How does Austen view vanity and pride within Pride and Prejudice?
Does she think it's a good thing? How does it affect each character?
Are there any specific examples of the positives?
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Most of the vanity was geared towards the character of Darcy because Austen wanted to emphasize how aggravating he must have appeared to Elizabeth, who had a pretty set view of who she would and would not tolerate as a male companion. She even confronted Darcy about this. Additionally, the basic gist in the story is that vanity is no sin when one feels proud of one self.
However, we also lean through Mary's analysis that the main difference between pride and vanity is that vanity is shallow while pride is not. However, both terms are used inversely.
Furthermore, Austen mocks vanity by making the most vain characters in the story be subjects of ridicule either by other characters in the story, or by the readers. For example, Sir Lucas is a low ranking member of society whose rise to a title was by a mere knighthood. He, however, blows that out of proportion, making himself seem foolish to the Darcy set.
Similarly, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst's vanity makes them seem comical to the reader and ridiculous in the eyes of Darcy, himself, who can sense their jealousy against Elizabeth.
As a final note, the combination of Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine is perhaps the most comical manifestation of vanity and the biggest show of mockery in the novel. Their vanity, based solely on rank, makes them very vulnerable to satire because of the shallow and empty nature of their emotions.
Concisely, Austen definitely wants to "get back" at the vain, upper class elements of her time by openly exposing their behaviors and allowing them to speak for themselves as a manifestation of very unintelligent minds, and shallow natures.
Well consider her treatment of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She shows herself to be subject to both of these emotions, both vanity and pride. It is clear that Austen however judges these two traits to be negative in her character. She is detached from reality and is so convinced of her own superiority and the superiority of her daughter that she disbelieves anything that might suggest otherwise. Austen shows in her character that vanity and pride can lead to arrogance.
I find it interesting how you've included both these terms, vanity and pride, since their meaning is so similar. But now that I think of it, they are two distinct things. According to Wikipedia, pride is "an inward directed emotion that exemplifies either a high sense of one's personal status or ego (i.e., leading to judgments of personality and character)." Vanity, on the other hand, is " the excessive belief in one's own abilities or attractiveness to others." It's a subtle difference, but pride has more of a positive connotation. The word "pride" makes me think of the self esteem that Elizabeth has. She values herself as an intelligent, worthy woman despite her social and family status. It is this pride that enables her to reject a sensible, but unattractive arrangement of marriage with Mr. Collins. It also enables her to confidently disagree with and resist Darcy, even though he is of a much greater status than she. If she didn't have that pride, she would likely bend to social expectations and be an altogether different character.
When I think of vanity, I think of Miss Bingley and her constant condescension to Elizabeth, and her comments about Elizabeth's shabby clothing and plain appearance. It is clear that Miss Bingley is vain--she's certainly got that "excessive" belief in her own superiority and her own attractiveness. Distinguishing between pride and vanity requiring negotiating a thin line, like that between "confident" and "cocky." But it makes a big difference!
Mary Bennet explains the distinction early on in the novel. Vanity is a desire for the good opinion of others, pride is one's good opinion of oneself. Elizabeth, when she reads Darcy's letter, realizes that she has been quite mistaken about his character, due to vanity. She must mean that she enjoyed the responses of others to her witicisms about Darcy - of which we actually read almost none. She says "
"How despicably I have acted!" she cried; "I, who have prided myself
on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have
often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified
my vanity in useless or blameable mistrust! How humiliating is this
discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could
not have been more wretchedly blind! But vanity, not love, has been my
folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect
of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted
prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were
concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself." The one is Wickham, the other, Darcy.
We hear also of her vanity in believing Wickham prefered her although he 'jilted" her to pursue Mary King and her 10,000 pounds. I think,too, we must say Mr. Collins is vain about being socially connected with Lady Catherine. There are undoubtedly many more instances, but the main point of the story is Darcy's pride colliding with Elizabeth's vanity.
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