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

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

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Last Updated on June 3, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 306

Longbourn Estate

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

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.

Literary Style

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 600

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, irony is both a toy and a defensive weapon in the war against stupidity. The author uses Elizabeth to skewer self-important characters such as Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet. Yet Elizabeth is also blind to her own character faults, and her very blindness is another example of Austen's use of irony. In her misunderstandings with Darcy, she (who is blind to her own pride in her ability to read character) accuses him of excessive pride, while he (who is prejudiced against people with less money than he has) accuses her of prejudice. The on-again, off-again love between Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley is also an example of Austen's use of irony to underline messages about love and marriage. "Jane and Bingley provide us, then, with one of the book's primary ironies," writes Marvin Mudrick in "Irony as Discrimination: Pride and Prejudice," "that love is simple, straightforward, and immediate only for very simple people." "In Pride and Prejudice," concludes Mudrick, "Jane Austen's irony has developed into an instrument of discrimination between the people who are simple reproductions of the social type and the people with individuality and will, between the unaware and the aware."

Other examples of Austen's use of irony abound in the novel. "Many pages of Pride and Prejudice can be read as sheer poetry of wit, as [Alexander] Pope without couplets," writes Reuben A. Brower in "Light and Bright and Sparkling: Irony and Fiction in Pride and Prejudice." "The triumph of the novel—whatever its limitations may be—lies in combining such poetry of wit," the critic concludes, "with the dramatic structure of fiction."

Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 382

Pride and Prejudice is an exciting, suspenseful story. The novel does not drag, for Austen writes succinctly and structures a tight plot. The story is based on a series of conflicts: the central one between Elizabeth and Darcy, and smaller ones concerning the other characters. Every chapter builds towards the novel's climax, Elizabeth's visit to Darcy's home in Derbyshire, and the resolution is both plausible and satisfying.

Pride and Prejudice is an excellent book to reread because of its foreshadowing— subtle hints of upcoming events. Darcy's first proposal to Elizabeth, Lydia's elopement, and Charlotte's marriage are among the novel's many foreshadowed occurrences.

Austen also uses language superbly, but not in flowery or flashy ways. Rather, she writes with great clarity and precision, and employs irony for a comic effect. Irony allows a writer to communicate more than the literal or expected meanings of his or her language. For instance, upon Darcy's entrance to a dance in chapter 3, Austen writes that "the report was in general circulation within five minutes...of his having ten thousand a year." Here Austen pokes fun at the gossipy nature of the people and shows why Darcy might be justified in feeling out of place. Austen also fills the novel's dialogue with irony, making people such as Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins reveal their foolishness to the reader through their ridiculous comments.

Many critics consider the novel a satire, which, in general terms, is a literary work that uses irony and humor to expose human or social faults. Thus, Lydia embodies vanity, Wickham dishonesty, Mr. Collins obsequiousness, and Mrs. Bennet a multitude of follies. Austen does not tear down country life or folk; rather, she directs the reader's gaze to some of the human imperfections that threaten the virtues of her culture.

Pride and Prejudice possesses other literary qualities. Austen renders splendid characters, showing how their errors result from their flaws. She uses symbolism sparingly but successfully; for example, the ordered, austere beauty of Darcy's grounds and home at Pemberly represents his real nature. Finally, Austen employs the omniscient point of view, which means that her all-knowing narrator has complete knowledge of the story and can reveal any character's thoughts and feelings to the reader. Most of the time, the narrator shows the world as Elizabeth sees it.

Literary Techniques

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 748

Jane Austen's novels have been described as a blend of the novel of sensibility popularized by Samuel Richardson and the comedy of manners (David Lodge, Jane Austen's Novels, Form and Structure). Another critic has pointed out that she goes beyond both of these conventions because she makes finer distinctions among characters who have polite manners; decorum alone does not the measure their worth (Fergus; he also notes that the better examples of the comedy of manners, like William Congreve's The Way of the World, presage Austen's achievement). Wickham, for instance, has charming manners that cloak his exploitive behavior. Austen also departs from predecessors like Samuel Richardson because her representation of moral action is so much more complex, and exhibitions of feeling so much more restrained. Literary critic Gene W. Ruoff remarks that "Aristotle would be pleased with the formal unity of the work," even though it has a double plot. He also points out that unlike Austen's other novels, "this one begins with an action and brings on exposition when necessary. The author almost puts too much stress on the dramatic, Ruoff argues, and he finds fault with the rendering of the Elizabeth-Charlotte relationship, arguing that Elizabeth seems to be "born yesterday." In the context of a book that was originally titled First Impressions, however, it does not seem so odd that Elizabeth fails to predict something about her friend, and I support Ruoff's overall conclusion that Austen gains much by choosing drama over exposition.

As in all her novels, there is pervasive use of irony in Pride and Prejudice—irony that depends on a refined ethic and tends to erupt in shocking character revelations. Two good examples of this occur in Mr. Collins's letter to the Bennets about Lydia, and Elizabeth's witty repartee with Lady Catherine when the high and mighty dame pays her a visit about Elizabeth's nonexistent engagement to Darcy, Until the letter, we have only thought of Collins as prudish, boring, and ridiculous. He is all these, but we now see how absolutely damaging his obtuse-ness can be when he tells Mr. Bennet that death is a better alternative for Lydia than her liaison with Wickham. Until Lady De Bourgh's dialogue with Elizabeth, we have seen her merely as a snob and the object of Collins's abject fawning. Yet her attack on Elizabeth turns ugly when she throws the Lydia-Wickham situation in her face as the climax to her full-scale denigration of the Bennets. Her subsequent appeals to Elizabeth's sense of "duty, honour, and gratitude" continue the irony as she herself has been not just remiss, but actively nasty. It is no wonder that the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice does a complete cleanup of "Lady" Catherine. The event leaves Elizabeth in a real "discomposure of spirits" and, ironically again, is followed by the anticlimactic wet blanket of another letter from Collins that ends: "We have reason to imagine that [Darcy's] aunt, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, does not look on the match with a friendly eye."

The narrative exhibits a great deal of ironic foreshadowing as well, as when Elizabeth sees in Lydia's acceptance of the Forster's invitation to Brighton "the death-warrant of all possibility of common sense" for her, and cautions her father that Lydia "will be beyond the reach of amendment" if she does not stop putting present pleasure above all else. Mr. Bennet replies that Lydia is "too poor to be an object of prey to anybody" and chooses the path of least resistance. He notes, "We shall have no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not go to Brighton" and that "she cannot grow many degrees worse, without authorizing us to lock her up for the rest of her life." Not the least of the ironies here is that Elizabeth, the daughter, is more of a parent than Mr. Bennet.

Austen's masterful control of language is celebrated and analyzed especially well by the critic Stuart Tave; of course, this control is what makes her irony so effective. The chief characters are all revealed by their use of language, the chief abusers being Collins, De Bourgh, Mrs. Bennet, and Lydia. Even Mr. Bennet, although he is not garrulous and effusive like his wife, can be seen as an abuser of language, for his sarcastic dismissals of his wife are biting and cruel. At other times, as in his comments about Lydia's trip to Brighton noted above, he speaks truths that he does not act on, using language to avoid responsibility.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484

The story begins in the autumn of 1811 when Charles Bingley, accompanied by his two sisters and Darcy, takes up residence at Netherfield, close to the Bennets' home at Longbourn. Both homes are located in a rural area of Hertfordshire, a county in southeastcentral England. Other scenes take place in nearby Rosings in Kent county, where Mr. Collins occupies a clergyman's "seat," and in the central county Derbyshire, where Darcy lives. The novel also describes, but does not show, events that occur in London (located twenty-four miles from Longbourn) and in the popular seaside resort town of Brighton.

Pride and Prejudice reveals distinctions of social class that may seem unusual to young American readers. Darcy and his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, are members of the aristocracy, England's hereditary ruling class. The Bennet family and the clergyman Mr. Collins—like Jane Austen herself—fall into the category of landed gentry, which means that they own property in the country, are well-bred, and hold a good social position. The Bennets are "poor" only in comparison with others of the gentry. Historically, the aristocracy and gentry mixed freely but tended not to cross lines for marriage. Both maintained business but not social dealings with people of "inferior" status, such as small merchants, tenant farmers, and servants.

The members of the Bingley family, from the north of England, are neither gentry nor aristocracy, but their wealth and cultivation earn them immediate prestige in Hertfordshire and make Charles an attractive bachelor. Finally, the officer corps of the militia contains men of diverse status, ranging from aristocrats such as Colonel Fitzwilliam to men of more ordinary background, such as Lieutenant George Wickham, whose father once managed the property of Darcy's father. Wickham's rank as an officer allows him to visit the Bennet family, but his lack of money or property renders him a poor choice for marriage, as Mrs. Gardiner reminds her niece Elizabeth.

Young readers should know that Austen considers rural communities like the Bennets' places of comfort and havens for traditional values. Families know each other well and care very much about how they appear to their neighbors. Unlike London, which values change, fashion, and commerce, Austen's country towns preserve pleasures considered more genteel: social graces, family living, and honorable courtship.

In this world marriage is a complex institution; teen-age women are considered "out" (or eligible for suitors) after they attend their first dance, and most of a young woman's life consists of preparing for marriage. For most women, the choice of a spouse is the most significant decision they will make. Because few women hold jobs, those who do not marry may live lonely, idle existences. Many couples—like Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins—wed not for love but to gain property or achieve a desired social rank. Austen's novels show such arrangements, but they do not approve of them; her heroes and heroines never marry coldly.

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