Pride and Prejudice
When a novel focuses on the day-to-day life of a family with five young unmarried daughters, the subject is certain to be romance. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE’S depiction of Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia Bennet is something richer, though. As its title hints, the novel is a shrewd and subtle psychological study. Pride and prejudice are the double defects shared by the heroine and hero, spirited Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich, aristocratic young man she meets when his friend Bingley rents the estate next to the Bennets’.
In the course of the story, Darcy becomes more flexible in his social views and learns to recognize excellence (notably Elizabeth’s) in the ranks below his own. Similarly, Elizabeth becomes less rigid in her judgments, more aware of the many virtues of Darcy, whom she had at first dismissed as cold and haughty. Elizabeth and Darcy’s growing love delights the reader because everything about the two--their minds, tastes, appearances, and words--shows them to be ideally suited.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE contains less brilliant variations on the marriage theme as well. Jane Bennet, the serene oldest sister, and easygoing Charles Bingley, a couple whose engagement is for some time thwarted by Darcy and the Bingley sisters, are equally well matched if less dashing. The Reverend William Collins, the pompous cousin who as next male relation will inherit the family estate on Mr. Bennet’s death, hopes to marry Elizabeth, but on being rejected, settles for her plain and practical friend Charlotte Lucas, a woman aware of his foolishness but in need of the security his situation can provide. The fourth match made in the novel is between a charming but amoral officer, George Wickham, and pretty, empty-headed Lydia, the youngest Bennet sister. Wickham first attracts Elizabeth, then elopes with Lydia. Only when Darcy intervenes is he persuaded to marry the silly girl.
Supplementing this cast of characters is a wonderfully imperfect gallery of human types. The selfish and cynical Mr. Bennet, his ill-bred wife, their priggish daughter Mary, and the domineering Lady Catherine de Bourgh are all people a reader would walk far to avoid in real life. But they are figures delightful to encounter in Austen’s satirical novel.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Interpretations: Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Contains nine essays treating such topics as manners and propriety, love, intelligence, and society. Includes a chronology and bibliography.
Brown, Julia Prewitt. Jane Austen’s Novels: Social Change and Literary Form. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979. A response to critics who claim that Austen does not write about important issues because she writes about domestic life. Choosing a spouse points to life’s complexity, which intelligent characters know; the foolish choose badly, dooming themselves and future generations.
Gillie, Christopher. A Preface to Jane Austen. London: Longman, 1974. An invaluable guide that includes useful background material and brief discussions of Austen’s novels. A reference section contains notes on people and places of importance, maps, and explanations of numerous words used in the works. Amply illustrated. Annotated bibliography.
Halperin, John, ed. Jane Austen: Bicentenary Essays. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975. A collection of essays on various aspects of Austen’s work. An excellent chapter by Robert B. Heilman explains how the title Pride and Prejucide defines the theme and the structure of the novel. In another essay, Karl Kroeber suggests some reasons for the work’s lasting popularity.
Halperin, John. The Life of Jane Austen . Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984. A thorough and highly readable critical biography, written with the stated purpose of making Jane Austen “come alive.” Argues that neither Elizabeth Bennet nor any other character in the novels should be taken as representing so complex a...
(The entire section is 1,194 words.)