February 1, 2005
Love, Wealth, and Marriage
Pride and Prejudice, authored by Jane Austen, is a skillfully crafted novel dealing with love, comedy, and first impressions. The novel follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, and her middleclass family living in 19th century England. Elizabeth, unlike her younger sisters, is quite quick-witted but perhaps is too judgmental and relies very heavily on her first impressions of people; this is clearly evident after her first meeting with Mr. Darcy. Lydia, Elizabeths youngest sister, is rather childish and seems to be quite foolish; this is made quite evident when she marries Mr. Wickham. Another important female character is Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeths opportunistic friend; she marries Collins after Elizabeth rejects his marriage proposal. Another interesting concept portrayed in the novel is the motivation behind the main characters marriages: Elizabeth marries out of love, where as her friend, Charlotte, marries so that she might continue with her lavish lifestyle. Lydia, Elizabeths youngest sister, marries out of what she thinks is love but, in fact, out of something more sinister.
The first marriage found in the novel is that of Charlotte Lucas to the nervous Mr. Collins. Charlotte, being a well-educated woman of small fortune(120; Vol.1, ch. 22), readily accepted Collins proposal regardless that her best friend, Elizabeth, had rejected the same proposal not a week before. Charlotte marries Collins primarily because he will be able to provide for her and will be able to make her life quite easy considering, that upon the death of Mr. Bennet, Collins would be in possession of the Longbourn estate (120; Vol.1, ch. 22). Charlottes family, Like Elizabeths family, did not receive their wealth from their inheritances, but rather from work and trade. People who earned their wealth in this fashion were considered to be of a lower class; so when Mr. Collins does propose to Charlotte it is seen as extremely good fortune since he earned his money through inheritance and is in the command of the wealthy Lady Catherine. In conclusion, Charlotte married Collins not out of love but out of her desire for material gain.
Lydias marriage was of an even more serious note; she had eloped with the unsavory Mr. Wickham, whose character was more than questionable. At the time of her departure Lydia was little more than sixteen and was rather foolish; this was clearly demonstrated in her letter to Elizabeth stating her feelings toward Wickham. Wickham was eventually forced to marry Lydia which caused him to halt his plan of abandoning her and taking her money to pay off his debts. Their marriage seemed successful in the beginning but as time passed they drifted apart and lived for the most part in poverty, constantly calling on Lydias sisters for financial aid. Their marriage was not based off of love or mutual care; it was based off of Lydias need to outperform her sisters and Wickhams need for money. In the past Wickham had been able to seduce other woman and essentially rob them of their fortune; once he was finished with them he would leave them to their own means. He was attempting to do the same to Lydia but was confronted by Mr. Darcy, Elizabeths eventual husband. Their relationship was too hasty and each did not have time to fully explore the others character. The outcomes of such unions usually end in guilt and regret for both parties.
Of the three examined couples Elizabeth and Darcy have by far the most loving and prosperous marriage. Elizabeth first met Mr. Darcy, one year before their marriage, at a ball. Her fist opinion of him was that he was extremely vain and not worthy of her affections; quite similarly Mr. Darcy initially felt that Elizabeth was tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt [him](12; Vol. 1, ch. 3). Elizabeth found support for her initial impressions of Mr. Darcy from her friends and acquaintances who shared her opinions and from the sinister Mr. Wickham. Darcys first impressions of Elizabeth and her family were that they were of a lower class and that Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeths mother, was a scheming simpleton who tried to trick any rich bachelor into marrying one of her five daughters. Acting on his impression Darcy convinced his good friend Mr. Bingly into leaving the area and to break off relations with Jane, Elizabeths eldest sister. When Elizabeth became aware of Mr. Darcys actions she became quite cross with him and her opinion of him worsened. Her dislike of Darcy actually blinded her to his feelings for her and she was quite shocked when he proposed to her the first time. She declined his first proposal and stated her grievances with him as her reasons for not accepting. After receiving a letter from him describing his actions and a visit to his estate in Pemberly she began to see Darcys true nature. After learning of his true nature she started falling in love with him and in the end accepted his second marriage proposal. Their relationship grew over time and each had the chance to observe the others character; this being the case they were both able to obtain an accurate idea of what the other was truly like. A union like theirs typically lasts much longer and is one of love and prosperity for both parties involved.
The idea of the novel seems to lie in the portrayal of the three main unions. The union of Collins and Charlotte demonstrates the ideas of ambition and a one-sided marriage; where as the union between Elizabeth and Darcy shows one of compassion and mutual love. Lydias marriage to Wickham shows the darker side of society and how an unscrupulous character can easily take advantage of an innocent and foolish child. The novel is a grand example of human interaction in 19th century England and could even be useful for studying that period in history.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. London, England: Penguin Classics 2003
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
The following entry presents criticism of Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. See also, Jane Austen Criticism, Northanger Abbey Criticism, and Mansfield Park Criticism.
One of the world's most popular novels, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice has delighted readers since its publication with the story of the witty Elizabeth Bennet and her relationship with the aristocrat Fitzwilliam Darcy. Similiar to Austen's other works, Pride and Prejudice is a humorous portrayal of the social atmosphere of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England, and it is principally concerned with courtship rituals of the English gentry. The novel is much more than a comedic love story, however; through Austen's subtle and ironic style, it addresses economic, political, feminist, sociological, and philosophical themes, inspiring a great deal of diverse critical commentary on the meaning of the work.
Plot and Major Characters
Pride and Prejudice focuses on Elizabeth Bennet, an intelligent young woman with romantic and individualistic ideals, and her relationship with Mr. Darcy, a wealthy gentleman of very high social status. At the outset of the novel, Elizabeth's loud and dim-witted mother, her foolish younger sisters, and her beautiful older sister Jane are very excited because a wealthy gentleman, Mr. Bingley, is moving to their neighborhood. The young women are concerned about finding husbands because if Elizabeth's father, a humorous and ironical man, were to die, the estate would be left to their pompous cousin Mr. Collins. Mr. Bingley soon becomes attached to Jane while Elizabeth grows to dislike his close friend Mr. Darcy, whom the village finds elitist and ill-tempered. Under the influence of his sisters and Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley eventually moves away to London. Mr. Collins, an irritating clergyman, then proposes to his cousin Elizabeth, who refuses him. He marries her friend Charlotte instead, and Elizabeth visits the couple at their estate, where she and Mr. Darcy meet again at the house of his aunt, also Mr. Collin's patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth but she refuses him, partly based on her belief that he dissuaded Mr. Bingley from pursuing a relationship with Jane. In a letter to Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy explains his actions regarding Jane and Mr. Bingley, as well as the way in which he has treated his estranged childhood companion, Mr. Wickham. The next time Elizabeth sees Mr. Darcy, at his estate, she is better disposed toward him, but they are interrupted by a scandal involving Elizabeth's sister Lydia, who has eloped with Mr. Wickham. Mr. Bennet and his brother-in-law Mr. Gardiner attempt to resolve the situation, but it is actually Mr. Darcy who resolves the situation by paying Mr. Wickham and convincing him to marry Lydia. Mr. Bingley then returns to his estate in the Bennets' neighborhood and soon becomes engaged to Jane. Afterward, despite Lady Catherine's attempt to prevent the engagement, Elizabeth marries Mr. Darcy.
Austen's novel is principally concerned with the social fabric of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England, a patriarchal society in which men held the economic and social power. In an often satirical portrait of the men and women attempting to gain a livelihood, Austen subtly and ironically points out faults in the system, raising questions about the values of English society and the power structure of the country. Pride and Prejudice contains many elements of social realism, and it focuses on the merging of the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy during the era of the Napoleonic wars and at the beginning of the industrial revolution. The novel is also engaged in an ideological debate that drives its plot and defines the essence of its main character. Interested in the balance between pragmatism, or the necessity of securing a marriage, and idealism, particularly Elizabeth's romanticism and individualism, Austen dramatizes her heroine's struggle to find a place within the conservative social institution of marriage. The precise nature of this balance is not necessarily clear, and despite what seems to be a happy marriage, it may not be entirely possible to reconcile Elizabeth's independence and naturalness with Mr. Darcy's conservatism and conventionality. Nevertheless, the novel seems to work toward an ideological balance and an alteration in the fundamental aspects of these characters that will lead to a reconciliation of the themes that they represent.
Probably Austen's most widely read novel, Pride and Prejudice, which has been continuously in print since its publication in 1813, has been the subject of volumes of diverse critical reactions. Evaluations of this work have included condemnatory dismissals such as that of Mark Twain, measured praises of Austen's sophistication and wit, and plaudits for the novel as the author's masterpiece. Many early critics focused on the social realism of the novel, commenting on the depth, or lack of depth, of Austen's characters. Criticism of the novel from the nineteenth century through the early twentieth century also tended to regard Austen as a moralist, discussing the value system that Pride and Prejudice establishes. Critics from the 1920s through the 1950s focused on Austen's characteristic themes and stylistic devices, as well as discussing her choice of subject matter and the moral and ideological journey that Elizabeth undertakes throughout the course of the novel. During the 1960s and 1970s, commentators offered contextual criticism that evaluated Pride and Prejudice within the literary and social world in which Austen wrote. It was also during this period that new directions in criticism of the novel began to be explored. Since the late 1960s, for example, critics have approached Austen's novel from a variety of linguistic standpoints, such as Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of dialogism, as well as analyzing the work in terms of postmodern theory and applying new developments in psychology to the text. There has also been increased attention given to the political subtext of the novel, suggesting new ways of interpreting its relationship to the historical context of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the later decades of the twentieth century and into the early years of the twenty-first century, the most prominent trends in criticism of Pride and Prejudice have derived from the perspectives of literary feminism, including analysis of the novel's view of female oppression, its portrayal of the patriarchal society of the time, and its treatment of the possibility, fantasy, and reality of female power. Feminist critics such as Judith Lowder Newton have envisioned the novel as a triumphant fantasy of female autonomy, while Jean Ferguson Carr warns that Austen's exclusion of Mrs. Bennet from the social world reveals a persistent subjugation of women throughout the novel. In addition to strictly feminist readings of Pride and Prejudice, many essays not associated with this school of social and literary thought either incorporate or challenge various feminist claims in relation to Austen's work.