“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife”. In the first few lines we get a taste for Jane Austen’s use of irony. To someone reading the novel shortly after it was written, the whole story would be ironic. The idea of someone such as Mr Darcy ever marrying someone with connections such as Elizabeth Bennet’s was virtually unthinkable. In the second sentence, we realise the irony of the first by Jane Austen’s sly attack on husband hunting females. The opening chapter contradicts the first well-known sentence of the novel using the characters Mr and Mrs Bennet. Their marriage reveals the gulf between marriage and love.
Conversations between the couple show their irritation with one another. A particular exchange displays this ‘when a woman has 5 grown up daughters she ought to give over thinking of her own beauty.’ In reply to this Mr Bennet states, ‘In such cases a woman has no such beauty to think of.’ Implying that he no longer thinks she has any beauty. After this it becomes clear that the first statement has no connotations relating to love. In the Georgian period, this was perfectly usual as both money and marriage were important aspects of life and very important to the upper classes. Elizabeth however is different.
She marries for love, although at first rejecting Darcy’s advances because she dislikes his manner and could not contemplate spending the rest of her life with him, despite his enormous wealth. Her mother, who has married for wealth envisages her daughters doing the same, although she herself is unhappy with her marriage. The unfolding relationship between between Elizabeth and Darcy, with all its twists and turns, is the focus of the novel and the reader is swept along with them in the social problems that cross their path with their thoughts and emotions about Elizabeth and Darcy being skilfully managed by Jane Austen throughout the whole novel.
Jane Austen has structured her novel in to three volumes. This was quite usual in the nineteenth century, when novelists’ work was published in instalments. The novel covers a timescale of nearly a year and is set in three specific places, (Longbourne, Netherfield and Pemberley) so the three volume structure helps to define the plot and shape relationships. The first part of the novel introduces the characters and persuades you to form an almost instant opinion of both Darcy and Elizabeth. In part two Darcy falls in love and Elizabeth’s begins to love him but does not acknowledge it. In the final part they fall in love and marry. Jane Austen uses this intriguing technique to manipulate the readers understanding of the relationship.
As she introduces the characters, we are encouraged to form opinions on Darcy in particular. We are taught about the seemingly disagreeable, proud and arrogant manner, ‘Mr Darcy danced only once with Miss Bingley and once with Mrs Hurst, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening walking around the room speaking occasionally to one of his party.’ In the day this would have seemed incredibly rude. She then adds, “Darcy was continually causing offence.” We are made to dislike this character as he is so different and has caused offence to Lizzie who we have already befriended because of her “playful and easy manner”. We do not know until later that although her first experience of Darcy was unpleasant, she has judged him far too quickly.
We find that most of Darcy’s remarks, although seemingly rude, are mostly correct and even Elizabeth herself might agree with them. However, they are delivered at a time when Elizabeth knows little of his true character and she simply interprets his comments as proof of his conceited manner. For example: ‘…and it has the advantage of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world- every savage can dance.’ Which of course is perfectly true. And when Darcy and Bingley are discussing the characters of the Bennet girls, Bingley says ‘if they had enough uncles to fill all Cheapside, it wouldn’t make them one jot less agreeable’ to which Darcy truthfully replies ‘but it must materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world’.
Jane Austen devotes several chapters to the episode at Netherfield. The effect of this is to show how Darcy begins to admire and enjoy Elizabeth’s company, indeed he defends her against Miss Bingley’s ridicule in a telling way: ‘it shows an affection for her sister that is most pleasing’. This hint that his ideal woman ‘must add yet something more substantial’ to her mind than the common accomplishments is unfortunately misunderstood by Elizabeth.
Jane Austen uses Caroline Bingley as a contrast to Elizabeth. Her affections and snobbishness are a direct contrast to Elizabeth’s naturalness.
Darcy is clearly smitten with Elizabeth and even asks her to dance. Her spirited refusal does not even affront him ‘Darcy has never been bewitched by any woman as he was by her’.
Several days and especially evenings in her company places Darcy in ‘some danger’. He has learned that she is sincere, truthful, lively and utterly unaffected. The end of the episode leaves them to identify each other’s main defect. But whereas Elizabeth has misjudged Darcy as hating everyone, he is probably right about her wilful misunderstanding!
The effect of removing Elizabeth to Kent reveals more of her character. We learn that although Sir William and Maria can barely talk to Lady Catherine De Bourgh, Elizabeth has no difficulty in conversing easily with her (and perhaps purposefully irritating her by disagreeing with her views!) despite the grandeur of her position. Elizabeth also learns more about Mr Darcy thorough Lady Catherine. She realises that the rudeness and snobbery must run in the family, and she has no care for either.
We realise that Darcy must have some degree of courtesy when he ‘has the grace to look ashamed’ at his aunts absolute derogation of Elizabeth. We also learn in this episode that although Elizabeth does not love him, Colonel Fitzwilliam is the type of man we can expect Elizabeth to end up with. He is kind, polite and he simply gets on well with Elizabeth. Useful for later in the novel, we learn that Lady Catherine likes things to be done her own way and likes to place her expert advice on absolutely everything for everyone’s use, whether wanted or not.
According to Lady Catherine, it was Darcy’s mothers dying wish for him to one day marry her daughter. A visit from Lady Catherine at the end of the novel makes Darcy’s superior connections even more felt by Lizzie and all relationships Darcy may have will be greatly frowned upon by his friends and family. Austen has used these tactics to manipulate the readers understanding because in the Regency Era, it would have been virtually impossible for the two ever to marry, or indeed fall in love given the importance of status marriages. Darcy is related to the aristocracy; Elizabeth is a mere Gentleman’s daughter.
The first proposal is probably the most important part of the novel and it teaches the reader about Darcy’s true feelings. He mentions all of the reasons he ought not to love her but he also adds why he loves her and the strength of his love can over look these bad things. He is not being intentionally offensive but Elizabeth knows that her family is a complete embarrassment and it offends her that somebody should judge her because of her family, as she cannot help the way they act. It shows Elizabeth’s courage to stand up to someone so great and tell him he is rude and ungentlemanly. He is deeply honest in his proposal about ‘overcoming family obstacles’, which Elizabeth interprets to be his pride and an insult. Here we learn about another abnormal difference in Elizabeth’s character. Most women in her position could never even contemplate turning down a man of such consequence.
There is a slight selfishness in her refusal from the point of view of her sisters and mother. Such a match in her family would be most advantageous and her sisters and mother would be sure to be secure after the death of her father. However, she is justified in her refusal because of her very strong dislike of his manner.
The irony of Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberley so soon after the proposal shocks even herself. Elizabeth is shocked to find herself thinking it, but Austen makes the reader aware that Lizzie is slightly regretful of what she has sacrificed when she sees the beauty and elegance of the estate. The Gardiners are very important as they show Darcy that at least some of her relations are sensible, respectable and pleasant. The reader knows that an important discovery is to be made at Pemberley.
From the housekeeper they learn of his kind and loving nature since childhood: ‘I have never had a cross word from him in my life, and I have known him since he was 4 years old!’ They also make the discovery that although he detests Wickham, he keeps a miniature of him because it was his father’s wishes to keep that room the same. We also learn more about his kind character from his treatment of his sister. The brand new piano is a kind brotherly gesture and would have been a very expensive gift. When she meets Miss Darcy herself, she ‘had expected to find Miss Darcy as acute and unembarrassed an observer as Mr Darcy’ however, she finds her charming, talented, and polite although a little shy. We learn from Darcy this was his main fault, which led to many more.
Elizabeth’s feelings are still unsure at this point. ‘She expected every moment that some gentleman would enter the room. She wished, she feared that the master of the house might be amongst them.’ She does not know what to feel and if she wished to see him or not. She wishes to see him but knows it will be awkward. Here is where Jane Austen begins to show us her true feelings although we still are not given definite feelings. Austen therefore leaves us in suspense at the end of this episode.
When Mr Darcy hears of Lydia’s idiocy, Elizabeth believes him to be disgusted and as he leaves in so sudden a way she is very upset believing he despises her for her sister’s stupidity and he could neither love her now and neither be related to a woman who has been completely disgraced. Again, hope for a relationship between them is shattered by another unfair obstacle. What Darcy then does for Wickham and Lydia finally seals her opinion of his character. Making it ever more impossible of their relationship as now she finally realises her love for him, there are too many obstacles in place to prevent it.
Like most of the novelists of her time, Jane Austen used letters between characters to show deep emotions. At a time when novels where a new form of pleasure, this was not unusual. The main letter in the book is a letter from Darcy to Elizabeth. This in itself is a peculiar thing and would have been frowned upon in the day as men where only allowed to write to ladies unless they were engaged. The content of the letter changes the whole plot of the book and therefore without it the story would be quite different. If Darcy and Elizabeth had discussed the contents of the letter the situation would have been quite different, as Elizabeth would have had to reply to the comments as they were being said. It had also clearly taken Darcy a long time to find the right thing to write and therefore shows his real emotions.
Bad news is also broken by letters. For example the family hear of Lydia’s departure from Brighton via an express from the Colonel. The letter from her aunt also seals Elizabeth’s good opinion of Darcy. It is a method for explaining something that would otherwise make very long conversations, which would probably be boring. Another important letter is one from Mr Collins to Mr Bennet warning him about the trouble of Elizabeth and Darcy’s “alleged” intimacy. The conversation which ensues between Elizabeth and her father is unpleasantly interesting as we learn other people’s opinions of Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship: ‘his perfect indifference and your pointed dislike, make it so delightfully absurd!’ Before Elizabeth receives this letter she hates Darcy although he has proposed to her.
During the proposal episode, Darcy says many offensive things about her family and it ends in an argument between them. Jane Austen does this so the reader interprets this to be a final end to any relationship between them. When the letter arrives, Elizabeth is embarrassed, and in the same way Darcy began to see good points in her, she begins to look for and learns good things of his character. However, having refused him once, when she does acknowledge her love for him, her pride intervenes as in those times it was unlikely for a man to propose again once he had been rejected and it was unthinkable for the female to return the proposal. Elizabeth even finds it hard to discuss with Jane the true way she feels. She feels stupid for being wrong and states: ‘One has got all the goodness and the other all the appearance of it.’
As readers, we have a certain trust in Elizabeth that dates from the beginning of our meeting with her. We see most things from her point of view, for example, her opinion of other characters in the book greatly influence our own. It is from her deductions about Mr Darcy that we create our view of his manner. However, had we learnt about him from Georgiana, we would have seen him as a loving and kind brother. However, we are almost brainwashed in to thinking of Darcy as conceited, arrogant, proud and too grand for the likes of Elizabeth.
The use of the word prejudice in the title is a deceiving trick Austen has used. The prejudice is assumed to be Darcy’s thoughts towards others with a lower status than his; however, by the end of the novel we realise it applies just as much to Elizabeth and everyone else who is against Darcy. Throughout the novel the reader practically is Elizabeth. We think her thoughts; feel her emotions; share her prejudice.