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

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

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Pride and Prejudice continues to inspire critical inquiry and controversy because of its vivid characters, dramatic plot, and sharply and complexly defined, albeit exclusionary, view of British society of the late eighteenth century. Modern feminists have added their voices to what sometimes appears to be critical din. Some see Elizabeth as actually subversive of the social world she describes. Provocative discussions can center on such claims, using Austen's finely wrought text as basis. Is Jane Austen really against marriage? Is she creating dominant male characters who are from the landed gentry in order to show the oppression of women, or is she in some way supporting what she knows is a flawed system because in the hands of some good characters she believes it can work? Another fertile area is the motivations, morality, sense of social responsibility or lack of it, in the characters, all of whom act as foils for each other in some way. Finally, there is the question of Elizabeth's view of humanity. For someone who sees so much folly and meanness, she is unusually forgiving of her characters. Even the evil ones are usually accommodated rather than punished.

1. It is sometimes assumed that Darcy is full of pride and Elizabeth full of prejudice because these and other characters in the novel claim them to be so. Do you think Elizabeth is in some way also guilty of pride, and Darcy of prejudice?

2. As in all of Austen's novels, the marriage plot makes the nature of marriage a central theme, and the characters debate the issue. Compare the various characters' views of marriage as exhibited in their words and actions. How do Elizabeth's and Charlotte's views differ?

3. Wickham is a dangerous, evil character because while appearing so well-mannered, he transgresses social propriety by trying to ruin two women. Yet other characters use social status in order to act abusively without ostensibly breaking any rules. Name two of these characters and cite their actions. What do they reveal about the author's view of social rules?

4. What is Mr. Bennet like as a father? What appear to be his chief good points? Where is he lacking?

5. Which one of the Bennet sisters has the sweetest disposition? What problem might her good nature pose in such a complex social world as exhibited in this novel?

6. Fitzwilliam Darcy appears haughty and snobbish at the beginning of the book, and more open and flexible as his relationship with Elizabeth develops. Has he been only apparently snobbish and proud at the beginning, to be seen in a new light as Elizabeth grows to understand him, or has he undergone a real change of character by the end?

7. How are George Wickham's actions punished, if at all? Why do you think Jane Austen is so easy on her villains?

8. Houses and estates reveal something about their owners, and, of course, about the characters who comment on houses—their own or others. Compare Mr. Collins's comments about Longbourn vs. Rosings (Chapter 16) to Elizabeth's musings about Pemberley (Chapter 43). What does each appear to value in these large estates?

9. Jane Austen often uses letter writing as a means of revealing character. Take at least one serious character and one ridiculous character and show how their letters reveal them.

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