ENGLISH NOVEL – JANE AUSTEN’S PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

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INTRODUCTION

Pride and Prejudiceis a novel by Jane Austen. You can see from the date that it waswritten centuries ago having been first published in 1813, as her second novel. You will recall our discussion on characterization in the early novels where we said that a story could becentredaround the major character. That is what we have here.The story follows the main character Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, moral uprightness, education and marriage in her aristocratic society of early 19th century England. Elizabeth is the second eldest of five daughters of Mr. and Mrs.Bennet a country gentleman living in the fictional town of Meryton in Hertfordshire, not far from London.

Background Of The Author/Work

Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) was an English novelist. She was born in Stevenson, Hampshire, where her father was a rector. She was the second daughter and the seventh child in the close-knit family where she lived her entire life. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family contributed immensely to her development as a professional writer. Her novels are set mainly among the landed gentry and herplots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security.

Her novels arehighly prized not only for their light irony, humor, and depiction of the English country life of her time, but also for their underlying serious qualities. Her realism and biting social commentary cements her historical importance among scholars and critics.

Her writing career stated at the age of 35 with the release Sense and Sensibility(1811). Her other novels are Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816). She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon, but she died before completing it.

Her work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but her nephew’s publication of A Memoir of Jane Austenin1869 introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become widely accepted in academia as a great English writer.

Subject Matter

The subject matter of the novel is the marriages of the daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet which could have been prevented by their environment and family. With the exceptions of Elizabeth and Jane, the entire Bennet family is woefully lacking in the kind of self-respect which magnifies their various forms of excesses or laxities. In the words of Gail Cunningham in the Introduction to the novel “ Mrs. Bennet’s irredeemable vulgarity and garrulous silliness expose her daughter to repeated social ridicule; Mary’s pomposity leads her to inappropriate displays of learning or accomplishment; Kitty, and even Lydia, display a shameless self-advertisement which sends Lydia to the brink of social ruin”(ix) in the novel.

Also, Darcy in his letter to Elizabeth sums this up as ‘total want of propriety’. They lack proper pride and self-esteem. Consequently, they humiliate themselves and others most of the time. Finally, pride and prejudice on the part of the protagonists, Elizabeth and Darcy would have contributed most in the near-abortive marriage of Jane and Elizabeth.

Themes

Many critics take the novel’s title as a starting point when analysing the major themes of Pride and Prejudice; Theantithesis and alliteration in the title is remarkable and could be seen as the major theme of the novel. However, some of the themes discernable in the novel are presented below:

  • The importance of environment and upbringing on the development of young people’s character and morality.This is the major theme in this novel and in most of her works.Social standing and wealth are not necessarily advantages in her world.
  • Ineffectual parents. In Pride and Prejudice, the failure of Mr. and Mrs.Bennet (particularly the latter) as parents is blamed for Lydia’s lack of moral judgment; Darcy, on the other hand, has been taught to be principled and scrupulously honourable, but is also proud and overbearing. Kitty, rescued from Lydia’s bad influence and spending more time with her older sisters after they marry, is said to improve greatly in their superior society.
  • Pride and Prejudice is anotherprominent theme in the novel. If you have read the novel, you will notice that the qualities of the title (pride and prejudice) are not exclusively assigned to one or the other of the protagonists; both Elizabeth and Darcy display elements of pride and prejudice. Pride and prejudice run through the novel. Pride can have connotations of proper self-respect but is usually used pejoratively to represent “inordinate and unreasonable self-esteem” (Miles 42).

Elizabeth’s prejudice against Darcy begins from the moment of his snobbish refusal to dance with her at the ball and remains almost to the end of the novel. Consequently this prepares her prejudice in favour of Wickham when he appears.

In the case of Darcy, his instant prejudice against the society of Meryton is a consequence of his class and upbringing. Read the novel to get more of the conflicts and complications caused by pride and prejudice.

Point of View

The novel is presented in the third person point of view or the omniscient narrative technique. Jane Austen makes an extensive and effective use of dialogue. In addition, she employs the narrative technique of free indirect speech that has been defined as “the free representation of a character’s speech, by which one means, not words actually spoken by a character, but the words that typify the character’s thoughts, or the way the character would think or speak, if she thought or spoke” (Palmer 52). In this case, while reporting in the third person, she uses a peculiar narrative which adopts the tone and vocabulary of a particular character especially in the case of Elizabeth. In this way, Austen invites the reader to follow events from Elizabeth’s viewpoint, sharing her prejudices and misapprehensions. In this way, the reader gets most of the information solely through Elizabeth’s point of view

Plot

The novel revolves around the Bennet family. Mr. Bernnet has five marriageable daughters and mother who will be left without a home and income once Mr. Bennet dies. This is the terms on which Mr. Bennet inheritedLongbourn. There was a statute then in England that prohibited women from inheriting property. Instead, one of Mr. Bennet’s male relations will inherit the estate on his demise. This is still happening in many Nigerian cultures whereby when a man dies without a son, his daughters and wife are disinherited and his brothers will take over his property. Naturally, the women concerned will be worried. In this novel, Mrs.

Bennet worries about this predicament, and is desperate in her bid to find husbands for her daughters as quickly as possible. This need for themarriage of young ladies and gentlemen in the society then is captured in the first sentence of the novel: “IT IS A TRUTH universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” (3). The plot of the novel revolves around this first sentence and is justified by the end of the novel/work.

Mr. Bennet doesnot seem to be worried at all, and Elizabeth, the heroine, has decided to only to marry for love, though she has no concrete ideas on how she will survive financially. She feels that her sister’s beauty, kindness and good nature would fetch herawealthy husband.

The novel opens with the great news that Mr. Bingley, a wealthy young gentleman, has rented a country estate in Netherfied near the Bennets. He arrives in town accompanied by his fashionable sisters and his good friend, Mr. Darcy. While Bingley is well-received in the community, Darcy begins his acquaintance with smug condescension and proud distaste for all the ‘country’ people. Bingley and Jane, Elizabeth Bennet’s older sister, get acquainted.Unfortunately the relationship was prevented from blossoming by Darcy who also slights Elizabeth at a ball. Elizabeth is stung by Darcy’s haughty rejection of her at the local dance anddecides to match his coldness with her own wit and carries it till certain revelations were made and she discovers his true nature. Ironically, unknown to her, Darcy finds himself gradually drawn to Elizabeth.Just as Bingley appears to be at the point of proposing marriage to Jane Bennet, he quits Netherfield, leaving Jane confused and upset. Elizabeth is convinced that Bingley’s sister has conspired with Darcy to separate Jane and Bingley.

Before Bingley leaves, Mr. Collins, the male relative who is to inherit Longbourn, makes a sudden appearance and stays with the Bennets and proposes marriage first to Jane and later to Elizabeth. Both of them reject the offer, much to her mother’s distress. Collins quickly recovers and proposes to Elizabeth’s close friend, Charlotte Lucas, who immediately accepts him. Once the marriage is arranged, Charlotte asks Elizabeth to come for an extended visit.

In the spring, Elizabeth joinsCharlotte and her cousin at his parish in Kent. The parish is adjacent to Rosings Park, the grand manor of Mr. Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, where Elizabeth is frequently invited. While calling on Lady Catherine, Mr. Darcy encounters Elizabeth. She discovers from a cousin of Darcy that it was he who separated Bingley and Jane. Soon after, Darcy admits his love of Elizabeth and proposes to her.

Insulted by his high-handed and insulting manner of proposing, Elizabeth refuses him. When he asks why she should refuse him, she confronts him with his sabotage of Bingley’s relationship with Jane and Wickham’s account of their dealings.

Deeply shaken by Elizabeth’s vehemence and accusations, Darcy writes her a letter justifying his actions. The letter reveals that Wickham soon dissipated his legacy-settlement (from Darcy’s father’s estate), then came back to Darcy requesting permanent patronage; and that he became angry when rejected, accusing Darcy of cheating him. To exact revenge and to make off with part of the Darcy family fortune, he attempted to seduce Darcy’s young sister Georgiana—to gain her hand and fortune, almost persuading her to elope with him—before he was found out and stopped. Towards Bingley and Jane, Darcy justifies his actions based on his observations that Jane did not show any reciprocal interest in his friend; thus his aim in separating them was mainly to protect Bingley from heartache.Darcy admits that he was concerned about the disadvantageous connection with Elizabeth’s family, especially her embarrassing mother and wild younger sisters. The letter opens her eyes more toher family’s behaviour and Wickham’s credibility.

Some months later, during a tour of Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth visits Permberley, Darcy’s estate and unexpectedly, Darcy arrives at Pemberley and makes an effort to be gracious and welcoming to them, thus strengthening Elizabeth’s newly favourable impression of him. Darcy then introduces Elizabeth to his sister Georgiana. He treats her uncle and aunt very well, and finds them to be of more sound character than her other relatives, whom he previously dismissed as socially inferior.

Elizabeth and Darcy’s renewed acquaintance is cut short when news arrives that Elizabeth’s younger sister Lydia has run away with Wickham. This exposes Wickham’s behaviour more to Elizabeth. It is discovered that he has no intention of marrying her. Darcy intervenes and forces the marriage. Soon after, Bingley and Darcy return to the area. Bingley proposes marriage to Jane, and this news starts rumors that Darcy will propose to Elizabeth.

Lady Catherine travels to Longbourn with the sole aim of forcing Elizabeth to never accept such a proposal. Elizabeth is adamant in her refusal to concede to Lady Catherine’s demands. Darcy hears of Elizabeth’s obstinacyand it convinces him that her opinion of him has changed.

Consequently, he proposes again to Elizabeth who accepts, and the two become engaged. In the resolution, Bingley and Jane get married and later settle in Derbyshire, closer to Pemberley where Darcy and Elizabeth settle after their marriage. Elizabeth and Jane manage to teach Kitty greater social grace, and Mary learns to accept the difference between herself and her sisters’ beauty and mixes more with the outside world. Lydia and Wickham continue to move often, leaving their debts for Jane and Elizabeth to pay off. At Pemberley, Elizabeth and Georgiana grow close. From the synopsis of the novel which I have deliberately presented above, you can see that the plot runs chronologically and causally from the beginning to the end.

Setting.

The story is set uniquely in the turn of the 19th century. However, it retains a fascination for modern readers as the events and action remain relevant in the contemporary society. The physical setting is England as some known landmarks like London, Kent and other known towns are mentioned in the novel.

Characterization

In this novel, we credit Jane Austen with a presentation of a deepinsight into human affairs. Her treatment of all the characters in the novel especially the major ones shows that she is amaster craftsman in the art of characterization. She assembles an array of characters, each playing his or her role in the unfolding of the plot. The round characters grow with the novel as they learn from interpersonal relationships. For instance, Elizabeth’s straightforwardattitude gives her a leeway to deliver some home- truths to Darcy, Lady Catherine and the Collins. There is a steady line of development, perfectly consistent with the framework Jane Austen establishes at the beginning of the novel. The conversion of the major characters is carefully planned, proceeding through logical and clearly defined stages from the beginning to the end.

The characters are settled appropriately at the end of the novel. Jane’s sweet nature is rewarded with Bingley’s four or five thousand a year; Darcy’s ten thousand a year and magnificent Pemberley estate becomes a befitting material match for Elizabeth’s superiority of wit and insight; and Lydia and Wickham are consigned deservedly to a life of nomadic penury as socialoutcasts; Mrs. Bennet is not allowed to visit Pemberley; and The haughty Miss Bingley is ‘deeply mortified’ by Darcy’s marriage to Elizabeth. Let us study a brief analysis of some of the characters presented below.

Elizabeth Bennet is the main character and protagonist. The reader sees the unfolding plot and the other characters mostly from her experiences and interpersonal relationship with the other characters. She is the second of the Bennet daughters at twenty years olds; she is intelligent, lively, attractive, and witty, but has a tendency to judge on first impressions and perhaps to be a little selective of the evidence upon which she bases her judgments. She exemplifies pride and prejudice in the novel.

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is the main male character. Twenty-eight years old and unmarried, Darcy is the wealthy owner of the famous family estate of Permberley in Derbyshire. He is handsome, intelligent, but haughty and seems to possess an excessive pride and concern for social status. He makes a poor impression on strangers with his aloof and arrogant attitude. However he is valued by those who know him well.

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