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Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen s novel Pride and Prejudice is a tale of love and marriage in eighteenth-century England.
It centres on the elder sisters of the Bennet family, Jane and Elizabeth. Their personalities, misunderstandings and the roles of pride and prejudice play a large part in the development of their individual relationships. The spirited Elizabeth and softhearted Jane have to deal with not only their own feelings but also the status of their family, both of which affect the outcomes of their marriages. The struggle is very believable and realistic because the story takes place a long time ago. The way people interact with each other today is quite different than how they would interact with each other back then.
Pride and Prejudice is an appropriate name for the book. These notions permeate the novel thoroughly, especially in the views of Elizabeth and Darcy. Jane s temperance does not allow for these qualities to exist in her personality. Mr. Darcy is characterized as a proud, haughty, arrogant man and ends up almost immediately alienating himself from the townspeople. This opinion arises after he refuses to dance with the young ladies who have attended the ball and his obvious reluctance to talk to anyone. His pride was said to come from his extreme wealth.
Our first introduction to pride and prejudice is at a ball Mr. Bingley throws. His sisters and a dear friend of his, Mr. Darcy, accompany him.. Eighteenth-century England was quite preoccupied with status, especially concerning wealth and reputation. Darcy s reluctance to speak with anyone stemmed from his lack of respect for anyone outside his close-knit circle. His good breeding was obvious only to those whom he knew well. Elizabeth is prejudiced against Darcy for entirely different reasons. She received information that was one-sided and made unfair assumptions on Darcy s character. She prejudged him; combining the superficial view she had of him and some rumours. The roles of pride and prejudice can be summed up in the exchange between Darcy and Elizabeth, after he proposed. Darcy clearly defines the reasons for his prejudice: 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? (Pg.164) Elizabeth s prejudice against him withstood even as her pride did not, under his assault on her family. Her opinion of him from the very beginning impressed her with the fullest belief of (his) arrogance, (his) conceit, and (his) selfish disdain of the feelings of others . (Pg. 164) Elizabeth Bennet is a spirited character. She has a playful and light-hearted disposition. She is confident, loyal, clever and funny. She found delight in anything ridiculous , which included an insult to her beauty. (Pg. 12) Her loyalty and devotion to her sister was shown in her three-mile trek to Bingley s house so early in the day and in such dirty weather , to visit her while she was ill. (Pg. 30) Elizabeth is also more a sceptic. This particular quality in evident in the surprise she expresses in her sister s tendency to look at people through rose coloured glasses. She is quite frank and very honest even though she occasionally professed opinions which in fact are not (her) own . (Pg.149) She expresses her feeling regardless of the commotion that it may cause and more often than not, for the shock it will cause. She has a clear understanding of who she is and what will make her happy. This is most obvious when she refuses to marry Mr. Collins. And when she refuses to marry Mr. Darcy when he initially proposes. Even her shock at the mercenary actions of her best friend proves Elizabeth s understanding of what is right and what the ingredients of happiness are. Later, her playfulness can be seen in the way she endeavours to find out the moment Darcy fell in love with her. She declares that he fell in love with her impertinence, mainly because he was tired of all the women who fawned over him. Elizabeth s pride and other failings were all ones she eventually overcame. At one point in the novel, the readers are taken aback by a comment that Elizabeth makes. She tells her sister, she fell in love with Darcy after seeing his estate at Pemberly. At first glance the comment makes her seem as mercenary as her friend, Mrs. Collins but the reader realizes the real meaning behind the comment. Her love began not with sight of the estate, per se, but rather the taste and refinement that is expressed in the beauty of the estate. The fine taste of the estate reflects the taste of the owner. Elizabeth also first as hears stories of Darcy s generosity when she visits Pemberly. Elizabeth s overall character is one defined by intelligence, wit, confidence and amiability. Pride is a very common failing, I believe. . .human nature is particularly prone to it and, there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other. . . . (Pg.19) This observation by Mary is an accurate account of a characteristic found in most people. The human condition allows for the faults of vanity, pride and prejudice. Austen presents these qualities as normal. She understands how they can arise and presents circumstances in the novel, which promote the development of these characteristics. Pride relates more to the opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us . (Pg.19) Pride, as in the case of Darcy, occurred because his family allowed him to follow his principles in pride and conceit . (Pg.310) He was taught to care and respect only his family and himself. Darcy had no vanity because he didn t care for other people s opinions. The eighteenth century promoted a prideful and prejudiced mentality. Pride and prejudice were the products of wealth, power, and influence. The lack thereof was labelled as inferior. Marriages in the eighteenth century were ones of convenience. They were more similar to business arrangements than the union of two inseparable souls. Women and men were sought after according to their wealth and eligibility. Women s property became her husband s when she finally married. Of course all marriages, of all young women, had to be approved of by the family. The young women were introduced into society at an early age. The introduction was an indication of their availability. Young girls spent their entire lives preparing for marriage. They learned to read, play the piano, sing and developed other talents in order to increase their desirability as a potential wife. There were many different types of marriages in the eighteenth century. Some marriages were based on love but most were based on the financial security that could be provided. In many marriages, paramours were acceptable as long as they were discreet. The elder Bennet s marriage was a marriage of security. Mrs. Bennet had a small fortune of her own, as did Mr. Bennet. They did not love each other but stayed together, proving to an extent the family values of the time. Mrs. Collins married for the sake of getting married and settling down. Her desire to have a family of her own overrode the many failings of the man she married. Fortunately some marriages were based on love. Jane and Elizabeth found the perfect matches. Their beaus were good, principled, financially secure men. Austen presents the two major contrasting types of marriages. Both kinds reflect the mentality of that time period. I enjoyed this book immensely. Jane Austen s style of writing delights me. Her work may not be profound but it is insightful, and light-hearted. Her characters are distinct and universal. Elizabeth is one of my favourite literary characters. Her confidence, wit and spirit can only be enjoyed.