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Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen
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What is the structure of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice?

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Another way to consider the structure is pay attention to the divisions that were concieved by the author.  Austen divides the novel into three volumes.  In Volume 1 (chapter 1-23) we meet all of the main characters and learn all of their relationships and conflicts.  This section of the...

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Another way to consider the structure is pay attention to the divisions that were concieved by the author.  Austen divides the novel into three volumes.  In Volume 1 (chapter 1-23) we meet all of the main characters and learn all of their relationships and conflicts.  This section of the book ends with Collin's second proposal to Charolotte and the absense of Bingley.  In Volume 2 (chapters 24-42)  we learn more of the complications.  Immediately we learn that Bringley and his party have returned to London and of Wickham's interest in Miss King.  The romantic lives of the girls appear bleak.  We meet one of the most important minor characters, Lady Catherine, and hear Darcy's rather ill-conceived proposal to Elizabeth.  We also get hear Darcy's side of the story as revealed in his letter to Elizabeth.  We hope that things will change, but aren't sure how that can happen.  Volume 3 (chapters 43 to the end) resolve all of the relationship complications.  It starts with the grand visit to Pemberly and Elizabeth's realization of her true feelings and ends with the marriage of three of the Bennet sisters.   

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Based on Freytag's plot structure pyramid, the structure of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice begins with an inciting action in the first pages of Chapter One wherein Mrs. Bennet announces that Mr. Bingley has rented a neighboring manor and is taunted by Mr. Bennet who insists he shall never strike up a family friendship with the new tenants, leaving his wife and five daughters to fend for themselves in meeting the new young man and his friends at the upcoming town sponsored ball.

The rising action is based on the conflict--which is that Mr. Darcy is not overly impressed with Elizabeth and audibly expresses his opinion, thus setting Elizabeth's mind against him--and its complications, like Mrs. Bennet's ill-bred behavior and Miss Bingley's fondness for Mr. Darcy. The climax comes when Mr. Darcy says that he knows that Elizabeth would have told Lady de Bourgh honestly that she had no interest in Mr. Darcy if that had been true and then asks Elizabeth for her love.

The falling action is quite significant because Elizabeth has to break the news to her two parents, which is no small task because neither one likes him and Mr. Bennet has to be told that he owes Lydia's salvation to Mr. Darcy. The resolution occurs at the woefully understated wedding at which everyone who mattered to the couple was present and is followed by a brief epilogue describing the happiness of the other couples involved in the story.

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For most of the nineteenth century, English novels were published in three volumes, and Pride and Prejudice is one of the first to employ this format. The narrative therefore falls neatly into three parts.

In part 1, we are quickly introduced to all the major characters: Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, their five daughters, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley (the latter by word-of-mouth) all appear in the first few pages. The reader is also introduced to their essential characteristics with great speed and economy. Mrs. Bennett's foolishness and vulgarity and her husband's caprice and dry humor are evident by the end of the first chapter. Almost as quickly, we discover Jane's sweet temper, Elizabeth's sharp wit and independence, and Lydia's irresponsibility, all of which are to drive the plot. The relationship between Bingley and Jane is firmly established as is the antagonism between Darcy and Elizabeth. This section ends with the abrupt conclusion of Bingley's relationship with Jane and the departure of his party from Netherfield.

In part 2, Elizabeth re-encounters Darcy when visiting Mr. and Mrs. Collins. He proposes and she turns him down angrily. Gradually, however, she comes to realize that she has misjudged him.

In part 3, after the reflective tone of the end of part 2—with Elizabeth brooding upon her mistaken refusal of Darcy's proposal—there is sudden drama as Lydia's elopement with Wickham is discovered. Darcy proves still further how mistaken Elizabeth was through his efforts to resolve the imbroglio between Lydia and Wickham as well as to reunite Jane with Bingley. The climax is reached when Elizabeth and Darcy are finally united.

This structure has the simplicity of the classical three-part love story:

1. Boy meets girl.

2. Boy loses girl as complications ensue.

3. The complications are resolved. Boy and girl are reunited.

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Structurally, Pride and Prejudice consists of 61 chapters that are further divided into three sections. This is significant because each section is linked to the development of the plot. For example, in the first section of the novel( which includes chapter 1 to chapter 23), we are introduced to the key characters and settings, and, more importantly, Austen sets the scene for Elizabeth's relationship with Darcy and Jane's relationship with Bingley.

Similarly, the second section of the novel is structured in a way that moves the story forward. In fact, it is here that the climax occurs when Darcy proposes marriage to Elizabeth, but she rejects him. In a letter from Darcy, Elizabeth learns that Mr. Wickham's stories were completely untrue.

In the final section, the plot reaches its resolution when Jane and Mr. Bingley are united and Elizabeth's feelings toward Darcy are shown to have changed dramatically. When he proposes marriage again, Elizabeth accepts.

So, in terms of structure, Austen uses a three-stage structure which helps her to build tension as the story develops.

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In Pride and Prejudice, the reader is captivated by the love story between Jane and Mr. Bingley as well of the love-hate relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. The strucutre of the novel is simple, involving witty dialogue. The author has a keen eye for analysis of characters. Befitting to its name, Pride and Prejudice is an analysis of simple yet complex characters. Elizabeth is simply a character who knows what she doesn't. She does not want Mr. Darcy or does she? Austen's love story evolves throughout the story. What seems to be a simple matter of the heart becomes an analysis of complex themes such as pride and prejudice. The title is well stated in that the complex themes of pride and prejudice are conveyed through the simple strucure:
The novel has a very simple structure (basically the progenitor of the romance novel): two people should be together on the first page and end up together on the last, with various complications to fill up the rest of the book. It's in the complications where the qualities most come out that set Austen apart from her latter-day followers: witty dialogue, a sense of the brutality of individual character, and a keen, analytical eye for rivulets of emotion running through the smooth-surfaced stream of everyday events.

After reading Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the reader is completely satisfied with the outcome, but it is the journey that creates suspense for the reader:

Irony, or the contrast between the expected and the actual, is the chief literary device Austen uses to comment on the small, enclosed world of the English gentry in Pride and Prejudice. Her irony takes different forms for different characters.

Most respectfully, Austen's writes about the simple theme of family life with all its complexities:

Austen's works are models of restraint. Instead of the wild forces of nature, Austen concentrates on family life in small English towns. Instead of rampant emotionalism, Austen emphasizes a balance between reason and emotion.

 

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