Longbourn Estate. Home of the Bennet family in southeastern England’s Hertfordshire. The estate is “entailed,” meaning that it can be passed down only through male heirs. Austen uses the estate to point up the condition of single women in early nineteenth century England, demonstrating why they have an intense need to marry. The Longbourn estate is to pass to Mr. Collins, a pretentious young clergyman who stands to inherit Mr. Bennet’s property. After the heroine Elizabeth Bennet turns down Collins’s proposal of marriage, her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, accepts his proposal because she is poor and needs to marry.
Netherfield Park. Estate rented by Mr. Bingley, the neighborhood’s new eligible bachelor, in which Austen sets up the novel’s action. The Bennets have five unmarried daughters, and their silly mother is anxious to see them all married. Mr. Bingley soon falls for Jane, the oldest, and it is through him that Elizabeth meets the arrogant Fitzwilliam Darcy, Bingley’s best friend. The complex social goings-on at Netherfield illuminate a society in which women scramble to find husbands amid financial snobbery and class prejudice.
Rosings. Home of Mr. Collins’s arrogant patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who is also Darcy’s aunt. After Charlotte marries Mr. Collins, she moves to the cleric’s cottage near the Rosings estate.
Pemberley. Darcy’s well-ordered home, in which he and Elizabeth come to view themselves as they truly are: Elizabeth recognizes her own prejudice, and Darcy recognizes his own pride. Pemberley is the perfect setting for the ultimate triumph of romantic love. After Elizabeth spurns Darcy, she eventually begins to regard her decision as a mistake, especially as she realizes that she might have been the mistress of Pemberley, in whose miles and miles of grounds she takes great delight.
The novel Pride and Prejudice was written during the middle of the Romantic period in western literature, but it is itself rather uncharacteristic of other fictional works of the period. Unlike the great Romantic novels and poems of the period, which usually praised youthful passions, Austen's work minimizes them. Compared to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's classic sturm und drang novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), in which the young hero is unsuccessful at love and, unable to make his inner visions conform to the reality of the outer world, finally commits suicide, 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. Instead of suicide and unrequited love, Austen offers elopement and marriage. Although the author does consider some of the same themes as her Romantic contemporaries—the importance of the individual, for instance—Austen's society is altogether more controlled and settled than the world presented in Romantic fiction.
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. Perhaps the most ironic character in the entire book is Mr. Bennet, father of the five Bennet sisters. Mr. Bennet is married to a silly woman he cannot respect, who centers her life on marrying her daughters off to wealthy, well-bred men. He expresses his discontent in the marriage by criticizing his wife's stream of comments. Many of these are sarcastic and hurtful, and contribute to the misunderstandings between the couple that leave them incapable of dealing with the disastrous elopement of their youngest daughter Lydia with the detestable George Wickham. Mr. Bennet's conscious use of irony is for him a game—it serves no useful purpose.
For the author, in the persona of Mr. Bennet's daughter Elizabeth, however,...
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