Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a novel about overcoming impediments and achieving romantic happiness. Its genre is a comedy of manners. Throughout the book, the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet along with most of the characters, come into contact with pride or become prejudiced characters. Jane Austen’s novel explores the way in which characters deal with these problems and what the effect is on society, during that time period.
However, even if Jane Austen’s novel is titled Pride and Prejudice, many other themes such satire, irony, social class and gender roles are found throughout the first 13 chapters. Jane Austen brings out these contrasting themes in diverse ways, looking at each different definition and embodying them in different characters- Mr Darcy and Lizzy are an excellent example of an allegory of pride and prejudice. However, by analysing the first 13 chapters in this book, we can understand that it is far more than just pride and prejudice.
Pride and Prejudice was written in 1813 by Jane Austen but published anonymously 26 years later, along with many of her other books. This is due to the fact society disregarded women and their roles in the community. Women, during the Regency period were expected to be accomplished, especially in playing the piano, speaking languages (particularly French, as this was an international language), and needlework. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was an early feminist novel, exploring female gender roles in a patriarchal society. Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ has many resemblances with 18th-century literature, which valued moderation, order, common sense and reason, and liked to satirise the folly of those who did not pursue these values. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ though, was not the title allocated to the book- it was first called ‘First Impressions’. This was a suitable title as many of the characters are judged on their first impressions. However Jane Austen later changed the title to suit what she thought the novel really explored. Jane Austen came from high-middle class, otherwise known as the gentry and many of the social aspects and expectations of this class are reflected throughout Pride and Prejudice.
Prejudice is the preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience of an event, place or thing. Many character’s first impressions are the subject of talk in the society but in the first sentence alone in the first chapter, we can see that society decides exactly what a man of high social standing needs. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”. People in society think that a wife is what a man wants to secure their fortune but this is a ridiculous thought. How does the rest of society know what a man wants? What if the man only wants prestige or a manor in his name? Only a man will know his needs better than anyone else. It not only mocks marriage but also introduces the theme of ‘first impressions’ (prejudice) to the reader.
During chapter 3, the theme of prejudice again appears exactly when Darcy first sets his eyes on Elizabeth. His comment to Bingley about Elizabeth’s beauty greatly affects Elizabeth’s view on Darcy. “She is tolerable, but she is not handsome enough to tempt me…” implies to us that Darcy feels as though Elizabeth, because she has been slighted by other men, does not deserve him. This however changes, when he starts falling in love with her and realises that she is not like other women and is clever and independent. Her initial prejudice has come about because of her injured pride.
After the dance at Lucas Lodge, Mrs Bennet compliments both the Bingley sisters “his sisters are charming women. I never in my life saw anything more elegant than their dresses.” Again, we see the theme of prejudice here, clearly displayed by Mrs Bennet. This type of prejudice is of the positive kind; Mrs Bennet only sees what the Bingley sisters want her to see. However, as we read on, we discover the masks both sisters wear, especially in front of Jane.
Again in chapter 3, after the ball Mrs. Bennet talks to her husband about Mr. Darcy. “…for he is the most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring him!” Mrs Bennet’s opinion about Darcy has been prejudiced by what he said about Elizabeth at the ball. Because Darcy has stated that he did not find Elizabeth pretty, it changed the way people looked at him- with disgust, hate and antipathy.
However, both sisters only show politeness to Elizabeth when they were in another’s company. “That she should have walked three miles… was almost incredible to Mrs. Hurst and Elizabeth was convinced that they held her in contempt for it.” Here both Caroline and Louisa judge Elizabeth’s “face glowing with exercise”, “dirty stockings” and her appearance. This is one of their first impressions of her and her behaviour and they are not impressed. This view wouldn’t have been looked down upon by the society as young women were not expected to have a red face after doing exercise (the height of beauty was to have a pale face). This description of Lizzy indicates to us and the Bingley sisters that she was common.
It is then, when Lizzy is out of the room, that they start to say rude things about her and her “petticoat, six inches deep in mud” and “conceited independence”. Both the Bingley sisters try and encourage Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy to agree with them; however the men remain very polite and gentleman-like. Here they judge Lizzy because she is not from the town, like them and she has not got any decorum.
The theme of prejudice then becomes entwined with truth and this becomes one of a key theme in the novel. “She hardly knew how to suppose that she could be an object of admiration to so great a man”, at this point Lizzy is contemplating why Mr. Darcy is staring at her if he doesn’t like her. She is prejudiced against Mr. Darcy so she doesn’t think that he likes her – this is dramatic irony as the reader knows that he does. Prejudice is getting in the way of truth.
Mr Collins is also judged on his first impression at Longbourn. “There is something very pompous in his style. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter which promises well.” In this passage in Chapter 13, Austen has used structure to emphasise the theme of prejudice. She has the other characters discuss Mr. Collins before the reader gets the chance to actually meet him- this instantly makes you prejudiced against him.
Pride has many different meanings and Jane Austen explores each one through a range of different characters. Satisfaction in one’s own or another’s success or achievements is mainly expressed through Lizzy and Jane, especially when they complement each other on their beauty. But pride can also be having an excessively high opinion of oneself and that is exactly what Lydia has. Lydia is young and does not realise how badly she behaves.
However, the most common definition of pride is having a high of lofty opinion of oneself and/or one’s position, rank, attainment or possessions, usually in bad sense implying arrogance or hauteur. Mr. Darcy is an exact embodiment of this: in the way he acts, speaks and carries himself.
Mr. Darcy’s main embodiment is pride and it can be seen throughout the first 13 chapters. In chapter 3, at the ball, Mr. Darcy is seen as the richest figure in the room and the most handsome “till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity”. As you can see, pride is not something the Meryton society favours; thinking too highly of yourself will not give you the best of opinions. Here we can also see a direct comparison between both gentlemen. Mr Bingley is seen as handsome, rich and had unaffected manners, whereas Mr. Darcy as even more handsome, even richer but he had disgusting manners.
Mr. Darcy’s pride is also revealed through his speech and conversation, especially with Mr. Bingley. “There is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.” He thinks he is better than all the other guests. This view he explains in a later chapter when talking to Elizabeth but you can see that he knows he is better than some people and that this type of pride is an acceptable opinion.
In chapter 4, Lizzy and Jane both talk about both gentlemen and the Bingley sisters. She knows that they were “proud and conceited”. Here their pride is brought about because of their rank and social class compared to the rest of Meryton.
However Charlotte Lucas defends Mr. Darcy and his reason to be proud. “His pride does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it… one cannot wonder that so very fine a young man… should think highly of himself. He has a right to be proud.” Here Charlotte states and backs up Mr. Darcy’s actions because of his pride- but this is to be expected as she is of low social class and does not have a potential suitor to marry. This links to the first sentence of the book “It is a truth universally acknowledged …” .Charlotte, a woman, is the one who is looking for a potential wealthy man to marry.
In chapter 5, Mary gives a very moral view on pride which is important to the novel. She describes pride as “a common failure that human nature is particularly prone to and that there are very few who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency.” Here, Mary also says that vanity is not the same as pride “though the words are often used synonymously”. She also states that “a person may be proud without being vain”. Vanity is the feeling of pride about one’s appearance or ability. It also states in the Oxford Dictionary that vanity is a quality of being personally vain or having a high opinion of oneself. Jane Austen uses Mary to clear up the meaning of pride and vanity, to make the reader understand but to also explain what type of themes could be coming up in the next few chapters.
In chapter 11, Darcy and Elizabeth have a conversation about pride and what is acceptable. “Where there is real superiority, pride will be always under good regulation.” Here Darcy speaks about pride being acceptable if you’re of high class, yet he does not realise that this is what he does. This is ironic as Austen has made Darcy’s pride very obvious but he does not realise it.
Mr Collins can also be identified as a person of pride in chapter 13. His character so far, throughout the book exudes a sense of pride and arrogance, even before the reader meets him. In his letter, he states “I flatter myself that my present overtures are highly commendable…” The use of phrases such as “I flatter myself” sums up that Mr. Collins is most definitely proud and self-important.
Satire and irony are two important themes in Pride and Prejudice, which is used throughout the novel. Jane Austen often uses irony to mock the attitudes of society. Jane Austen either uses Elizabeth or detached narration to ridicule certain satirical characters or customs. Satire is a form of humour used in the novel that is established through the use of caricature, imitation and exaggeration. Irony is saying the opposite of what is intended and is used more seriously in the novel.
As mentioned before, the first sentence of the novel follows the theme of first impressions but it is also ironic. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” It attacks materialistic attitudes of society and women who want to acquire a man and who know his needs better than he does.
Mrs Bennet is also one of the main satirised characters in the novel and the end of chapter 5 clearly displays her child-like, “narrow-minded” behaviour. “She continued to declare that she would and the argument ended only with the visit.” Here she continually fights with the ten year-old Lucas until they leave, which clearly shows that she is not of superior mind or witty style like her daughters.
Her husband Mr Bennet, throughout the chapters, can be identified as a satirical figure who especially makes fun of Mrs Bennet and her “poor nerves”. He was an “odd mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour and caprice…” ,the detached narrative that Austen uses ridicules characters like Mrs. Bennet but also describe satirical characters like Mr. Bennet in more detail.
The use of hyperbole in chapter 7 is an example of dramatic irony. “We shall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives.” This is very dramatic as someone will not hate you if you do not go and visit them.
In chapter 8, the Bingley sisters’ false friendship with Jane is evident. “They indulged their mirth for some time at the expense of their dear friend’s vulgar relations.” It almost juxtaposes goodness with evil. However it is ironic, since they make fun of Jane’s relations, yet they call her their dear friend.
Satire and irony are also very obvious is chapter 11. Miss Bingley tries to drive apart Darcy and Lizzy. “Miss Bingley succeeded no less in the real object of her civility.” She tries to drive Darcy and Lizzy but actually she brings them closer together- when Lizzy starts walking around Darcy notices her.
Elizabeth also makes fun of Darcy in chapter 12, “I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect…” This is an example of verbal irony otherwise known as sarcasm. No-one is perfect, especially Darcy who is proud.
The passage us also ironic in another way, “I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good.” Here Lizzy states that she does not make fun of good people but she does want to find a laugh in something and Darcy agrees with her. This is very ironic as he’ll turn out to be wise and good at the end of the novel.
Most of Jane Austen’s novels were satirical about social class and attitudes during the Regency Period. Pride and Prejudice uses this as an underlying theme throughout the first 13 chapters. Without this, the plot could not have developed and the story would have no meaning as it would affect the way in which the characters interacted.
This is evidently clear in chapter 1, when Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet are talking about visiting Mr. Bingley. “Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit him if you don’t.” during the Regency period, women were not allowed to visit other households if the man of the family had not left their calling card first and the offer had been returned. Here this is what Mrs. Bennet is referring to. Since Mr. Bennet is the only male in the family, Mrs. Bennet couldn’t start her “match-making” affairs, without Mr. Bennet visiting Mr. Bingley first.
In chapter 5 we are introduced to the pretensions of social rank. “Sir William had risen to the honour of knighthood but the distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly.” Sir William moves his whole family to a large country house because he felt too disgusted by his trading business and his residence in a small market town.
Mrs. Bennet schemes to pair Jane and Mr. Bingley in chapter 7. “You had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night”. Mrs. Bennet’s cunning plot to have Jane stay overnight with the Bingleys has to be planned in a socially acceptable way. It would be very rude and the height of bad manners if you invited yourself into someone else’s house. Since the Bingleys were the wealthiest of all the households in Meryton, it would not be the best impression towards people of higher class.
However, the first social duty of high middle class or lower high class women was to be an inviting and a welcoming hostess. In chapter 7, “Miss Bingley was obliged to convert the offer of a chaise to an invitation to remain at Netherfield for the present”, to Lizzy when Jane was ill. However, Miss Bingley isn’t keen on Elizabeth staying as she is of lower class: “a most country-town indifference to decorum”. However they prefer Jane because she fits in with social conventions more than Elizabeth does.
In chapter 9, Mrs Bennet makes a fool of herself. “…Elizabeth blushing for her mother”. In this society, it’s worse than being rude. When talking to Bingley and Darcy, Elizabeth becomes embarrassed that Mrs. Bennet starts making a fool of herself in front of gentlemen.
As mentioned before, it was not polite to invite yourself into another household without their invitation. In chapter 13, this is what Mr. Bennet teases his wife about. “The person whom I speak of is a gentleman and a stranger.” It is very rude for a complete stranger to call in for dinner. Here Jane Austen makes fun of the social rules about visiting people.
Marriage was of paramount significance in society for women, and it was the only way to stay in the same social class or to work your way up the ranks. In Pride and Prejudice, it is unambiguous that Mrs. Bennet wants her daughters to have a good social standing and tries everything to find eligible suitors in Meryton.
Mrs. Bennet evidently wants to get her daughters married off as this was the custom of eligible young women. “I was sure you loved your girls too well to neglect such an acquaintance.” However Mrs. Bennet knows, that since she would not inherit the property and that a mere £2000 would not support her daughters (after their father’s death), if they were not married. Here we see that Mrs. Bennet has her eyes on Mr. Bingley, as he was of £4000, and one of the richest in the village.
The Bennet family here make marriage seem as though it was a war campaign. “They attacked him in various ways”. The use of the word “attacked” in this passage, makes the reader realise that marriage was a war between women and the prize was a wealthy young handsome bachelor, in this case- Mr. Bingley.
Marriage between two people was only approved by society if they were between people of equal or similar class. In chapter 6, Charlotte and Lizzy talk about love and marriage. Here Charlotte tells Lizzy that “happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance…” and that “it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life”. This between people of middle or lower class would not be uncommon as the family might not have enough money to support daughters so they had to get them married. It implies to the reader that Charlotte feels as though this might be her situation – a foreshadowing moment. It also links to one of the most important lines in the novel: “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a great fortune, must be in want of a wife.” As previously mentioned, this sentence sends out the message that women are the ones looking for an eligible bachelor, no matter if it brings them happiness or not.
In chapter 11, we can clearly see there is an underlying jealousy between certain women – Miss Bingley and Lizzy. “Miss Bingley immediately fixed her eyes on his face, and desired he would tell her what lady had the credit of inspiring such reflections.” Although Lizzy might not be jealous, Miss Bingley wants Darcy all too herself, yet Darcy is more fascinated in Lizzy. This is a very interesting love triangle.
Mr. Collins, we find out did not come to Longbourn just to see the estate but to also choose a bride. “I come prepared to admire them. At present I will not say more; but, perhaps, when we are better acquainted…”. Mr. Collins hints that he may be willing to marry one of the daughters. However he sees marriage as a one-sided business where the man does the choosing. This leads onto the next point.
Women in polite society were expected to be accomplished in nearly everything they did. However the richer you were the more accomplished you had to be. Eligible young bachelors wanted wives who could be a good hostess and have the best manners.
Women, because of the patriarchal society at that time, did not and were not allowed to choose their husbands if they were not wealthy enough or their parents had already decided to arrange a marriage beforehand. This, in our time would be seen as discriminative as everyone gets a right to a say. However, ladies during the time period would just have to accept that it was a man’s world. In Pride and Prejudice though, Jane Austen tries to change this and make fun of society and its brutal ways.
In chapter 8, Miss Bingley states what an accomplished woman would do and what qualities she would have. “A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages… she must possess something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions.” Her speech makes it clear that these are the qualities most prized in a woman in civil society – her looks, her manners and her talents.
Jane Austen, in this novel, emphasises the difficulties of entailment, especially on women. Though Jane is the eldest child in a fairly well-off family, her status as a woman precludes her from enjoying the success her father has experienced. When her father dies, the estate will turn over to Mr. Collins, the oldest male relative. The mention of entailment stresses not just the value society places on making a good marriage but also the way that the structures of society make a good marriage a requirement for a wealthy life. Austen thus scrutinizes the plight of women. Through both law and prescribed gender roles, Austen’s society leaves women few options for the improvement of their situations.
‘Pride and Prejudice’ has many underlying and overlapping themes in the novel. Many motifs are also used to develop the themes such as journeys and courtship (to emphasise change and marriages). Jane Austen, herself knows what a patriarchal society is like and tries to embody that in the book. She makes fun of society in an ironic and satirical way, to reveal what a brutal society is like. But her book could also be called a moral fable for the ways in which it explores moral issues and how the character deals with them.
It definitely satirises the aspirations of the middle class as well as the pretensions. People like the Bingley’s try to act like aristocrats but they know that because of their father’s job, they can never actually become aristocrats. This type of wealth is called the “nouveau rich”, whereas Darcy, whose wealth has been acquired through the family line, is known as the “old rich”. Another example of pretentious behaviour is when Sir William is talking to Darcy about the village and the ball. “There is nothing like dancing after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies.” Sir William, even though with a title, is part of the gentry. Mr. Darcy becomes satirical and proud with his reply: “In the less polished societies of the world, every savage can dance.” Mr. Darcy immediately highlights the pretensions, because he knows that this small ball is nothing compared to the ones in the palaces.
I believe that ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is the most appropriate title that can be given to book in the first 13 chapters. Jane Austen, by changing the title from First Impressions adds more depth to the characters and their assertiveness. Like her previous novel, Sense and Sensibility, it became a renowned novel in society because of the noun-and-noun phrasing of the title. The title of ‘First Impressions’ focuses more on the character’s manners, behaviour and their outward appearances. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is different. Now, the character’s opinion doesn’t make the reader seem biased towards certain characters. It is at this point that the reader decides who to believe and what each character is embodying. This title opens each character up, letting the reader see how the character thinks and how they judge others. This is mainly done through dialogue, like in the first chapter where Mr. and Mrs. Bennet talk. This automatically makes Jane Austen the omniscient narrator (3rd person), making her trustworthy and direct. She especially uses free indirect discourse to reveal certain aspects of a character such as Mrs Bennet who was “narrow-minded”.
You can say that the themes of pride and prejudice, which can be seen in all characters, are inter-linked and thus are the main themes in the book. The similar themes of women, gender roles, marriage and social class are easy to include for Jane Austen, as she was a woman in a patriarchal world and where marriage was of utmost importance for social standing. However satire and irony also play a main role. Without this fundamental comic theme, Jane Austen cannot reveal the pretence of society and therefore the opus would become a didactic moral fable.
Jane Austen explores the relationships between male-and-male, female-and-male, female-and-female and most importantly, how these relationships affect the society. Focusing on the main themes we can see that Darcy’s pride leads to prejudice and Elizabeth’s prejudice stems from her own pride. Overall the book, in the first 13 chapters is satirical- Jane Austen mainly mocks society and exposes the hypocrisy, folly and stupidity of a patriarchal society, people and gender roles.
The traits of pride and prejudice do not dominate merely the main figures and the implication of the title ‘Pride and Prejudice’ works out perfectly through minor characters as well. Pride in some characters takes the form of pompous and comic self- importance, especially seen in Mr. Collins. Social prejudice finds embodiment in Bingley’s sisters and renders them quite despicable. Thus we see that the appropriateness of the title of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is indeed unquestionable and bears immense significance to the plot, circumscribed apprehensions and characterizations.