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

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen
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"Pride and Prejudice is a domestic novel." What points can we give from the novel to prove this?

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I don’t agree. Pride and Prejudice defies easy categorization, as “domestic novel” or anything else, for that matter. A “domestic novel” is defined by a few characteristics of plot and character. Briefly, these narratives center on a young girl, often an “exemplar“ of domestic or moral values, who, deprived in one way or another of her support, has to make her own way in the world and, over the course of the story, learns that she can be self sufficient. Pride and Prejudice stands apart in part because of its wit, but mostly because of the psychological complexity of its characters. Lizzy in no way is deficient in self confidence at the beginning of the novel; her ”prejudice” against Darcy is based on what she sees as his sense of superiority. In a way, it is Darcy, not Lizzy, who undergoes the biggest change in the novel; it is through his love for Lizzy that he comes to understand (and care) about how prideful he has seemed to others.

It is possible to map the characteristics of “domestic novels” onto the structure of Pride and Prejudice: the entailment of Longbourne presents a (distant) threat of homelessness; Lizzy does come into self knowledge about herself, and is able to defeat her adversary Lady Catherine and “win” her place in the world at Darcy’s side. But Lizzy is hardly an ”exemplar” of any particular value. None of the other characters can be said to supply the place of the typical foils for the heroines of domestic novels (none of the women are ”passive,” for example), and the some of the pictures of domestic life we have (Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Charlotte and Mr. Collins) are more pragmatic—or comic—than idealized. In my view, Austen’s genius at rendering complex characters, and her delight in skewering social conventions, puts her work in a different class that “domestic novel”—probably its own class.

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A domestic novel, also called a sentimental novel or women's fiction really reached its heyday from 1820-1865, though there are examples reaching back to the mid 1700's.  Pride and Prejudice was published before its heyday in 1813, but Jane Austin was known through her letters to be influenced by Samuel Richardson, who was one of the forerunners in the genre.

Pride and Prejudice does focus primarily on emotional matters, which is the hallmark of a domestic novel.  Lizzy fits the "practical woman" template, and does fight for self mastery through the novel and does make a marriage, all of which are typical of a domestic novel. 

However, Austin's Sense and Sensibility is considered to be a more pinnacle piece in the genre, due to the witty, almost satirical version of the genre.

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