The Original Title and Its Resonance in the Novel
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a novel about characters overcoming hardships that are necessary for their happiness. Before Jane Austen decided on the final title, she chose the title First Impressions, which acknowledges that the main barrier that the characters must overcome is their first impressions of each other. The novel’s main characters, Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy are faced with first impressions that prevent them from realizing their love for each other. These first impressions, although very strong and long-lasting, dissipate by the end of the novel and their views of each other change completely. Although this title seems to depict the novel very well, Jane Austen chose a different title, which gives the correct impression that Darcy and Elizabeth possess pride and prejudice. First impressions influence the characters’ actions and events that take place in the novel, pride and prejudice cause the characters to behave the way that they do, but Pride and Prejudice is a more appropriate title for the novel.
Elizabeth forms her impressions of Darcy before even meeting him, solely off of his disposition at the Netherfield Ball. According to Elizabeth, “He [is] the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everyone [hopes] that he would never come there again” (Austen 7-8). Not only is Darcy an unexciting man to be around, he refuses his friend Bingley’s suggestion that he dance with Elizabeth by saying, “‘She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me’” (8). As if Elizabeth does not already dislike him enough, this comment from Darcy contributes to Elizabeth’s negative first impression of him. After listening to Wickham explain how Darcy robbed him of an inheritance, her opposition toward Darcy grows even stronger. Throughout the novel, Elizabeth finds herself going back and forth between disapproval of Darcy and wanting to get close with him. It is not until after Darcy proposes, Elizabeth refuses his hand in marriage, and Darcy explains himself in a letter that Elizabeth starts to realize that her original impression of him does not reflect his actual personality. When Elizabeth finally overcomes her wrong first impression of Darcy, she starts to recognize that her feelings toward him are quite the opposite of the way that she originally feels.
Although Darcy acknowledges his feelings toward Elizabeth before she does, he develops the wrong first impression of Elizabeth when he first sees her. When he sees her at the Netherfield Ball, he says that he would rather not dance with her because she is not handsome enough for him and her family’s social status is not admirable. Darcy becomes blinded by the fact that her family is not wealthy and that he would be marrying down, so he tries to convince himself that he is not in love with her. When Elizabeth refuses to dance with him after Sir Lucas suggests it, his opinion of her changes immensely. Soon after he makes these first impressions of Elizabeth, Darcy decides that he wants to pursue her. “‘I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow…Miss Elizabeth Bennet’” (22). Because Darcy is able to overcome his first impression of her, he finally starts to fall in love with her and their relationship starts to grow.
With the title, Pride and Prejudice, most readers assume that Elizabeth is prejudice and Darcy is pride, but further analysis proves that both characters possess both traits. Before even meeting him, Elizabeth forms prejudices against Darcy and allows for those prejudices to outweigh everything else about him. She ignores that he tries to compliment her by saying that a woman must be smart and engage in a conversation about books, which he knows she appreciates. When he attempts to compliment her love of books, she assumes that he is being ignorant and has unachievable standards for women. Her prejudices against Darcy are further built upon when she accepts the lies that Wickham feeds her about Darcy’s past without questioning if they are true. Although Elizabeth is most commonly paired with prejudice, she does possess the characteristic of pride. She pays so much attention to the faults of others that she fails to recognize her own faults. When she sarcastically says, “‘Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise’” (49), she is inferring that he has too much pride, but her saying this proves that she has too much pride as well. Because Elizabeth has too much pride and thinks that she is never insensitive toward anybody else’s feelings, she finds everything that he says insulting and negative. Elizabeth’s pride and prejudice are possibly the two most prominent traits that influence her actions and thoughts throughout the novel.
Darcy, commonly mistaken as solely pride, like Elizabeth, possesses both of these impulsive qualities. Darcy’s pride is perhaps the most obvious character trait in the novel because he displays it in many ways. When he proposes to Elizabeth, his arrogance and pride are present because he expects her to accept his hand in marriage because he is doing her a favor. In his proposal, he compares her family’s money with his own and admits that he looks down on her family’s status. After she refuses his hand, he continues to say, “‘Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own’” (165)? Not only do Darcy’s assumptions represent his pride, they also reveal that he has prejudices against Elizabeth. Since he first meets her, he is prejudiced against her because of the low social ranking of her family and therefore tries to convince himself that his feelings toward her mean nothing. He is also prejudiced against the lower class in general because he assumes that any poor woman would accept a rich man’s hand in marriage. Darcy’s pride and prejudice cause him to form the first impressions of Elizabeth that originally prevent him from loving her.
The original title suggests that the novel primarily revolves around the characters forming first impressions of each other. While the novel does include some aspects of first impressions and the characters overcoming these first impressions, the novel is more importantly about the characters realizing that they have the impulses of pride and prejudice. These impulsive traits that Darcy and Elizabeth possess become the main cause of their first impressions of each other. Not only do these impulses prevent the characters from recognizing their love for each other, they eventually lead to the strong and happy relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy. When the characters finally realize that the faults that they see in each other are the same faults that they possess, they are finally able to come together in marriage and love. The title of the novel perfectly represents almost every event that takes place throughout the novel because of the pride and prejudices of the characters displayed throughout the novel. Thus, the final title that Jane Austen chose, Pride and Prejudice, is more appropriate and psychologically more complex than First Impressions.
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