Illustration of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy with neutral expressions on their faces

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen
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In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy alienates Elizabeth, but he later redeems himself in her eyes. Although she holds him in high esteem by the end of the novel, readers may or may not share her perspective. Discuss with specific references to the novel.

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A quote that might give us pause is the following, as Mr. Darcy explains himself to Elizabeth near the end of the novel:

I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish...

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A quote that might give us pause is the following, as Mr. Darcy explains himself to Elizabeth near the end of the novel:

I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own.

He also says, a little later:

You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.

Darcy wishes to believe, and wishes for Elizabeth to believe, that he has been reformed and that he has Elizabeth to thank for it. However, one might wonder how far that reformation will go. As Darcy himself states, he has been taught to be "selfish and overbearing." Such character traits, established since childhood, send up a red flag: they will be hard to break, especially as little in his circumstances of being fawned over as the great lord are likely to change. Evidence that he might not be, even in the first flush of love, as reformed as he thinks emerges too in the phrase "a woman worthy of being pleased." This could be interpreted as Darcy retaining his former snobbery: how much better it would have been if he had stopped at "how insufficient were all my pretensions to please." We might wonder if Mr. Darcy is not putting Elizabeth into a "special" sphere: he seems to be saying that his arrogant behavior is wrong not as general principle but because of Elizabeth's superior qualities. Will he, we wonder, continue to treat the less worthy with his usual high-handedness?

This is a novel about point of view. The story is almost entirely told from Elizabeth's point of view, and this colors our perception of it. Elizabeth has often been wrong in the novel, and now she has every interest in seeing Darcy in the best possible light. Further, she's gone from being outside to inside the charmed circle of Darcy's life—to being part of the "family circle" that has always been treated well. Is it not Elizabeth's status that has changed rather than Darcy? He explains that he has never been taught to think well of but instead to look down on people beyond his immediate circle: now that Elizabeth is in that group, of course his behavior seems, from her now privileged point of view, utterly different. But we might well again ask how he will treat people who are standing where Elizabeth once was, on the outside looking in.

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