Jane Austen began writing the novel Pride and Prejudice in the year 1796 and was first published in 1813. The book written in the 19th Century, became part of the era of Romanticism, a time were many of the prominent writers, such as Dickens and Tennyson began to rationalize things around them and emerged as the great thinkers of the time. Pride and Prejudice however was not the books original name. Its initial name was First Impressions, which in context of the book begins to explain the way their world was structured and perceived by Austen. She was born and raised in London and began writing at a very young age. Austen’s ideas in Pride and Prejudice reflect a capacity for a diverse society where themes of class and social behavior were maintained by a hierarchal format.
The story takes place in and around London, were the rulings of the upper classes governed the actions of the middle and lower classes. The pursuit of marriage is a theme that bears a close connection with class and is a relationship that is carried throughout the course of the story. A mans place in the story is determined by his desire to find a suitable wife, a choice that is made according to the female figures charm and elegance. The mans social status, largely dictated by his ownership of property and annual income, distinguishes his eligibility amongst the female characters. So the book takes on a social format relevant to the above plot outline and revolves around the communication between the male and female characters. The language and discourse in particular, are commonly on the subject of the negotiation of matrimony.
Chapter thirty-four focuses on Mr. Darcy’s first proposal to Miss Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy’s self absorbed approach causes Miss Elizabeth to deny his attempt to woo her into marriage. His true feelings towards Miss Elizabeth are masked by an “insipidity” in his address, and his hasty disregard and lack of compliment of her external beauty, indicate an arrogance in his character. (Austen, 1952: 35). His preconceptions with class play a fundamental role and causes him to misjudge her, as a result their interaction is misinterpreted. Elizabeth says that: “he was the last man in the world whom he could ever be prevailed on to marry”. (Austen, 1952: 182). Their relationship in particular is implicit of the way their society is divided by social class. Elizabeth on the one hand is raised in a home with four other sisters, a mother whose incessant bickering tirelessly drives her daughters to find a suitable husband, and a father whose sarcastic take on things is detrimental to his role as a parent.
The Bennet family form part of the bourgeoisie, while Mr. Darcy on the other hand is quite the opposite. Mr. Darcy’s “imprudent hauteur”, as Austen puts it, is indicative of his complete disinterest in associating himself with people of a lower social status. (Austen, 1952: 93, 97). The Pemberley estate in particular, is a fine representation of his superior wealth and class. Mr.Darcy states: “I certainly have not the talent that some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation…” (Austen, 1952:166). Within his complacency he falls in love with Elizabeth and becomes enchanted by her. Their mutual witty banter and indignant judgment of other people are commonly shared, and their love begins to blossom; this however does not happen over night. It is with patience that Elizabeth learns to trust the faade of pride existential in his character, and only after she unravels the mystery of Wickham’s deceit that their bond is irreconcilably forged.
In contrast to Mr. Darcy’s character, is Mr. Collins. A snobbish and righteous clergyman and husband to Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth’s best friend. Mr. Collins is first coerced into the idea of marriage by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, a woman whose higher social acclaim, makes him drool over her superiority. He is lead to search for a wife amongst one of his cousins from the Bennet family, the same family his inheritance is entailed, and sets his eye on Elizabeth, the most intelligent of the daughters. His proposal however is a failure, and appears to beg for her hand, rather than express his infatuation. Mr. Collins says: “When I do myself the honor of speaking to you next on this subject I shall hope to receive a more favorable answer than you have now given me”. (Austen, 1952: 108). He grovels over Elizabeth, making hasty assertions to their future together and doesn’t understand her rejection of him, refusing to take no for an answer. Austen uses Mr. Collins as a tool to ridicule the social angst of the lower classes. His denial of her rejection is a representation of social and moral clumsiness, and his actions induce Elizabeth’s pity, rather than affection.
Jane Austen’s characterization of Elizabeth is scripted in a way that make subjective views and feelings towards others within her society masked by the maintenance of her charm and social integrity. She finds is difficult to speak the truth as she finds herself having to justify the feelings and wants of other characters, rather than consulting her own feelings. Her statement to Mr. Collins in chapter nineteen: “If what I have hitherto said can appear to you in the form of encouragement , I know not how to express my refusal in such a way as may convince you of its being one”. (Austen, 1952: 149).
Her language exhibits undertones of anxiety as she finds it very hard to relate to Mr. Collins due to there different social backgrounds. This may however raise the suggestion that her use of language towards Mr. Collins in that encounter was misleading. Elizabeth says: “Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as rational creature speaking the truth from her heart.” The meaning of the English language is often ambiguous, and can be easily misunderstood. Language can take on various interpretations, depending on the person talking, the recipient, and their social preconceptions. Mr. Collins’ inferior use of language might be taken to mean something completely different to Elizabeth’s intended meaning and will therefore transform the outcome of the conversation.
Jane Austen brilliantly captures the imagination of the reader by immersing them in every detail of the characters personality, as each new sentence brings with it a critical insight or comment on some aspect of their discourse. As Elizabeth’s social interactions become intermingled with the other characters in the story and the plot continues to evolve, one becomes increasingly attached to her. Her relationship with Mr. Darcy in particular is of the utmost interest as the themes of friendship, love, marriage, class, and wealth become clear and relevant to the proceedings of the story. It is a truly excellent piece of literature and enlightened me to the some of the realities of the 18th Century, especially to the fastidiousness attributed to acquiring a wife and the frivolity attributed to play.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Collins London and Glasgow, 1952 )
Douthat, Ross and Stewart, Adam. SparkNote on Pride and Prejudice. 27 Apr. 2007 http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/pride/.
Note: Wikipedia websites do not have any name of authors or dates of publication
Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia. [Online]. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride_and_Prejudice
[27 April 2007]
Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia. [Online]. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanticism
[27 April 2007]