Pride, Prejudice, and Vanity
For two hundred years Jane Austen’s novels have been read, reread, dog-eared and bookmarked. They have been opened with smiles and closed with reluctant sighs, picked up and not put down again until every word has been read, cherished, and safely secreted away within the reader. Austen’s novels are each a rich bouquet of themes, motifs, and imagery. Perhaps most prominent of these themes is Austen’s depiction of love in the face of potential lovers’ pride, prejudice, and vanity.
In Pride and Prejudice, one of the most significant illustrations of these themes can be found in the romances between the Bennet girls and their suitors, as courtships are wrought with snap judgments, uncompromising ideals, and extreme concern with frivolity such as appearance and social standing; no relationship in the novel exemplifies this more than that of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy.
In Pride and Prejudice, love and propriety harmonized with humor and irony, as Austen displayed her special talent for creating interesting people, places, and things; through ironic humor, cynicism, and rapier-like puns, the techniques employed by Austen to name items in her novels provide significant insight into the characters, serve as a subtle means for social criticism, and prove a successful comedic device, creating humor out of the mundane and displaying love in the most unlikely places.
Her title for Pride and Prejudice initially appears that she abandoned much of the similar wit for a straightforward description of her text, though upon reading, one is forced to question the appropriateness of the novel’s “prejudice. ” While it can said to be in Darcy’s general contempt for the lower social classes, it is really more his own vanity that makes him crave status so. Similarly, the Bennets are also rife with pride and predetermined “facts” of life, as Elizabeth has tends to judge upon first impressions and is often highly critical of others.
However, the title speaks to something greater than the words themselves, and really speaks of the flaws of most humans: “The meanings that ‘pride’ and ‘prejudice’ acquire are related to the central theme of all of Jane Austen’s novels—the limitations of human vision” (Zimmerman 65). This limitation of human vision, the inability to see moral and actual existence clearly, not only leads to pride, prejudice, but also vanity. Through the less-than-clever Mary Bennet, Austen gives her delineation of vanity and pride: “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain.
Pride relates to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us” (Austen). The romance between Lizzy and Darcy is not unlike Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley’s in that the lovers share similar personalities and ultimately find great joy in being together, although it does differ in the course it takes, hindered by the pride and vanity of each. While Jane and Bingley were immediately enamored with each other, Lizzy and Darcy begin the novel as ultimately, Lizzy and Darcy’s love epitomizes ardor and devotion in spite of pride and vanity of each, however prejudice may be a misnomer.
Lizzy actually has ample reasons to dislike Darcy after she meets him: “1) his snobbish and insulting remarks about her at the ball; 2) his attempt to break up the romance between Jane and Bingley; and 3) his alleged injustice to Wickham” (Fox 186). However, her disposition exemplifies her vanity, not prejudice, and her vanity is apparent throughout the novel. When Lizzy writes to Mrs. Gardiner to inform her of the engagement she writes, “I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh” (250).
Though Lizzy is happy, her vanity lies at the root of what she says, and: “It is clear that vanity here applies, not to the impression Elizabeth wants to make on others, but to her own opinion of herself” (Dooley 188). She is happy, after abandoning her initial judgments of Darcy, however she still compares her happiness to that of her sister. Through the two romances of Jane and Lizzy, Austen has painted a portrait of the good and of the great and how vanity often leads to greater significance in relationships.
While the love between Jane and Bingley is sweet and honest, the love between Lizzy and Darcy is real, visceral, and passionate; one produces a smile, the other a rapturous laughter that only fills the void where words prove lacking. This is due greatly to the pride and the vanity of both Lizzy and Darcy, who each create higher ideals for them to live by, and the only real prejudice that exists in the novel is that which exists in every human.
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