First Impressions in the Novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Whenever someone thinks of Jane Austen, it is no surprise that they may think of her best-selling novel Pride and Prejudice. However, many fail to realize that Pride and Prejudice was not the original title of her famous writing piece and that it took many publishers to convince her to change her original title First Impressions to Pride and Prejudice. There are many moments in the book where first impressions of the characters play a big role and Austen did this to show the readers that first impressions can be deceiving because nonetheless, the characters may or may not be what they have portrayed as. While the second title has won its fame over the book, it is indeed First Impressions that one may believe best suits the book because it better serves the plot alongside the nature of the satirical characters that Austin created.
The novel begins with multiple first impressions of the characters in the book especially of arrogant Mr. Darcy and bachelor Mr. Bingley. Two members of England’s upper-class society, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley visit a city in England in which middle-class bachelorettes are awaiting their arrival. The first volume focuses on these two different circles coming together to meet each other in fancy balls made in honor of their arrival. To say the least, the two main characters of the novel, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy meet in the first ball and already, the first impressions of one another are less than ideal, with both characters thinking so negative of each other. Darcy remarks that Elizabeth is “tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me” (11) while Elizabeth’s first impression of Mr. Darcy is in response to what he said about her left her with “no very cordial feelings towards him” (11). In such little time that these two were barely able to meet each other did they already begin to form an antipathy that will blind them from each other throughout the entire first half of the book. Also, Mrs. Bennet was quick to judge Mr. Darcy based off of the first impression that he had given off to people at the ball especially when he spoke to antipathetic of Elizabeth when asked whether he would like to be introduced to her. She said, “So high and so conceited that there was no enduring him! He walked here, and he walked there, fancying himself so very great! … I quite detest the man” (13). Already by seeing how he presented himself in the ball did Mrs. Bennet receive a bad first impression of Mr. Darcy. Many characters are quick to judge Mr. Darcy because of the first impression that he gave off at the ball when he arrived from London and it’s this first impression that blinds them from the reality of his life.
Not only did Mrs. Bennet speak so negative of Mr. Darcy based off of what she saw at the ball and what she heard from Elizabeth, but she also commented and spoke about the first impression that she got off of Mr. Bingley. The mother of the Bennet household made multiple comments off of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley at the ball. Despite disliking Mr. Darcy for rejecting Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet goes off over how he complimented and danced with Elizabeth’s sister Jane. She says, “Mr. Bingley thought her quite beautiful, and danced with her twice. Only think of that my dear; he actually danced with her twice; and she was the only creature in the room that he asked a second time… I am quite delighted with him. He is so excessively handsome!” (12). Mrs. Bennet was praising Mr. Bingley after the first impression he gave off at the ball when he asked Jane to dance twice with him. To her, dancing multiple times is considered a compliment and because of this, he becomes her favorite bachelor of the night. After only meeting Mr. Darcy in such a short amount of time did he becomes the center of criticism of the entire town solely because of how he portrayed himself at the ball. The exaggeration of rumors, irony, and gossip of the people that occurred at the time goes to show the satire that Austen uses in her novel.
The satire that Austen shows when people gossip about Mr. Darcy is not even part of the satire that she defines in the book. Throughout the first volume, we frequently see Elizabeth make snap decisions about characters despite little to no interaction with them, but it is in the next volume where we begin to see the discrepancies between real life and the characters in this satire. In this section of the book, Elizabeth begins to take events and bend them to fit her own personal worldview, as seen when Jane sends her a letter about attempting to locate Mr. Bingley in London. Despite the fact that Jane never interacts with Mr. Bingley, and Jane only talks to his sister, Elizabeth immediately assumes that Mr. Bingley is behind it all, claiming that “His character sunk (further) on every review of it,” (Austen 144-145) ignoring the likely possibility that Ms. Bingley simply neglected to inform Mr. Bingley of Jane’s arrival, something that seems possible considering Jane believes she’s acting on “anxiety for her brother.” (Austen 144) Why does she do this? Because he is a friend of Mr. Darcy.
In “Pride and Prejudice”, the rich “don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views.” We see this time and time again throughout the book. When a young soldier called Mr. Wickham comes to town, he claims that Mr. Darcy was apparently responsible for removing him from his father’s estate, despite the fact that Mr. Darcy himself claims that Mr. Wickham is lying about the entire affair, or at the very least, severely distorting the truth. One of the main characteristics that Elizabeth attempt to define herself by is her love of rationality, yet despite that, she immediately takes Wickham at face value, even claiming that it bore up to scrutiny, despite her not once doubting his words. Why? Certainly because “Whatever he had said was said well” (Austen), but that is not the main reason. The main reason she believes him is that it justifies her first impression of Darcy, as opposed to making her re-evaluate her opinions. Her ‘logic’ is quite simply that everything about Mr. Darcy must be rotten because of that initial insult and as funny and amusing as that is now, it has dreadful consequences later in the book.
If the reader has familiarity with this book, or any of the movies, parodies, or other associated content, they may be wondering about how Mr. Darcy’s letter written near the end of volume two fits into all of this. Surely this letter that so drastically effects a change into Elizabeth, and causes her to admit how “wretchedly [she] has acted” will undo these first impressions. Well yes…and no. In the latter half of the book we see almost a complete reversal of the previous two volumes, with Elizabeth’s impressions almost entirely reversed. Whereas before, Darcy was nothing short of the most repugnant man on the planet, and Wickham was nothing short of a perfect gentleman, her opinion of Wickham (reasonably) drops, while her opinion of Darcy rises because she liked the flora around his manor’s grounds.
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