the community. Her conversation with Wickham indulges her faults because she hears only facts that confirm her own judgments against Darcy’s character because “two identical positions are not likely to force each other to change” (521). The intimacy of this community makes “searching judgment possible” but “undesirable” (522). Elizabeth is only able to fully see the shortcomings in her community when Darcy, a man from outside the community, “disrupts the patterns of Elizabeth’s life” (522). He thoroughly shakes her foundations and standards for normalcy by his unrestrained opposition in a world of veritable concordance. The caustic diatribes between Darcy and Elizabeth juxtapose the smooth concordance of the Wickham/Elizabeth conversations and thus force Elizabeth to become aware of the community’s blindness and homogeneity. Her true turning point occurs when she reads Darcy’s letter and is unable to wittily turn his words against him. She is forced to evaluate her perceptions without the community’s influence, and thus begins the grueling process of extracting herself from the society in which she is so embedded (525). Moreover, the community lacks the certain flair, or “sexiness,” that Elizabeth desires and she must look beyond Longbourn to find, because “contradiction can arrive only from outside the community (526). Darcy and Elizabeth relocate to Pemberly to create a new community founded on incisive and amicable communication, rather than mere complacence. There is no real change “in the weapons used, but in their targets” because they are now “tougher on themselves than they are on each other”(528). Elizabeth never achieves total change, but rather works with Darcy to create the foundation for their own reality. They strive to create their own community: a community that is far more amiable and open to criticism. While I find Deresiewicz’s argument that the community is a character separate from the specific townspeople convincing and well-supported, I believe that he places too great an emphasis on the stasis of that community. It seems to me that his vision of the community is unchangeable, requiring Elizabeth and Darcy to leave (or disassociate) from the old community in order to create a way of life that is more suitable for them. Because Longbourn as an individual seems so repressive, I imagine that the Lucases, Bennets, etc. could benefit from a change of pace. Furthermore, Darcy and Elizabeth would be more effective as protagonists should they make an attempt to transform Longbourn into their vision for Pemberly. Longbourn is only in its current state because of the complacence and acquiescence of its residents; if someone harbored an alternative opinion and actually held fast to it without abandoning the community, the others may actually realize that change is possible and, in fact, preferable. Longbourn is like a small child that does not know how to play well with others: until someone with enough sense takes charge, it will grow into an adult with equal parts strength and greed. While the village is a contributing factor in raising a child, that child can one day grow and fix the inadequacies of the village, thus making it a better place.
A Remedy to Prejudice: Role Models at Home
Eighteenth-century American humorist and lecturer Henry Wheeler Shaw once said, “To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while.” This wise, candid statement highlights the fact that parents play a significant role in a child’s formation because of the examples they set with their actions. In Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, the witty protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, is greatly affected by her parents’ words and actions, as is demonstrated by her improper judgment of – and prejudice towards – the wealthy aristocrat, Fitzwilliam Darcy. Jane Austen’s portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet’s character suggests that her prejudice originates from her parent’s faults and their inability to communicate. After two decades of being the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth is keenly aware of their failings. Mr. Bennet, the father and only male figure in the Bennet family, is at first portrayed sympathetically because of his imperturbable composure and sense of humor in the face of Mrs. Bennet’s hysterical anxiety spells. As his character is revealed more fully, however, his particular failing – a propensity to withdraw from family problems rather than confront them – becomes more evident. In fact, Mr. Bennet frequently separates himself from his family, retiring to his study early to read books, drink port, or bitterly amuse himself with his wife’s or daughters’ foolishness. This tendency towards critical judgments and his blatant favoritism towards Elizabeth are revealed in his statement: They [his children with the exception of Elizabeth] have none of them much to recommend them…They are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters. If this is the opinion of the “proud” father, his daughters are most likely glad that he spends most of his time in his study. Mrs. Bennet often displays a similarly poor character. Her failings include a quick temper and a hasty spirit. The narrator describes Mrs. Bennet as “a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper.” Indeed, Mrs. Bennet is frequently anxious, upset, and grieved at the slightest provocation (such as a neighbor owning a new bonnet); similarly, a wealthy, single man in the vicinity of Longbourne can excite her temperament to giddiness and put her into a frenzy. Furthermore, Mrs. Bennet is prone to hold grudges against anyone who contradicts her own ideas. For example, Mrs. Bennet impugns Darcy’s name when he prefers not to dance with any of the local girls – or Elizabeth, in particular, who happens to be sitting nearby. This one slight causes Mrs. Bennet to avow hatred of Darcy for the rest of her days. Elizabeth’s quickness of temper, obdurate opinions, and hasty decision-making mirror her mother’s character, while her overly critical analyses of others and inclination to brood parallel her father’s behavior. Another factor that influences Elizabeth Bennet’s quick – and on many occasions rash – judgments is her parents’ inability to communicate with one another. The Bennets married because Mrs. Bennet was young and beautiful and Mr. Bennet was charming; these traits, however, were eclipsed as their more pronounced differences emerged. The emotional distance between the parents is so prevalent that the narrator states that even after “the experience of three and twenty years,” Mrs. Bennet is still unaware of her husband’s true character. Between Mr. Bennet’s subtly cynical nature and Mrs. Bennet’s obstreperous determination, this married couple never carries on a true conversation. Mrs. Bennet talks and Mr. Bennet responds with witty non sequiters, but neither listens to the other. Mr. Bennet sardonically reflects on the differences between him and his marriage partner when he is told by Mrs. Bennet that his children are “very clever.” He states coolly: This is the only point, I flatter myself, on which we do not agree. I had hoped our sentiments coincided in every particular, but I must so far differ from you as to think our two youngest daughters uncommonly foolish. In truth, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s “sentiments” differ in almost every regard. Because her parents are always at odds, Elizabeth learns both to press her opinions on others like her mother, and to deliver the judgmental witticisms that are her father’s specialty. Thus, Elizabeth’s upbringing by her parents contributes to “Lizzy’s” aptness to prejudice. Although Elizabeth Bennet is a witty, vivacious, and beautiful girl, she also possesses a tendency to jump to conclusions and make prejudicial judgments, as is exemplified by her meetings with Darcy. When Elizabeth first comes into contact with Darcy, she encounters a personality similar to that of her father. Just as Mr. Bennet and Darcy are quiet, reticent, and shy, they can also both be strikingly subtle and sarcastic. Elizabeth does not know how to interact with Darcy, because she does not have a model to follow; she is unable to treat Darcy as she would her father because Darcy is not on an intimate level with the Bennet family, and because eighteenth-century society dictates the strictest decorum in all interactions between young people of the opposite gender. Furthermore, Elizabeth is unable to treat Darcy as her mother treats Mr. Bennet because Elizabeth is averse to her mother’s social flightiness. Consequently, Elizabeth is confronted with a personal dilemma, and on her first encounter with Darcy she is prejudiced against him because of his sharp language and her resultant hurt feelings. Darcy’s statement that “[Elizabeth Bennet] is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me” excites in Elizabeth a flood of emotion so strong that she has no “very cordial feelings toward [Darcy].” Elizabeth hastily spreads the story, and adds that she would “never…dance with him.” This level of overreaction speaks to Elizabeth’s narrow-mindedness, and her quickness to judge. Elizabeth Bennet’s need to repeat Darcy’s slight to others reveals her prejudicial nature and desire to force others to hold the same views as she herself does. Jane Austen’s portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet’s character suggests that Elizabeth’s prejudice, which is underscored by her treatment of Mr. Darcy, is the result of her long-term exposure to her parent’s shortcomings, and their inability to communicate with one another. Perhaps Austen offers this information to readers in an effort to highlight the need for a proper family environment and careful parenting. One can claim with certainty, however, that all of the prejudicial judgments, misunderstandings, and acrimony evident in Elizabeth’s relationship with Darcy could have been prevented by sincerity, impartiality, and broad-mindedness.