Jane Austen authored the title Pride and Prejudice in 1797 for ten months. However, the novel was published in 1813. To help in her writing, Jane Austen used personal experiences of the happenings during that era as the story describes the middle-class life in England. Jane Austen hails from a family of eight, where she was the seventh child. She maintained a good relationship with all her siblings and her parents. To a greater extent, Jane Austen’s relationships with her parents and her siblings helped develop her novels as they all contributed to the repeating theme of love and social classes. In particular, her father supported and motivated all her siblings to get education. However, for Jane Austen, her motivation to develop the title Pride and Prejudice came mainly from her brother and her need to earn extra money. During the 1800s, Jane Austen’s life had drifted away from writing as numerous of her family members had gotten ill, and some had died. The situation forced her to move closer to her family, and in this manner, her passion for writing was reignited. As a result, Jane Austen’s history of a child growing up being surrounded by a supportive family during the late 18th century aided in shaping her writing style and interpretation of the world around her.
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The predominant theme of marriage played a critical role in society. However, Jane Austen mocks this idea throughout the period of Pride and Prejudice where each character in the book presents their take on the subject of marriage through their own experiences as demonstrated from earlier on in the book where “The irony of the novel’s opening sentence lies in its assurance in simplification and generalization… the opening hyperbole, for example, contains an element of eccentric delight in human exaggeration” (Austen 105). The effect of the statement exposes both the values and perspectives of the character as “Mortification, in Jane Austen’s language, no longer has a religious force… it can still carry a moral, renovative force” (Austen 69). In addition, the use of irony has been significantly used to help the various personas in the novel “…the irony which operates at three levels, Mrs. Bennet’s interpretation of other people’s remarks and the new situation created by the presence of an eligible young man, Mr. Bennet’s responses to his wife, and the ironic perspective established by the narrator…” (Odmark 96).
Jane Austen uses marriage as both a central theme of the book and a symbol of the era. For instance, the values that are held by Darcy are revealed due to his outlook on marriage, which furthers his character. “In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen makes the basic assumption that a person’s outward manners mirror his moral character” (Nardin 7). The theme of marriage is established via the symbolic use of letter writing clarified as “The true art of letter writing is not simply a communicative technique. It is also a complex experience of feeling and insights, through which an individual’s perception and human relationships are defined” (Austen 134). As a consequence, marriage symbolizes and supports the primary theme of the novel that love and good intentions are the central premises of a successful marriage.
As the novel develops, the readers understand more of Austen’s symbolic pieces by witnessing numerous battles between characters due to different values and views. The most important thing to the majority of the characters during this era is marriage and what that image constitutes “The one problem in the mind of the writer… is marriageableness. All that interests in any character introduced is still this one, has he or she money to marry with, and conditions conforming?” (Austen 33). This drives wedges between the main characters as it unveils their personalities, as seen during the scene of Darcy and Elizabeth at the first ball where he “then withdraws his own and coldly refuses to dance with her because she is not handsome enough to tempt ‘me’: Elizabeth could easily forgive his pride, ‘if he had not mortified mine.’” (Austen 70). This goes to show how conflicts develop through the novel by permitting symbolic gestures to have “the dramatic function of the letter hinges on the emotional interaction of writer and reader.” (Brown 131).
The disagreements held between each individual help reveal their true characters while tying in the central theme of staying true to oneself. With Austen’s character Elizabeth, there is a self-versus society conflict present, as she must weigh the worth of her personal values and what society expects of her “This is particularly evident in her thoughts about marriage, which are characterized by a concern with establishing a proper relationship between the demands of personal feeling and the need for financial security” (Monaghan 60). On a broader scale, Austen incorporates conflict amongst the characters to unveil the follies of that era. “Pride and Prejudice make it clear in small ways and in large that the responsibility of choice cannot be evaded” (Barfoot 53).
As each character is unique, there are times when their personalities disagree with others, leading to personal and external conflicts. Jane Austen’s incorporation of clashing personas propels the plot by creating characters that seem desirable on the surface, but are antagonistic on the inside “George Wickham is at once the most plausible and the most villainous of Jane Austen’s anti-heros: he is handsome, persuasive, personable, disingenuous, calculating…” (Austen 81). Austen also uses this as a flaw in Elizabeth’s character, revealing how “She all too readily believes the militia lieutenant’s defamation of Darcy’s character… in the second place, Miss Bingley plainly warns Elizabeth about Wickham… but Elizabeth does not believe either of them” (Austen 82). This characteristic of arrogance is demonstrated as the Bennets seem to know what is in their best interest and can be viewed as satirical to society during this time “Elizabeth has always been confident in knowing the truth, immediately and exactly” (Austen 71).
As each individual presents a different view of their society and values, there are numerous themes seen throughout the novel, such as the belief that marriage should be done out of love and that one should hold on to their beliefs. The novel is an ironic gesture towards the value of marriage at that time, as they were solely viewed as a chance to improve social rank as the majority of the couples in the book were lacking affection. “There is no personal attraction in any of these relationships, by the marriages are desired out of personal ambition or to enhance the wealth and status of the families” (Austen 34). Through the use of the third person, the reader is able to understand multiple perspectives on the topic “She sees that no overall view is possible to the single vision, but that an approximation to such a view is possible provided the individual is both retrospective and circumspect” (Odmark 49) and appreciate both values presented: marrying for love or marrying for security “By having each of the protagonists come to appreciate and to be motivated by the other’s point of view while maintaining a concern for his own, Austen seeks to do the fullest justice to both sets of values” (Nardin 36). Austen also uses her personal experience and values to draw on the topic of the novel (Brown 130).
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The scenes held in Pemberly helped create an appreciative and flirtatious atmosphere. While in the Pemberly gardens, Elizabeth realizes the beauties of the surrounding area and notes its extravagance “First, she invokes the spacious beauties of Pemberly, both the internal and external…” (Odmark 122) and then “When Elizabeth has had her fill with all of these domestic and pastoral beauties, ‘they walked across the lawn towards the river…’” (Austen 125).
The gardens at Pemberly also represented the social structure that was in place in England during the late 1700s. Simply being in the surrounding area of the gardens elevated the characters’ personalities “His behavior at Pemberly to her socially inferior merchant relative, the Gardiners… was ‘more than civil, it was really attentive, and there was no necessity for such attention’ according to the ordinary rules of propriety” (Nardin 19). The significance of the gardens was also seen as playing a part in going against traditional gender roles held during the present time. “The garden symbolized the utmost theoretical extension of a young unmarried woman’s province, where she could be alone outdoors with no loss of safety or propriety…” (Austen 119). These chapters of the book help reveal Austen’s intentions and values in this era “The Pemberly scenes, which have transfixed generations of critics, accomplish Austen’s aesthetic and ethical miracles, even though they previously skirt stereotypes, and they do so triumphantly” (Austen 122). The Pemberly gardens also tie into the symbolic theme of the novel as they expose the beauty and luxuriousness of the upper class, but also have a negative stigma placed with them. “It is true, as many critics have observed, that Pride and Prejudice evokes a vision of society as governed by the values of the marketplace. Human relations, and especially the marriage relation, are threatened by an excessive emphasis upon money and status” (Monaghan 35).
The ironic tone incorporated throughout Pride and Prejudice symbolically demonstrates Austen’s personal view of the institute of marriage during that time through her characters. This can be viewed as Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth, and then to Charlotte, is done out of a desire for financial security rather than out of love “In a more comic vein, but with his usual deadening air of self-congratulation that is here especially chilling, Mr. Collins announces that he and Charlotte ‘seem to be designed for each other” (Barfoot 59). Irony is also used when discussing Darcy’s ungentlemanlike character, which has an impactful effect on Darcy as “he has always prided himself on being well-bred” (Monaghan 40).
Irony embedded throughout Pride and Prejudice helps form each unique character by shaping their personalities and distinct traits, which in turn creates a playful atmosphere. Austen lightheartedly makes fun of society as quickly as the opening line of the book, where “The opening claim of Pride and Prejudice is either an instance of unalloyed irony or comic hyperbole. Read ironically, and it means a great deal more than it says; read comically, it means a great deal less” (Brown 103). One of the most satirical characters is Mr. Bennet, which contributes to the novel by ridiculing others “Mr. Bennet, the father of Elizabeth, presents us with some novelty of character; a reserved, acute, and satirical, but indolent personage, who sees and laughs at the follies and indiscretions of his dependents, without making any exertions to correct them” (Austen 30).
The main characters in the book bring different points of view, which allow the novel to be enriched with numerous lessons, and the audience gets to witness their true personalities unfold. Austen withholds Darcy’s true character from Elizabeth by restricting her from seeing his point of view until the revelation of his letter, which then allows her to understand his actions (Brown 129). “Elizabeth chose to view Darcy’s remark as an act of rudeness, and until the revelation of his true character in the middle of the novel, she continues to interpret his least offensive behavior as incivility” (Nardin 14).
Pride and Prejudice is a romantic novel. It rejects logic and focuses on the importance of emotion and feelings “…Part of the underlying philosophy of Pride and Prejudice is a belief in the intimate bond between intelligence and morality, articulated so well in [critic] Richard Simpson’s term ‘intelligent love’ or [novelist Henry] James’s ‘emotional intelligence’” (Brown 107). Pride and Prejudice is her most successful piece. The novel sold over 20 million copies worldwide in the past 200 years. It was well-received by the public as soon as it was released, so much so that Austen stepped forward and took credit for the previously anonymous work. It spread across England and then eventually became frequently conversed about in that region. “Pride and Prejudice was an immediate success, soon a popular topic of dinner-table conversation and the object of critics’ praise” (Austen 28).
Her choice of narration and personal values elevate this book beyond her others. Her narrative voice allows her to draw on her personal beliefs and adds a constant throughout the novel “In Austen, the ‘story’ is made meaningful by narrative intrusion; and ‘description’ or reflection is made meaningful by the story. Jane Austen’s narrative voice establishes stability in a world of fluctuating opinions and exaggerations…” (Brown 106). She also accepts the other “evasions and irrationalities of direct dialogue and the cool, clear cadence of the reason of the objective narrative” (Brown 106), showing her acknowledgment of the counterargument that she is presenting.
The execution of her book was similar to her others but unique to her time. She drew from her experiences “Determined to write only about what she knew, she observed behavior with a perceptive eye and portrayed human traits realistically” (Austen 12) to highlight the current society in England “Perhaps Austen used sarcasm as a defense and poked fun, so she did not despair over the evil and foolishness she saw in society… that imposed strict expectations and limitations on women” (Austen 23).
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Modern Library, 1995.
Monaghan, David. Pride and Prejudice: Structure and Social Vision. Modern Critical Interpretations of: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. Print.
Barfoot, C.C. Fate and Choice in Pride and Prejudice. Readings on: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Print.
Brown, Lloyd. Letters in Pride and Prejudice. Readings on: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Print.
Nardin, Jane. Propriety as a Test of Character: Pride and Prejudice. Modern Critical Interpretations of: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. Print.
Odmark, John. The Relationship Between Author and Reader. Readings on: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Print.