Questions for study with ideas for answers
Q: What significance does the book’s title ‘Pride and Prejudice’ have?
Who does it relate to, and show how it stands in the way of romance?
At the start of the novel, it is clear that Darcy is the proud character,
and that Elizabeth is prejudiced against him because of this.
The way Darcy behaves at the couple’s first meeting has more to do with his
reserved nature, in that he does not feel at home with strangers.
Elizabeth’s prejudice initially stems from her overhearing a conversation
between Bingley and Darcy concerning her. At this very early stage, Darcy knows nothing about Elizabeth.
He has no idea regarding her intelligence and wit, and these are the characteristics, which challenge him throughout the novel causing him to grow increasingly fond of her.
Austen cleverly uses irony throughout the book, and Darcy actually accuses
Elizabeth of being proud, when he proposes to her in Chapter 34. At the same point in the novel, Elizabeth accuses Darcy of being prejudiced towards her.
His proposal was proud in its execution for he explains that it is made
against his social background that he is prepared to marry someone of lower status, prepared to suffer the hostility from his relations, all of which sounds as if he is doing Elizabeth a favor. In this awkward
situation, he fails to emphasize that he is making the proposal because of his depth of feeling for her, but this is eventually made evident to Elizabeth through his steadfast support when her family is faced with
It is only when the two parties appreciate the shallowness of their pride
and prejudice and they allow these traits to melt away that romance can blossom between them.
Elizabeth also exhibits prejudice against her close friend, Charlotte, when
she marries for convenience instead of love, and when this transpires to be a satisfactory arrangement for both parties, she is forced to eat some of her words.
Q: Although having never married, Jane Austen makes comments regarding
marriage in Regency society. How does she do this?
Mr. and Mrs. Bennett: Their marriage must be regarded as failed.
They do not appear to like one another much, and their conversations are almost exclusively devoted to their daughters’ situations. Because Mr. Bennett has failed to provide for his family financially, Mrs. Bennett is driven to see her daughters settled, and hopefully at least one will secure a husband rich enough to provide financially for the rest of the family. Just as Mr. Bennett failed financially, he has failed to produce a male heir, and his family is at the mercy of Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennett’s cousin, who will inherit Longbourn. Mr. Bennett spends his time in his retreat in the library, while Mrs. Bennett’s life is filled by her daughters, and gossiping with her neighbors.
Mr. and Mrs. Collins: Both these parties were pressured into marriage,
Collins by his wealthy patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, “a person not to be trifled with”, and Charlotte, Elizabeth’s close friend, who seeks the security that marriage will bring.
This is a businesslike arrangement, a marriage of convenience and not for love, and both parties get what they desire out of the arrangement. Collins acquires himself a respectable wife, who will manage his parsonage efficiently, is acceptable to his circle of friends, and meets Lady Catherine’s requirements. Charlotte will obtain a secure way of life, and just as Collins is controlled by Lady Catherine, she will in time be able to exert control over Collins. She likes to be involved in the pastimes of the day, such as needlework etc., and she has already set up her sitting room as a retreat from her husband, so she also has her own space.
Lydia Bennett and Wickham:
Lydia is just fifteen when she elopes with Wickham, and she is infatuated with him. Wickham is shown to be a philanderer, and fortune hunter, and clearly does not intend to make this relationship an honorable one for Lydia’s sake. He merely has a sexual attraction to her and therefore, the union is based on lust. However, with Darcy’s intervention Wickham is forced to marry Lydia, and he buys a commission for Wickham in order to provide some security. Lydia comes best out of the deal for she has, in her eyes, outwitted her older and prettier sisters Jane and Elizabeth, and she will have quite an entertaining life as the wife of an officer. Nowadays, this arrangement would not last and would end in divorce, but in Regency times this was more difficult, and we do not learn how this relationship develops.
Bingley and Jane & Darcy and Elizabeth: Austen shows that the
marriages above are not perfect, and she also states that a marriage must be a combination of the entire above, plus being based on love, and most importantly, compatibility.
This is the recipe for a perfect marriage. She considers that these four characters, although different, have arrived at the perfect marriage because each couple is compatible. Bingley requires a beautiful wife who has the social graces and Jane requires a husband who is handsome and caring, and will be a good father for her children. Darcy requires an intelligent and spirited wife, and Elizabeth meets these requirements. Elizabeth requires a husband who will not suffocate her spirit and care for her.
Q: Explain why ‘Pride and Prejudice’ contains letters from the various
Letter writing was the most important means of communication in Regency
times, next to conversation. Austen made clever use of letter writing in this novel, as the way in which a letter is written is a good insight into a person’s character.
The letter from Mr. Collins to Mr. Bennett in Chapter 13, and the way in
which it is written gives a clear picture of his character. He shows his arrogance and his peculiar nature through the lines of his letter.
He is really just an upstart, who is fortunate enough to have a wealthy patron. This fortunate turn of events has made him proud, and he clearly delights in having some power over the Bennett family. He would, no doubt, be quite capable of obtaining a wife in his local parish, but he wishes to take advantage of his authority over the Bennett family and to choose one of the five sisters.
In Darcy’s letters, he has a ‘particular’ style.
They are usually quite long and deliberate in format. Like his behavior in the company of strangers, he is not totally at ease in writing letters, and he takes his time ensuring that they are formed correctly. Like his behavior throughout the book, he considers his moves carefully and is not prone to making rash statements or actions. The content of his letters comes across as being honest and true, and the letter Elizabeth receives from him the day after she rejected his proposal of marriage is crucial to the plot of the book. Darcy has to ensure that this letter has the desired effect on the woman that he loves. He cleverly appeals to her sense of justice, and Elizabeth ends up reading the letter several times. In this way she can see that he is honest and this letter helps to reduce the prejudice she has for him.
Bingley is described by his sisters as being impetuous and changeable, and
is in some ways a careless man. This is highlighted in his letter writing, which is in total contrast to Darcy’s.
His letters are short with some words missing, and with the occasional blot detracting from their overall appearance. Bingley makes up for this inadequacy in the written word, by his mastery of the spoken word.
When Mr. Gardiner writes to the Bennett’s about Lydia’s disappearance, he is
clearly mindful about his family’s feelings, showing him to be a caring man.
He also does not write until he has something substantial to report, and although this increases the tension back in Longbourn, he obviously views the situation, as ‘no news is good news’. His letter is able to assuage the anxiety that the Bennett’s feel, and it comes over that he is a man that has the situation under control.
Lydia writes to Colonel Foster’s wife, Harriet, and we get a real insight
into her character. She is totally irresponsible, and has not a notion as to the consequences of her behavior on the reputation of her family. She seems to be divorced from the real world and thinks that
she is a character in a pantomime or fairy tale. She clearly does not see Wickham for what he is, and she believes herself to be in love with him, but she is hardly of an age to know what she feels.
She sees her future life as a long series of dances and buying clothes and other frivolous items.