How did The Enlightenment affect Jane Austen’s writing of Pride and Prejudice?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would agree with the answer above that a key Enlightenment trait of Pride and Prejudice is Elizabeth's faith in thinking for herself. The Enlightenment represented a shift from relying on tradition and received authority to make decisions to questioning and using reason and experimentation to arrive at truth.

During the Enlightenment, writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft in Vindication of the Rights of Woman argued in favor of rational, companionate marriage. This was the idea that a wife should be more than a servant and child-bearer to her husband. She should, instead, be educated to be a rational companion and friend to her spouse. The two partners should esteem each other. Elizabeth very much desires this kind of marriage. She insists on marrying the man she chooses to marry. She rejects Mr. Collins's marriage proposal because she does not respect him. She knows her own mind and, like a good Enlightenment woman, says to Mr. Darcy,

There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.

Further, the Enlightenment influenced the style of Pride and Prejudice. Austen called her novel "light, bright, and sparkling," and it is that. The prose is very clear, following Enlightenment ideas that language should be, as far as possible, a clear windowpane onto truth. The Enlightenment was also the age of the witty aphorism, and these are sprinkled throughout this novel. Austen writes in a balanced way, as if the words are on a scale, such as when she has Elizabeth say,

I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.

In that statement, Elizabeth balances Darcy's pride against her own. As readers, we take pleasure in the Enlightenment rationality of Austen's writing as well as the movements of the plot.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Enlightenment period was from about 1637 - 1700 to about 1789 - 1804, scholars give various datings. Jane Austen was born toward the end of The Enlightenment, in 1775. She first wrote Pride and Prejudice, under the title First Impressions, in 1796 and 1797, though it was first published in 1813, which is a date scholars place after the close of the Enlightenment period. Jane Austen grew up while The Enlightenment was in full bloom and came to maturity in its waning years.

The Enlightenment was not a school of thought or movement. In fact, Enlightenment philosophies were often opposed to each other. The Enlightenment represented values that began with what Kant called a freedom to think for oneself and included the freedom to question institutions, morals, religions, and customs. A defining characteristic was a reliance on reason, empirical knowledge based on senses, and scientific rigor.  

The affect of the Enlightenment period on Jane Austen's writing of Pride and Prejudice is seen in several points. First, the affect is seen in Austen's opposition to the sensibility of romanticism as when Mr. Bennet expresses the folly of marrying for beauty. Second, it is seen in Austen's advocacy of rational reasoning minds as seen in Mrs. Gardiner and Charlotte Lucas. Third, it is seen in Austen's questioning of traditional attitudes and beliefs as in Elizabeth's attitude toward Lady De Bourgh and in Charlotte's views opposing marrying for love. Fourth, it is seen in dependence on thinking for oneself as Elizabeth and Darcy learn to do.

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Pride and Prejudice

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