Mind over Matter in Pride and Prejudice

May 17, 2019 by Essay Writer

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 naïve 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.

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