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Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

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Compare and contrast Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice.

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Charlotte Lucas and Elizabeth Bennet are best friends, showing how opposites can mesh and build happy friendships until a decisive turning point comes along, such as Collins' marriage proposal(s). In a foreshadowing of Austen's other greatest work, Sense and Senibility, Charlotte represents sense (making sound judgements and decisions) while Elizabeth represents sensibility (making emotion-driven judgements and decisions). While Charlotte is willing and able to see things in their unembellished reality, Elizabeth idealizes and either trivializes (e.g., Darcy) or magnifies (e.g., Wickham) things that she sees.

With these characteristics in mind consider how Charlotte unflinchingly meets reality with action by being the chief cook for the Lucas family since the reality is that though Sir Lucas has a title and has been presented at court he hasn't got the income to support a lifestyle in tune with his title. Consider how this same characteristic leads Charlotte to apply soundness to her evaluation of Collins' "rebound" proposal; to her decision to accept his proposal; and to her actions in cleverly establishing a pleasant and happy life for herself:

Mr. Collins invited them to take a stroll in the garden, which was large and well laid out, and to the cultivation of which he attended himself. To work in his garden was one of his most respectable pleasures; and Elizabeth admired the command of countenance with which Charlotte talked of the healthfulness of the excercise, and owned she encouraged it as much as possible.

With Elizabeth's contrasting characteristics in mind, consider how Elizabeth overlooks her father's disrespectful and neglectful parenting (which she acknowledges at the end of the story) while learning to ironically make fun of people's foibles and weaknesses, including her own. This trait causes her to misjudge individuals whom she then either accepts or rejects based not upon a sound evaluation but upon her emotional reaction to them. Consider now how this characteristic might have led her into a marriage with the fortune hunter, Wickham, and how this same characteristic caused her to misjudge Darcy thus causing herself much unhappiness (and him untempered insult).

While Charlotte and Elizabeth are equally intelligent, equally good natured and pleasant, equally of high birth (gentlemen's daughters are eligible marriage partners for all ranks of the upper class, including nobility), Charlotte sees the world through perceptions that seek and cause her to respond to reality, while Elizabeth sees the world through perceptions that laugh at foibles and cause her to respond according to how her emotions are stirred by these foibles.

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In the episode of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen when Darcy refuses to dance with Elizabeth at the ball, the narrator says:

Elizabeth..  told the story, however, with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.

In contrast with Elizabeth Bennett, Charlotte Lucas is very serious and not particularly clever. She is, however, immensely practical. Rather than turning down Mr. Collins offer of marriage, she accepts it because of economic necessity. While in the novel, we sympathize with Elizabeth, and her refusal to marry Collins, in reality, Elizabeth's refusing a perfectly acceptable marriage offer would be like someone now turning down a steady, if boring, job because they believed they might win the lottery. In this way, clever and interesting as she is, Elizabeth is also impractical and unrealistic, weighing her happiness over family loyalty.

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Compare the personalities of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

By the end of chapter one of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the reader has a clear picture of both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. They have five nearly grown girls and have been together for more than twenty years; despite that, they do not seem to have much in common. 

Austen characterizes each of them for us at the end of chapter one of the novel:

Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.

Mr. Bennet spends most of his time in his study, undoubtedly to escape the foolishness which surrounds him. While his two oldest daughters have been well educated, he has allowed the three youngest ones to do as they please regarding their studies. He is not poor, but he is certainly not rich and his estate will pass to the nearest male relative (his nephew William Collins), Despite that, he does not do anything to improve his lot (position) in life, preferring to spend his time studying and reading.

Mr. Bennet is most known for his dry, sarcastic wit (which Elizabeth has also developed) which usually passes unnoticed by his wife. He speaks his mind in this style without getting angry or upset. For example, when Elizabeth tells her father of her cousin Mr. Collins' offer of marriage (which she barely kept form laughing at), he says this:

“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” 

He is a man of little action and few words, preferring to remain reclusive and relatively silent.

His wife, on the other hand, is always up to something and she is rarely silent. She has several loves in her life but only one goal: to marry her five daughters of to the most socially (and of course financially) suitable men she can find. To do that, she pays close attention to the gossip and pursues anything she thinks will move her goal forward.

While her husband prefers his oldest two daughters, Mrs. Bennet is closer to the younger three. Two of them have dedicated their lives to landing a rich husband rather than to their educations, and they have their mother's complete blessing. She has no regard for manners and proves it consistently, much to Elizabeth's embarrassment; if a man has enough money, she approves of him for whichever daughter he prefers. Love and compatibility mean nothing to her, and her husband's consistent jibes at her go virtually unnoticed because she is as empty-headed as her youngest daughters.

One might wonder how this couple ever got together, and the answer might be as simple as this: she wanted to marry up (which she did, as we look at her family connections) and he wanted someone on whom he did not have to spend much time or energy. They lack a true compatibility, which is probably why Mr. Bennet is so concerned about who his favorite, Elizabeth, marries. While his wife is most concerned about money and social position, he is concerned about compatibility, undoubtedly out of his own experiences.  

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