Jane Austen’s ”Pride and Prejudice”
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Jane Austen (1775-1817) was an English novelist, who first gave the novel its distinctly modern character through her treatment of ordinary people in everyday life and whose works have set her among the most widely read writes in English Literature. Daughter of a Church rector, she lived most of her life in the enclosed circle of the country middle-class, which constituted the main source of inspiration for her work. She created the comedy of manners which is highly depicted in the novels: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), and Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (published posthumously, 1817).
The plot in Pride and Prejudice revolves around the Bennets and their five daughters: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine and Lydia, especially Elizabeth. The story focuses on various romantic adventures of these young girls. Mr. Bennet comes across as a wise and witty gentleman, while Mrs. Bennet is solely concerned with marrying the girls. The arrival of the wealthy bachelor Charles Bingley and his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy in the neighborhood adds stir to the Bennet household. While Jane, the most beautiful of the sisters, attracts Mr. Bingley’s eye, Darcy upsets Elizabeth, with his proud behavior, thus making her begrudge him. However, later on, Darcy finds himself drawn to Elizabeth’s liveliness and independent spirit, when they meet again at Bingley’s residence. This upsets Bingley’s sister, Caroline, and her jealousy becomes quite apparent.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth meets a charming military officer, George Wickham, who tells Elizabeth about his past mistreatments from Darcy, thus making Elizabeth’s disdain grow. Yet, as the story continues, even Elizabeth finds herself attracted to Darcy, who proposes to her, saying that he would marry her in spite of her family’s inferiority. Feeling insulted, she rejects the proposal accusing him of mistreating Wickham and of separating Jane and Bingley. The next day she receives a letter from Darcy, narrating an alternate version of events. Some time later, they meet again and Elizabeth realizes that Darcy is kind and generous and that he has helped in bringing Jane and Bingley together. Darcy proposes to her once again and this time, Elizabeth accepts the proposal. Jane and Bingley also come together as the climax unfolds.
Much like in other Jane Austen novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, the title is very important in offering an insight into the novel and its themes, being realized by means of a binary relationship. The novel’s original title was First Impressions. Although Austen eventually revised the novel and changed its title, “first impressions” maintain a strong importance in the published novel.
Being composed of two coordinated terms, it would seem easily at first to attribute each term to one of the two protagonists. When they first meet, Elizabeth’s haste in judging Darcy and her pride in maintaining her first perceptions prevent her from acknowledging the good side in him, thus proving both pride and prejudice. On the other hand, Darcy danced only one dance and quickly dismisses the prospect of dancing with Elizabeth, affirming that “she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me ” , revealing that he also is both proud and prejudiced as he Elizabeth reveals prejudice because she “willfully misunderstands everybody” and also because she states about Mr. Darcy that “it would be great misfortune… to find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate”.
However, as it is revealed throughout the novel, the protagonists interchange these features, both of them being proud and prejudiced. For instance, when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, saying he would marry her in spite of “her family’s inferiority” he reveals being prejudiced. Consequently, Elizabeth rejects the proposal because her pride was injured in the process and also because she maintains her misconceptions about Darcy’s involvement in Jane and Bingley’s separation. However, as the climax of the novel approaches, the two protagonists acknowledge their faults, relinquish their false prides and they truly reveal having matured throughout the events.
To sum up, the title of a Jane Austen novel, in this case Pride and Prejudice, holds vast significance as it provides a preview on the plot of the novel and identifies the major themes which are revealed throughout the entire content.
Teachman, Debra. Student Companion to Jane Austen. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.
Southam, Brian C. “Jane Austen” Encyclopædia Britannica