Pride And Prejudice
Overcoming Pride and Prejudice through Maturity and Self- Understanding
Jane Austen, born in Steventon, England, in 1775, began to write the original manuscript of Pride and Prejudice, entitled First Impressions, which was completed by 1797, but was rejected for publication. The work was rewritten around 1812 and published in 1813 as Pride and Prejudice. During Austen’s career, Romanticism reached its zenith of acceptance and influence, while Pride and Prejudice displays little evidence on the Romantic movement, it also reveals no awareness of the international upheavals and consequent turmoil in England that took place during Austen’s lifetime. The society of Jane Austen’s era is a stratified one, in which class divisions are rooted in family connections and wealth. Austen is often critical of the assumptions and prejudices of upper- class England and her novels distinguish between internal merit and rank or possessions.
The central concern of this “comedy of manners” is Mrs. Bennet’s dogged efforts to find suitable husbands for her daughters. The amiable Jane and the gentle Bingley are almost drawn to each other. In contrast, the arrogant, insolent, conceited Mr. Darcy and the spontaneous, high- spirited, vivacious Elizabeth have several encounters of a battle of wits throughout the novel. Austen studies social relationships in the limited society of a country neighborhood and investigates them in detail with an often ironic and humorous eye. The significance of the title helps determine the actions of the two main characters and thereby the course of the plot. “Pride” is an unrealistic exaggeration of one’s importance. Prejudice prevents people from judging others according to their real merits. Both pride and prejudice are moral distortions and prevent the individual from seeing things as they really are. Marked by an elegant structure, and sharp satire, Pride and Prejudice encompasses the primary theme that maturity is achieved through the loss of illusion, particularly pertaining to the relationships between the witty yet prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet and the cultured yet prideful Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Throughout the novel, Austen satirizes the manners of all classes, exposing people who have excessive pride as rude and often foolish, regardless of wealth or station. While the terms of pride and prejudice pertain particularly to Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, there are other characters as well that portray these traits as well. Austen uses Mr. Collins as an extreme example of how excessive pride can affect one’s manner. In Mr. Collin’s case, he prides himself on his sense of respectability, his profession, and his association with Lady Catherine. As a result he behaves in a ridiculous fashion, going as so far as to break one of society’s rules an introduce himself to Darcy rather than waiting for Darcy to acknowledge their connection. The sycophant, and pompous clergy man prepares for his weeding proposal, “set about it in a very orderly manner, with all the observations which he supposed a regular part of the business,” to Elizabeth with no feelings involved in his offer other than self- pride and condescension.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh is also a symbol of excessive pride. This can be expressed as the time when she invites Elizabeth to practice piano in Mrs. Jenkinson’s room at any time, since she “would be in nobody’s way in that part of the house.” Also early in the book, pride is defined through Mary Bennet, as the opinion one has of himself and distinguishes it from vanity, which is ” what we would have others to think of us.” Although several of the characters, including Elizabeth, display some measurement of destructive pride, it is Darcy who is the full embodiment of a proud arrogant man.
Mr. Darcy “… drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features… Till his manners gave a disgust which turned his tide of popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company; and above being pleased.” Although wealthy and of noble learning, his pride- awareness of his own superiority to the company at the ball- and his willingness to reveal his contempt lead all to agree that he is unbearably proud and disagreeable. When he asks Elizabeth to dance she declines, leaving him to believe that if it were not for the “inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.” But on the other hand, Darcy’s proud nature can be accepted amongst Charlotte, Elizabeth’s good friend, that states, “His pride doe not affect me so much because there is an excuse for it.
One cannot wonder that so very a fine young man, with family, fortune, should think highly of himself.” Charlotte’s assessment of Darcy’s pride represents a perspective on wealth and privilege that was common in nineteenth- century Britain. Although he is attracted to Elizabeth, he is condescending towards her because of her inferior social level and her crass family. He is drawn to Elizabeth’s “light and pleasing” figure and the “easy playfulness” of her manners. This is why Darcy’s feelings for Elizabeth have reached the point of his outburst. “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you[Elizabeth] how ardently I admire and love you.” At this point, Darcy has proven his willingness to sacrifice a little pride for Elizabeth’s happiness, essentially in the dealings with Mr. Wickham. But it is not until Elizabeth’s understanding of Darcy’s true nature when they can final fall in love.
Elizabeth’s striking eyes and flashing wit denotes a personality every bit the match for Darcy. Elizabeth’s prejudices stem from her first impressions of the men of the novel. Whereas she was initially repulsed by Darcy’s arrogant and reserved manners and his insulting refusal to dance with her, she is attracted to Wickham’s “happy readiness of conversation- a readiness at the same time perfectly correct and unassuming.” Consequently, her prejudice is so strong against Darcy and for Wickham that she will accept at face value everything that Wickham says. As Wickham talks about Darcy’s pride, Elizabeth fails to note that her own pride is blinding her to a basic incongruity. This is why Mrs. Gardiner warns Elizabeth against encouraging Wickham, stating “You have sense, and we all expect you to use it.” Later, Elizabeth finally experiences a great self- revelation about her prejudices, and Darcy receives a similar blow to his own perceptions of the world.
Darcy tells Elizabeth that she would not be so adamant “had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession,” this ironic reversal of having Darcy accusing Elizabeth of pride and Elizabeth accusing him of prejudice, emphasizes that both of them have been guilty of both pride and prejudice. Elizabeth’s first realization is that she has been “blind, partial, prejudicial, and absurd,” as well as admitting, “Till this moment I never knew myself.” They both then undergo a process of self- discovery before they can fully understand each other. In the end, Austen concludes as implied message that happiness originates not from the love of security(Charlotte), passion(Lydia), or perfect harmony(Jane), but rather from an honest recognition and love of the whole person, strengths and weaknesses.
Pride and Prejudice represents the conditions and process of prudent action in choosing a mate, within the context of the code of civilized behavior in society. The characters who remain ignorant are united by their failure ever to come into a self- awareness. Their views of reality are distorted because they are unable to face up to themselves. The story of Elizabeth and Darcy is a romantic comedy that has a moral and spiritual significance beyond the “comic” narrative interest of simple love story. The interest in Pride and Prejudice, thus, goes beyond the exposure and satire of human limitations as revealed in social behavior. After a century and a half, readers return to the novel because it increases their knowledge of the conditions necessary for retaining one’s moral balance, amid the temptation of pride and prejudice and greed, of self- will and self- love.