On first impressions of the novel, my own prejudices clouded my judgement of the book and of what it might have consisted. Living in the 21st Century it is somewhat difficult to imagine anything remotely similar, interesting or slightly scandalous happening in a period in which rich men marry apparently beautiful women whose main ambition in life is to marry well. However, as Jane Austen illustrates in the form of Elizabeth, not all women in this period marry just for money, but as Elizabeth proves, some marry for love.
Austen, through the image of Lizzy, projects her opinion on love and marriage: she is clearly a woman who believes in marrying for love and I expect that many of her personality traits are possessed by Lizzy, perhaps it is with this level of intimacy and openness that she has discretely (and perhaps subconsciously) projected herself into a character so as to make Elizabeth a reflection of herself. It is within the physical form of Lizzy that the authorial view is made clear.
I suppose I shall have to follow suit in the beginning of an essay of Pride & Prejudice. Where else could I start, other than one of the most famous quotes ever:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.”
This practically sums up everything that any gentleman or gentle lady living in the late 1790’s and onwards would have had to have known. It is to them, what the 10 commandments are to Christians, what nuts are to squirrels, what a mouse is to a cat- something that they (apologies for generalisations!) would follow and believe religiously. It is a rather frivolous and pointless expression; that no rich man should be without a wife at home or by his side, answering to his ‘beck and call’- feminists would have a field day if they were to travel back to this period!
There are many examples of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ marriages, unfortunately, more ‘bad’ in regards to the lack of basic marriage components in the relationship. For example, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, who demonstrate how not to marry for lust, let alone without true understanding of each other. Throughout the novel we are presented with incidences whereby they expose their incapability to parent, their lack of control and, specifically directed at Mrs. Bennet, her immaturity and frivolity: “A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”
One could base an entire essay on this pair, examining and most certainly disagreeing with the majority of the decisions that they make. One incident in which Mr. Bennet’s ‘soft-side’ comes to surface is when Lydia demands that she attends to Wickham’s trip to Brighton. Mr. Bennet refuses to cause any further tension in his house and so avoids confrontation by allowing his youngest daughter to go to Brighton: “We shall have no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not go to Brighton. Let her go then.”
Just as Mr. Bennet was ‘bullied’ into allowing Lydia to go, I would not be surprised if Mrs. Bennet bullied him into marriage. However, Austen does propose a reason why these two very different people are married: in the beginning Mr. Bennet was attracted to Mrs. Bennet, but only in a fatal lustrous way, “…father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour…had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind, had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her.” Perhaps Austen is projecting another opinion in the form of this doomed marriage, perhaps she is trying to say that sometimes love can be mistaken and that no matter how one feels early on in a marriage, sooner or later the attendants of the marriage start to stop wanting to attend (this would explain why Austen turned down a proposal of marriage from a man whom she loved) – “Respect, esteem, and confidence, had vanished forever, and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.”
It is with no surprise that many people who read this novel often refer to the characters as though they are actually real people, or at least think of them that way. Austen creates an impressive catalogue of characters, each with their own faults, as well as their own assets; the characters that Austen ‘likes’ become obvious as she lets them possess good personalities with promising capabilities; conversely, the characters, or personifications of people that she knew, that she does not like are also obvious as she uses satire to present them; Mrs. Bennet is one of the best examples of this: “She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper.” Lizzy’s view, being the most similar to Austen’s, views her younger sister, Lydia, as being, “Vain, ignorant, idle, and absolutely uncontrolled!” This also shows how Austen favours some more than others, and also shows how Austen might judge a character in a rather prejudice way.
This seems the case for most of the marriages in the book; the characters that Austen likes, and in effect respects, have good marriages and subsequently enjoyable lives, and the ones that she does not like seem to have bad marriages and dull lives. For example, Lizzy and Darcy.
Lizzy is the rather unfortunantely placed child of Mr. And Mrs. Bennet, forever surrounded by people and situations which might have proved better for her had she not been born into such a contrasting family. Her mother is the renowned frivolous, bickering and hear’ say ‘know it all’, married to Mr. Bennet; the quiet, easily suppressed and persuaded father of five daughters. Each daughter possesses their own character, but in Mary’s case, lack of character!
From the first few pages of the novel, it is clear which occupants of the house are sensible, well-developed individuals, and who are the exact opposites. Austen introduces this contrast of characters into the Bennet family to thicken the interest, and more importantly, to make sure that the reader, whatever type of qualities the person has; be it the frivolous, materialistic, foolish qualities of Mrs. Bennet and Lydia, or the classy, subtle and gentle qualities of Jane and Lizzy; can relate and personify the characters, either with themselves or with people they know. This adds to the general enjoyment of the book, as one can match and visualize the characters so as to enthuse realism.
Similarly, one can relate to the problems and issues raised in the marriages as well as family life, presented in the novel.
It is a well-known saying that ‘opposites attract’, this might be the case in physics; however, the actual truth to this statement in relation to marriage is arguable as there is evidence to suggest otherwise. Austen has realized that the most successful marriages are the ones which contain a similarity between both people in the relationship. If they share the same interests and opinions then there would be a mutual understanding and equal opinions.
Lizzy and Darcy, in my opinion, are ahead of their time. Their relationship shares most of our current modern values, such as mutual respect and understanding, as do Mr. And Mrs. Gardener’s and Jane and Bingley. All of these couples are successful because of their different, and in their time fairly controversial approach to marriage and the traditional place of the husband and wife.
The constant love/hate relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy adds to the intensity of their mutual love for each other. They both secretly find the other very attractive, but their own pride and prejudices constrain it. Darcy, in a moment of pure truth, expresses his true feelings for Lizzy, ‘”My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how I ardently admire and love you.”
Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She was at first sorry for the pain that he was to receive; till, roused by resentment by his subsequent language, she lost all compassion in anger.’ Elizabeth’s reaction is rather harsh, and none the less surprising. It is difficult to clarify the extent of which her ‘outburst’ is honesty or mere anger and irrational behaviour due to the intensity of the surprise: “From the very beginning 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 ground-work of disapprobation, on which succeeding events have built so immoveable 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 to marry.”
Such an immediate response could only imply honesty, which indicates that Elizabeth is actually expressing her true opinions, at this time, of Mr. Darcy. However, such an immediately response also indicates a quickness to be clouded by prejudices before even getting to know the person, “I had not known you a month.” This insight into Lizzy’s opinion is very important in regards to the overall change in her prejudices against Darcy. When Lizzy realises that her judgement was wrong she admits to her mistake and finally gives Darcy a chance, this proves that Lizzy’s reaction to Darcy was actually more anger and pure surprise than anything else, as she said that her opinion of him was an “immoveable dislike,” when really she had hardly got to know him. It is this maturity to admit to one’s mistakes and faults which will prove essential in a marriage situation.
Austen takes us on a ‘roller coaster’ ride with this relationship, never knowing whether, or rather inevitably when, the ‘made-for-each-other’ couple will finally admit to their love. By trying to appear harsh and coldly to Darcy, Lizzy tries to cover up her feelings, but from our perspective it is obvious. Likewise, Darcy enforces his pride in a hope to appear less attracted to Lizzy, again, from where we are sitting, the attraction is clear!
However, Austen does not rely on this couple’s fairy tale-like exterior. She also intrigues the reader by adding further compulsive reading due to the impressive story line.
Jane and Bingley also have this effect in their relationship. One moment Jane and Bingley are together and madly in love, the next Bingley is off, many miles away with his sister, and apparently in love with someone else. Jane does not know what to think, it is with the help of her ever supporting sister, Lizzy, that she gets through the worst, and eventually Bingley returns to Jane, in another fairy-tale-like way.
However, Pride and Prejudice is anything but a fairytale. It screams contrast and echoes tradition. Most of the characters are fuelled by the right and proper manner of a lady and gent. Tradition is all too controlling in their lives, but that is not to say that all tradition is wrong, Lydia running away with Wickham is evidence of this and how parents should stand their grounds.
Lydia is the young, naï¿½ve and misguided: although she is thought of as independent she is in-fact desperately seeking attention and affection. She is the youngest and therefore has the potential to get away with anything as her age implies vulnerability and innocence, both of which she maintains. It is in Wickham that she finds a form of authority and attention, from both him and her family, along with being the talk of the town! It is all a game and a clear cry for attention and love from her family, “…for it will make the surprise the greater, when I write to them, and sign my name Lydia Wickham. What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing.”
Lydia finds her elopement with Wickham funny and even more so when the prospect of revealing it to her family and to her close friends, as the previous quote states. She is all but a mere child at heart, relentlessly looking for attention, not a relationship. Also, Lydia is clearly deluded in her opinion of what others will think, “You will laugh when you know where I am gone.” Surely anyone who honestly thinks this has serious issues, or is the child of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Unfortunately, Lydia is both.
Some Philosophers suggest that without evil there would be no reason for good, without suffering there would be no reason for kindness, generosity and so on. In the same respect, if Lydia had not eloped with Wickham, Darcy would not be able to prove to Lizzy that he does really care and that he can empathise with her, as his sister had also eloped with Wickham a few years before. This adds to their mutual understanding and gives both a chance to realise their true feelings. Even the worse situations do have a purpose in the bigger ‘picture’.
Among the relationships and marriages exposed in the novel, Austen again chooses to impose a contrast. There are the good marriages, then there are the bad marriages, and then the relationships bound officially by marriage, which can only be described merely as a contract, nothing else.
Charlotte Lucas, one of Lizzy’s best and closest friend, decides to give up on love, the hopeless, waste of time that only daydreamers dream, and instead to put everything into perspective, which for her means that money and a high place in society comes first. This is actually quite a surprise, being one of Lizzy’s closest friends one would expect similar expectations of life and of the qualities of a marriage. However, Charlotte finds the heir to the Longbourn estate, Mr. Collins, a satisfying, well near enough, man (for want of a better word) to settle down with. It obviously does not take a lot to satisfy Charlotte, as Mr. Collins is a clergyman with a mix of obsequiousness and pride, who likes to make long speeches and state formalities, which have no meaning in themselves.
He had asked Lizzy to marry him (most probably to lessen the burden of entailment for the Bennets as well as thinking that it would be an easy acceptance), but after a rather humiliating refusal, transfers all his affections to Charlotte Lucas. They make an odd couple, in fact they make one of the worse marriages in the novel, but if Charlotte has come to the conclusion that there is no hope for love anymore, it would be extremely difficult to alter her opinion. I can imagine, though, that seeing her friend Lizzy marry to a man for love, especially a mutual love, that her marriage suddenly seems very sour. Then again, I am sure that she would just purchase an expensive item of clothing or jewellery to make it sweet again!
There are other examples of bad marriages, which are not as fluently seen in the book, such as, Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, who, even though hardly seen, show how mutual respect is an essential in a good marriage. Mrs. Hurst seems to have no real affection or esteem for her husband, however, perhaps this is because all her husband actually seems to do is eat and entertain himself by playing cards, and never says an intelligent word in the entire novel, and seems only to be concerned by the quality of the food. Austen could be hinting to what Charlotte and Mr. Collin’s marriage will end up like; bitter and no amount of money will ever be able to sweeten it again. Perhaps this is a warning to anyone thinking of marrying just for money.
This proves that Pride and Prejudice can and does apply to our life today. We are all subject to our own prejudices as well as our own pride. Both of these traits prove problematic, not only in Austen’s era, but in ours as well.
On completion of the novel, my prejudices were overcome. Once the exterior of the 19th century; the dresses, the mansions, the tradition, the culture, has been removed, one is left with people who are the same as we are, full of pride, prejudice, insecurities, ambition, expectation, denial, and dependency: although times change, human nature stays the same.