Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice, follows the titular character of Elizabeth Bennet as she and her family navigate love, loyalty and wealth.
When Mrs. Bennet hears that a wealthy, young and eligible bachelor, Mr. Bingley, has moved into the manor of Netherfield Park nearby, she hopes to see one of her daughters marry him. Of the five daughters born to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia, Jane takes an early liking to Mr. Bingley despite his friend, Mr. Darcy, initial coldness and apathy towards her younger sister Elizabeth. Though Mr. Darcy’s distaste soon grows to attraction and love.
While Jane and Mr. Bingley begin to fall for each other, Elizabeth receives and declines a marriage proposal from her supercilious cousin Mr. Collins, who eventually comes to marry Elizabeth’s dear friend Charlotte. While Mr. Darcy is in residence at Netherfield Park, Elizabeth finds and enjoys the company of a young officer named Mr. Wickham who too has a strong disliking for Mr. Darcy. Mr. Wickham claims it was Mr. Darcy who cheated him out of his fortune, which then deepens Elizabeth's initial ill impression of the arrogant man.
After a ball is held at Netherfield Park, the wealthy family quits the estate, leaving Jane heartbroken. Jane is then invited to London by her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, which Mr. Darcy fails to tell Mr. Bingley as he has persuaded him not to court Jane because of her lesser status.
When Elizabeth visits her newly married friend Charlotte, she meets Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s (Mr. Darcy’s Aunt) other nephew, Colonel Fitzwilliam. While there, Mr. Darcy appears and proposes to Elizabeth unexpectedly claiming he loves and admires her. To Mr. Darcy’s surprise, Elizabeth refuses as she blames him for ruining Mr. Wickam’s hopes of success and for keeping Jane and Mr. Bingley apart. Mr. Darcy later apologies in a letter and admits to persuading Mr. Bingley not to pursue Jane, but argues that her love for him was not obvious. In the letter, he also denies Wickam’s accusations and explains that Wickham had intended to elope with his sister for her fortune.
Elizabeth joins her Aunt and Uncle in visiting Mr. Darcy’s great estate of Pemberley under the impression he would be absent. It is there that Elizabeth learns from the housekeeper that Mr. Darcy is a generous landlord. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy then have a chance encounter after he returns home ahead of schedule. Following her previous rejection of him, Mr. Darcy has attempted to reform his character and presents himself amiably to Elizabeth’s Aunt and Uncle as she begins to warm up to him.
Mr Darcy happens upon Elizabeth as she receives the terrible news that Lydia has run off with Wickam in an event that could ruin her family. Mr. Darcy then going out in search for Wickham and Lydia to hurry their nuptials. When Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy return to Netherfield Park, Elizabeth is pleased to see him though Darcy shows no sign of his regard for her. Jane and Mr. Bingley soon become engaged.
Soon thereafter, Lady Catherine visits the Bennets and insists that Elizabth never agree to marry her nephew. Darcy hears of Elizabeth's refusal, and when he next comes, he proposes a second time which she accepts, his pride then humbled and her prejudices overturned.
- Elizabeth Bennet
- Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy
- Jane Bennet
- Mr. Charles Bingley
- Mr. Bennet
- Mrs. Bennet
- George Wickham
- Lydia Bennet
- Mr. Collins
- Miss Bingley
- Lady Catherine De Bourgh
- Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner
- Charlotte Lucas
- Georgiana Darcy
- Mary Bennet
- Catherine Bennet
Within the text the theme of pride is ever present as it plays a major role in how Austen’s characters present themselves, their attitudes and how they treat each other. For much of the novel pride blinds both Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth of their true feelings and hence becomes something both characters must overcome. While Darcy’s pride makes him look down upon those not immediately within his social circle, Elizabeth takes so much pride in her ability to judge the character of others that she refuses to amend her opinions even when her initial judgements are proven wrong. Indeed, this is why Elizabeth despises the benign Darcy early on in the text, but initially takes a liking to the mendacious Wickham. By the denouement of the novel, both Datcy and Elizabeth have overcome their pride by encouraging and supporting each others own personal evolution. Indeed, as Darcy sheds his elitism Elizabeth comes to realise the importance of revaluation.
The tendency of others to judge one another based on perceptions, rather than who they are and what they value becomes a point of prolific discussion within Pride and Prejudice. Indeed, the title of the text clearly implies the related nature of pride and prejudice as both Darcy and Elizabeth are often shown to make the wrong assumptions; Darcy’s assumptions grounded in his social prejudice whereas Elizabeth’s is rooted in her discernment led astray by her excessive pride. As Austen subtly mocks the two lovers biases, she gives the impression that while such flaws are common faulting someone else for the prejudice is easy while recognising it in yourself is hard. While Austen’s representation of prejudice is aligned with personal development and moral growth as she wittingly condemns those who refuse to set aside their prejudices like Lady Catherine and Caroline.
The family unit that Austen displays with Pride and Prejudice becomes the social and domestic sphere as it forms the emotional center of the novel in which she grounds her analysis and discussion. Not only does the family determine the social hierarchy and standing of its members but provides the intellectual and moral support for its children. In the case of the Bennet family, Austen reveals how the individuals identity and sense of self is molded within the family as she presents Jane and Elizabeth as mature, intelligent and witty and lydia as a luckless fool. Not only this, Austen reveals the emotional spectrum that lives within every family as shown through Elizabeth’s varying relationship with her parents; the tense relationship with her mother and sympathy she shares with her father.
At the center of its plot, Pride and Prejudice examines the complex inequality that governs the relationships between men and women and the limited options that women have in regards to marriage. Austen portrays a world in which the socio-economic relationship between security and love limits the woman and her choices as it based exclusively on a family’s social rank and connections. Indeed, the expectations of the Bennet sisters, as members of the upper class is to marry well instead of work. As women can not inherit their families estate nor money, their only option is to marry well in the hope of attaining wealth and social standing. Through this, Austen explains Mrs. Bennet’s hysteria about marrying off her daughters. Yet Austen is also shown to be critical of those who marry purely for security, thereby offering Elizabth as the ideal, who initially refuses marriage as she refutes financial comfort but ends up marrying for love.
Class and Wealth
As Austen focuses much of her novel on the impacts of class and wealth, she makes clear of the system that favours the rich and powerful and often punishes the weak and poor. Characters like Lady Catherine, whose enforcement of rigid hierarchical positions often leads her to mistreatment of others. Other characters like Mr. Collins and Caroline are depicted as void of genuine connection as they are unable to live and love outside the perimeter of their social standing. In contrast, characters such as Bingley and the Gardiners offer a respectable embodiment of wealth and class through their kindness and manners. Indeed, Austen does not criticise the entire class system as she offers examples that serve to demonstrate the decency and respectability. Darcy embodies all that a high-class gentleman should as though he is initially presented as flawed and arrogant, it becomes clear as the novel progresses that he is capable of change. Always generous and compassionate, his involvement with Elizabeth helps to brings his nurturing nature to the foreground, evident in his attempts to help the foolish lydia. Ultimately, Austen suggest through Darcy’s and Elizabeth's union that though class and wealth are restrictive, they do not determine one’s character nor who one is capable of loving.
- Symbolism, imagery and allegories
- Writing style
- Three Act plot
- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” (ch.1)
When writing on any text in Text Response, it is essential to use quotes and analyse them.
Let’s take this quote, for example.
“it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”
This is the opening line of the novel. It is satirical, ironic and mocking in tone. Austen makes fun of the notion that wealthy bachelors must be wanting to marry in order to be valued in society. By using this tone, she subverts this “truth universally acknowledged” and encourages readers to question this societal presumption of wealth and marriage.
Have a look at the following quotes and ask yourself, ‘how would I analyse this quote?’:
- “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.” (ch.3)
- "An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do." (ch.20)
- “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” (ch.34)
- “They were all of them warm in her admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” (ch.43)
- “You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.” (ch.58)
An introduction in approaching exam questions:
Character based prompts
What do the various relationships between Austen’s characters tell us about love, marriage and society?
1. Find the key words
In this case it is pretty straight forward. The main words and ideas that should lead your discussion are various, relationships, characters, love, marriage and society.
2. Compose your answer to the question
Essentially, the goal of your essay is to formulate a response to a question that is surrounded by in-depth analysis and discussion, but before you can discuss you need to have an answer.
In the case of this question you need to state what the characters relationships tell the audience about love, marriage and society. Is it that these relationships show that love should be the reason for marriage regardless of societal expectations? Or maybe that these characters don’t have free will and are ultimately forced to marry because this is what society expects? You want to have an answer to the question before you can start discussing it.
A good essay should contain three or four succinct and effective arguments that address and answer the question. Make sure that when you answer a question you answer the whole question and not just parts of it.
While this question is character-based your arguments and more importantly, your essay should always focus on what the author's message is to his or her’s audience is. An example of what I mean can be seen below in the two different opening sentences:
‘Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship shows that love triumphs all, even the expectations of society.’
‘Through the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth, Austen suggests that love and happiness should guide the intention of marriage rather than the pursuit of money.’
Both of these sentences argue that love is more important than anything else, but the second sentence is driven more by Austen’s thoughts and your discussion and analysis of Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship while the first sentence is purely focused on the characters and the plot rather than what their relationship means.
Attempt to sum up your arguments and how they answer the question, make sure you include the author's message.
Theme based prompts
Pride and Prejudice suggest that marriage is about security rather than love. DIscuss.
How does one’s pride and one’s prejudices affect their judgement within Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice?
Authorial message based prompts
Austen suggests that family life plays an important role in shaping one’s character. To what extent do you agree?
What comments does Austen make about love, marriage and class within Pride and Prejudice?