Pride and Prejudice
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28 May 2015
Pride and Prejudice
In the novel Pride and Prejudice, the author Jane Austen, starts from an individual romance, and unveils the social environment in terms of class structure, class relations, mannerisms, etiquette and behavior. Thus, there are parallel themes and several sub themes running alongside one another, equivalently important.
The overall theme is a reflection of 18th century class relations, with individual romance blossoming under that, but still under an umbrella of that class structure.
Class opposites as well as individual opposites are shown. The Bennetts are a gentlemanly family, but Mrs Bennet comes from the trading class, which was looked down upon.
The Bingleys were pure gentlemanly stock, and of considerable fortune, with their Netherfield’s estate, and a house in fashionable London. The Darcys were even higher, related directly to nobility, an earl or a count from the mother’s side, and having generations of grander wealth. The relations of Bennetts were also shown to be the shabbier lot. For instance, Elizabeth’s uncle and aunt, lived in Cheapside, a name itself degradation of the low part of London. Mrs Bennetts and her daughters, with the exception of Jane and Elizabeth, are typical village gossips, always look out for wealthy eligible men and their families, whereas Bingley’s sisters are gossips too, but of a highly snobbish kind. On the whole none of the Bennett’s daughters has wealth or fortune, which can get them husbands of great wealth, power and position.
At an individual level too, opposites were shown, just as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. Both were strong willed individuals, with different social backgrounds. The individual approaches and personalities were very different. Elizabeth was intelligent, outgoing and witty, sensible and never afraid to speak her own mind. This was the quality which made her stand up to Darcy’s aunt, when she tried to prevent her from marrying Darcy. She had great self-control, and far from being naïve,was very open, honest and straightforward. In fact these were the qualities which made Darcy get attracted to her, respect and love her.
Darcy, on the other hand carved out quite a dark figure. He is shown to be desirable, handsome, rich with an aura of reserve. This becomes arrogance, when his inward shyness does not make him respond to his surroundings, and also when he snubs Elizabeth, when Bingley asked him to dance with her. “She is tolerable I suppose” were his words. To him it would be sheer torture to dance with anyone at the local ball.
The conversations between Darcy and Elizabeth, not only outline their individual characters, their many layered relationship, but is a reflection of Austinian society, with their distinct class structures, inter-class relations and the social whole, both urban and rural. The most glaring example of this can be found when Darcy confesses his love to Elizabeth for the first time, when she was away visiting at her aunt’s. Some excerpts of the conversation are given below:
Mr Darcy to Elizabeth – “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” (Jane Austen and Anna, 2000).
Elizabeth – “”In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot—I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to anyone. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. The feelings which, you tell me, have long prevented the acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation.” (Jane Austen and Anna, 2000).
Mr Darcy –“And this is all the reply which I am to have the honour of expecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavour at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is of small importance.” (Jane Austen and Anna, 2000).
Elizabeth- “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.” (Jane Austen and Anna, 2000).
Darcy’s opening sentence of confession, shows his personal struggle, of shyness in expressing himself, his depths of passion and sincerity, in committing himself and his total reserve, as well as his social aura. Elizabeth’s response is equally strong. However high Darcy’s social standing is, she is hardly meek in expressing her personal opinion about people. This is where individual strength veers away from blind succumb into higher social status or even stronger individual personalities, who are held in high esteem in social circles, like Darcy himself. She invariably says that she will not marry even if Darcy is the last man in the world left. She pinpoints on his arrogance, a reflection of his vacuous social snobbery.
Darcy and Elizabeth’s love showed gender equations, class equations and filial bonds of the Austen era, unraveling slowly and simultaneously. It also shows how individualism, love or other forms survive, overcoming social barriers and opposition, if these are strong enough.
To sum up, Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s love does show the central theme, but not the bigger centre. The bigger centre is the Austinian society, with its conniving class structures, relations, matchmaking, manners, etiquette, romantic longings, which take various shapes in the gripping reality of social class cleavages. Jane Austen was a realist to the core. She knew class barriers were the biggest criteria and relationships were shaped upon that. But she had her humane and romantic core, where she worked as a conformist, skillfully veering and maneuvering social relations and romantic relations in a tapestry of silken fabric.
Jane Austen, Anna Quindlen. Pride and Prejudice. Modern Library. 2000. Print.
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