Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
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...
(The entire section is 527 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
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. 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. 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...
(The entire section is 306 words.)
Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
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...
(The entire section is 538 words.)
Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
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...
(The entire section is 368 words.)
Jane Austen's England
Jane Austen's major novels, including Pride and Prejudice, were all composed within a short period of about twenty years. Those twenty years (1795-1815) also mark a period in history when England was at the height of its power. England stood as the bulwark against French revolutionary extremism and against Napoleonic imperialism. The dates Austen was writing almost exactly coincide with the great English military victories over Napoleon and the French: the Battle of the Nile, in which Admiral Nelson crippled the French Mediterranean fleet, and the battle of Waterloo, in which Lord Wellington and his German allies defeated Napoleon decisively and sent him into exile. However, so secure in their righteousness were the English middle and upper classes—the "landed gentry" featured in Austen's works—that these historical events impact Pride and Prejudice very little.
The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars
The period from 1789 to 1799 marks the time of the French Revolution, while the period from 1799 to 1815 marks the ascendancy of Napoleon— periods of almost constant social change and upheaval. In England, the same periods were times of conservative reaction, in which society changed very little. The British government, led by Prime Minister...
(The entire section is 894 words.)
The story begins in the autumn of 1811 when Charles Bingley, accompanied by his two sisters and Darcy, takes up residence at Netherfield, close to the Bennets' home at Longbourn. Both homes are located in a rural area of Hertfordshire, a county in southeastcentral England. Other scenes take place in nearby Rosings in Kent county, where Mr. Collins occupies a clergyman's "seat," and in the central county Derbyshire, where Darcy lives. The novel also describes, but does not show, events that occur in London (located twenty-four miles from Longbourn) and in the popular seaside resort town of Brighton.
Pride and Prejudice reveals distinctions of social class that may seem unusual to young American readers. Darcy and his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, are members of the aristocracy, England's hereditary ruling class. The Bennet family and the clergyman Mr. Collins—like Jane Austen herself—fall into the category of landed gentry, which means that they own property in the country, are well-bred, and hold a good social position. The Bennets are "poor" only in comparison with others of the gentry. Historically, the aristocracy and gentry mixed freely but tended not to cross lines for marriage. Both maintained business but not social dealings with people of "inferior" status, such as small merchants, tenant farmers, and servants.
The members of the Bingley family, from the north of England, are neither gentry nor aristocracy, but their...
(The entire section is 484 words.)
Volume One, Chapter 1 Questions and Answers
1. Where does the opening scene take place?
2. What does Mrs. Bennet want her husband to do?
3. Why does Mrs. Bennet seem excited?
4. What does Mrs. Bennet consider to be her mission in life?
5. Why does Mr. Bennet favor Lizzy?
6. Who does Mrs. Bennet say will probably visit Mr. Bingley first?
7. How much money does Mr. Bingley earn annually?
8. What is meant by the word “let” in this sentence?
“Netherfield Park is let at last.”
9. What does Mrs. Bennet say a woman with five grown daughters should give up?
10. How many years have the Bennets been married?
1. It takes place in the country home of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.
2. She wants him to be among the first to visit their new neighbor, Mr. Bingley.
3. Mr. Bingley is a single man of wealth. She has five marriageable daughters.
4. The business of her life is to get her daughters married.
5. He thinks Lizzy is smarter than the rest of his daughters.
6. She says Sir William and Lady Lucas will go for the same reason.
7. He earns four or five thousand pounds per year.
8. It means the estate is rented.
9. She feels she should give up thinking of her own beauty.
10. They have been married for 23 years.
(The entire section is 206 words.)
Volume One, Chapters 2-3 Questions and Answers
1. How does Mr. Bennet tease his family?
2. What annoying habit does Kitty have?
3. How does Mrs. Bennet show favoritism to Lydia?
4. Why did Bingley turn down the first invitation to dinner?
5. Who came back from London with Bingley?
6. What are the first impressions of most women of Darcy?
7. Who does Bingley find attractive?
8. Why does Elizabeth sit down for two dances?
9. Who overhears Darcy’s speech to Bingley? How does she react?
10. What most impresses Mrs. Bennet about Bingley’s sisters?
1. He doesn’t tell them right away that he has already called upon Mr. Bingley.
2. Kitty has an annoying cough.
3. She tells Lydia that she will probably get the first dance with Bingley.
4. He had to go to London to bring his relatives back.
5. He brought back his two sisters, his brother-in-law, and Mr. Darcy.
6. They find him to be handsome, but exceedingly vain and cold.
7. He dances two dances with Jane, and describes her to Darcy as the most beautiful creature he has ever seen.
8. There are more women at the ball than eligible men, and some are more popular than others.
9. Elizabeth overhears his arrogant speech, and forms an immediate dislike.
10. She says they dress...
(The entire section is 207 words.)
Volume One, Chapters 4-8 Questions and Answers
1. How does Jane describe Bingley to Elizabeth?
2. What does Elizabeth say Jane never sees?
3. What did Charlotte overhear at the ball?
4. What did Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst think of Mrs. Bennet and the younger daughters?
5. At the second ball, what does Darcy do that irritates Elizabeth?
6. What is an entailment?
7. What happens to Jane when she visits Bingley’s sisters?
8. How do the Bingley sisters react to Elizabeth’s appearance when she arrives at Netherfield?
9. What is the name of Darcy’s estate?
10. Who is Mr. Jones and why was he sent for?
1. She says he is sensible, good humored, lively, and has fine manners.
2. She says Jane never sees people’s faults.
3. She overheard Bingley describe Jane as the prettiest woman in the room.
4. They thought the mother was intolerable and the younger daughters were not worth talking to.
5. He deliberately listened in on a conversation she had with Colonel Forster.
6. Entailment is a legal term that means a property is bequeathed to a given person (in this case, a male heir).
7. Jane caught a severe cold in the rain and had to remain at Netherfield because she was bedridden.
8. She is muddy and wet, and they find her indelicate and rough....
(The entire section is 225 words.)
Volume One, Chapters 9-12 Questions and Answers
1. How does Mrs. Bennet describe Charlotte?
2. What does Miss Bingley ask Charles?
3. To whom does Darcy compose a letter?
4. Why does Miss Bingley get jealous?
5. What weaknesses do Darcy says expose “a strong understanding to ridicule”?
6. What type of entertainment is usually enjoyed after dinner at Netherfield?
7. How long did Jane stay at Netherfield?
8. Why does Darcy hardly speak to Elizabeth on their last day at Netherfield?
9. Why is Mrs. Bennet upset that the two daughters returned so soon?
10. How do the other daughters react to their reunion?
1. She states that Charlotte is very plain, but a dear friend.
2. She asks him if he is serious about giving a ball.
3. He writes a letter to his sister, Georgiana.
4. She gets jealous, because Darcy is interested in Elizabeth and ignores her.
5. He states that vanity and pride are the two greatest weaknesses in any individual.
6. The usual entertainment is an evening spent in the drawing room.
7. Jane was there for six days.
8. He realizes that she appeals to him, but is acutely aware of her lower social position.
9. She had hoped that they might stay longer, and form a more solid relationship between Jane and Bingley.
(The entire section is 220 words.)
Volume One, Chapters 13-18 Questions and Answers
1. How long does Mr. Collins plan to visit?
2. What is the first subject Mrs. Bennet discusses with Collins?
3. How does Collins describe young Miss de Bourgh?
4. What is the name of the de Bourgh estate?
5. How does Lydia embarrass Collins?
6. Which daughter is of first interest to Collins?
7. What did Darcy and Wickham do on first meeting?
8. What job had Wickham’s father held?
9. Does Bingley have any knowledge of Wickham?
10. What does Miss Bingley say to Elizabeth at the ball?
1. He plans to stay two weeks.
2. She brought up the entailment.
3. He describes her as sickly, but one of the most charming and accomplished women he has ever met.
4. The estate is called Rosings Park.
5. When he is reading to them for entertainment, she loudly interrupts his performance by talking of family matters.
6. He is first attracted to Jane’s beauty.
7. They both turned red and stared uncivilly at one another.
8. He was once the steward at Darcy’s father’s estate.
9. He had never met the man until this encounter.
10. She warns her of Wickham’s bad character.
(The entire section is 183 words.)
Volume One, Chapters 19-23 Questions and Answers
1. What is Mr. Collins’ first argument to Elizabeth explaining why he should marry?
2. What does Mr. Bennet say to Elizabeth that he will do if she accepts Collins’ proposal?
3. What does Wickham say about his absence from the ball?
4. Who sends Jane a letter?
5. Who does the letter imply should receive Mr. Bingley’s affections?
6. Who received Mr. Collins’ second proposal?
7. Why does Charlotte agree to become married?
8. How does Mrs. Bennet react to Charlotte’s marriage plans?
9. How long will Bingley be absent from Netherfield?
10. How does Charlotte’s age reflect on her decision to marry?
1. He says a reverend should marry to set a good example for his parishioners.
2. He tells her that if she accepts, he’ll never speak to her again.
3. He tells Elizabeth that he stayed away to avoid a confrontation with Darcy.
4. She receives a letter from Caroline Bingley.
5. Miss Bingley refers to a prior arrangement for Bingley to marry Georgiana Darcy.
6. His second proposal is to Charlotte Lucas.
7. She has no romantic notions, and wishes to have a position in society.
8. She can only dwell on the fact that Charlotte will someday be the mistress of Langbourn.
9. His sister’s...
(The entire section is 231 words.)
Volume Two, Chapters 1-3 Questions and Answers
1. Who sends Jane a letter from London?
2. What does Elizabeth say to Jane about her feelings toward others?
3. How does Elizabeth describe Mr. Collins?
4. What does Mrs. Gardiner have in common with Wickham?
5. What does Mrs. Gardiner warn Elizabeth about?
6. Who returns from another visit to Hertfordshire?
7. What favor does Charlotte ask of Elizabeth?
8. Who does Jane visit in London?
9. Who does Wickham court?
10. What does Elizabeth confess in her letter to Mrs. Gardiner?
1. Miss Bingley sends a letter saying that the Bingley clan is settled for the winter in London.
2. She says again that Jane only sees the good qualities of people.
3. She says, “Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man.”
4. They both once lived in the same part of Derbyshire, and know many of the same places and people.
5. She warns her about falling in love with someone with no wealth or position.
6. Mr. Collins comes back and stays with the Lucas family because of his impending marriage.
7. She asks her to accompany her father and sister in March for a visit.
8. After sending two letters and receiving no answer, she calls on Caroline Bingley.
9. He is now seeing a young lady who...
(The entire section is 214 words.)
Volume Two, Chapters 4-8 Questions and Answers
1. When Elizabeth visits Heresford, where does she stop over?
2. How far was the journey to Collins’ parsonage?
3. What do the Gardiners propose to Elizabeth?
4. Who unexpectedly comes to offer dinner?
5. What is Elizabeth’s first impression of Miss de Bourgh?
6. How does Lady de Bourgh assess Elizabeth?
7. What games are played after dinner at the fashionable de Bourgh estate?
8. How old is Elizabeth?
9. Who arrives at the de Bourgh’s for a visit?
10. Why is Elizabeth attracted to Colonel Fitzwilliam?
1. She stops over for a day at the Gardiner’s, and meets Jane.
2. It was 24 miles.
3. They ask her to tour the lake region as their guest.
4. Miss de Bourgh arrives in her little carriage and offers a dinner invitation.
5. She is shy and timid.
6. She finds her too disrespectful.
7. They play card games, such as quadrille and casino and a variation of blackjack.
8. Elizabeth declines at first to say.
9. Darcy comes along with his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam.
10. He is well-mannered, handsome, and attentive.
(The entire section is 167 words.)
Volume Two, Chapters 9-12 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Fitzwilliam refrain from marriage?
2. Who does Fitzwilliam remind Elizabeth of?
3. What does Fitzwilliam inform Elizabeth that Darcy has done for Bingley?
4. What is Elizabeth doing just prior to Darcy’s proposal?
5. What are the reasons that Darcy feels superior to her?
6. Why does Elizabeth reject his proposal?
7. How does Darcy react to her answer?
8. How does Elizabeth hurt Darcy the most?
9. When Darcy leaves, what does Elizabeth do?
10. When Elizabeth receives Darcy’s letter the next day, why does she begin to chastise herself?
1. He is the youngest son and will not inherit money or an estate.
2. He reminds her of Wickham, but he has a better mind.
3. He has kept Bingley from making an improper marriage.
4. She is rereading Jane’s letters, looking for any evidence of Darcy’s intervention.
5. He feels she has a low-class family.
6. She is mortified and angry with his pride and insolence.
7. He walks away in cold disappointment.
8. She charges him with acting in an ungentlemanly manner.
9. She breaks down and cries.
10. She realizes that her own pride and prejudice towards Darcy have made her judge him wrongly.
(The entire section is 189 words.)
Volume Two, Chapters 13-19 Questions and Answers
1. What fault did Darcy place on Jane that encouraged him to break up the relationship with Bingley?
2. How much money was Wickham given?
3. When his money ran out, who did Wickham try to win over?
4. What did Elizabeth say had been her folly?
5. Who came to visit Elizabeth while she read and re-read Darcy’s letter?
6. What does Lady Catherine ask Elizabeth to do?
7. Why do Elizabeth and Maria stop at the Gardiners on their way home?
8. What news does Lydia give Elizabeth about Wickham?
9. Why are Lydia and Kitty so agitated?
10. What does Elizabeth warn her father about?
1. He said she seemed to express indifference.
2. Wickham was given 3,000 pounds.
3. He tried to court Georgiana Darcy.
4. She said that vanity, not love, had been her folly.
5. Both Darcy and Fitzwilliam called to say good-bye.
6. She asks Elizabeth to write a letter to her mother, and to stay for a longer time.
7. They stop there to pick up Jane before returning home.
8. His newly intended, Mary King, has moved to Liverpool and is safe from him.
9. The militia will be leaving town in two weeks.
10. She warns him against Lydia being on her own, near so many eligible men.
(The entire section is 201 words.)
Volume Three, Chapters 1-5 Questions and Answers
1. What does Elizabeth insist upon before her visit to Pemberley?
2. What does Darcy ask of Elizabeth that totally “floors” her?
3. What do the Gardiners perceive about Darcy?
4. How does Caroline Bingley try to insult Elizabeth?
5. Why does Jane send two letters to Elizabeth?
6. How does Darcy react to this family scandal?
7. What is Mr. Gardiner prepared to do?
8. Why is it unlikely that Wickham will marry Lydia?
9. How does Mrs. Bennet react to this new predicament?
10. What does Elizabeth admire about Pemberley?
1. She wants assurances that Darcy will not be there.
2. He asks to introduce her to his sister.
3. They see he is still in love with Elizabeth.
4. She hints that the Bennet family must be very hurt by the militia’s decision to leave their town.
5. One got lost in the mail. Both relate the elopement of Lydia and Wickham.
6. He blames himself for not revealing Wickham’s true
7. He is prepared to go to London and search for Mr. Bennet. He plans to intercept Bennet before he does something rash.
8. She has no family inheritance and is only 16.
9. She becomes hysterical and bedridden. Jane has to minister to her.
10. Pemberley is beautiful...
(The entire section is 213 words.)
Volume Three, Chapters 6-10 Questions and Answers
1. Why did Wickham really leave Meryton with Lydia?
2. What does Mr. Collins say about what should be done to Lydia?
3. When Mr. Bennet returns, what does he tell Kitty?
4. Why are Jane and Elizabeth shocked when Mr. Gardiner tells them about the intended marriage?
5. What is one regret Mr. Bennet has about his failure to plan for the future when he was younger?
6. Why was Wickham shipped to a regiment in the north?
7. How do Lydia’s actions after her wedding show her true character?
8. Even though promised to secrecy, Lydia blurts out that another person was involved in her wedding. Who was it?
9. How does Elizabeth seek verification of Darcy’s part in these arrangements?
10. What does Elizabeth say to Wickham that ensures that she won’t talk of his past?
1. He had a trail of debts and she was in love with him. He decided to turn a bad situation to his advantage.
2. He advises Mr. Bennet “to throw off your unworthy child, and leave her to reap the fruits of her heinous offence.”
3. He tells her that he has learned to be more cautious, and that she will feel the effects of it.
4. They know Wickham’s character. The money mentioned in the letter seems not enough to satisfy his greed.
5. He wishes that he had set aside part of his...
(The entire section is 322 words.)
Volume Three, Chapters 11-15 Questions and Answers
1. Soon after Lydia leaves with her new husband, who returns to town?
2. What does Mrs. Bennet ask her husband to do? What is his answer?
3. Who did Darcy sit next to when he was invited to the Bennets’ for dinner?
4. What does Jane tell Elizabeth about the current status of her relationship with Bingley?
5. When Bingley arrives for his second dinner invitation, what surprises the Bennet family?
6. How was it obvious that Mrs. Bennet wanted to leave Bingley and Jane alone?
7. What does Bingley do after the third dinner at the Bennets?
8. How does Lady Catherine shock Elizabeth when she unexpectedly calls at Longbourn?
9. What does Lady Catherine try to get Elizabeth to promise?
10. Why does Collins send Mr. Bennet a letter?
1. Mr. Bingley is returning to Netherfield to do some hunting.
2. She asks him to attend Bingley as soon as he arrives, and he refuses.
3. Mrs. Bennet placed him next to her, and they were both uncomfortable.
4. She says that they are merely friends again and that it goes no deeper than that.
5. He arrives early, and none of the women are yet dressed for dinner.
6. She kept winking at the girls, and finally took Kitty up to her room. Then, she had Mr. Bennet call Elizabeth into the library so Jane...
(The entire section is 268 words.)
Volume Three, Chapters 16-19 Questions and Answers
1. What does Darcy beg of Elizabeth as they are walking after his aunt’s intervention?
2. What do Darcy and Elizabeth both admit?
3. Who are the only people who are not surprised by Elizabeth’s engagement to Darcy?
4. How does Mrs. Bennet’s reaction to the pairing of Elizabeth and Darcy show more of her shortcomings and shallow character?
5. What does Mr. Bennet warn Elizabeth against?
6. What does Darcy say first attracted him to Elizabeth?
7. What does Elizabeth admit to her father after Darcy’s proposal?
8. How does Mr. Bennet’s concern differ from his wife’s?
9. How does Georgiana accept the marriage?
10. Is Elizabeth able to win over Lady Caroline?
1. He begs to know her true feelings for him.
2. They admit how much they have changed since their former meetings. Each has influenced the other.
3. The Gardiners always perceived a strong affinity between Darcy and Elizabeth, and are extremely happy with the engagement.
4. She immediately accepts Darcy, because of his financial position, and tries to hide her earlier dislike of him.
5. He tries to tell her not to marry someone only to advance her own status, as he did.
6. He admired her independent nature and outspoken ways.
7. She tells him the...
(The entire section is 266 words.)
The novel Pride and Prejudice was written during the middle of the Romantic period in western literature, but it is itself rather uncharacteristic of other fictional works of the period. Unlike the great Romantic novels and poems of the period, which usually praised youthful passions, Austen's work minimizes them. Compared to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's classic sturm und drang novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), in which the young hero is unsuccessful at love and, unable to make his inner visions conform to the reality of the outer world, finally commits suicide, Austen's works are models of restraint. Instead of the wild forces of nature, Austen concentrates on family life in small English towns. Instead of rampant emotionalism, Austen emphasizes a balance between reason and emotion. Instead of suicide and unrequited love, Austen offers elopement and marriage. Although the author does consider some of the same themes as her Romantic contemporaries—the importance of the individual, for instance—Austen's society is altogether more controlled and settled than the world presented in Romantic fiction.
Irony, or the contrast between the expected and the actual, is the chief literary device Austen uses to comment on the small, enclosed world of the English gentry in Pride and Prejudice. Her irony...
(The entire section is 600 words.)
Jane Austen's novels have been described as a blend of the novel of sensibility popularized by Samuel Richardson and the comedy of manners (David Lodge, Jane Austen's Novels, Form and Structure). Another critic has pointed out that she goes beyond both of these conventions because she makes finer distinctions among characters who have polite manners; decorum alone does not the measure their worth (Fergus; he also notes that the better examples of the comedy of manners, like William Congreve's The Way of the World, presage Austen's achievement). Wickham, for instance, has charming manners that cloak his exploitive behavior. Austen also departs from predecessors like Samuel Richardson because her representation of moral action is so much more complex, and exhibitions of feeling so much more restrained. Literary critic Gene W. Ruoff remarks that "Aristotle would be pleased with the formal unity of the work," even though it has a double plot. He also points out that unlike Austen's other novels, "this one begins with an action and brings on exposition when necessary. The author almost puts too much stress on the dramatic, Ruoff argues, and he finds fault with the rendering of the Elizabeth-Charlotte relationship, arguing that Elizabeth seems to be "born yesterday." In the context of a book that was originally titled First Impressions, however, it does not seem so odd that Elizabeth fails to predict something about her friend, and I support Ruoff's...
(The entire section is 748 words.)
Pride and Prejudice is an exciting, suspenseful story. The novel does not drag, for Austen writes succinctly and structures a tight plot. The story is based on a series of conflicts: the central one between Elizabeth and Darcy, and smaller ones concerning the other characters. Every chapter builds towards the novel's climax, Elizabeth's visit to Darcy's home in Derbyshire, and the resolution is both plausible and satisfying.
Pride and Prejudice is an excellent book to reread because of its foreshadowing— subtle hints of upcoming events. Darcy's first proposal to Elizabeth, Lydia's elopement, and Charlotte's marriage are among the novel's many foreshadowed occurrences.
Austen also uses language superbly, but not in flowery or flashy ways. Rather, she writes with great clarity and precision, and employs irony for a comic effect. Irony allows a writer to communicate more than the literal or expected meanings of his or her language. For instance, upon Darcy's entrance to a dance in chapter 3, Austen writes that "the report was in general circulation within five minutes...of his having ten thousand a year." Here Austen pokes fun at the gossipy nature of the people and shows why Darcy might be justified in feeling out of place. Austen also fills the novel's dialogue with irony, making people such as Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins reveal their foolishness to the reader through their ridiculous comments.
Many critics consider...
(The entire section is 382 words.)
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 want of a wife," announces immediately that this, like other novels of Jane Austen, centers on marriage for its value as plot and as a central, civilizing social institution—whatever the limitations it suffers in the hands of the vulnerable, the superficial, or the incurably selfish. The most important marriage effected in the course of the book is that between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, but other marriages are measured against this one to show that not all of them are made in heaven, and many are market driven. There are those between: Elizabeth's sister Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley (cordial but between simpler personalities); Charlotte Lucas and Mr. William Collins (classifiable as grim compromise); and Lydia Bennet and the gold-digging George Wickham (wholly exploitive and granted a veneer of social acceptability only because it is subsidized by Darcy; the fact that Wickham has severely damaged Darcy's sister Georgiana in an attempt to gain a financial foothold through marriage further undercuts our sense of this already tenuous union). These lesser marriages define by contrast what the ideal marital relationship should be: a union between equals whose characters grow and develop as they overcome human problems, roughly designated in the case of Darcy and Elizabeth as his pride and her prejudice.
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Pride and Prejudice continues to inspire critical inquiry and controversy because of its vivid characters, dramatic plot, and sharply and complexly defined, albeit exclusionary, view of British society of the late eighteenth century. Modern feminists have added their voices to what sometimes appears to be critical din. Some see Elizabeth as actually subversive of the social world she describes. Provocative discussions can center on such claims, using Austen's finely wrought text as basis. Is Jane Austen really against marriage? Is she creating dominant male characters who are from the landed gentry in order to show the oppression of women, or is she in some way supporting what she knows is a flawed system because in the hands of some good characters she believes it can work? Another fertile area is the motivations, morality, sense of social responsibility or lack of it, in the characters, all of whom act as foils for each other in some way. Finally, there is the question of Elizabeth's view of humanity. For someone who sees so much folly and meanness, she is unusually forgiving of her characters. Even the evil ones are usually accommodated rather than punished.
1. It is sometimes assumed that Darcy is full of pride and Elizabeth full of prejudice because these and other characters in the novel claim them to be so. Do you think Elizabeth is in some way also guilty of pride, and Darcy of prejudice?
2. As in all of Austen's novels, the...
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Compare and Contrast
1810s: Europe is submerged in warfare throughout most of the decade by the struggle against the ambitions of Napoleon Bonaparte to unite the continent under French rule. Two of Austen's brothers, Frank and Charles, entered the British Navy and fought in the Napoleonic Wars.
Today: For the first time since the Napoleonic Wars, Europe considers a single multinational government in the European Union.
1810s: In the early nineteenth century, a woman's education differed greatly from that of a man. While boys attended boarding schools and studied Latin, mathematics, and science, girls were schooled at home by governesses, focusing on the fine arts, writing, reading, and sewing.
Today: Over one hundred twenty-five million women graduated from high school in 1994 alone, while around eight hundred thousand females were enrolled in colleges and universities. Not limited to a specific gender, most American high schools and universities are open to both sexes, and course offerings are not exclusive to men or women.
1810s: Because of a lack of professions for women to enter and become self-supporting, few women could afford to remain single in early 1800s. Most women elected to marry rather...
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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 single men such as Charles Bingley?
2. Discuss Bingley's character. He is rich, friendly, and sociable, but he deserts Jane rather easily. How do you judge his treatment of her? Why doesn't he more vigorously resist his sisters' efforts to separate him from Jane?
3. Look back at the dance scenes in chapters 3 and 5. How do the townspeople change in their opinion of Darcy? What do these scenes show you about the way people make judgments?
4. Why do the Bingley sisters form lasting judgments of the Bennets based on the events following Jane's visit to Netherfield? What scheme does Mrs. Bennet devise? What prevents Jane from returning home? How do the Bingleys interpret her stay at their home? How do they view Elizabeth's walking from Longbourn to Netherfield?
5. What kind of person is Mary Bennet, the middle daughter? What makes her unique in the family? Can she be considered a satirical character? Why or why not?
6. What is Mr. Collins's main motive for getting married? Why does he decide to propose to one of the Bennet daughters? Why does Elizabeth turn him down, and why does this rejection anger her mother? Is Mrs. Bennet wrong?
7. When Charlotte accepts Mr. Collins's proposal, Elizabeth is shocked and angry. Why does Charlotte choose to marry the...
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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 principles does Pride and Prejudice espouse? Which specific incidents and characters bring out these principles?
2. Analyze Mr. and Mrs. Bennet as parents. What seem to be their strengths and weaknesses? How do their personalities and habits appear in their five children? What do you think the novel shows about parenthood?
3. Analyze the novel's title. Who else besides Darcy and Elizabeth displays prejudice and pride? In what incidents? What makes the hero and heroine different from these other characters? What does the novel show the reader about pride and prejudice?
4. What distinguishes characters who are portrayed favorably from characters who are portrayed unfavorably? Elizabeth from Lydia? Darcy from Wickham and Collins? Jane from Mrs. Bennet and the Bingley sisters?
5. Etiquette—the distinction between good and bad manners—plays a major role in the world of the novel. Which characters are rude or tacky? In what specific ways? How does the behavior of polite characters differ? Why do you think social form and appearance are so important in this culture? In what ways does the modern world view manners similarly? Differently?
6. After you have completed Pride and Prejudice, view the film version. Does the movie successfully capture the characters and the...
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Topics for Further Study
- Research the changes in the English social structure during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Show how attitudes in Pride and Prejudice toward the newly wealthy middle classes, who earned their money through trade and manufacturing, differed from those toward the landed gentry who inherited their generations-old wealth.
- Much of Pride and Prejudice centers on the question of marriage or other unions. Examine the attitudes of the different characters in the novel towards the institution of marriage and compare them to modern attitudes.
- In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published her book, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, which offered the then revolutionary idea that women were the intellectual equal of men and should be educated as such. What subjects did women study during the late eighteenth and early eighteenth century? Although Austen never credited Wollstonecraft as inspiration, many of Austen's characters have qualities encouraged by Wollstonecraft. Examine Wollstonecraft's ideas and find examples of how Elizabeth fulfills many of Wollstonecraft's demands for women.
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Influenced by the comedy of manners and the sentimental novel. Pride and Prejudice is unique in how it combines and extends these traditions to achieve what is almost a self-parodic use of the marriage plot. It goes beyond the didactic novels of the day as well because of its complex moral vision of an interdependent society in which the moral choices of one character can affect all. Numerous writers, many of them women, had been trying their hands at novels, and in a superficial way they can be said to have influenced Jane Austen. However, with her solid education in literature of all kinds, she was able to take the form beyond the achievements of most. Ian Watt sees her most worthy predecessor to be Fanny Bumey (1752-1840), for she was the first to combine successfully the divergent traditions of Henry Fielding and Richardson. In Austen, the influence of Richardson dominates because of the centrality of her heroine's moral integrity. She is placed by some critics—those having immense patience with the epistolary style—beneath him in achievement but this judgment slights Austen's superior artistry.
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Sense and Sensibility deals with the fortunes in romance of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, daughters who could not inherit their father's property and thus are left in difficult circumstances. The. novel contains the unscrupulous Willoughby, a Wickham-like figure. Mansfield Park centers around Fanny Price, a timid girl given up at the age of nine by her weak, overwhelmed parents to her kind uncle Sir Thomas. While being raised in his troubled household, she suffers frequent abuses by empty, snobbish, or spiteful people but ends up growing into the strength of the family. Emma, often regarded as Austen's finest work, shows the smug title character's maturation as her failed efforts to control others and the wisdom of Mr. John Knightley gradually deflate her ego. Northanger Abbey, possibly the first of Austen's completed works, contrasts the melodrama of popular Gothic novels with reality. In it Catherine Moreland, a likeable girl who has read a few too many ghost stories, imagines on scant evidence that the father of the man she loves is engaged in criminal behavior. Persuasion, the writer's last completed work, is a tender, less satirical novel than its predecessors. The story concerns the quiet pain of Anne Eliot, unmarried at twenty-seven, who through circumstance becomes reacquainted with her now-prosperous ex-fiance, a man she still loves—Frederick Wentworth. Years before she had broken their engagement on the advice of a...
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- The most famous film version of Pride and Prejudice is the black and white Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer production released in 1940. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, the film featured Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet and Laurence Olivier as Fitzwilliam Darcy and won the Academy Award for best art direction because of its lavish sets. It is currently available as a videocassette from MGM/UA Home Entertainment.
- In 1985, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and director Cyril Coke adapted Pride and Prejudice for television as a mini-series. It starred Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul as Elizabeth and Darcy and was later released on video by CBS/Fox Video.
- In 1995, another BBC television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was released, starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy. In the United States it aired on Arts & Entertainment Television (A&E) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and is available from A&E Home Video and PBS Home Video.
- Other adaptations of Pride and Prejudice include the sound recordings Pride and Prejudice, narrated by Flo Gibson, Recorded Books, 1980 (an unabridged version of the novel); Pride and Prejudice, abridged by Frances Welch, read by Celia Johnson, ALS Audio Language Studies, 1981 (a "read-along" transcript); Pride and Prejudice, read by Jane Lapotaire, Durkin Hayes, 1992; Pride and Prejudice:...
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What Do I Read Next?
- Sense and Sensibility (1811), Jane Austen's first published novel, looks at the contrast between reason and emotion in the persons of two of the three Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne.
- Austen's Mansfield Park (1814), in which meek, poor Fanny Price wins through simple virtue both the love and hand of country heir Edmund Bertram.
- Emma (1816), in which Austen's well-to-do heroine plays matchmaker for a lower-class friend—until she realizes that she is herself in love with the man her friend has chosen.
- Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (1818), Austen's posthumously-published novels, that are respectively a sly parody of the overly-romantic Gothic novel and her examination of the transformation of the world by means of the Royal Navy.
- Sir Walter Scott's Waverley novels (1814). Scott was a contemporary and an admirer of Austen's work, and the Waverley novels—like Austen's, published anonymously—make an interesting contrast with her fiction. Waverley is set during the 1745 Jacobite rebellion in Scotland and is very Romantic in theme.
- The English: A Social...
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For Further Reference
Cecil, Lord David. A Portrait of Jane Austen. London: Constable and Co. Ltd., 1978. Well-illustrated, this biography should be enjoyable to readers of all ages.
Hardwick, Michael. A Guide to Jane Austen. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973. Hardwick provides a character index, plot summaries, and other useful information for all of Austen's novels.
Honan, Park. Jane Austen: Her Life. New York: Ballantine Books, 1987. This is the most recent biography of Jane Austen.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Brower, Reuben A. "Light and Bright and Sparkling: Irony and Fiction in Pride and Prejudice." In his The Fields of Light. Oxford University Press, 1958.
Dabundo, Laura. "Jane Austen." In Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography Volume 3: Writers of the Romantic Period, 1789-1832. Gale, 1992.
Gray, Donald J. "Preface." In Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice, An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Reviews and Essays in Criticism, edited by Donald J. Gray. Norton, 1966.
Heilman, Robert B. "E pluribus unum: Parts and Whole in Pride and Prejudice." In Jane Austen: Bicentenary Essays, edited by John Halperin. Cambridge University Press, 1975.
Jenkins, Elizabeth. Jane Austen: A Biography. Gollancz, 1948.
Mudrick, Marvin. "Irony as Discrimination: Pride and Prejudice." In his Jane Austen: Irony as Defense and Discovery. Princeton University Press, 1952.
Review of Pride and Prejudice. In British Critic, February, 1813, pp. 189-90. Reprinted in Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage, edited and compiled by B. C. Southam, Routledge, 1968.
Review of Pride and Prejudice. In Critical Review, March, 1813, pp. 318-24. Reprinted in Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage, edited and compiled by...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
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....
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