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Criticisms of Jane Austen's writing is often directed at the narrow scope of her narratives that exclude the political turmoil of her time; yet, Austen's works hold much literary value because she is a wonderful satirist of the manners of her society and a promoter of suitable marriages and, thus, effective families and domestic tranquility. Pride and Prejudice has as its main theme this goal of Austen's, a goal that after many episodes of prejudicial remarks and actions and behavior, along with acts of blind pride, is finally achieved--hence the title.
As a model of an unsuitable marriage, that of Mr. Bennet, who realizes the futility of trying to reason with his wife, and the vacuous Mrs. Bennet opens the narrative. With Austen's characteristic satiric humor, the beginning lines,
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife
convey the conventional wisdom of those families with daughters. Since the Bennets have five daughters, Mrs. Bennet feels it is her mission to find them husbands. This seemingly simple epigrammatic statement that opens the novel sets the tone for Jane Austen's witty and ironic social criticisms that point to the folly of unsuitable marriages. For instance, when Elizabeth's friend Charlotte Lucas marries the inane Mr. Collins, she can only survive by removing herself as much as possible from her husband by developing a certain daily routine. And, when sister Lydia runs off with Wickham because of sexual desires, it is only after Darcy exerts his personal and financial influence that Wickham marries Lydia, but, of course, since he does not love her, Wickham soon tires of her.
After proposing the unfortunate consequences of unhappy marriages, Austen ironically proposes Elizabeth and Darcy as models for suitable ones in this comedy of manners. First of all, neither of them express any delight in the other,but, in spite of themselves they are attracted to one another because of their strong wills and incisive intellects. Nevertheless, both must experience emotional maturity before they are able to agreeably talk and understand one another. In contrapuntal scenes and conflicts that embellish Austen's satire, Elizabeth learns that baffling behavior is not always thoughtlessness, reflecting about Darcy, "Indeed he has no improper pride," and she apprehends that her own feelings are often "in every view...unaccountable!" That is, she matures and comes to understand some of the underlying issues of the heart in certain circumstances. Likewise, Darcy finds himself interested in her despite what he thinks, but at first he rejects the matters of the heart. Fortunately, because Elizabeth's version of the world accommodates behavior that does not always follow social norms, she becomes willing to read Darcy's explanations of the events surrounding them. Therefore, she and Darcy marry.
Certainly, Jane Austen's views of marriage and behavior are much more modern than those of her time. For, through her character Darcy, she expresses a key point, "pride--where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation." Perhaps, because she was so avant-garde with her views on marriage, Austen shielded some of these in satire.
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