Pride and Prejudice
The Parenting’s Influence on Sisters Bennet’s Upbringing
Featuring a wide assortment of colorful personalities, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice contains both emotionally deep, interesting characters as well as hilarious caricatures of the bumpkins who make up the rural social scene of 18th-century England. Both types of characters are present in the Bennet family, where the two eldest daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, are by far more intelligent and well-mannered than either their mother or their three younger sisters. In the middle of this dichotomy is their father, Mr. Bennet. He is, at first glance, a likeable fellow, whose clever jokes at the expense of his obnoxious wife and humorously dry attitude toward his family’s sometimes ludicrous behavior initially lead the reader to admire him for his intelligence and wit. But ultimately he is a disappointing, unappealing figure because these traits reveal his failings both as a father and husband: his constant mockery of his spouse begins to seem cruel and creates an unhealthy marital environment for his children to grow up in, while his preference to insult his younger daughters’ behavior instead of correcting it rings of tremendous negligence. It is this complete disinterest in the affairs of his family that gives his youngest children the boorish manners he detests so much about them — they are raised in a vacuum and are deprived of any competent parenting that could rectify their problems.
Out of all of the characters in the book, no one is a greater target for Mr. Bennet’s scorn and derision than his very own wife. As a young man, he made the mistake of marrying for “youth, beauty, and the appearance of good humor” instead of for intellectual or emotional compatibility, and as a result ended up being stuck with Mrs. Bennet, a woman with a “weak understanding and an illiberal mind” for whom all of his “respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever” (228). To make this unhappy arrangement more tolerable, he gleans a large amount of his pleasure from aggravating and mocking his spouse, with the narrator noting that “her ignorance and folly contributed to his amusement” (228). He vexes her by making her believe that he is ardently opposed to calling on Mr. Bingley, only to reveal he had already visited the gentleman and just wanted to hear her complain about the family’s lack of social connections (9); while earlier he slyly pokes fun at her fading beauty by sarcastically mentioning that Mr. Bingley might find her more attractive than any of their daughters (6). Although the reader is meant to find humor in his putting down of his wife, a boorish woman whose continual scheming to marry off her daughters is matched only by her complete lack of tact and social grace, there is also the underlying sentiment that these practical jokes are cruel and inappropriate for a married person to play on his spouse. Elizabeth, in particular, struggles to reconcile her father’s affectionate treatment of herself with this “continual breach of conjugal obligation and decorum” that has him “exposing his wife to the contempt of her own children,” as she feels he does not realize the effect such an unhappy marital environment has on the upbringing of the girls (228). She wishes he would, for the sake of his family, turn his energies away from ridiculing Mrs. Bennet, that he would become “fully aware of the evils arising from so ill-judged a direction of talents; talents which rightly used, might at least preserve the respectability of his daughters, even if incapable of enlarging the mind of his wife” (229). In her opinion, it is not enough for him to simply crack jokes in order to make the best of a situation he clearly does not enjoy; he must also honor the responsibilities of the marriage contract by honoring and respecting his wife, both for her sake as well as to give all of their daughters a proper upbringing from parents who love each other as much they do the rest of their family.
In a similar vein, Mr. Bennet thinks very little of Kitty and Lydia, the two youngest girls, who also happen to be most like their mother in that they share her penchants for vapid conversation and immature obsessions with marrying all of the men they encounter. He openly insults them for their flightiness, telling them that “you must be two of the silliest girls in the country,” and then later ordering Kitty that she is not to be allowed outside of the house “till you can prove that you have spent ten minutes of every day in a rational manner” (30, 284). However, as troubling as it to have a father openly mocking and denigrating his own children, what makes Mr. Bennet’s relationship to his younger daughters even more upsetting is that his own negligent parenting is responsible for their obnoxious conduct. He simply does not care enough about his duties as a father to enforce any sort of rules or standards; instead, all he desires is to have a private room where he can escape his familial obligations: it is mentioned that “in his library he had been always sure of leisure and tranquility; and though prepared, as he told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and conceit in every other room in the house, he was used to be free from there there” (70). That he actually is willing to allow his daughters to act with conceit and folly provided they don’t explicitly bother him is at the heart of Mr. Bennet’s parental failings. All he is willing to do is acknowledge their poor behavior, telling his wife “if my children are silly I must hope to be always sensible of it,” yet he is not willing to try and change them (30). Even Elizabeth is aware of her father’s lackadaisical approach to parenting, so she confronts him to express her own concerns regarding Lydia and her upcoming trip to Brighton in the hopes that he will listen, warning that:
If you, my dear father, will not take the trouble of checking her exuberant spirits… she will soon be beyond the reach of amendment… she will be, at sixteen, the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous (223).
Mr. Bennet’s own arguments for permitting the trip to go forward are incredibly self-interested and insulting to his youngest: that “Lydia will never be easy till she has exposed herself in some public place or another,” “we shall have no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not go to Brighton,” and that being there “may teach her her own insignificance” (222-24). He would rather avoid dealing with a whiny and disappointed child — while secretly hoping that this trip will give her the lessons about proper conduct that he neglected to pass on himself — than put his foot down on refusing his most immature daughter permission to visit a distant town teeming with opportunistic and single men. Ultimately, it is this reluctance to take a stand and enforce discipline on Lydia that is responsible for her elopement with Mr. Wickham and the embarrassing, expensive (although paid for by Mr. Darcy), and drama-filled ordeal that the entire family, including himself, must undergo to get her back. Apathy and lack of interest in raising his daughters the right way makes him an even worse parent than Mrs. Bennet because, unlike his incompetent wife, he actually possesses the intelligence and values needed to instruct his children but doesn’t even bother to employ them.
Even when it comes to his two eldest daughters, whom he admires and appreciates for their more refined dispositions and the intellectual stimulation they provide, Mr. Bennet is still not much of an active father and is still selfishly focused on what they can do for him instead of vice versa. Although he does love them (as he privately would admit about his other daughters as well), he really only values the improvement they make to his own well-being, with the narrator noting that he was happy to have them returned from Longbourn for the sake of the quality of the conversation at the dinner table, “which had lost much of its animation, and most of its sense” by their absence (59). Admittedly he does stand up for Elizabeth when she is faced with the unpalatable idea of marrying Mr. Collins, but he only interferes with the matter when it is directly presented to him by his wife in a manner he can’t avoid. That is the extent to which Mr. Bennet will go for even his most beloved children: he only assists them when the situation is deposited in his lap and he has no choice but to get involved. When issues arise where he is compelled to become involved, he is either ineffective or incredibly passive and acquiescent. Mr. Darcy’s proposal for marriage is accepted in part because “he [Darcy] is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse anything,” while his powerlessness once called into action is emphasized by his trip to London to search for Lydia. There it is Messrs. Darcy and Gardiner who are responsible for finding and paying off Wickham in order to ensure a respectable marriage — Mr. Bennet had nothing to do with this effort, having already returned to Longbourn in defeat. It is a sad indictment of his uselessness as a father figure that the greatest way in which Mr. Bennet can help his daughters — particularly Jane and Elizabeth — is to use his situation as an example of why they should avoid marrying for beauty instead of love. As anything other than a cautionary tale, he is surprisingly self-centered and ineffective.
Although his quick wit and humorous put-downs of the obviously more unlikeable characters are initially meant to endear him to the reader, further analysis of Mr. Bennet’s personality and actions only reveal him to be a tremendous failure, both as a husband and father. He makes it obvious that he has absolutely no respect for his wife, and that he is even unwilling to sacrifice the only source of pleasure he gets from her company — his continued harassment of her — so that his children can have a healthier, more respectful marital environment to grow up in. Such a streak of disinterest is also present in his relationship with his daughters, especially the younger ones, whom he prefers to insult for their poor behavior rather than actually teaching them lessons that would improve their manners. Even the older ones, whom he holds in much higher esteem, receive very little direct support or instruction from him and are instead left to their own devices. This negligence, toward both his spouse and his children, is as much responsible for their inappropriate behavior as their own failings because Mr. Bennet possesses the power to help improve them but does not use it.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Penguin Classics Edition. New York: Penguin, 2009. Print.
The Story of Adnan Syed: Racial Prejudice and Wrongful Conviction
How would you feel if a loved one was convicted of a crime based on evidence that did not add up or make any sense? This nightmare became a reality for a family who had their son taken from their arms in the blink of an eye. The story of Adnan Syed, revealed in the hit podcast Serial written by Sarah Koenig, tells the case of how he was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. The trial of Adnan Syed had left many people thinking whether the conviction was correct, fair, and just. The prosecution on this case used many pieces of evidence against Adnan, some which were fair, but others which were questionable. It raised the concern of whether the evidence itself was truly strong enough to convict Adnan of murder. Now with these holes that are not filled in, it can be asserted that the criminal justice system focuses more on convicting a person rather than finding the full truth, seen through the evidence used against Adnan Syed, the racial prejudice present throughout his trial, and the omission of key evidence.
The prosecution gathered many different pieces of evidence to convict Adnan, but most were quite unreliable. The biggest piece of evidence which was also the foundation of the prosecution’s claim against Adnan was Jay’s testimony. He claimed to have helped Adnan bury Hae’s body and his story essentially determined the outcome of the trial. However, throughout the trial, Jay changes his story numerous times, one being the location he saw Hae’s body, from “Edmonson Avenue versus the Best Buy parking lot”. How does somebody forget the location of where they saw a dead body? Some of the changes in Jay’s story were minor, but the major changes were not seen in a critical way as it should have, and the prosecution only used specific information from Jay’s testimony that could convict Adnan, not caring whether or not they could be lies. Furthermore, another piece of evidence often used by prosecution were the cell records from Adnan’s phone. The main focus, however, was one phone call made to Adnan’s phone at 2:36pm, where the prosecution assumed it was the call made to Jay after Adnan killed Hae, saying, “‘come and get me, I’m at Best Buy’”.
However, it is later learned from the employees of Best Buy that they never had any payphones, which brings up the question, why didn’t the prosecution further investigate this phone call from Best Buy at 2:36pm? They needed Jay’s testimony to match. They needed the timeline to line up. They needed to put the pieces together, even if some were not true, so that Adnan could be convicted. Although most of the evidence used against Adnan was related to where he was at a certain time, physical evidence was also used. DNA samples were tested from Hae’s car, and “the evidence against Adnan Syed was a fingerprint, or rather, a palmprint”. Prosecution used this evidence to say that Adnan was in Hae’s car and killed her, leaving fingerprints. On the contrary, these fingerprints could have been from weeks, or even months before, when Adnan and Hae were still dating, but prosecution seems to twist the evidence and used it against Adnan. Although the prosecution had some legitimate evidence against Adnan, they only used the ones that will most definitely convict him, ignoring the fact that some evidence were flawed.
Not only did the prosecution use evidence that may have had some flaws, they also used the fact that Adnan is Pakistani against him, stooping to use racial prejudice within this trial. A prosecuting attorney by the name of Viki Wash used the fact that Adnan had much support from his Muslim community against him. She tells the judge that Adnan has many connections back in Pakistan and can use them to help protect him, and she states, “If you issue a bail, then you are issuing him a passport under these circumstances to flee the country”. This statement is later found to be untrue; however, even though Viki Wash apologized afterwards for saying it, a bias was put within the jury on Adnan’s racial background.
Moreover, instead of solely using evidence from the case itself, the state used Adnan’s culture to attack him. A statement was said about Pakistani culture, where men kill women and how “For many ethnic Pakistani men, incidences like this are commonplace and in Pakistan this would not have been a crime but probably a question of honor”. By stating this extremely irrelevant fact, the prosecution wanted to show the jury that Adnan was capable of committing a murder because it is supposedly accepted in his culture. These two previous examples have showed that prosecution used absolutely anything to try and convict Adnan, creating a false identity for him that may have been far from true. The racial prejudice in Adnan’s case was also recognized by his own mother, Shamim Rahman. She had never truly felt much racial prejudice from the court system, but throughout Adnan’s trial, her and the community felt that they took him because “he was a Muslim child … It was easy for them to take him, than other people”. This shows that so much of Adnan’s background and culture was taken into account, that it was likely one of the reasons he was convicted. Instead of using evidence found from Adnan’s case, prosecution suggested a new identity for Adnan, leaving bias within the jury, therefore creating a greater chance for conviction. The omission of key evidence also played a large role in how the prosecution ensured Adnan’s conviction. A piece of evidence that could have caused a different outcome were certain DNA samples. It was found that certain DNA lab reports such as DNA from the liquor bottle near Hae’s body, only had comments stating “retained for future possible analysis”. These forensic reports were not mentioned once in trial, and the results of the testing could have led to more suspects. However, the prosecution decided to ignore those DNA testings that could have helped with finding out the truth, and continued to pursue the conviction of Adnan.
Another major key evidence that was omitted were some cell towers that pinged throughout the day that Hae was killed. The cell towers were another way that the prosecution attempted to draw a timeline of where Adnan was, but they only mentioned “four out of the fourteen cell towers” that pinged throughout that day. These four cell towers used also lined up with Jay’s testimony, after Jay changed his story multiple times to fit with the evidence. The fact that Jay had to change his story to match where the cell towers pinged shows that prosecution did not care whether or not there were lies within his testimony. They only wanted to prove that Adnan killed Hae, by connecting different pieces of evidence and placing Adnan at the perfect time and location, despite the fact that other evidence were completely omitted. By ignoring these evidence that could piece together the entire case, prosecution forced jigsaw pieces together, although they were not supposed to fit together in the first place. Instead of uncovering the full truth, the criminal justice system cares more about the act of convicting a person, seen through the unreliable evidence placed against Adnan Syed, the racial prejudice within the trial, and certain key evidence that were omitted. The thought of being convicted for a horrendous crime with unreliable evidence is frightening. What happened to finding the actual truth about a case rather than piecing together a pool filled with lies? Is it not more settling to know that the right person was convicted for a crime?
The criminal justice system is so extremely caught up in convicting a person that they will use anything and everything to try and lock them up in jail. There are so many wrongfully convicted people who have had their lives taken away from them in an instant. Convicting the right person is more important than just convicting a person because it does not only affect them, but their loved ones too. The result of rushed and incomplete court cases using faulty evidence is that ultimately, justice is perverted and no longer just, as seen in Adnan Syed’s trial. It would be in the best interest of humanity if both prosecution and defense attorneys strived for the truth. The criminal justice system must begin to start using the truth to convict someone.
An Analysis of the New Set of First Impressions of the Character of Elizabeth in the Novel, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
In short, Elizabeth acquires what could be called a new set of first impressions, more informed, but almost as emotionally frivolous as her original. During the events of the third volume, Elizabeth’s younger sister, Lydia, elopes with Mr. Wickham, resulting in a state of crisis in the Bennet family, as the possibility of Wickham not marrying Lydia could ruin her status in society. Throughout the entire affair, Darcy does what he can to assist the Bennet’s in locating Lydia, yet when she finds out Darcy was at Lydia’s wedding, she immediately jumps to the worst possible conclusion, thinking that the possibilities “that placed him in the noblest light seemed the most improbable” (Austen), despite the fact that both Wickham and Darcy had established that they hated each other multiple times over the course of the book, and it takes a letter from Mrs. Gardiner extensively outlining Darcy’s entire involvement in ensuring that the wedding went smoothly to make her put aside her doubts.
Certainly, we see levels of improvement throughout the course of the book, such as her finally piecing it together that Ms. Bingley has been running interference between Mr. Bingley and Jane, but those moments are far and few between. Perhaps the greatest joke in this book is the fact that Elizabeth, despite her pretensions of being a rational creature, is almost as changeable as her mother. Some would argue that this interpretation completely degrades Elizabeth and removes her from her context as a proto-feminist in a society that is structured against her, but never do we get a single feminist expression from Elizabeth throughout the book, no concept of rebelliousness against the system. Indeed, she is quite horrified to think that her sister could run off with such a man of low fortune and poor morals, yet instead of separating Lydia from Wickham, the third arc of the book revolves around ensuring that they marry. Indeed, this is a book where at the end of the novel, all three sisters that were being courted have happily married, and there is no indication that they will be anything less than happy with the state of their marriage. This is far from being any sort of argument against the fundamentals of English society, rather a slight mockery of how complex the trappings of its society are.
Recalling the beginning of her hostilities with Darcy, Elizabeth realizes that she had chosen to commence hostilities with Darcy solely because it had offered her an opportunity to make herself appear intelligent and witty in front of an audience. The entire conflict of this book ultimately begins with Darcy making a social gaffe and receiving Elizabeth’s opprobrium for that act, and then English society begins to push the whole affair out of proportion simply because nothing else is known about Darcy’s character aside from the fact that he is rich and eligible. Upon viewing Darcy’s initial actions, their impression of him is expanded beyond all reason solely because it meshes with their impression of how someone in the English upper class is supposed to act. Wickham is able to con the entire village into believing his story because their first impressions of him, despite being such a small window into his character, justify their own stereotypes of the higher upper class and allows them to feel superior.
Ultimately the subject and message of this satire is perhaps not the characters within the novel, but the way society forces them to act, defining their entire relations through minute interactions with each other. A compliment or insult at a ball, the quality of one’s manner- these first impressions are what define people in a society, not the quality of their mind or soul, and this, perhaps, is the bridge between the characters of this society and the readers in 19th century England. However, Austen does not stop there. Austen writes almost solely from the perspective of Elizabeth because she is trying to manipulate the reader’s first impressions through Elizabeth’s character. The reader is supposed to distrust Darcy, to believe the worst of his friends, to still doubt him all the way to the very end, because Austen wants to point out how despite knowing that first impressions can be deceiving, we still put endless faith in them.
Irony As The Main Literary Device In Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice
Irony as a literary device has been used in order to achieve a sense of reality within works of fiction. It can be seen a sort of contrast between the surface meaning of something that is said or done and the actual, underlying meaning of the utterance or action. People often use it in day-to-day conversations or as a technique to overcome a stronger character. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, irony is one of the main literary devices used in order to achieve the effect of that time in history upon the reader, which in turn has made it into one of the most widely known works of nineteenth century English literature.
Whether you would expect it or not, the book itself starts with an ironic utterance immediately, at the very beginning of the first chapter:
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’
This very well might be the most famous ironic statement of the book, however, one that a number of readers have interpreted it on a literal level. This case of verbal irony used by the author is meant to hint at the kind of society that was present at the time, which in turn makes it a critique of the same, showing dissatisfaction and disagreeing. To start with, not every ‘single man in possession of a good fortune’ is looking for a woman to marry. Actually, in that time, it was the women who were the ones looking for a husband with a sizeable fortune to marry, in order to secure their own future. Needless to say, in those times, women did not have a lot of rights or means to survive, having marriage as the only safe solution.
Whilst on the topic of absurd utterances, like the above mentioned one, the following dialogue portrays an even more ‘sensible’ behaviour that quite a lot of readers, including myself, did not pay a lot attention to and did not see it as an example of irony:
‘‘Don’t keep coughing so, Kitty, for heaven’s sake! Have a little compassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces.’’
“Now, Kitty, you may cough as much as you choose”
Once emphasized as an example of irony, one can clearly see that the content of this conversation makes no real sense. The first part of this extract is Mrs. Bennet scolding Kitty for coughing, saying that she cannot stand her coughing due to her fragile nerves. However, the witty Mr. Bennet, after a few moments allows Kitty to cough. The irony here might be too obvious, which is the reason why I could have missed it on the first reading of the book.
As we all know, coughing is not a voluntary bodily action, so there is no need to ask for permission to do it. This is yet another example of verbal irony, which is an ironical response to Mrs. Bennet unnecessary lashing out at Kitty for coughing.
Another type of irony which is considered to be one of the finest ways of using this literary advice, is the irony of character, meaning that particular character, with their behaviour, ways of thinking and mannerism are a representation of irony, kind of a ‘walking irony’. The character of Mr. Collins is one of those, and the following statement of his portrays it perfectly:
‘You ought certainly to forgive them as a Christian, but never to admit them to your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing.’
Mrs. Collins is a clergyman at the estate of his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and the above mentioned utterance is an advice which he gives to Mr. Bennet as a response to finding out about Lydia’s flight from home. As a clergyman of the church, his position is meant to be that of a leader within the religion, offering guidance and support and teach the doctrines of that religion.
However, this does not seem to be the case when it comes to Mr. Collins. The notion of forgiving, which should be based on his religious background, is completely wrong. He completely goes against what religion is meant to stand for and most importantly, he unconsciously contradicts himself, making him a prime example of irony of character within this novel.
On the topic of forced marriages, the union of Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas and the way it came to be, is another example of irony in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice:
“My dear Charlotte and I have but one mind and one way of thinking. There is in everything a most remarkable resemblance of character and ideas between us. We seemed to have been designed for each other”
In order to see the irony here, one needs to know the background of this union, which was made out of convenience. After proposing to Elizabeth Bennet, a proposal which was almost instantaneously rejected, Mr. Collins proposes to Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth’s very close friend. Seeing as this proposal comes right after the first one was rejected, it was obviously the easiest thing to do in order for Mr. Collins to have a wife and Charlotte to have a secured future.
However, Mr. Collins statement that their marriage was the perfect one, and that their characters coinciding is definitely not the reason why they are getting married, as Mr. Collins does not even pay any attention to Charlotte, before being rejected by Elizabeth. Hence why, this is yet another instance where Austen masterfully depicts a picture of the time she wrote in and its society and a critique of the same.
The following dialogue is an example of irony in the novel, however the centre of the irony is Elizabeth, quite unexpectedly, as she has been described, for the better part of the novel, as someone that is quite aware of her surroundings and not being easily manipulated by others.
“This is quite shocking! He deserves to be publicly disgraced.”
“Some time or other he will be — but it shall not be by me. Till I can forget his father, I can never defy or expose him.”
This dialogue is a conversation between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Wickham, in her aunt’s home, discussing on the topic of Mr. Darcy and his late father. He describes his relationship with Darcy’s family and the things that happened between them. To start with, the irony here can be seen in the statement Wickham makes: ‘Till I can forget his father, I can never defy or expose him’. The statement itself is a contradiction, because after telling Elizabeth everything about what occurred between him and Darcy’s family, he says he cannot expose him, which he in fact does.
However, Elizabeth is the centre of this ironic occurrence, as we, the readers, can instantly realise that he does the exact opposite of what he says he is doing. Although, Elizabeth does not realise what Wickham is actually doing as a consequence of being overwhelmed by the information she had just come to know.
This novel is full of countless ironic instances, which have been masterfully portrayed by the author, Jane Austen. Having used all types of irony, verbal, situational, dramatic and most importantly, the irony of character, she has managed to realistically portray the time of her existence and the type of society she lived in.
By using just this one simple literary device, Austen has created a beautiful work of art in a form of a book which has been praised by so many critics of her time and our time, today. Because of the way this book is written, the topics and themes it covers and the way in which the characters develop throughout the novel, the author has created a masterpiece which transcends time.
Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen: Moral Development of an Individual
Jane Austen’s social novel Pride and Prejudice (1813) from the patriarchal regency England employs free indirect speech to examine the notion that moral development can only be prompted by individual interactions and that individual felicity can only be achieved by overcoming social expectations. The responder’s understanding of the context and these enduring values is deepened through the Fay Weldon’s epistolary novel, Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen (1984), whereby the private nature of Weldon’s epistolary form in a post-feminist Contemporary England declares literature and success outside marriage as the modern means to achieve this.
Austen explores the necessity of introspection, through individual interactions, to prompt an individual’s moral development. In Pride and Prejudice, character traits are cultural constructs emanating from class concerns. Darcy’s pride is initially established at the ball, where his refusal to dance with Elizabeth in the condescending tone in “At such an assembly as this it would be unsupportable” reflects the view that social status equates prestige; albeit being merely opposite ends of the landed gentry. Elizabeth’s prejudiced perceptions are furthered through her encounter with Wickham as the tripartite listing describes that “his countenance, voice and manner, had established him at once in the possession of every virtue”. Elizabeth’s focus on salient appearances stems from the Regency preoccupation with ‘accomplishments’; entertaining skills that determined a woman’s worth. However, Elizabeth’s introspective perusal of Darcy’s letter, illustrated by self-contemplative language as she “’read and reread with the greatest attention”, facilitates a newfound understanding that “she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd”. Similarly, Darcy’s confession in the empathic language that “You [Elizabeth] taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous!”, reflects his developed humility in the confrontation of his moral shortcomings. Through Darcy and Elizabeth, Austen reveals the value of individual interactions to catalyse introspection that results in appropriate modesty.
In contrast, Weldon reflects her context and champions the pursuit of literature and its potential to develop empathy, as the greatest source of moral development. The 1980 Education Act focused on increasing the accessibility of education to all, contrasting Regency England education. Weldon initially hints at the necessary presence of literature to equip society with knowledge through the high modality in “We have to be told these things, you know. It is surprising how ignorant we are…” Literature is presented as the means of instruction to alter perceptions of the world, through the extended metaphor of the “City of Invention” in “The good builders, carry a vision out of the real world and transpose it… that reality itself has changed.”; echoing Darcy’s sentiment that reading “adds something more substantial”. Weldon links literary deprivation to an undeveloped emotional capacity through the anaphora in “And above all, too unread, too little practiced in sympathy”. Weldon thus contextualises Pride and Prejudice through statistic data that “only thirty percent married … so to marry was a great prize” to evince that this knowledge vindicates Mrs Bennett’s ridiculed maternal motive “to get her daughters married”; being deserving of sympathy despite “making a fool of herself”. Thus an informed understanding of Austen and Weldon’s contexts explain their differing perceptions of the avenues to moral development; ultimately highlighting the enduring significance of moral growth.
Pride and Prejudice underlines the need to overcome social expectations to achieve autonomy. Before the Married Women’s Property act where married women could not own property, women’s financial dependence in the Regency Era was enshrined in law. Auden establishes Regency mentality concerning marriage in “A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year” to outline marriage’s sole pursuit as an avenue for gaining economic security. The characterisation of Charlotte Lucas as the archetypal Georgian women, evident by her cynical degree that “happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance” exposes the economic stability pursued through this suppression of individual felicity. Thus, Charlotte embodies the foil of Elizabeth; Elizabeth’s contemptuous tone in “she would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage” displaying the projection of her values onto Charlotte. Meanwhile Elizabeth’s repudiation of Darcy’s proposal in “the concern which I might have felt, had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner” subverts Regency subservience; the language of propriety carrying a deeper disdain of Regency marriage as a catalyst for restricted female autonomy. Elizabeth’s acceptance of Darcy’s second proposal reflects how her feelings “are now so widely different” and elicits the hyperbole in “I am the happiest creature in the world” to reflect the individual felicity found in the fulfilment, not modification, of her values. Thus, Austen expounds on the notion that individual autonomy is achieved only through refuting social expectations.
Letters to Alice reshapes female autonomy in the modern context to promote similarly, the significance in overcoming social expectations to achieve autonomy. The Family Law Act 1975 offered women with the freedom to divorce thus promoting individual choice. This pursuit of autonomy is reflected by Weldon decades later by mirroring Austen’s subversive heroine, Elizabeth. The characterisation of her fictional niece, Alice, with “black and hair” manifests modern individuality and the enduring value of autonomy through contexts. She parallels conformity to the repression of “women in loveless marriages” to ironically encourage Alice to rebel against other’s advice, expressed through the hyperbole in “it is murder … twisting your head to get into someone else’s place”. This is reflective of Elizabeth’s rejection of Lady Catherine’s tripartite listing “honour, decorum, prudence” in her pursuit of Mr Darcy. The persona of Aunt fay encourages autonomy, but only under her own prescriptive codes; employing the high modality of the imperative “must”, when asserting that Alice “must know how to read a novel … before writing one”. Aunt Fay’s confession, through the antithesis that “You have proved that it is possible to do what so many of your colleagues claim is impossible”, demonstrates the success of Alice’s novel in her independence from Aunt Fay’s opinions. Ultimately Weldon redefines autonomy for the women in her social context through the success of Alice’s novel; success outside marriage that Second-wave feminism in the 1960s focused with the expansion of women’s roles from the traditional wife and mother. In both texts, the magnitude and distinctions of their context’s expectations is established, but only to convey that fidelity to self can overcome these expectations and enable individuals to obtain happiness.
A critical inquiry into Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice reveals the ways in which historical and social contexts influence the composer’s choice of language forms and attitudes conveyed. The intertextual connections explore the enduring significance of an individual’s moral development and individual felicity from overcoming social expectations; differing in how both are achieved. These are values that, although shaped by their context, ultimately transcend time.
The Role of Narrator and Its Influence
In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen leads the reader through the lives of multiple characters who are all part of the upper-class, Victorian life (a major component of the late 18th and early 19th century). Austen uses a style of writing known as free indirect discourse throughout the novel, which allows her to shift around from character to character, letting the reader in on important details that they wouldn’t otherwise know. Austen’s use of this point of view gives the narration of the novel a classy, upper-hand compared to other British literature of the time. Charlotte Lucas, the best friend of main character Elizabeth Bennet, is one of the characters that Austen uses this point of view to describe. Through the use of free indirect discourse, the narrator in Pride and Prejudice influences the characterization of Charlotte Lucas through the descriptions of Charlotte herself, of her actions, and of her marriage.
The narrator of Pride and Prejudice gives the reader insider information on Charlotte Lucas through the description of Charlotte herself. The first mention of Charlotte is very early on in the novel, and although short, the sentence is very telling. The narrator says, “They (the Lucas’s) had several children. The eldest of them, a sensible, intelligent young woman, about twenty-seven, was Elizabeth’s intimate friend” (Austen 12). The narrator goes on to describe a conversation between Charlotte and Elizabeth concerning the ball that occurred the previous day. In this scene, the reader can see that Charlotte is an extremely rational person. Her decisions are made based on security and logic, not necessarily emotional misgivings. She believes that financial security is the most important thing.
Another telling moment is much later on in the novel, when Charlotte’s inner thoughts are revealed. After the announcement that she is to marry Mr. Collins is made, the narrator says, “…and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it. The least agreeable circumstance in the business, was the surprise it must occasion to Elizabeth Bennet…” (94). The narrator’s description of Charlotte’s inner thoughts reveal that she was never exactly beautiful, like Jane, and this has hindered her from getting married. During the time period in which the novel is set, marriage was inevitable. Women didn’t work, and the only way they were to support themselves was through marrying a man. Charlotte was considered nearly an old maid because she was not yet married; she knew that it had to happen or she would be forced to hinder her brothers by living with them for the rest of her life. Charlotte’s decision to marry Mr. Collins may have cut a hole in her and Elizabeth’s friendship, but it was the rational thing to do. The narrator’s description of Charlotte gives the reader information on her characterization.
Another thing that the narrator describes that influences the characterization of Charlotte Lucas is her actions. Although Charlotte, like any other woman, has emotions, her emotions are rarely seen by the reader. This action, or lack of action, is something that the reader must take into consideration. The major decision that Charlotte makes in the novel is her acceptance of Mr. Collins’ proposal, and this, as previously stated, is simply the most logical way to progress in her life. Before the marriage was announced, there was no indication that Charlotte even held any affection for Mr. Collins whatsoever. The two had not known each other for long at all when the announcement was made; this is yet another indication that the narrator’s description of Charlotte’s actions in the novel shapes her characterization. Her rational views and unemotional behavior are foreshadowed in her debut scene, when she comments on Jane and Mr. Bingley’s relationship: “I wish Jane success with all my heart; and if she were married to him to-morrow, I should think that she had as good a chance of happiness, as if she were to be studying his character for twelve-month” (16). This comment shows us that she has no intention of finding a person whom she loves and adores; she just wishes for security and contentment. The narrator’s descriptions of Charlotte’s actions help to shape her characterization throughout the entire novel.
Other than the description of Charlotte’s actions, another way that the narrator uses description to help shape Charlotte’s characterization is through the description of her marriage. This major scene is perhaps the most telling of Charlotte in the entire novel. When Charlotte reveals her engagement to Elizabeth Bennet, a spec of emotion finally shows through. She says, “I see what you are feeling…you must be surprised, very much surprised…but when you think it over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know” (96). When she tries to tell her best friend her reasoning behind what she has done, she does feel slightly guilty. However, it was an opportunity that she couldn’t pass. She explains further: “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” (96). This scene is when the narrator truly shows Charlotte’s character, not just hints at it. Charlotte is not greedy, selfish, or vain; she just wants to be secure. This is a quality that the reader can admire as the novel comes to a close with the announcement of her pregnancy.
In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas is depicted as a plain, sensible woman. Her characterization is revealed through the narrator’s description of Charlotte herself, her actions, and her marriage. In the end, the reader can only wonder if Charlotte is truly happy with the way her life turned out. However, if the reader looks closely at these descriptions, they can deduce that maybe Charlotte never wanted happiness, at least not in the way that most people perceive it. She wanted contentment.
The Problem of Perspective: Director’s Interpretation of the Novel
The Prejudice of Perspective
For many years, film makers have strived to capture the essence of Jane Austen in their films. While not all have been able to accomplish this task, all have been successful in positing unique readings of the novel. Even the BBC Austen Series, which offers some of the most faithful film renditions of the Austen novels, betrays a particular judgment of the characters and plot. The 1995 BBC rendition of Pride and Prejudice subtly departs from the Austen novel through Colin Firth’s interpretation of his character and through the director’s enhanced representation of Mr. Darcy.
The actors’ ownership of the characters is significant insofar as the audience interprets it. Colin Firth’s characterization of Mr. Darcy yields a first impression markedly different from that proffered by the novel. The narrator of Austen’s book declares Mr. Darcy to be proud and “above being pleased” (Austen, 8) only a few lines after introducing his name. In this manner, the narrator imposes his/her judgment of Mr. Darcy’s character upon the readers. This is one of the key stylistic methods of the novel; as the reader is unable to witness the events first-hand, he/she is forced to trust or adopt the opinions and perspectives of the narrators and the characters in those scenes. In BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, the narrator’s prejudice of Mr. Darcy is incarnated in the character of Elizabeth. This, however, does not necessarily move the audience to disliking the character because the audience can analyze the situation firsthand and create an opinion about Mr. Darcy completely independent from that of the other characters in the film. While this might seem the safest way to experience Jane Austen without the danger of being misled by the narrator, the audience unknowingly falls prey to the judgments of two new types of narrators: the director and the actors.
While it can be argued that being influenced by the choices of a third party, such as the director and actors, is more dangerous than being deceived by the authoress herself, in the case of this BBC version of Pride & Prejudice, the director’s and actor’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy offers a more accurate reading of his goodness of character — qualities which do not become apparent until the second half of the novel. From Mr. Darcy’s introduction at the ball, Colin Firth’s countenance is not one of pride and snobbery, but rather of conservatism and shyness. This Mr. Darcy seems uncomfortable to be in such lively company and looks as though he wished to go unnoticed by the party. However, his elegance, income and incredible good looks betray him, and he unwillingly becomes the center of attention and the core of everyone’s conversation. In this scene, everyone stares and whispers to one another, and at some points even laughs or snubs Mr. Darcy — which, in the film, serves to justify his finding the entire company so disagreeable. Had the narrator of the novel described the party the way the director portrayed it in the film, the reader may have been more persuaded to sympathize with Mr. Darcy from the beginning of the novel.
At this party there are two primary offenders to Mr. Darcy: Mrs. Bennet and Elizabeth. An interesting instance which occurs in this film and not in the novel is Mrs. Bennet’s loud speech about how disagreeable Mr. Darcy is. The speech is very similar to the one she later yells out at a different ball, as both are incredibly insulting and made loudly enough for Mr. Darcy to hear. Elizabeth, for her part, is too careless to hide her feelings about Mr. Darcy and makes fun of him to Charlotte within a short pace from where he is standing. All this time Firth’s Mr. Darcy keeps to himself, sad and awkward, like a child being made fun of at the playground. He is a victim: portrayed intentionally so by both Colin Firth and director, Simon Langton. Langton and Firth manipulate the audience to feel sorry for Mr. Darcy despite his slighting of Elizabeth, or in the very least, persuade the audience that there has been some misunderstanding of Mr. Darcy’s character by the entire party. This, while incredibly helpful to the audience of the film, takes away from the surprise experienced by the readers of the novel after realizing that the prejudice held against Mr. Darcy was unjust. It destroys the supposed intention of the narrator, which was to shame the audience alongside Elizabeth for a hasty and criminal judgment of a man of such honorable character. Furthermore, Colin Firth depicts Mr. Darcy without any inconsistency of character throughout the entire film. This further implements that very particular reading of the novel which suggests that Mr. Darcy did not change or evolve into a better man, but that Elizabeth’s perception of Mr. Darcy was the one to transform.
Apart from persuading the audience to side with Mr. Darcy from the beginning of the film, Langton beckons the audience to be seduced by Mr. Darcy by portraying him not only as a sensitive man, but as a sexually appealing one as well. The film offers a sequence of scenes, not part of the original Jane Austen novel, in which Mr. Darcy’s many virtues are exemplified. There is a particular scene in the fifth episode in which Mr. Darcy emerges from a dark room in the middle of the night unable to sleep. The implication here is that he is troubled by his love for Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy, now in the drawing room, stares at the empty pinafore where Elizabeth sat hours before and the film cuts to a flashback of Elizabeth playing the pinafore. The flashback means to represent Mr. Darcy’s thoughts and convince the audience of the depth and scope of his love for Elizabeth. Later, in another scene not in the novel, Langton follows Darcy after his rejection and focuses on his reaction. (In the novel, all we get is a quick reference to Darcy’s expression of “mingled incredulity and mortification” [Austen, 141], then a prolonged examination of Elizabeth’s own feelings and anxieties.) Colin Firth’s expression is heartbreaking; the deep pain which he experiences overtakes his handsome features and he seems to struggle to hold back tears. If Firth and Langton do not extract pity from their audience, they certainly extract tears. This choice to include Mr. Darcy’s reaction not only secures the audience’s sympathy and establishes Mr. Darcy as a sensitive character, but also acknowledges him as a protagonist at least equal in consequence to Elizabeth.
The director’s elevation of Colin Firth’s character is emphasized to the audience before they have an opportunity to take the DVD out of the case. While there are several versions of the movie cover, they all contain a large picture of Colin Firth’s face with a very small picture of Jennifer Ehle and sometimes Susannah Harker in the bottom left hand corner. This decision not only insinuates that the character of Mr. Darcy is prominent over that of Elizabeth’s, but also introduces a sexualization of Mr. Darcy within the film. Langton creates several scenes to secure the sex-appeal of Mr. Darcy fora female audience, the first of which is the fencing scene. While this episode does not contribute anything to the plot, it establishes Mr. Darcy as a strong and athletic man potentially capable of facing dangerous thieves and foes. Darcy cannot only be gorgeous and generous; he must also be strong and daring. The sexualization of Mr. Darcy culminates in the scene in which Elizabeth visits Pemberly and Darcy sporadically decides to take his clothes off and go for a swim in his front yard. This, of course, is not part of the original Austen text, as Austen’s writing dotes on men based on their moral worth and overall charm, not their sex-appeal. This difference can be attributed to the difference in the intended audience of novel and film. While Austen writes for a conservative 17th century audience, Langton faces the sexually liberal audience of the 21st century and must accommodate for the time difference by making Mr. Darcy as desirable to a modern audience as he would have been in Austen’s time.
By creating his own scenes and enhancing those which can be found in the novel, the director of the BBC film challenges the narrator of the novel by insinuating that the manner in which he/she portrays certain scenes is either unreliable or incomplete. This also insinuates a certain superiority of the director over the narrator, as the director was able to inform the audience of what the narrator did not see or failed to make note of. As the audience, all we have left is to enjoy the various points of views and attempt to create our own judgment of what has really happened.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Modern Library, 2000.
Pride & Prejudice. Dir. Simon Langton. Perf. Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle and Susannah Harker. BBC. 1995.
The Effect of Pride in Pride and Prejudice, a Novel by Jane Austen
Full of twists and turns, the comedic and dramatic love story of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice provides many instances where pride interferes with the characters’ lives and ambitions. Pride diverts the characters from expressing their true feelings for one another. As the characters’ pride grows, it begins to affect their attitudes and their judgment, causing them to make risky decisions. While most of the characters are guilty of pride, some characters exhibit it more openly. The two protagonists of the story, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, develop interests in each other that both of them are unwilling to admit at first. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy continuously butt heads throughout the novel, as their pride is often an obstacle in their relationship. Pride interferes with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s lives by hindering their feelings for each other and causing Elizabeth’s quick judgement and Darcy’s snobbish actions.
As she is often quick to judge, Elizabeth uses her pride as a defense mechanism to protect herself from letting herself fall for Mr. Darcy. When Darcy refuses her dance request at the Meryton ball, Elizabeth’s pride tells her to put up her walls and immediately disregard Darcy as a possible love interest. Despite her overwhelming pride in her ability to judge people, she still has underlying feelings for him she does not want to admit. Because of this, her pride does not allow her to dance with Mr. Darcy at the Bingley’s ball, which is a rash decision. Elizabeth is too prideful realize Darcy is not asking her to dance out of pity or obligation, but because he genuinely has an interest in Elizabeth, even though she thought he had made up his mind about her. Furthermore, Elizabeth’s pride continues to be a problem for her when Darcy proposes to her for the first time. Elizabeth cannot put aside her past encounters with Darcy, his alleged mistreatment of Mr. Wickham, or the fact that he tried to separate Jane and Mr. Bingley. With great pride, she says to Darcy, “Had not my own feelings decided against you, had they been indifferent, or had they been favourable, do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man, who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister? (Austen 130)” Blinded by her pride and her prior judgement of Darcy, she fails to realize that his feelings and attitude toward “lower class people” have changed since he first met her, therefore creating yet another setback in their relationship.
Mr. Darcy’s initial thoughts of Elizabeth were negative, as his pride clouded his view of people of lower status than him. At the Meryton ball, Mr. Bingley suggests he ask Elizabeth to dance. Instead of doing so, Darcy tells Bingley, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and 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 7)” Darcy is so prideful that, initially, he cannot approach Elizabeth because she is “unworthy” of his time. However, his feelings for Elizabeth change, as he asks her to dance at the Bingley ball, but gets turned down due to her pride. Despite the fact that his attitude is changing, he crosses the line when he is exposed on having deliberately broken up Mr. Bingley and Jane’s relationship, thinking it was not of best interest for Bingley to become so attached with the Bennets, as they lacked propriety and wealth. His pride hindered his judgement because of his attitude towards people of lower status. While thinking he was doing a favor for a friend, he subconsciously insulted the Bennet family.
Even though Pride and Prejudice was published over 200 years ago, its theme of pride is still as relevant today as it ever was. Pride affects modern society in both good ways and bad. Pride, when expressed in a positive way, can be beneficial to society. For instance, when someone takes pride in his or her school, job, or children, they are exhibiting a positive use of pride. The arrogant type of pride can sometimes be positive, as a prideful person with generally good intentions and ideas can quickly gain popularity and power so that their ideas can be spread to other places. On the other hand, when big-headed political leaders gain power, their pride can get in the way of their judgment, leading to rash decisions and ideas. Another negative consequence of pride is when, for example, a haughty boss fires a man from his company out of pride because he felt as if that man was a threat to his high position. Such examples happen often within society, for better or worse.
Overall, the pride of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy became an overwhelming roadblock in their relationship by concealing their true feelings for each other. Pride is like a black veil that hides the light of the good until a person’s will is strong enough to pull it back. Once they got over their pride, both Elizabeth and Darcy were able to see the future they could have together, ending their story in bliss. Pride is a problem not only in romantic love stories such as this one, but in modern society as well. When people are willing to get over their own pride and arrogance, they are able to look beyond past failures, doubts, and experiences that caused them to feel that way. Like Elizabeth and Darcy, the shedding of one’s pride becomes the threshold for new beginnings.
The Depiction of Moral Hierarchy in Austen’s Novel
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice captures the essence of English Regency society while using unique characterizations to illustrate the effects of society on the individual. The evolution of one of Austen’s most prominent characters, Fitzwilliam Darcy, highlights the difficulty of overcoming society’s rigid class distinctions, proving that any attempt to thwart love is in vain. Over the course of the novel, Darcy undergoes a remarkable transformation. The pressures of the strictly regimented, class-governed society form the foundations of Darcy’s contemptuous character at the start of the novel. As he finds himself challenged by the power of love, however, Darcy begins to abandon his need to maintain superior societal status and allows himself to be persuaded by his natural inclinations. Darcy’s evolution continually challenges our initial perceptions, offering a vivid depiction of the inner struggle between vanity and morality. His character serves to illustrate Austen’s belief that while social forces may hinder love, an individual can be free to experience love’s splendor if he is able to overcome his prejudices. Ultimately, it is Darcy’s decency and integrity that prevail over his need to conform to societal expectations, and this realization finally enables him to surrender to his desire.
In the beginning of the novel, Darcy is a man whose life is dominated by his prejudices. His provincial views make it impossible for him to involve himself with a woman of lower social status. The primary indication of his foolishness occurs when he heartlessly rejects his admirer, Elizabeth, entirely based on her lower social standing. Lacking tenderness and infused with pride, Darcy cannot and will not be seen with a woman who is disdained by other men of his standing. To do so would be suicide to his reputation, and it is his reputation that he values above all else. His pride and refusal to go against the grain of society blind him from recognizing Elizabeth’s charm and radiant beauty.
As the plot develops, it becomes clear that Darcy is falling victim to the powerful pull of love, and it is increasingly more difficult for him to sustain his rigid priorities. His revelation is best described in the narrative: “no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face that he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.” This discovery takes place at the exact moment when Darcy abandons his “critical eye”, and allows his pride to take second place to his passion. Elizabeth’s physical flaws are no longer viewed as failings, but rather as elements that serve only to illuminate her true perfection. Darcy’s sincere appreciation for Elizabeth’s unfashionable manner entirely changes his disposition.
Darcy experiences no small amount of guilt and regret when he ultimately comes to recognize the severity of his prejudices, and desperately attempts to compensate for his earlier ignorance by professing his love for Elizabeth. Nevertheless, he subconsciously stumbles over his pride and dwells on her inferiority rather than expressing his sincere admiration and highlighting her attractive qualities. Elizabeth remains blind to Darcy’s newfound righteousness, viewing his proposition as an insult and holding on tightly to her original skepticism. Though Elizabeth coldly rejects his proposal “with so little endeavor at civility”, the event marks the turning point in the novel, when virtue triumphs over vanity.
It is undoubtable that Darcy’s revelation is responsible for his dramatic character transformation. The elite society in which Darcy was raised instilled within him a hierarchical sense of superiority and a fixed code of conduct that dominated every aspect of his interpersonal relationships. Darcy is, initially, a reflection of the elite population that chooses to remain faithful to this code of conduct even if it flies in the face of true passion. True love, however, reveals itself to be the single most influential force on Darcy’s psyche. Love challenges him to question his need to conform to the dictates of society, and it is the only force powerful enough to alter his judgment. Elizabeth cannot fathom the notion that his transformation has taken place in the name of love, and she doubtfully remarks, “Why is he so altered? From what can it proceed? It cannot be for me, it cannot be for my sake that his manners are thus softened. My reproofs at Hunsford could not work a change such as this.” In truth, however, it is Elizabeth who is chiefly responsible for Darcy’s alteration, and his change eventually prompts her to recognize her own vanity and folly. Until each of the characters casts aside his or her own prejudices, they are unable to admit their love for one another.
Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship stands as evidence that even in a society where love and marriage are ruled by class distinctions, it is not impossible to overstep the bounds of discrimination and find a love that is not permeated by superficiality. While it is unlikely that one will entirely forsake all rudimentary biases for the mere idea of love, it is still possible that these prejudices can be overcome. Although Darcy and Elizabeth are very much aware of the social pressures that surround them, they do not allow these burdens to impede their love. It is their strength of character that allows them to escape the social norms and dictate the course of their own fate.
The Elizabeth’s Character Development and Misreading of Wickham
In Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, one of the main characters, Elizabeth boasts, of her ability and skill at discerning character. However, after only her first conversation with Wickham, Elizabeth has already misread Wickham’s personality. In the first discourse between Wickham and Elizabeth, Austen subtly reveals that Elizabeth, in actuality, does not have the motivation or the opportunity to study Wickham’s character because her mind is focused entirely on Darcy. Although Elizabeth claims that she foolishly misread Wickham, Austen indicates that it is only because of Elizabeth’s vanity and hatred for Darcy that she has any positive feelings towards Wickham. Austen also hints at the true nature of Elizabeth’s thoughts and her preoccupation with Darcy through the minute details of Elizabeth’s conversation, such as the manner in which she switches topics, or the words she uses to respond to Wickham. However, Austen distracts the reader by emphasizing Wickham’s physical attributes, and she consistently refers to his countenance, never mentioning his personality. By focusing on Wickham’s physical characteristics and revealing that Elizabeth never misread Wickham, Austen downplays the importance of the novel’s villain, thereby heightening the impact of Darcy’s letter and Elizabeth’s own character transformation.
During the first conversation between Elizabeth and Wickham, Austen insinuates that Elizabeth’s mind is already preoccupied by Darcy. Anxious to repair the injury done to her pride when Darcy called her “tolerable” during the first dance, Elizabeth engages in a conversation with Wickham with the intention of hearing about Darcy’s adverse past. In fact, the conversation’s only real topic is Darcy, and when Wickham begins “to speak on more general topics…with very intelligible gallantry,” Elizabeth never even responds. In this manner, Austen subtly suggests that Elizabeth does not truly believe Wickham to be the “most agreeable man [she] ever saw,” for if she did, there would be no reason for her to focus exclusively on the topic of Darcy. The friendly attitude that Elizabeth has towards Wickham does not result from Elizabeth’s interpretation of his character, for her mind is consumed by thoughts of Darcy, leaving no room for Wickham. In fact, the first time that Elizabeth shows any positive feelings toward Wickham occurs when he surprises her with unfavorable information about Darcy’s past. Austen hides Elizabeth’s emotions until this first mention of Darcy, when Elizabeth replies “warmly” to Wickham. By purposefully withholding Elizabeth’s emotions and then suddenly disclosing them at the topic of Darcy, Austen alerts the reader to the person who is really occupying Elizabeth’s mind.
From the very beginning of the conversation, Austen links Elizabeth’s feelings and thoughts to Darcy; Elizabeth “is very willing to hear [Wickham], though what she chiefly wishe[s] to hear…[is] the history of his acquaintance with Darcy.” Furthermore, Austen discloses Elizabeth’s preoccupation with Darcy in the very first line, noting that Elizabeth engages in the conversation with Wickham not because of Wickham himself, but because Elizabeth is “unwilling to let the subject [of Darcy] drop.” There are only four times in the entire discourse between Elizabeth and Wickham when Austen reveals Elizabeth’s perceptions of the conversation, but the first two instances are on the topic of Darcy. From the inception of the discourse, Elizabeth’s mind is wholly preoccupied with Darcy, making it impossible for Elizabeth to study Wickham’s character at all.
As the conversation progresses, Elizabeth’s initial interest in Darcy almost transforms into an obsession. When Elizabeth criticizes Darcy’s temper, Wickham is unusually terse, stating only that he “will not trust himself on this subject…and can hardly be just to [Darcy].” However, Elizabeth is not satisfied with this response, and continues to denounce Darcy’s character. There are several occasions in the conversation where the momentum of the dialogue slows down, but in every instance, Elizabeth fuels the conversation by continuing to slander Darcy. There are several times when Wickham actually offers Darcy meager praise, but in every instance, Elizabeth refuses to accept it. When they are discussing the “abominable pride of Darcy,” Wickham notes that Darcy has “family pride, and filial pride, and…also brotherly pride.” Austen illustrates the intensity of Elizabeth’s dislike for Darcy by having her immediately change topics, suddenly asking about Miss Darcy. While Elizabeth was initially eager to criticize Darcy’s pride, she suddenly loses interest in the subject, for she cannot accept any positive remarks about his character.
Austen underscores the strength of Elizabeth’s focus on Darcy by drawing a parallel between the very words Darcy and Elizabeth use. When Elizabeth refuses Darcy’s proposal to dance, Darcy gallantly responds with “Indeed, I do not dare.” Later, Elizabeth is so focused on Darcy during Wickham’s conversation that she too cries, “Indeed!” in response to Wickham’s disclosure of Darcy’s past. By having Elizabeth mirror Darcy’s language, Austen hints that Elizabeth is so engrossed with Darcy that she unconsciously strings his words into her own speech.
As Elizabeth becomes more focused on Darcy, her feelings toward Wickham grow increasingly warm. The primary reason for her transformation is that their shared dislike of Darcy creates an attachment. As Wickham relates an unfavorable story about Darcy, Elizabeth suddenly finds him “handsomer than ever.” Because Elizabeth never studied Wickham’s character, her entire assessment of him derives from “a solicitude, an interest” that they both share. It is solely their shared desire to scorn Mr. Darcy that causes Elizabeth to perceive Wickham as “her model of the amiable and pleasing.”
Austen also draws the reader’s attention to the bond between Elizabeth and Darcy. When their conversation ended, Elizabeth “[goes] away with her head full of…Wickham, and of what he had told her.” Austen repeatedly combines Wickham with mentions of Darcy to remind the reader that Elizabeth’s evaluation of Wickham is largely based on their shared dislike of Darcy.
While Austen suggests that Elizabeth never misread Wickham, she distracts the reader from the reality of Wickham’s personality by placing emphasis on his countenance. When Wickham is first introduced, Austen describes him physically – a rarity in the novel. Austen often appears reluctant to describe the physical appearances of the characters in her novel, often using dialogue to highlight important features. When Austen introduces Wickham, however, she describes him in considerable detail: a man who is “completely charming” and whose “appearance [is] greatly in his favour,” for he has “all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address.” Wickham’s physical description is, in fact, the longest and most detailed of any character in the novel. Austen describes Wickham in great detail because she wishes to define his entire character based on his outward appearance.
Austen also employs other characters to underscore the importance of Wickham’s countenance. When Elizabeth reveals the information she learned about Darcy’s past to Jane, Jane believes Wickham’s story not because the facts are credible, but because of Wickham’s “amiable appearance.” In fact, Elizabeth herself admits that she believes Wickham because there is “truth in his looks.” Austen uses Elizabeth and other characters such as Jane to stress the importance of Wickham’s countenance and, by extension, the relative unimportance of his personality. It is only through the conversations between Elizabeth and Wickham that the reader is able to make any inferences Wickham’s personality, for Austen purposefully withholds any details of Wickham’s character.
Austen’s motive for emphasizing Wickham’s physical attributes reveals itself when Elizabeth receives Darcy’s letter. By underscoring Wickham’s countenance, Austen places the focus on Elizabeth’s character instead of Wickham’s character, simply because it is never discussed. Highlighting Wickham’s physical appearance enables Austen to prevent the reader from drawing any real conclusions about Wickham’s character. Because the reader is never informed about Wickham’s personality, he or she is forced to attribute the change in Elizabeth’s character only to Elizabeth herself. Furthermore, it is only now that Austen explicitly states that Elizabeth never misread Wickham, but rather “gratified [her] vanity in useless or blamable mistrust.” While Austen hints at Elizabeth’s pride during the conversation between Wickham and Elizabeth, here she directly states that “vanity…has been [her] folly.” Austen’s reveals that Elizabeth did not misread Wickham to convey that it is not Elizabeth’s inability to study character, but rather her pride that leads her to believe Wickham’s story. So engrossed is she with her dislike of Darcy that she completely abandons her usual habit of attending to her companion’s character. There is no viable reason for Elizabeth’s belief in Wickham other than her own vanity and pride.
While the popular belief is that over the course of the novel it is Darcy who learns humility, and Elizabeth who discovers the negative effects of prejudice, Austen reveals that Elizabeth, too, undergoes a transformation in vanity. Right after reading Darcy’s letter, Elizabeth finds herself aghast at the consequences of her own pride. By implying that Elizabeth never misread Wickham because she was so entirely preoccupied with Darcy, Austen conveys to the reader that both Darcy and Elizabeth transform their characters and acquire a degree of modesty. Furthermore, by using Elizabeth’s conversation with Wickham to emphasize the consequences of vanity, Austen transforms this novel from a plot-driven tale to a remarkable story fueled by the growth of complex, fascinating characters.