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

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

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Student Question

How do Elizabeth's responses to Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy's proposals reflect the novel's gender/class politics?

Expert Answers

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Mr. Collins, in his proposal to Elizabeth, clearly articulates his reasons for marrying. He enumerates the motivations that have encouraged him to offer the marriage proposal. He does not, however, request any such reason from Elizabeth. He expects that she will gratefully accept his offer since, upon her father’s death, he will inherit all of her family’s property. Elizabeth, as a woman, has an unfortunate and unenviable family situation. She is one of five daughters. With no sons to inherit his property, it will be dispensed through an entailment, which means that his oldest male relative will inherit his complete estate. Mr. Collins, therefore, confidently assumes that she has no choice but to accept him. 

Likewise, when Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, he makes little effort to appeal to her heart. Rather, he expresses self-contempt because he has been unable to properly suppress his romantic feelings for her. Elizabeth’s position in society is beneath him and he feels that he has lowered himself by becoming too thoroughly acquainted with her. He, too, expects her to be flattered by the proposal. He knows that she has no reason to have wished for the attentions of a man such as himself.

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