Essential Passage 1: Book 1, Chapter 18
“I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave—that your resentment, once created, was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created?”“I am,” said he, with a firm voice.“And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?”“I hope not.”“It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion to be secure of judging properly at first.”
Mr. Bingley at last holds a ball at Netherfield. Elizabeth had hoped there to see Wickham, in whom she finds some appeal, but he has not attended. Elizabeth blames Darcy for Wickham's absence and tells him why: years ago, Darcy maliciously denied Wickham the rectorship he had been promised by Darcy’s father. Confronted with this accusation, Darcy gives Elizabeth his opinion, which is that Wickham is dishonest, manipulative, and corrupt. Elizabeth reminds Darcy of his prior claim that once having formed an impression of a person, he never changes it. She asks him if he is thus blinded by the prejudice of his first impression, but Darcy denies this. Elizabeth then says that if one never changes a first impression, one had better make sure it is correct to begin with. Darcy still rejects Wickham’s interpretation of events, and in this he is backed up by Miss Bingley. However, since Elizabeth has already decided on her own first impressions—namely, that Darcy and Miss Bingley are prideful—she decides to believe Wickham because her impression of him is more favorable.
Essential Passage 2: Book 2, Chapter 11
“From the very beginning, from the first moment, I may almost say, of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”
Elizabeth arrives at Charlotte Lucas’s new home for the first time since Charlotte's marriage to Mr. Collins. As rector, he is a sycophant to Lady Catherine de Bourgh and goes to visit her often. Elizabeth avoids these encounters as much as she can. On one occasion when she is at home alone in the parsonage, Darcy comes to pay a visit. Recently, Elizabeth had detected a sad tone in Jane's letters, knowing it is because her sister has lost Mr. Bingley due to Mr. Darcy's interference. When Darcy unexpectedly confesses his love to Elizabeth, she gives vent to her anger. From their very first meeting, Darcy has made it clear that he has little regard for Elizabeth and her family. He has been the cause of sadness for Jane and has tried to alter Elizabeth's own opinion of Wickham. The fact that Darcy is now reluctantly proposing marriage strikes her as preposterous, and she tells him that he is that last man she would ever consent to marry. Darcy, angered at her refusal but repressing his emotions, leaves her.
Essential Passage 3: Book 2, Chapter 12
From that moment I observed my friend's behavior attentively; and I could then perceive that his partiality for Miss Benet was beyond what I had ever witnessed in him. Your sister I also watched. Her look and manners were open, cheerful, and engaging as ever, but without any symptom of peculiar regard; and I remained convinced from the evening's scrutiny, that though she received his...
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attentions with pleasure, she did not invite them by participation of sentiment. If you have not been mistaken here, I must have been in an error. Your superior knowledge of your sister must make the latter probable. If it be so, if I have been misled by such error to inflict pain on her, your resentment has not been unreasonable. But I shall not scruple to assert that the serenity of your sister's countenance and air was such as might have given the most acute observer a conviction that, however amiable her temper, her heart was not likely to be easily touched. That I was desirous of believing her indifferent is certain; but I will venture to say that my investigations and decisions are not usually influenced by my hopes or fears. I did not believe her to be indifferent because I wished it; I believed it on impartial conviction, as truly as I wished it in reason.
Darcy has proposed to Elizabeth Bennet, who has rejected him in no uncertain terms. She explains that she has heard unfavorable reports of him from Wickham, and she has also seen his hardheartedness in convincing Mr. Bingley to stop courting Elizabeth’s sister, Jane. Upset, Darcy departs, but the next day he gives her a letter that he says will explain his past actions. In the letter, Darcy relates that his relationship with Wickham is not completely as the latter told her. After turning down a rectorship in exchange for a cash payment, Wickham tried to elope with Darcy’s sister, Georgianna. As far as his interference in the courtship of Bingley and Jane, Darcy admits that this is true. Darcy could see that Bingley was truly in love with Jane and intended to propose marriage; however, Darcy observed Jane’s quiet demeanor and concluded that she was not interested in Bingley beyond friendship. Desiring to save his friend heartache, he convinced Bingley to break off with her. Darcy admits that he had been mistaken in his first impressions of Jane.
Analysis of Essential Passages
“First Impressions” was the title Jane Austen gave the original incarnation of Pride and Prejudice in 1796. A reworked version of the novel was finally published in 1813, but the complex concept of first impressions remained as one of the work's central themes.
Elizabeth’s first encounter with Mr. Darcy cements her opinion of him as prideful, conceited, and condescending. He has no interest in the vast majority of the “country” girls in the region, dancing and conversing only with women of his own acquaintance. When asked by his friend Mr. Bingley about Elizabeth, he states that she is not “handsome enough” to tempt him. Yet only a few minutes later, Darcy silently revises his opinion, finding that her eyes are “very fine.” It is this comment, later made aloud in the company of the Bingleys, that causes Miss Bingley to tease him about his attraction to Elizabeth Bennet, a country girl who is below him in social status, especially since she has relatives in “trade.”
Elizabeth first considers Darcy an attractive man, but when she overhears his remarks concerning her, she decides that he is not someone with whom she would want to be friends. Elizabeth has decided that pride is his major flaw, and she is further prejudiced against him throughout the novel. Thus the title’s themes of “pride” and “prejudice” are equally applicable to both Elizabeth and Darcy.
Although Darcy says he never changes his opinions (because his first impressions are usually right), he does so for both Elizabeth and Jane. With Jane, whom he judges to be indifferent to Bingley’s courtship, he realizes that he misunderstood her shyness for aloofness. Besides the matter of Jane and Bingley, Elizabeth has against Darcy the account from Wickham of Darcy’s driving him into financial and social distress. Eventually, Elizabeth finds that her first impression of Wickham was entirely wrong—wrong to such an extent that she is unable to prevent him from eloping with her younger sister Lydia.
It is only when Elizabeth herself admits that her first impressions were wrong, both in the case of Wickham and of Darcy (especially when she discovers the part he played in arranging Lydia’s marriage to Wickham and thus easing the disgrace somewhat), that she is able to discover her true self. In that epiphany, she is open to seeing Darcy as he is, still prideful but not maliciously so, and that recognition allows her to fall in love with him. As the two converse after their engagement, both admit that their first impressions, though flawed, were not completely wrong. Only by accepting those flaws do Elizabeth and Darcy find happiness.