Pride and Prejudice Analysis

Form and Content (Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Pride and Prejudice revolves around love and marriage in an acquisitive society. While the Bennets are members of the leisure class, the family fortune is entailed upon a male heir. This difficulty causes Mrs. Bennet to act frantically to find husbands for her five daughters. Elizabeth, the heroine, looks toward marriage with her clear sense of self and her ability to judge others accurately. To unite with a worthy husband, however, she must change her perceptions and grow in understanding. The novel is presented in three volumes, the sections mirroring Elizabeth Bennet’s emotional growth through her response to the hero, Fitzwilliam Darcy.

The story begins with Elizabeth, like the other young women in Meryton community, looking forward to a party that introduces two eligible bachelors with fortunes. She sees with pleasure that Charles Bingley is attracted to her older sister Jane. She dismisses the other bachelor, the aristocrat Darcy, as a proud man who considers himself their social superior. Elizabeth painfully recognizes the truth of his assessment as she observes her mother and sister Lydia in unseemly attempts to ensnare any possible suitor. Elizabeth’s sentiments and values are further revealed when she rejects the offer of Mr. Collins, the pompous, condescending gentleman on whom their fortune is entailed and is instead attracted to the handsome Wickham, who beguiles her with his charm and his story of ill-treatment by Darcy. His story evokes her sensitive feelings and increases her resentment toward Darcy.

Elizabeth is reconnected with Darcy when she visits her friend Charlotte, who, in a spirit of expediency, accepts Mr. Collins. Their home is the parsonage on the estate of Lady Catherine de Bough, Darcy’s aunt. After several visits from Darcy, Elizabeth is shocked and angered when he proposes to her, despite what he calls her low family connections. Elizabeth not only refuses but also rebukes him for the part that she suspects he has played in separating Jane and Bingley and for his reprehensible treatment of Wickham. She is later astonished by the long letter from Darcy explaining how he misjudged Jane’s affection and how he and his sister were, in fact, misused by the profligate Wickham. Elizabeth recognizes the error of her judgment.

In the third section, she develops admiration for Darcy, and indeed he too changes. Believing him to be away, she accidentally encounters him at Pemberly, his beautiful and tasteful estate that she tours while traveling with her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners. Here, she observes his gracious manners with her relatives and learns of the esteem that his servants and tenants have for him. As her regard for Darcy grows, Elizabeth is once again embarrassed by her family when Wickham and Lydia run off together. Darcy makes use of this incident to exhibit his care for Elizabeth by quietly paying off Wickham. He further promotes himself in Elizabeth’s eyes by influencing the renewed connection between Bingley and Jane. With her feelings for Darcy transformed, Elizabeth now hopes that he will repeat his request, which he does, and both couples are united. Elizabeth and Darcy, however, have undergone the trials of love and learned to value each other.

Pride and Prejudice Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Longbourn Estate

Longbourn Estate. Home of the Bennet family in southeastern England’s Hertfordshire. The estate is “entailed,” meaning that it can be passed down only through male heirs. Austen uses the estate to point up the condition of single women in early nineteenth century England, demonstrating why they have an intense need to marry. The Longbourn estate is to pass to Mr. Collins, a pretentious young clergyman who stands to inherit Mr. Bennet’s property. After the heroine Elizabeth Bennet turns down Collins’s proposal of marriage, her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, accepts his proposal because she is poor and needs to marry.

Netherfield Park

Netherfield Park. Estate rented by Mr. Bingley, the neighborhood’s new eligible bachelor, in which Austen sets up the novel’s action. The Bennets have five unmarried daughters, and their silly mother is anxious to see them all married. Mr. Bingley soon falls for Jane, the oldest, and it is through him that Elizabeth meets the arrogant Fitzwilliam Darcy, Bingley’s best friend. The complex social goings-on at Netherfield illuminate a society in which women scramble to find husbands amid financial snobbery and class prejudice.

Rosings

Rosings. Home of Mr. Collins’s arrogant patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who is also Darcy’s aunt. After Charlotte marries Mr. Collins, she moves to the cleric’s cottage near the Rosings estate.

Pemberley

Pemberley. Darcy’s well-ordered home, in which he and Elizabeth come to view themselves as they truly are: Elizabeth recognizes her own prejudice, and Darcy recognizes his own pride. Pemberley is the perfect setting for the ultimate triumph of romantic love. After Elizabeth spurns Darcy, she eventually begins to regard her decision as a mistake, especially as she realizes that she might have been the mistress of Pemberley, in whose miles and miles of grounds she takes great delight.

Pride and Prejudice Form and Content (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Pride and Prejudice is a novel about marriage. The author’s purpose is to make it possible for her two most interesting characters, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, to be united. In order to accomplish the author’s purpose, they must overcome both external obstacles and the personal flaws suggested in the title of the book. Although he is attracted to Elizabeth, the proud aristocrat Darcy is prejudiced against her family because of their social inferiority, which is evident to him in the folly of Mrs. Bennet and her younger daughters, as well as in the fact that the family has a kinsman in trade. Elizabeth’s own pride is injured when she overhears Darcy’s slighting comment about her; her resulting prejudice is confirmed by George Wickham’s lies and by her own discovery that Darcy had advised Charles Bingley not to proceed with his courtship of Jane Bennet. If the lovers are finally to come together, not only must Wickham be exposed and Jane be reunited with Bingley, but also both Elizabeth and Darcy must become wiser, so that in the future their judgments will be based not on pride or on prejudice, but on reason.

In form, it has been noted, Pride and Prejudice is highly dramatic. Each character is introduced with a short summary much like those found in playscripts. The story proceeds through dialogue, with Austen herself functioning as an onstage commentator, summing up what has happened since the last scene or adding stage directions; for example, exits, entrances, or displays of grief or anger. Pride and Prejudice even falls into five segments, or acts, as do the witty comedies of manners by William Congreve, Oliver Goldsmith, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan on which it is probably modeled.

The first dozen or so chapters of the work, like the first act of a play, are devoted to exposition. The Bennets are introduced; it is established that the five girls of the family, as well as their friend Charlotte Lucas, need husbands; and two eligible single men, Darcy and Bingley, appear on the scene.

In the second segment of the novel, two more unmarried men, William Collins and George Wickham, enter the lives of the Bennets. Wickham tells Elizabeth that Darcy has behaved villainously toward him. Collins, who would have married either of the two older Bennet girls, finds himself a wife in the person of Charlotte Lucas.

In the third act, while visiting Charlotte at her new home, Elizabeth once again encounters Darcy, whose aunt is Collins’ patron. To Elizabeth’s surprise, Darcy proposes; after she has haughtily turned him down, Elizabeth discovers that she has wronged her suitor and admits to herself that she does indeed love him.

The proof of Darcy’s character comes in the final two sections of the novel. When Lydia Bennet elopes with Wickham, Darcy chooses to help the Bennet family avoid disgrace. He finds the couple and forces Wickham to marry Lydia. In the process, he befriend’s Elizabeth’s tradesman uncle and revises his assumption that merit can be found only in the landed gentry. Like all traditional comedies, the novel ends with appropriate marriages. Jane weds Bingley, and Elizabeth is at last united with Darcy.

Pride and Prejudice Context (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Jane Austen’s heroines have long been admired. Like Elizabeth, they are all intelligent, independent, and strong-willed. Nevertheless, all of them have flaws. The imaginative young Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey (1817) tries to make a Gothic novel out of ordinary life, while in Emma (1815), the forceful title character, Emma Woodhouse, is so determined to do good that she ignores the wishes of others, with unfortunate results. The deficiencies of Austen’s heroines, however, are defects not of character, but of judgment. When, in the course of the novels, they come to know themselves better and to see others more clearly, their inherent virtues are strengthened by wisdom.

With the growth of feminist criticism, however, have come new questions about Austen’s intentions, especially where her heroines are concerned. While there is still general agreement that Elizabeth Bennet is the most admirable, as well as the most appealing, of her female characters, some critics argue that Elizabeth’s marriage to Darcy represents a sacrifice of her selfhood. Even in a patriarchal society such as Austen’s, a girl whose father is as passive as Mr. Bennet can rule her own life unless, like Lydia, she blatantly defies society. Darcy, however, is quite a different kind of person from Mr. Bennet. It is questioned whether Elizabeth can maintain her independence as the wife of a man who is her equal in will and intellect and her superior in rank and wealth, especially since she will be moving in his social circle.

Since Austen wrote no sequel to Pride and Prejudice which could settle the issue, however, most critics continue to believe that the novel ends happily. They see Elizabeth as a woman who will assert herself, no matter what her situation, and Darcy as a man who would never attempt to destroy the very qualities in Elizabeth that initially elicited his admiration. Perhaps the significance of these questions is not merely that they emphasize how repressive Jane Austen’s environment actually was, but also that they underline her amazing achievement. In a society dominated by males, she managed to bring to life a number of strong-willed female characters and to produce some of the finest literary works of her era.

Pride and Prejudice Historical Context

Jane Austen Published by Gale Cengage

Jane Austen's England
Jane Austen's major novels, including Pride and Prejudice, were all composed within a...

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Pride and Prejudice Setting

The story begins in the autumn of 1811 when Charles Bingley, accompanied by his two sisters and Darcy, takes up residence at Netherfield,...

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Pride and Prejudice Literary Style

Romanticism
The novel Pride and Prejudice was written during the middle of the Romantic period in western...

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Pride and Prejudice Literary Techniques

Jane Austen's novels have been described as a blend of the novel of sensibility popularized by Samuel Richardson and the comedy of manners...

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Pride and Prejudice Literary Qualities

Pride and Prejudice is an exciting, suspenseful story. The novel does not drag, for Austen writes succinctly and structures a tight...

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Pride and Prejudice Social Concerns

The famous first sentence of this novel, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in...

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Pride and Prejudice Ideas for Group Discussions

Pride and Prejudice continues to inspire critical inquiry and controversy because of its vivid characters, dramatic plot, and sharply...

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Pride and Prejudice Compare and Contrast

  • 1810s: Europe is submerged in warfare throughout most of the decade by the struggle against the ambitions...

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Pride and Prejudice Topics for Discussion

1. Reread the first two sentences of chapter 1. Does the novel demonstrate those sentences to be true? Why do families vigorously compete for...

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Pride and Prejudice Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. A moralist attempts to educate readers about the principles of right and wrong that he or she feels should govern human life. What...

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Pride and Prejudice Topics for Further Study

  • Research the changes in the English social structure during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Show how attitudes in...

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Pride and Prejudice Literary Precedents

Influenced by the comedy of manners and the sentimental novel. Pride and Prejudice is unique in how it combines and extends these...

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Pride and Prejudice Related Titles / Adaptations

Sense and Sensibility deals with the fortunes in romance of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, daughters who could not inherit their...

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Pride and Prejudice Media Adaptations

Scene From 1940 Movie Published by Gale Cengage
  • The most famous film version of Pride and Prejudice is the black and white Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer production released in 1940....

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Pride and Prejudice What Do I Read Next?

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Pride and Prejudice For Further Reference

Cecil, Lord David. A Portrait of Jane Austen. London: Constable and Co. Ltd., 1978. Well-illustrated, this biography should be...

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Pride and Prejudice Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Brower, Reuben A. "Light and Bright and Sparkling: Irony and Fiction in Pride and Prejudice." In his...

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Pride and Prejudice Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Interpretations: Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Contains nine essays treating such topics as manners and propriety, love, intelligence, and society. Includes a chronology and bibliography.

Brown, Julia Prewitt. Jane Austen’s Novels: Social Change and Literary Form. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979. A response to critics who claim that Austen does not write about important issues because she writes about domestic life. Choosing a spouse points to life’s complexity, which intelligent characters know; the foolish choose badly, dooming themselves and future generations.

Gillie, Christopher. A Preface to Jane Austen. London: Longman, 1974. An invaluable guide that includes useful background material and brief discussions of Austen’s novels. A reference section contains notes on people and places of importance, maps, and explanations of numerous words used in the works. Amply illustrated. Annotated bibliography.

Halperin, John, ed. Jane Austen: Bicentenary Essays. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975. A collection of essays on various aspects of Austen’s work. An excellent chapter by Robert B. Heilman explains how the title Pride and Prejucide defines the theme and the structure of the novel. In another essay, Karl Kroeber suggests some reasons for the work’s lasting popularity.

Halperin, John. The Life of Jane Austen. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984. A thorough and highly readable critical biography, written with the stated purpose of making Jane Austen “come alive.” Argues that neither Elizabeth Bennet nor any other character in the novels should be taken as representing so complex a person as Austen. Has perhaps the best summary available of the theories about the genesis of Pride and Prejudice. The book also includes a family tree, copious notes, and numerous illustrations.

Honan, Park. Jane Austen: Her Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. A detailed biography that depicts Austen’s life and work and provides a portrait of England and the age. The chapter on Pride and Prejudice focuses on the novel’s reflection of a changing society in which economics, social class, and character all affect individual happiness.

Howe, Florence, ed. Tradition and the Talents of Women. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. Feminist criticism of various writers. An essay by Jen Ferguson Carr notes that although both Mrs. Bennet and Elizabeth are excluded from power in a male-dominated society, only the daughter is intelligent enough to use language to “dissociate herself from her devalued position.”

Kirkham, Margaret. Jane Austen, Feminism, and Fiction. Brighton, Sussex, England: Harvester Press, 1983. Although Elizabeth Bennet is the most appealing of Austen’s heroines, the novelist herself had misgivings about Pride and Prejudice, probably because its light-hearted ending depends upon Elizabeth’s losing her integrity. Concludes with a helpful summary of the critical tradition.

McMaster, Juliet, ed. Jane Austen’s Achievement. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1976. A collection of six papers delivered at the Jane Austen Bicentennial Conference at the University of Alberta. Lloyd W. Brown’s chapter “The Business of Marrying and Mothering” and A. Walton Litz’s “‘A Development of Self’: Character and Personality in Jane Austen’s Fiction” both deal with Pride and Prejudice.

Mansell, Darrel. The Novels of Jane Austen: An Interpretation. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1973. An interesting interpretation that insists Austen is less interested in imitating reality than in depicting the psychological progress of Elizabeth and Darcy. The chapter on Pride and Prejudice provides an excellent analysis of Austen’s use of irony.

Moler, Kenneth L. “Pride and Prejudice”: A Study in Artistic Economy. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Intended as a student’s companion to the novel, a useful book for the first-time reader of Jane Austen. Includes a historical context and critical reception of the novel. Also examines the themes of moral blindness and self-knowledge, art, and nature, as well as Austen’s use of symbolism, language, and literary allusion.

Smith, LeRoy W. Jane Austen and the Drama of Woman. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983. In Pride and Prejudice, Austen shows the ideal marriage as depending upon overcoming the institution’s “threat to selfhood.” Unlike most women of her period, Elizabeth Bennet insists both on choosing her own husband and on retaining her intellectual and emotional independence.

Sulloway, Alison G. Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989. Pointing out that in nineteenth century society men had “rights” and women had “duties,” this author examines the various areas in which women function in Austen’s novels, including the “Ballroom,” the “Drawing Room,” and the “Garden.” Sulloway’s approach is original and perceptive.

Yaeger, Patricia, and Beth Kowaleski-Wallace, eds. Refiguring the Father: New Feminist Readings of Patriarchy. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. A collection of essays on various writers. In “The Humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet,” Susan Fraiman argues that when Elizabeth Bennet marries Darcy, she is exchanging a passive, permissive father for a father figure who, as a strong-willed male of lofty social status, may give her ease but will certainly take away her independence.