“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” . So begins Jane Austen’s arguably most enduringly successful novel—one that has been translated into at least 35 languages. At the heart of the novel lies irony—what appears to be so may indeed not be so. These words at the start of the novel are those of the author, who is a subtle commentator throughout the story. But they express precisely the sentiments of the anxious and fussy Mrs. Bennet, hardly noted in the rest of the novel for her wisdom or diplomacy. Her self-appointed task in life is to make sure that each of her five daughters secures a suitable that is, a financially sound, preferably very rich husband. Her observations reflect the key concern of Pride and Prejudice: the crucial importance of money and property in influencing human activity and relationships. The 20th-century British poet, playwright, and critic, Wystan Hugh Auden (1907–1973) summed up the qualities, pithily and brilliantly encapsulated in Mrs. Bennet’s opening words at the start of Pride and Prejudice. In his “Letter to Lord Byron” (1936), he wrote of Jane Austen:
You could not shock her more than she shocks me;
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle class
Describe the amorous effects of ‘brass’,
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society
Mrs. Bennet hears that Netherfield, a nearby country estate, has been rented by the young, wealthy, and single Mr. Bingley. She directs her husband to visit Bingley immediately to prepare for future relationships. The Bennets have five daughters, and Mrs. Bennet is anxious to find husbands for them. After some teasing, Mr. Bennet makes the visit and Bingley reciprocates, although the Bennet girls are out when he calls. He meets them at the next Meryton Ball—Meryton being the nearest large town—and is immediately attracted to Jane, the oldest and most attractive daughter.
Bingley is accompanied by his sisters Caroline and Mrs. Hurst, and her husband, Mr. Hurst. With them is the noble-looking, handsome, and exceedingly wealthy Darcy. He does not have Bingley’s charm and is quickly judged “the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world” (11). He refuses to dance with anybody but Bingley’s sisters and makes an enemy of Mrs. Bennet by making a disparaging remark about Elizabeth, the second daughter. Elizabeth also hears the remark, but she is highspirited and confident, and the comment does not endear Darcy to her. Bingley continues to court Jane, and Darcy and Elizabeth are frequently in each other’s company. Darcy revises his opinion of her and admires her wit, intelligence, and “fine eyes” (36). Sir William Lucas, a neighbor of the Bennets, throws a party that Darcy attends. Charlotte, Sir William’s daughter, is a very close friend of Elizabeth who seems unaware of Darcy’s interest in her. Caroline Bingley, who has designs on Darcy, becomes aware that Elizabeth is a rival and plays on Darcy’s snobbery, reminding him of Mrs. Bennet’s vulgarity.
The Bingley sisters invite Jane to spend an evening with them at Netherfield. Mrs. Bennet withholds the use of the family carriage, insisting that Jane go on horseback; she hopes that the possibility of rain will get an invitation for Jane to stay overnight. It rains sooner than anticipated, Jane catches a severe cold, and she is forced to spend some time at the Bingleys’. Elizabeth tramps three miles through muddy fields to visit her. The Bingley sisters consider such behavior inappropriate for a lady; Darcy silently admires the complexion the walk brings to Elizabeth’s appearance. Elizabeth is invited to stay at Netherfield to nurse Jane. This brings Darcy and Elizabeth closer together, but the surprise visit of Mrs. Bennet and her irresponsible daughters, Lydia and Kitty, serves as a reminder to Darcy of the social barriers between him and the Bennets, and he begins to distance himself from Elizabeth.
As the Bennets have daughters, the estate will be inherited by Mr. Bennet’s nephew, the Reverend William Collins. He visits their home at Longbourn apparently to heal the family rift but really to find a suitable wife from among the Bennet daughters. Collins is obsequious to his patron, the wealthy Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings in Kent, who has advised him to marry. Foolish, full of self-importance, and tactless, he is the object of ridicule among the Bennets. Mrs. Bennet, however, sees him as a suitable prospect for one of her daughters. Thinking that Jane is spoken for, she directs his attention to Elizabeth.
Kitty and Lydia, the younger Bennet daughters, frequently visit Meryton, where the militia are stationed, and they use their Meryton aunt, Mrs. Phillips, as an excuse for their visits. Accompanied by Jane, Elizabeth, and Collins, they walk from Longbourn to Meryton to hear the latest gossip and meet an officer they know, a Mr. Denny, who is accompanied by the charming and handsome Mr. Wickham, newly arrived from London to take up a commission in Denny’s regiment. Bingley and Darcy appear on horseback and come over to greet Jane and Elizabeth. As soon as Darcy and Wickham see each other, there is an evident awkwardness and Elizabeth realizes that they know each other. At a dinner party the following evening, Wickham and Elizabeth are mutually attracted and she asks him about Darcy. According to Wickham, Darcy destroyed his career by denying him a living in the church, reserved by Darcy’s father. Apparently Darcy’s motivation was pride and jealousy. Further, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s aunt and she have planned for a long time to unite their estates by arranging a marriage between Darcy and her daughter. Wickham’s descripton of Darcy’s character accords with Elizabeth’s own first impressions; she believes Wickham’s version of events and grows even more hostile to Darcy.
Bingley hosts a ball at Netherfield and Elizabeth looks forward to dancing with Wickham. Collins, to her surprise, tells her he will be at the ball, engages her for the first two dances, and clearly has designs on her. Wickham, to Elizabeth’s disappointment, does not appear, and she believes that Darcy is the reason for his not coming. The behavior of Mrs. Bennet and Mary, who sings too much, confirms Darcy in his perceptions that a marriage with one of the Bennet daughters would be inappropriate. He resolves to take Bingley away from the area in spite of his love for Jane. Following the ball, Jane is distressed to receive a letter from Caroline Bingley saying that the Netherfield party has left for London and does not intend to return again until winter. Caroline mentions that there are hopes that Bingley will marry Georgiana, Darcy’s sister. Elizabeth believes that to be wishful thinking on Miss Bingley’s part.
On the day following the ball, Collins proposes to Elizabeth and cannot accept her refusal, so that she has to leave the room. Mrs. Bennet insists that Mr. Bennet pressure Elizabeth to accept Collins, but Mr. Bennet takes Elizabeth’s side. Mr. Collins’s pride is restored by the appearance of Charlotte Lucas, who pays attention to him and is encouraging him. Charlotte openly admits to Elizabeth “I ask only a comfortable home” (125), and that her motives are mercenary. Mrs. Bennet is mortified. Her neighbors will have married off a daughter before she does. Their daughter one day will be mistress of Longbourn.
Jane receives another letter form Caroline Bingley telling her that her brother will remain in London for the winter and is seeing Georgina Darcy a good deal. Jane concludes that she is mistaken in supposing that Bingley loved her. Elizabeth tells her that Caroline wishes her to react that way. Jane is stoical and refuses to think ill of the Bingleys. Mrs. Bennet begins to think that her daughters will never marry. Wickham’s presence and his relationship with Elizabeth is the sole ray of light in a depressed atmosphere. His apparent bad treatment by Mr. Darcy is widely known. Only Jane Bennet reserves judgment.
Christmas arrives and Mrs. Bennet’s brother, the successful London tradesman Mr. Gardiner, and his wife stay at Longbourn for the holiday period. Mrs. Gardiner is close to Jane and Elizabeth, and she cautions Elizabeth to be careful regarding Wickham. They invite Jane to London in the hope that she may see something of the Bingleys, who will be in a more fashionable area of London than they are. Charlotte marries Collins and leaves for Kent after getting a promise from Elizabeth that she will visit her in March at Hunsford Parsonage. In London, Jane does not see Bingley and is twice snubbed by Caroline Bingley. Jane also gathers that Bingley will probably give up Netherfield for good.
It is now Elizabeth’s turn to be disillusioned. Wickham has transferred his attentions to Miss King, a very wealthy young woman. Elizabeth remains in no doubt about Darcy but cannot blame Wickham too much, as he has acted in a similar fashion as her friend Charlotte. Elizabeth realizes that her feelings for Wickham were not too strong. Wickham’s pursuit of the rich Miss King is unsuccessful.
Elizabeth spends a night with Jane and the Gardiners in London on her way to visit Charlotte. The Gardiners invite her on their summer tour during which they hope to travel as far north as the Lake District. At Hunsford, Elizabeth is warmly welcomed by Charlotte and surprised to see how well she has adjusted to her new surroundings. Hunsford is on the edge of Rosings Park, and about one and a half miles from Rosings House, home of Collins’s haughty patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. On the third day of her visit, Elizabeth, accompanied by the Lucases, visits Rosings House. Elizabeth is the only one not to be in awe of rank, money, and snobbery. Lady Catherine dominates the conversation and her sickly daughter, Miss de Bourgh, remains pale, oppressed, and silent.
Darcy and his cousin Fitzwilliam arrive to stay with Lady Catherine. In each other’s company, Darcy and Elizabeth renew their verbal fencing, Elizabeth sees that he is not the least interested in Miss de Bourgh and is increasingly attracted by herself. She develops a friendship with Colonel Fitzwilliam, who inadvertently reveals that Darcy is responsible for separating Jane and Bingley, having just rescued a close friend from an inappropriate marriage. Later that day, Elizabeth is alone at the parsonage, brooding over Jane, and is surprised by Darcy. Agitated, he blurts out his love for her and wish to marry her in spite of her family status and “sense of her inferiority” (189). Elizabeth becomes angry, rejects Darcy, and gives as her reasons his treatment of Jane, interference in Bingley’s affairs, ill-treatment of Wickham, and his high opinion of himself.
The following day Elizabeth receives a letter from Darcy. He explains that he did not perceive Jane to be as deeply in love with Bingley as he was with her, and that her family’s lack of propriety, apart from Jane and Elizabeth, created problems. Darcy admits that he may well be in error regarding the depth of Jane’s feelings for Bingley. He then explains at length that George Wickham is the son of a former trusted steward of the Darcy estate Pemberley in Derbyshire. In gratitude for his father’s help, Darcy’s father educated Wickham, settled a church living on the estate for him as Wickham intended to enter the church, and left him a legacy. Wickham turned out, however, to be unscrupulous and wasted the money. He had no intention of going into the church and asked Darcy for assistance which he refused. Further, Wickham had attempted to elope with Darcy’s 15-year-old sister, Georgina, but had been forestalled.
Initially, Elizabeth has doubts about Darcy’s explanation, but after reflection she becomes convinced of its truthfulness. She also begins to revise her own perceptions of him and feels that she may have been unnecessarily prejudiced. Her feelings toward Darcy are confused. The month of May has come, and Jane and Elizabeth return to Longbourn. Elizabeth tells Jane about Darcy’s proposal and Wickham, whose regiment is shortly leaving Meryton for Brighton. They decide, in retrospect unwisely, not to expose further Wickham’s character.
Lydia is invited to Brighton by Mrs. Forster, who has recently married the commander of Wickham’s militia regiment, Colonel Forster. Elizabeth tries to persuade her father that Lydia is too young and irresponsible to go to Brighton. Her father overrules her: “We shall have no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not go” (232). Elizabeth’s summer tour with the Gardiners has to be curtailed, owing to Mr. Gardiner’s business affairs. They will be able to travel as far north as Derbyshire and find themselves near Pemberley. It is mid-July and Elizabeth agrees to a visit to the house and grounds after finding out that Darcy is not in residence.
Elizabeth and the Gardiners tour Pemberley and are shown around the house by Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, who has known Darcy since birth and reveals his generosity, responsibility, and warmheartedness. Seeing Darcy’s portrait in the picture gallery, Elizabeth feels even more drawn to him. Darcy arrives home unexpectedly, is very courteous to Elizabeth and the Gardiners, invites Mr. Gardiner to go fishing in the lake, then brings his sister and Bingley to visit them at their lodgings in the local inn. Elizabeth finds Georgina to be unassuming and pleasant, with no especial attachment to Bingley, who asks after Jane and her family.
They are invited to dinner at Pemberley, but before going Elizabeth receives two distressing letters from Jane. In the first, Jane reveals that Lydia and Wickham have eloped. The second letter reveals that they have not gone as expected, to Scotland, that Wickham has no intention of marrying Lydia, and that their present whereabouts are unknown. Darcy arrives and Elizabeth confides in him. Darcy listens in silence and offers some words of comfort and leaves. Elizabeth believes that she will not see him again and that “she could have loved him” (278).
The Gardiners and Elizabeth go to Longbourn to assist Mrs. Bennet and the family. Gardiner goes with Mr. Bennet to London to try to find Lydia and Wickham. Reports of Wickham’s debts and profligacy flow in. Mr. Collins sends a pompous letter of condolence, advising Mr. Bennet to renounce Lydia and pointing out that his other daughters will find it very difficult now to find husbands. Mr. Bennet returns from London without success. A letter is received from Mr. Gardiner to say that Lydia and Wickham have been found and a marriage arranged. It is assumed that Mr. Gardiner has bribed Wickham. Mrs. Bennet is now unconcerned, delighted at having one daughter married. Elizabeth reflects on her own ruined marital opportunities.
After the wedding, an unrepentant Lydia and Wickham visit Longbourn. Lydia reveals that Darcy was present at the wedding. Elizabeth finds out from her aunt Gardiner that Darcy tracked the couple down, paid off Wickham’s debts, and gave him a cash sum providing he marry Lydia. Mrs. Gardiner believes Darcy did it all for Elizabeth’s sake. Mr. Bingley and Darcy soon after return to Netherfield and visit the Bennets. Elizabeth is ashamed by her mother’s behavior to Darcy, but pleased by the renewal of the courtship of Bingley with Jane. Their engagement is announced and Mrs. Bennet is overjoyed at the prospect of having two daughters married.
Rumors circulate of an engagement between Darcy and Elizabeth. Lady Catherine de Bourgh arrives and confronts Elizabeth, insisting that she promise not to marry Darcy. Elizabeth refuses to give such an undertaking. Lady Catherine tells Darcy. This gives him fresh hope and he passionately, but without his previous pride, declares his love to Elizabeth. Elizabeth is no longer prejudiced against him, and accepts him. The news comes as a surprise to all the Bennets, and Mrs. Bennet rapidly changes her opinion of Darcy. Elizabeth and Darcy live at Pemberley and are especially close to the Gardiners, “the persons who, by bringing [Elizabeth] into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them” (388).
CRITICAL SYNOPSIS AND COMMENTARY
The book opens at the home of the Bennet family, the fictional Longbourn House in the village of Longbourn Hertforshire, now largely urban sprawl and a commuting corridor for north London and other parts of the capital city. In the late 18th century, it was rural, with country houses, estates, villages, and market towns. Mrs. Bennet, who has five daughters, hears that a nearby country estate has been “taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England.” The first chapter encapsulates Jane Austen’s style, themes, and modes of characterization. The opening sentence of 23 words contains ambiguities of its own. Beginning with a generalization, an assumption pertaining to a “truth” apparently “universally acknowledged” by whom specifically we are not told: probably to Jane Austen’s readers past, present, and future, from eclectic cultures and societies. The emphasis is on singularity, gender, male gender, marital state, and need. This need can be personal, imposed socially by others, by unstated social laws and mores, or a combination of both. Further, “possession” means ownership of property, land, and other commodities signifying wealth and station. These ingredients—an unmarried man who is financially and socially well connected—necessitate a wife. This need must be satisfied. The second paragraph indicates elements of a specific social situation by referring to “rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.” This is an ironic reference to the situation in which women found themselves after the passing into law of the Married Woman’s Property Act of 1753. Under this law, all their property became that of their husband, upon whom they were financially dependent. On marriage they owned nothing. A wealthy, landowning, propertyowning husband may well have been acquired for them. In effect, they subsequently owned nothing. They or their families did the catching in the contest for possession or acquisition of wealth; in reality following marriage, they owned nothing.
The second word of the first dialogue of the novel includes this application. The word “dear” may imply affection between Mr. Bennet and his wife. It also suggests something purchased at cost. We learn as the novel develops that Mr. Bennet has indeed paid dearly for his marriage: “his lady” conveys the sense of possession after marriage. Mr. Bennet owns Mrs. Bennet, financially. A lack of rapport between the two is indicated by Mr. Bennet’s refusal to reply to his wife’s information. When he does reply, the response is far from sympathetic and even on the caustic side. The “want,” the need is on his wife’s side not his; all he will do is listen. Acquiescence in hearing the information leads his wife into the longest sentence and speech of the novel so far. In it she imparts considerable useful information. As readers, we learn that according to a neighbor, Mrs. Long, the local large estate, Netherfield Park, the second specific mention of this property, has been rented: “taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England.”
So we are given his age, told the man is young, that he has wealth and geographically is not from the south or London, the capital city, but from the north, or, rather, north of Hertfordshire, where the Bennets live. Further, he inspected his new home on the first day of the week, a Monday. His mode of transport was “a chaise and four,” that is, an enclosed four-wheeled carriage drawn by four horses. Ownership of such a vehicle indicated considerable wealth. We are also told that he agreed to tenancy terms immediately. Interestingly, the author does not tell us why Netherfield is vacant, and who the real owner is. The unnamed young man “is to take possession before Michaelmas,” in other words, September 29, a quarter day, marking the beginning of a tenancy if payment is due in quarterly installments.
The paragraph is informative. A wealthy young man with servants has taken the tenancy of a local estate. Basic important information is conveyed briefly through clipped dialogue. First, a name must be assigned to the newcomer, and second, his marital status needs to be ascertained. Somewhat ironically and against expectation, it is Mr. Bennet who directly asks his wife the question, “Is he married or single?” To that we learn that the latter is the case. The reply reveals much: “Oh! single, my dear to be sure!” Again there are reverberations of the word “dear”: expensive, costly, affectionate closeness of relationship, and “to be sure.” This implies surety, guarantee, and positiveness like an insurance policy to be realized and collected. Three words that Mrs. Bennet frequently uses are “to be sure.” They also occur in Richard Brimsley Sheridan’s famous comedy The School for Scandal (1777) in the mouths of not one but several of the characters, especially when discussing others. So it is likely that Jane Austen is, in her use of the repetitive phraseology, drawing on a comic dramatic tradition known to some of her readers.
In the dialogue in this initial chapter and frequently throughout the novel, attributions such as “he said” or “she said” are omitted (). In a letter to her sister, Cassandra, dated January 29, 1813, Jane Austen admits that “a ‘said he’ or a ‘said she’ would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear—but I do not write for such dull Elves As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves” (Letters, 202). She expects her readers to display high intelligence and assumes that she is not writing for a stupid or dim-witted audience.
Not only does Mrs. Bennet tell her husband and readers that Mr. Bingley is young and single with a “large fortune” (4), she also has ascertained approximately how much that fortune may be. It is large indeed, among the largest of the admittedly not unwealthy diverse characters who parade through Jane Austen’s novels. Edward Copeland, in his excellent “Money” assessment in The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, observes that “At two thousand pounds a year (the landed gentry income of Mr. Bennet . . . domestic economy must still hold a tight rein, especially in Pride and Prejudice where there are five daughters in need of dowries.” Further, “Incomes of four thousand pounds a year and above (Darcy’s, Bingley’s . . .) leave behind the cheese-paring cares of middle class income . . . to enter a realm of unlimited genteel comforts” (136– 137). Given such facts, it is natural that Mr. Bingley should be ensnared, captured by one of the Bennet daughters! “What a fine thing for our girls!” Again we have the relationship between aesthetic value and commercial value. A dress or a painting may well be “a fine thing” in aesthetic terms. Its value is also material, financial, and economic.
Of course, Mr. Bennet is toying, verbally dueling, deliberately annoying his wife by feigning ignorance of her intentions. These are clear. She is “thinking of his marrying one of” their daughters. Mr. Bennet’s response plays on an interesting, often-used 18th-century word associated with value and architectural planning—“design.” Today the word is rarely used in the sense of “intention.” The primary meaning in Mr. Bennet’s response “Is that his design in settling here?” is associated with planning, especially of gardens, landscape, and buildings. It may well have religious associations in terms of “grand design” or “cosmic design.” In this sense the metaphor has its genesis in the relationship between God as the designer, or architect of the universe, or its orderer in an ordered world that has a hierarchy based on class status. Mr. Bennet’s question is not as curious as it may appear. Clearly, if Mr. Bingley is ensnared by one of the Bennet daughters, then the status of the family increases in terms of how they are perceived by their neighbors and the society around them, Also, of course, the life of the daughter is transformed immeasurably in terms of living conditions, economic wealth, and status. The children of any marriage are more or less guaranteed a much more secure and prosperous future than otherwise.
Interestingly, it is Mrs. Bennet who first introduces into the novel the modern concept of “love.” The social acceptance of marriage for love is a product of 20th-century Western society. In other societies, “love,” in terms of the strong bond of affection between woman and man, does not play a prominent or even a significant role. Marital alliances were often dynastic, formed by parents and families, with the children merely pawns or objects in economic and social alliances with no say in the future relationship in which they are the chief players or protagonists. Mrs. Bennet concedes that alliances cannot be forced. The onus, the decision lies with the male rather than with the female. She tells her husband, “it is very likely,” more than possible, not probable—yet another example of which this book is full of Jane Austen’s exceedingly careful choice of language and words—“that he may fall in love with one of them” (Jane Austen’s emphasis).
For this to happen, contact and meetings must be formed. It is the function in this plan of Mr. Bennet to initiate this, as his wife tells him. He “must visit him as soon as he comes.” Mr. Bennet’s response teases his wife and also, somewhat sarcastically, flatters her. “You are as handsome as any of them, Mr. Bingley might like you the best of the party.” The response exhibits a pandering to her vanity and conveys information. The reader learns why it is so important to find suitable husbands for the Bennet daughters.— There are five of them, and they are apparently “grown up” and of a marital age. In these circumstances, as Mrs. Bennet tells her husband, “When a woman has five grown up daughters she ought to give over thinking of her own beauty.”
Mr. Bennet continues the verbal sparring, responding in a short, clipped sentence representative of many of his sentences, which often are one-liners, clipped in contrast with his wife’s much more verbose observations. In his response to his wife, he tells her, “In such cases, a woman has not often much beauty to think of.” It is no coincidence, hardly a surprise, that Mr. Bennet should professionally be an attorney, although in the novel we do not see him actually practice his profession. He seemingly has to be persuaded by an overanxious Mrs. Bennet to promise to visit, to introduce himself and subsequently his family, his eligible daughters, to the new neighbors. Mrs. Bennet plays to what she perceives to be his weakness: “Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them,” in other words, what a splendid large home they would possess if one of the daughters managed to marry Bingley. She also appeals to his sense of propriety. Others will visit Bingley, a neighborly knight of the realm, Sir William and Lady Lucas, will do so. Mr. Bennet is a commoner; Sir William Lucas his neighbor has a title. We subsequently learn that he also has an unmarried daughter. So there is competition for the newcomer, who has a choice of unmarried daughters in the area into which he has moved.
In spite of social differences and rivalries, Mr. Bennet continues to play with his wife’s intentions to tease her, and lead her along. Rather than visiting, he will send his wife along with a letter of introduction in which he first gives his “hearty consent to his marrying which ever he chuses of the girls.” Notice that it is Bingley who makes the decision concerning marriage. The girls seem to have no role in the process whatsoever. They are chosen rather than choosing. Second he shows a preference for one of his daughters: “I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy.” This is the first time the name, in this instance a nickname, of one of the daughters has been mentioned, and a parental preference expressed. Mrs. Bennet’s response demonstrates different preferences. Lizzie she perceives as “not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good humoured as Lydia.” Mrs. Bennet uses a word “handsome,” which subsequently is used of the male gender, or animals such as a horse rather than of a woman. The female is “beautiful” or “pretty,” as opposed to handsome.
These parental preferences presented early in the narrative change little during the novel. Mr. Bennet’s preference is for Lizzy, his wife’s somewhat for Jane and decidedly for Lydia, who, we are to learn, is exceedingly foolish and threatens the reputation of the family. Mr Bennet finds that “Lizzie has something more of quickness than her sisters,” in other words, she displays a quicker intelligence, although he has few illusions, unlike his wife, finding them “all silly and ignorant like other girls.” Mr. Bennet’s playful gender bias—his sexist remarks—are countered by his wife’s; “how can you abuse your own children in such a way?” In this context, “abuse” means verbal disparagement in the verbal sparring between husband and wife, rather than anything more sinister and physical in a modern sense. Mrs. Bennet is aware that her husband is teasing her. “You delight in vexing me,” she replies. “Vexing” has the implication of annoying. She adds, “You have no compassion on my poor nerves,” providing Mr. Bennet the opening for which he verbally has been waiting. He tells his wife: “I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.” This brilliant riposte conveys the information that they have been married for more than 20 years, and that the relationship between husband and wife is by no means a satisfactory one. Mrs. Bennet’s repy is her shortest in the opening chapter: “Ah! You do not know what I suffer.” The dialogue between them continues with Mr. Bennet teasing his wife twice that when there are other wealthy men in the area, he will visit them.
The chapter concludes not with short conversational dialogue but omniscient narration, with the author informing her readers of the characteristics of these two characters. Factually, we learn the Bennets have been married for 23 years and that they have little in common. His wife does not understand his character: “Her mind was less difficult to develope” (Jane Austen’s emphasis). The word “develope” (2–5) is used in a sense rarely if ever used today, in the sense of “ ‘to unfold or unfurl,’ in this case suggesting that Mrs. Bennet’s thought processes are not difficult to discern” (Stafford, 312) or understand. Significantly, the author appears to agree with her male character: “She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper.” These negatives represent inherited characteristics and not those imposed on her by gender and society. In addition, Jane Austen tells the reader, “When she was disconcerted she fancied herself nervous,” the third reference to “nerves” pertaining to Mrs. Bennet in the first chapter. Yet nothing in the world of a Jane Austen novel is what it appears to be. Mrs. Bennet has a single preoccupation: “The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news” (5).
The opening chapter of Pride and Prejudice tells the reader much about character, plot, and motivation. The reader is told by the narrator at the opening of chapter 2 that “Mr. Bennet was among the earliest of those who waited on Mr. Bingley.” The ironic nature of his treatment of Mrs. Bennet, evident from the close of the first chapter, is reinforced in the first paragraph of this second chapter. Mr. Bennet’s intention to pay Mr. Bingley a visit is made evident, although he gave his wife opposite signals “to the last.” Mr. Bennet even withholds disclosure of the visit until the following evening, and even then, the information is accidentally disclosed in information to Lizzie, his favorite daughter. The disclosure is then indirect and activated by a passing remark on headgear, as Mr. Bennet observes her “employed in trimming a hat” (6). Such behavior was fashionable during the period. In June 1799, Jane Austen wrote to her sister, Cassandra, “Eliza has a bunch of Strawberries, and I have seen Grapes, Cherries, Plumbs, Apricots.” She also tells Cassandra somewhat amusingly, “I cannot help thinking that it is more natural to have flowers grow out of the head than fruit” (Letters, 42, 44).
Action by Elizabeth provides the main spring of the central dialogue of the second chapter, among father, wife, and daughter concerning behavior. In addition, the conversation conveys much information about what has taken place. Mr. Bennet’s actions and attitudes, as well as those of his wife and daughters, reinforce what we know of the relationship between husband and wife. The father hopes that Mr. Bingley will approve of Elizabeth’s fashion statement. His wife rises to her husband’s bait, responding “resentfully” by challenging what she perceives to be her husband’s assumption that they will be aware of Mr. Bingley’s likes and dislikes. Her daughter Elizabeth tries to reassure her that they will meet Bingley “at the assemblies” and that a neighbor, Mrs. Long, will introduce them. Her reminder of the assemblies is a reference to the presence in English provincial towns and cities of rooms especially built or adapted for public balls or dances so that people could meet, the ostensible reason for introductions being dances. Mrs. Bennet is forever aware that there is competition among mothers of unmarried daughters to introduce them first to eligible, preferably wealthy, bachelors. Mrs. Bennet tells her husband that she does not “believe Mrs. Long will do any such thing”—the reason being that “She has two nieces of her own.” Further “she is a selfish, hypocritical woman.” Mrs. Bennet then immediately contradicts herself, exhibiting just how prejudiced she is by adding, “I have no opinion of her.” Mr. Bennet assents to this observation, turning it into something of the nature of a compliment to his wife. He is “glad to find that you do not depend on her serving you.” Mrs. Bennet, unable to find a suitable reply, turns her frustration on her daughter Kitty by telling her to stop coughing and to “Have a little compassion on [her] nerves” as she “tears[s] them to pieces.” Her nervous system has become a piece of discarded clothing ready to be recycled. Mrs. Bennet’s remarks may well be perceived as a reflection of her own lack of self-esteem. She is perpetually a butt, an object of her husband’s sarcasm and remarks aimed at lowering her value. So in a real sense, she has become a piece of discarded clothing.
Mr. Bennet is not able to resist a rejoinder to his wife, responding, “Kitty has no discretion in her coughs . . . she times them ill.” To this the hapless Kitty replies that she does “not cough for her own amusement.” Her coughing may well be a psychosomatic reaction to the incessant conflict she is forced to sit through between husband and wife fought out verbally. In this conflict, the father is the superior contestant and his wife the inferior, who takes out her frustration on the weaker object, her daughter Kitty. In the first edition of the novel, Kitty is named in the reply, “When is your next ball to be, Kitty?” The reply (whomever it is attributed to—Kitty or Lizzy) in subsequent editions becomes “To-morrow fortnight” and provokes a response from Mrs. Bennet, revealing that she has been gathering information relating to her neighbor Mrs. Long’s activities and timetable. She “does not come back till the day before,” consequently “it will be impossible for her to introduce” Mr. Bingley, “for she will not know him herself.”
This provides Mr. Bennet with the opportunity further to annoy and frustrate his wife, an activity he appears to enjoy and use as an excuse for his own dissatisfaction with his marital situation. He replies with what must appear to his listeners to be the enigmatic “Then, my dear, you may have the advantage of your friend, and introduce Mr. Bingley to her”—the last word receiving emphasis typographically to indicate speech emphasis. As so often in a Jane Austen novel, one character has knowledge the others have not. In this instance, Mr. Bennet knows of his own visit to Bingley; the other members of his family do not. So this knowledge can be regarded as a situational irony. Mr. Bennet is aware of a situation, the others are not. There is in Mr. Bennet’s specific reply to his wife, in the manner in which he addressed her, a further irony. He addresses his wife, not for the first time or for the last time, as “my dear.” This, as has been indicated, draws attention to the nature of his perception of his relationship with his wife. On the one hand, they are close; on the other, the relationship is costly in economic and in psychological terms on a daily basis of interaction. Mrs. Bennet’s reply indicates that she is well aware that her husband is playing games with her—“how can you be so teasing?” she asks him. In his reply, her husband provides his wife with an implicit compliment as he praises or honours “her circumspection.” In other words, Mrs. Bennet’s scepticism for, as she has correctly said to him, what he has requested is “Impossible” since she is “not acquainted with” Mr. Bingley.
Mr. Bennet then embarks on one of his longer dialogues in the chapter. Instead of one or two sentences, he is given four. The last sentence contains subordinate clauses and follows three sentences, which are each sequentially longer than the last. The four-word “I honour your circumspection” is followed by the seven-word “A fortnight’s acquaintance is certainly very little”—emphasis placed on the final “little.” There is then a 14-word epigrammatic “One cannot know what a man really is by the end of a fortnight.” Underlying such a truism is the implicit critique of the system of values held by Mrs. Bennet that any eligible man is suitable for one of her daughters, provided he has money. For Mr. Bennet, there must also be knowledge of the man’s character, or “what a man really is,” and only time can reveal this. On the other hand, Mr. Bennet is a realist, aware of competition for wealthy, unmarried men among those who have daughters. He informs his wife and daughters, “But if we [this pronoun receiving typographical emphasis to indicate speech emphasis] do not venture [again, an example of Jane Austen’s marvelous choice of vocabulary with its implication of an expedition and capital advantage. The action may well lead to marriage, which can result in financial advantage: a daughter will be well provided for, and there will be one fewer to feed, clothe, and maintain at home] someone else will; and after all Mrs. Long and her nieces must stand their chance. [Mr. Bennet is aware of competition, luck, and opportunity in the marital stakes]; and therefore, as she will think it an act of kindness if you decline the offer, I will take it on myself.”
The response from the daughters is verbally one of silence. In terms of body language, they respond by staring “at their father.” Mrs. Bennet, incredulous as ever, replies with the repeated, “Nonsense, nonsense!.” This provokes her husband to convey information he has hitherto suppressed and to remind his family of the ground rules relating to etiquette. He has, as the father and head of the household, to pay a formal, official visit to Mr. Bingley and to introduce himself formally, before the rest of his family can do so. Before he imparts the information that he has visited Mr. Bingley, he addresses another daughter. In the way the reader’s reaction to the daughter, in this instance, Mary, is manipulated. Her father regards her as “a young lady of deep reflection [who] read[s] great books and make[s] extracts.” That is, she copies out passages from the books she reads. Mary’s thoughtful, bookish nature is conveyed through her inability to reply to her father, immediately providing him with the opportunity to return to the subject of Mr. Bingley. His wife’s frustrated explication that she is “sick of Mr. Bingley” provides the opening Mr. Bennet has been waiting for. Even when he at last reveals that he has actually visited Mr. Bingley, he tries to score points at the expense of his wife. He tells her that as he has “actually paid the visit, we cannot escape the acquaintance now.” The response from the family and his wife is one of silence. Instead of dialogue between Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet, the narrator takes over, telling the reader that “the astonishment of the ladies was just what he [Mr. Bennet] wished,” that of Mrs. Bennet “perhaps surpassing the rest” of the family. When the first tumult of joy was over, Mrs. Bennet “began to declare that it,” the visit, “was what she had expected all the while.” She begins by praising Mr. Bennet, the first compliment she has given him in the novel, yet turns the compliment to herself, saying that she was the negotiator and should gain the credit for his visit. She “knew [she] would persuade [him] at last.” She was “sure” that her husband “loved [his] girls too well to neglect such an acquaintance.” The word “love” here is used in the sense of caring for their future. She consequently praises her husband: “such a good joke, too, that you should have gone this morning, and never said a word about it till now.”
The final four paragraphs of chapter 2, the first, third, and fourth, consist of one sentence each. In the first, Mr. Bennet leaves the room “fatigued with the raptures of his wife” and daughters. We are left to speculate on the consequences of what he has done. The two daughters who are not to occupy the subsequent central stage now come into prominence early in the novel. As he leaves, Mr. Bennet tells Kitty that she “may cough as much as [she] chuse[s].” The second and lengthier of these paragraphs of the concluding four of the second chapter is the longest. It consists of Mrs. Bennet’s praise for her husband’s actions and appreciation of the personal difficulty involved in taking the action that he took: for Mrs. Bennet “At [her and Mr. Bennet’s] time of life, it is not so pleasant . . . to be making new acquaintance every day.” However “for [their] sakes,” their father and mother “would do anything.” She then exhibits preference for one daughter over the other, by reassuring Lydia, who is her “love,” that while she is “the youngest, [she] dare say[s] that Mr. Bingley will dance with [her] at the next ball.” To which Lydia “stoutly” replies, “I am not afraid; for though I am the youngest, I’m the tallest,” (Jane Austen’s emphasis), which suggests early physical maturity and this physical sense is implied by the narrator’s use of the adverb “stoutly” in Lydia’s reply. Physicality is, however, not the subject of the concluding sentence and paragraph, for “the rest of the evening was spent in conjecturing how soon he would return Mr. Bennet’s visit, and determining when they should ask him to dinner” (6–8). Interestingly, it is not Mr. Bennet who will invite Bingley to dinner but the invitation will be a collective one, with perhaps the implication that Mrs. Bennet will do the actual inviting.
So the opening two chapters set the scene, introduce the situation, and provide motivational explanation. To repeat, a family with daughters of a marriageable age has a necessity to consider the welfare of the daughters. Their future should be secured through finding them a suitable marriage. This can be greatly assisted if a wealthy, eligible, that is unmarried, man moves into the neighborhood.
The opening of the third chapter contains the lengthiest paragraphs so far encountered in the novel. From it further information is conveyed concerning perceptions of the new neighbor, Mr. Bingley. In spite of various stratagems from Mrs. Bennet and her five daughters, they are unable to obtain “any satisfactory description of Mr. Bingley.” This opening sentence of the third chapter is the first time the reader actually learns the number of daughters—five—in the Bennet family. The father’s isolation from them and from his wife is reinforced: “he eluded the skill of them all.” They are then “obliged to accept the second-hand intelligence of their neighbour Lady Lucas,” who, the reader learns, has a husband, “Sir William.” He tells his wife, the narrator reports, that Bingley is “quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable.” Also, “he meant to be at the next assembly with a large party.” So the note of gregariousness is extended to the supposition that he is “fond of dancing,” which “was a certain step towards falling in love.” Consequently, expectations are aroused: “very lively hopes of Mr. Bingley’s heart were entertained.”
The paragraph concerned with the situation and speculation relating to the possibilities concerning the new neighbor, Mr. Bingley, has seven sentences. It is followed by a simple sentence-paragraph consisting largely of speech by Mrs. Bennet to her husband in which she reinforces—if reinforcement were necessary—her aspirations, not for herself but for her daughters. Again, there is irony in the fact that Mrs. Bennet’s aspirations appear to be not for herself but for her daughters. Her wish is for them to be married to wealthy husbands. However, her desire can be perceived as selfish. With her daughters married to wealthy, well-connected husbands, there will be less competition for attention at home and fewer mouths to feed. Marriage will lead to greater social connections and relationships for Mrs. Bennet as mother-in-law and increase her social stature among the neighbors and in the surrounding society in which she lives. Viewed from this perspective, then Mrs. Bennet’s wish to “see one of [her] daughters happily settled at Netherfield”—Bingley’s family home—is far from altruistic. She adds, “and all the others equally well married. [She] shall have nothing to wish for.” No doubt other wishes and desires will occur to her.
Jane Austen, as narrator, reports Bingley’s approximately 10-minute visit to the Bennets to return Mr. Bennet’s visit to him. There is no dialogue. Mr. Bingley “had entertained hopes of being admitted to a sight of the young ladies, of whose beauty he had heard much; but he saw only the father.” On the other hand, “The ladies were somewhat more fortunate, for they had the advantage of ascertaining from an upper window, that he wore a blue coat and rode a black horse” (9). In other words, he wore the latest fashion in colors—blue. In William Combe’s popular and socially indicative The Town of Dr. Syntax or Search of the Picturesque, published in 1812, there is a triplet: “One who was in full fashion drest / In coat of blue and corded vest / And seem’d superior to the rest” (canto xx). There is always in the world of Jane Austen’s novels, indicative as they are, of the world generally, somebody “superior” to someone else. The emphasis here is on “seem’d”: Appearance and reality are two different elements. This difference between the two, between appearance and reality, is an important undercurrent in the remainder of this third chapter and throughout the novel.
The chapter now focuses on the ball in the Assembly Rooms, where Mrs. Bennet and the other local mothers will meet their potential prey, the eligible Mr. Bingley, whom they hope to capture for one of their daughters. Even before the ball, rumors circulate “that Mr. Bingley was to bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with him to the assembly.” In other words, there would be too many ladies and too much competition for the attention of too few eligible men. This rumor is unfounded, for “when the party entered the assembly room, it consisted of only five altogether; Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the eldest, and another young man.” The Bingley party’s appearance is conveyed not through dialogue or the perceptions of one of the characters such as Mr. or Mrs. Bennet, for instance, but through the narrative. The narrator reports to readers a brief (fewer than one-sentence) description of the physical appearance and manners of Mr. Bingley and his sisters. The former “was good looking and gentlemanlike.” In addition, “he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners.” The reader is then told that “the sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion.” The most extensive description in this paragraph is reserved for a character who has not yet entered the canvas of the novel but will play a central role within it—Bingley’s friend Darcy. This description follows a very brief one of Bingley’s brother-in-law Mr. Hurst, who “merely looked the gentleman;”—later in the novel, Mrs. Hurst, Bingley’s older sister, will play a significant role in the plot development. Darcy attracts “the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien.” Darcy’s physical appearance is not all that makes him the focal point of the attention. His appeal gains weight by the report “in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance” that he has “ten thousand a year”—he is an exceedingly wealthy man, possessing “a large estate in Derbyshire.” This wealth is not founded, unlike Bingley’s, on trade or merchandise, but on land in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. However, in this novel of contrasts, Darcy’s vast wealth built on land cannot save him from disfavor for “his manners gave a disgust . . . for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased.” “Disgust” in Jane Austen’s time had a less negative connotation than today, implying distaste.
Darcy’s behavior, his attitude, is contrasted with Mr. Bingley, who in today’s language has the qualities of a sales representative. He is “amiable,” in other words, “lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield” (10–11). Such qualities described as “amiable” are not always positive in the world of Jane Austen’s novels. Frank Churchill in Emma “may be very ‘amiable,’ have very good manners, and be very agreeable; but he can have no English delicacy towards the feelings of other people” (149). The note of ambiguity implied by the use of “amiable” is not dwelled upon at this point in Pride and Prejudice. The emphasis here is on the negative perceptions of Darcy provoked by his behavior. Mrs. Bennet in particular takes an intense dislike of Darcy. This reaction is described as “the most violent against him,” especially “by his having slighted one of her daughters.” Repeatedly in a Jane Austen novel, an overheard conversation serves as a plot device. Elizabeth overhears a conversation between Bingley and his friend Darcy, whose first words in the novel are negatives: “I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it,” that is, dancing. Darcy’s reasons for this are given “unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner.” These objections are about the social surroundings he is in and also to the specific company. Darcy, overheard by Elizabeth, says, “there is not another woman in the room, whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.” The assumption is that Darcy is referring to Jane Bennet. Bingley then draws Darcy’s attention to Elizabeth, “sitting behind him.” Although the reader has been given no precise physical description of Elizabeth, or for that matter of any of the sisters, according to Darcy, Elizabeth is “not handsome enough to tempt [him].” Darcy is “in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.” As a consequence, Elizabeth, the reader is told, “remained with no very cordial feelings towards” Darcy. We as readers also learn that Elizabeth “had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in any thing ridiculous.”
The following paragraph contains a good deal of information conveyed in the past tense by the narrator. Much of it is seen through the eyes of Mrs. Bennet, whose impressions of the assembly room evening become the main focus of the narrative. Her eldest daughter, Jane, danced twice with Bingley and had been much admired by the party. “Elizabeth felt Jane’s pleasure”—having a special affinity with her sister. Mary had been praised as “accomplished,” the other sisters, “Catherine and Lydia,” found partners to dance with. Their immaturity is emphasized: for finding “partners . . . was all that they had yet learnt to care for at a ball.” Readers are also told that the Bennets are “the principal inhabitants” of the village of Longbourn, where they live. The narrative then moves in this paragraph from the general to the particular, from the macrocosm to the microcosm. Mr. Bennet awaits their return home. He is reading, for a book obliterates time for him. His expectations are that the ball and Bingley will disappoint his wife. His wife is gushing with enthusiasm, eager to relay the events of “a most excellent ball.” She goes into detail about whom Bingley danced with and which dances in particular were danced. Such detail irritates Mr. Bennet, especially when his wife focuses on the lace on the dresses, and he continues to interrupt her, so much so that she “related with much bitterness of spirit and some exaggeration, the shocking rudeness of Mr. Darcy.” The chapter ends with a short paragraph spoken by Mrs. Bennet in which she describes the “disagreeable, horrid man” Darcy. Her only regret is that her husband was absent and thus unable “to have given [Darcy] one of [his] set downs.” In short, Mrs. Bennet “quite detest[s] the man” (12–13).
Before moving onto the fourth chapter, it is worth pausing to look more closely at the way Jane Austen uses prose in the third chapter. Norman Page indicates in his The Language of Jane Austen (1972) that chapter 3 contains “Jane Austen’s mature narrative prose.” Page adds,
If we ignore one sentence of dialogue, the first four paragraphs of that chapter contain eighteen sentences, which range from five to ninety-one words in length, with an average of thirty words. A norm of moderate length, that is to say, is combined with a wide degree of variation. Since half the sentences contain between twenty and forty words, the norm is firmly enough established to give a stability to the prose which heightens by contrast the effect of the occasional wide departures from that norm. There are examples of both the simple sentence (‘Mrs. Bennet was quite disconcerted.’) and the double sentence (‘In a few days Mr. Bingley returned Mr. Bennet’s visit, and sat about ten minutes with him in his library.’). Most of the sentences are complex, however, and in the longer sentences a preference is shown for subordination over co-ordination. Even the longest sentence in the passage involves no loss of clarity, however, since the larger unit of ninety-one words is broken down into smaller units whose relation to each other is immediately apparent. This can be shown most clearly by taking some mild typographical liberties with the sentence in question:
A.1. The gentleman pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man,
A.2. the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and
A.3. he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening,
B. till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity;
C.1. for he was discovered to be proud,
C.2. to be above his company,
C.3. and above being pleased;
D.1. and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance,
D.2. and being unworthy to be compared with his friend. One sees very clearly here Jane Austen’s fondness for three-part structures.
A1.-3. record the initial reactions of the company assembled at Netherfield to Darcy, A.3. acting as a summary of the previous two clauses; all three are of approximately the same length. B. is only slightly longer but gains greater force from the two ‘strong’ nouns disgust and popularity, and acts as the pivot on which the sentence turns. C.1.-C.3. are parallel to A.1.-A.3., indicating the unanimous change of heart in response to Darcy’s ‘manners’, and suggesting by their greater brevity an offended and dismissive attitude. The greater length of D.1.-D.2. gives an air of finality to this social judgment; it also has internal patterning in the ironic antithesis of ‘large estate’ and ‘disagreeable countenance’ (the implication being that the two are not, as a general rule, closely correlated), and D.2. looks forward to the next sentence, the subject of which is ‘his friend.’ (103–104: Pride and Prejudice, 9–10)
These opening three chapters are indicative of Jane Austen’s style and technical devices in Pride and Prejudice. Dialogue is used to convey attitude and perceptions about other characters. The narrator sets up the dialogue, at times reports it, using the third-person narrative. Dialogue, in addition to commenting on the perceptions of one character concerning another, is also revealing about a character. For instance, Mrs. Bennet is garrulous; most concerned about the welfare of her daughters and herself; and has a complicated, not entirely satisfactory relationship with her husband. Dialogue also conveys information about others. Sometimes this is rumor, otherwise not. For instance, in the fourth chapter, Jane tells her sister Elizabeth that “Miss Bingley is to live with her brother and keep his house.” Inner thoughts and reflections are presented through authorial reportage rather than dialogue. In the fourth chapter, Elizabeth’s private reflections on the behavior of the Bingleys’ suitors give way to narrative relation of information that is subsequently important in assessing motive and action. The Bingleys “were in the habit [of] spending more than they ought.” In other words, they lived above their means. The exact amount of their income is provided in the narrative. In addition, they “had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds” (11–15). In other words, they probably had an annual income of approximately £1,000, or around U.S. $1,900. The Bingleys are relatively prosperous. “At this period, an agricultural labourer might earn around £45 per year, and a lawyer £450. After the death of her father in 1805, Austen lived with her mother and sister on an income of about £460” (Stafford, 314) or well under U.S. $1,000.
Austen conveys subtle class differences and distinctions in a variety of ways. Sometimes she uses dialogue. Sometimes she uses reportage. In chapter 4, Austen tells the readers that the Bingley fortune “had been acquired by trade.” The foundation of their wealth is impressed on their memories. Families whose wealth was acquired from “trade” (15) were frequently perceived as lower in the social hierarchy than the older landed families. Unlike Darcy’s inheritance, “Bingley’s wealth is relatively new; and the family does not yet possess the estate that would secure its position within the ranks of the landed classes” (Stafford, 314).
The fourth chapter conveys through the device of omniscient narration information about relationships outside the Bennet family. The reader is told about the Bingleys’ family and fortunes. We also learn that Mr. Bingley is somewhat impetuous and prone to making quick decisions. For instance, “he was tempted by an accidental recommendation to look at Netherfield house. He did look at it and into it for half an hour, was pleased with the situation and the principal rooms, satisfied with what the owner said in its praise, and took it immediately.” Jane Austen’s repetitions of “it” are effective in conveying the sense of impetuosity: the house being transformed into a possession, an “it.”
The next paragraph contrasts Bingley with Darcy and goes some way to explaining the nature of their friendship, “in spite of a great opposition of character.” Antithesis is one of the important building blocks in Jane Austen’s depiction of character and situation. “Bingley was endeared to Darcy by the easy, openness, ductility [an interesting choice of word, with its roots in chemistry, implying pliancy and flexibility].” The author adds that, “No disposition could offer a greater contrast to his own,” Darcy’s. This is in fact free indirect speech, the style indirect libre or erleble Rede. In other words, these could be Darcy’s thoughts as well as Jane Austen’s, the author. Bingley depends on Darcy for judgment and understanding. Jane Austen as omniscient narrator tells her readers that Bingley “was sure of being liked wherever he appeared, Darcy was continually giving offence.” Darcy is, “haughty, reserved, and fastidious, and his manners, though well bred, were not inviting.” Jane Austen in the two final paragraphs of chapter 4 conveys the reactions of Bingley and Darcy, Mrs. Hurst and her sister to the Meryton assembly. The attitudes of Bingley and Darcy are in antitheses: the former is positive; the latter, negative. Even Jane Bennet, whom Darcy “acknowledged to be pretty . . . smiled too much.” Mrs. Hurst and her sister also “pronounced her to be a sweet girl.” Consequently, the accommodating Bingley “felt authorised by such commendation to think of her as he chose,” (16–17) the implication being that with someone so influenced by others’ opinions, he could always have his mind changed. Chapter 5
is short and consists of an opening paragraph of four sentences of omniscient narration, a second and third paragraph of three short sentences and one sentence, and the dialogue with a concluding short sentence. The first paragraph conveys information about the Bennets’ neighbor Sir William Lucas. He has formerly been in trade in Meryton, the local town, and has become the knighted owner of Lucas Lodge, “where he could think with pleasure of his own importance, and unshackled by business, occupy himself solely in being civil to all the world.” Impressed by rank, unlike William Collins later in the novel, he is not “supercilious” and is “by nature inoffensive, friendly and obliging.” His wife, the reader is told in the second paragraph, is “a very good kind of woman, not too clever to be a valuable neighbor to Mrs. Bennet.” Her eldest daughter, Charlotte, “is a sensible, intelligent young woman, about twentyseven” and “Elizabeth’s intimate friend.” The use of the adjective “sensible” (18) to describe her is interesting. Mr. Collins, whom she marries, “was not a sensible man” (70). In other words, he was not reasonable, judicious, and wise.
The remainder of the chapter consists of short dialogue. Austen’s dialogue conveys much narrative information. Jane Austen’s text uses single quotation marks to indicate direct speech between Charlotte Lucas, Mrs. Bennet, Jane Bennet, Elizabeth, Mary, and a “young Lucas,” who speaks at the end of the chapter. Some of the dialogue turns on hearsay, who heard what and from whom about what someone may or may not have said—in this instance concerning whom Bingley considered the most attractive woman in the room. Information is also conveyed through direct speech about others. For instance, Darcy’s perceived nonresponse to the Bennets’ neighbor Mrs. Long is attributed to the fact that she “does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise,” indicating that she is of a lower social status than those who “keep a carriage.” The last section of the dialogue consists of reflections on the meaning of “pride”: Elizabeth Bennet can “forgive” Darcy’s if he had not “mortified” hers. Again, there is a balance and antithesis at work in the fabric of Jane Austen’s texture. In this instance, “pride” can be forgiven if it does not offend somebody else’s personal “pride.” However, there is, as the bookish Mary points out in a lengthy speech, a distinction between “vanity and pride.” She says, “A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” The conversation takes on a different tone when Mary’s pedantic distinction is swept aside with the assertion of one of the young Lucas boys, that if he had Darcy’s wealth, “I should not care how proud I was. I would keep a pack of foxhounds, and drink a bottle of wine everyday.” The chapter ends with the boy protesting that he would not drink too much, and Mrs. Bennet asserting that he would. His reference to foxhunting relates information about changes in country fashions, for in the later 18th century, foxhunting gradually replaced hare and stag hunting as the favourite pursuit of the well-off.
Jane Austen uses speech here, as in her work generally, to convey character difference. Mary is serious and pedantic, hence her sentiments on “pride.” Mrs. Bennet is easily sidetracked into irrelevancy; consequently, she is more preoccupied with the young Lucas’s potential overdrinking than with either Darcy or Bingley. Elizabeth is direct, yet capable of making fine distinctions. Charlotte Lucas shows her fondness for Elizabeth in expressing the wish that Darcy had danced with her. Jane exhibits a trusting nature in accepting at face value what Bingley’s sister tells her (18–20).
The sixth chapter contains a mixture of narration with dialogue and hurries the action. The focus is on Darcy’s reaction to Elizabeth, placed within a specific social context—a party at Sir William Lucas’s. Before the party, the Longbourn ladies pay a courtesy return visit to Netherfield. Elizabeth and her friend Charlotte discuss Jane and Bingley, and Darcy’s thoughts are expressed through free indirect speech. The opening paragraph conveys different perceptions of Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. Jane sees their attention as a positive. Elizabeth, on the other hand, “saw superciliousness in their treatment of every body.” The fourth compound sentence of this paragraph interweaves free indirect speech with authorial direct narration, the separation between the two being the second semicolon dividing the two parts of the sentence. In the first part the reader enters into Elizabeth’s thoughts concerning Jane: “It was generally evident that whenever they met, that he did admire her; and to her it was equally evident that Jane was yielding to the preference which she had begun to entertain for him from the first, and was in a way to be very much in love” (Jane Austen’s emphasis). Then the author speaks more directly in her own voice, telling the reader “but she [Elizabeth] considered with pleasure that it was not likely to be discovered by the world in general,” the reason being “since Jane united with great strength of feeling, a composure of temper and a uniform of cheerfulness of manner, which would guard her [Jane] from the suspicions of the impertinent.”
A similar narrative technique is at work elsewhere in the chapter when the narrator tells us about Darcy’s reactions to Elizabeth and then enters into his framework of thinking. On the one hand, Darcy “made it clear to himself and his friends that she [Elizabeth] had hardly a good feature in her face.” Simultaneously, “he began to find it [her face] rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.” The word “clear” here in terms of clarifying and illuminating has a reverberating positive meaning in the sentiments that follow, as Darcy against his better judgment discovers other qualities. “To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying.” They are presented as antitheses. On the one hand, there is “more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form”; on the other, “he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing.” Again, although Elizabeth’s “manners were not those of the fashionable world,” on the other hand Darcy “was caught by their easy playfulness.” Jane Austen, stylistically in this paragraph, at her very best, moves the focus, the perspective, from Darcy to Elizabeth. Her prejudiced viewpoint concludes this paragraph of shifting stylistic devices: “to her [Elizabeth] he was only the man who made himself agreeable no where, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.” The remainder of the chapter continues the focus on Darcy’s reactions to Elizabeth. The setting is Sir William Lucas’s. The techniques used are dialogue between Sir William and Darcy, reactions to Elizabeth’s piano playing, and the performance of her sister Mary, Elizabeth’s refusal to dance with Darcy, and dialogue between Elizabeth and Sir William and Mrs. Bingley. The chapter ends with a prophetic dialogue between Miss Bingley and Darcy, Miss Bingley telling Darcy that he “will have a charming mother-in-law indeed, and of course she will be always at Pemberley with” him (21–27).
Austen uses this chapter to make contemporary allusions. The Bingley ladies, for instance, prefer to play “Vingt-un” to “Commerce.” They prefer one fashionable card game involving bartering and betting rather than another. Vingt-un is often called blackjack in America. Commerce, a somewhat more complicated game, is a form of poker. In it, the players buy individual cards from the dealer and barter for them with the other players. Shorter “Scotch and Irish airs,” songs and dances played on the keyboard, are preferred by the younger generation to what appears to be “a long concerto.” Darcy’s reply to Sir William’s comment that he considers dancing “as one of the first refinements of polished societies” is that dancing “has the advantage of also being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world—Every savage can dance” (23–25). This allusion echoes a passage from the Lectures in Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, 2 volumes (London 1783), written by Hugh Blair (1718–1800), the 18th-century Scottish political philosopher and literary critic. In his Lecture 38, “On the Origin and Progress of Poetry,” Blair observes that in the “savage state . . . from the very beginning of society, there were occasions on which they met together for feasts, sacrifices and Public Assemblies, and on all such occasions, it is well known, that music, song, and dance, made their principal entertainment” (ii, 314).
Underlying the world of polite manners and superficial appearances at Sir William Lucas’s, games played for the highest stakes are being enacted. The winner will gain the highest hand in the marital stakes. This serious search for a suitable partner to continue the ancestral line, the economic basis of society, is reinforced at the opening of chapter 7. The narrator reveals the real state of affairs at the Bennet household and why Mrs. Bennet’s quest to find suitable husbands for her daughters is not just a reflection of a scatterbrained, garrulous, unhappily married mother. The Bennet inheritance is restricted. The entailment stipulates that if Mr. Bennet has no son to continue the line, his property will pass to a male in another branch of the family: Longbourn will go to Mr. Bennet’s cousin, the unmarried clergyman William Collins. Hence the utmost necessity for his five daughters to marry well. Mr. Bennet’s income, “an estate of two thousand a year,” would generate in modern currency about U.S. $66,000 in 1988. So with five potential dowries to fund, he was on a very tight rein. Mrs. Bennet’s father, a lawyer, had left her “four thousand pounds,” which is not enough to make a substantial difference materially in their way of life, or in their daughters’ dowries. It would, of course, determine the quality of Mrs. Bennet’s life once she became a widow. Mr. Bennet, although apparently by profession a lawyer, has inherited land and a far from wealthy income. Mrs. Bennet, on the other hand, is from the professional middle class of lawyers and businessmen. Her sister is married “to a Mr. Phillips, who had been a clerk to their father, . . . succeeded him in the business, and a brother settled in London in a respectable line of trade.” Jane Austen precisely conveys the economic means and needs of her characters. Mrs. Phillips, for instance, is as anxious as her sister to marry the daughters off, and is only too ready to indulge the youngest Bennet girls, Catharine and Lydia, in their wish to meet members of the militia residing in the neighborhood.
The third paragraph of the seventh chapter moves skillfully from geographical location of residence, to shops in the local town, to hints of the wider world and potential conflicts. This is achieved through three references: to the precise distance of the village of Longbourn from the neighboring town; to a shop; and to the militia. Longbourn is “only one mile from Meryton,” walking distance in fine weather; poor weather conditions affecting travel will shortly have an impact on the plot. The two youngest daughters were “tempted thither three times a week, to pay their duty to their aunt,” whom the reader is told is as garrulous as their mother, and also to visit “a milliner’s shop just over the way.” These shops selling an assortment of fabrics, fancy materials, clothing, and various accessories and especially fashionable hats, were centers of gossip. Catharine and Lydia learned from their aunt Phillips of the “recent arrival of a militia regiment in the neighborhood; it was to remain the whole winter, and Meryton was the headquarters.”
In common with many young women of their generation depicted in opera, drama, and literature of the early 19th century, their heads were turned by the militia. “They could talk of nothing but officers; and Mr. Bingley’s large fortune, the mention of which gave animation to their mother, was worthless in their eyes when opposed to the regimentals of an ensign.” The militia, a military force, consisted of volunteers. Its main object during the Napoleonic Wars was to be ready in the first line of defense in case of a French invasion. This fear was a real concern during the last decade of the 18th century and the first two of the new century. The reference is a timely reminder that for most of Jane Austen’s life, England was at war with France. The south of the country was especially vulnerable to invasion, being the closest part of the country to France. Jane Austen’s brother Henry was a member of the Oxford militia in 1793, and when war erupted with France, he served for seven years as an officer. The reference to “an ensign” is a typical piece of Jane Austen irony as the “ensign” is contrasted with “Bingley’s large fortune.” An ensign was the officer of the lowest rank in the army with insufficient fortune or connections to buy his way into a higher rank. Someone with Bingley’s amount of money would have been able to purchase a far superior army ranking.
An important narrative device in a Jane Austen novel is the use of a letter as a means of communication. The first two letters of many in Pride and Prejudice occur in the seventh chapter. As has been noted, the novel originally was probably an epistolary novel in an earlier version. There are 44 letters in the novel, far more than in Northanger Abbey (nine instances), or Sense and Sensibility (21 instances). In Pride and Prejudice, they supply narrative information and detail, are a method of characterization, and provide an insight into the motives of the letter writer. They also give their writers and recipients the chance to reveal themselves and their motives. The first letter is from Caroline Bingley to Jane Bennet, asking Jane to dine with her and her older sister Louisa (Mrs. Hurst). The French “tête-à- tête” in the invitation reveals the writer’s social pretensions; it also has the meaning of an intimate conversation. The invitation becomes an important springboard for plot development. Mrs. Bennet ingeniously ensures that the only coach the family possesses is not available, as Mr. Bennet requires it to work on the farm. Jane is thereby forced “to go on horseback,” and because it rains, she has to stay overnight at Netherfield, the Bingley residence. The news that she has to spend more time away from home is conveyed in the second letter in the novel, again, a short, single-paragraph letter. This is from Jane to Elizabeth. The letter contains essential information. She got “wet through” and her “kind friends will not hear of [her] returning home till [she is] better,” and the apothecary, Mr. Jones, is being called to see her. Apothecaries in rural areas were regarded by many as the equivalent of doctors; they both prescribed and dispersed “draughts,” or medicines.
As a consequence, Elizabeth insists on visiting her sister and is forced to walk alone across the muddy fields three miles from Longbourn to Netherfield. “She was shewn into the breakfast-parlour.” Through such a detail Jane Austen is able to convey the size of the Netherfield establishment as breakfast is held in a special room only used for that purpose. Elizabeth’s act of walking three miles in difficult circumstances causes interesting reactions. “Elizabeth was convinced that” Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley “held her in contempt [as] her appearance created a great deal of surprise” as inappropriate behavior for a lady and exhibiting the Bennets’ lower social status. Darcy’s reactions are more complex, “divided between admiration of the brilliancy which exercise had given to her complexion, and doubt as to the occasion’s justifying her coming so far alone.” Elizabeth is also invited to stay at Netherfield to be with her sister. So the narrative focus in seven chapters has moved from Longbourn, to Assembly Rooms, to the home of the intended prey—Bingley (28–34).
Chapter 8 is one of the longest so far, consisting of paragraphs of omniscient narration and then dialogue. The initial paragraph reveals details of social status and habits. The Bingleys dine “at half past six,” a relatively late time but one kept in fashionable parts of London. Mr. Hurst, the narrator tells her readers, “was an indolent man, who lived only to eat, drink and play cards, who when he found her prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to” Elizabeth (35). Ragout was “a spicy meat and vegetable dish, imported from France in the late “17th century,” since when it had become something of a byword for foreign influence and affectation. . . . Mr. Hurst’s preference for a ragout is indicative of his interest in money and general ostentation” (Stafford, 317).
Another allusion in this chapter indicating character as well as social habits is that of a card game. In the evening, “on entering the drawing-room [Elizabeth] found the whole party [the Bingleys and Darcy] at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high she declined it.” Loo, a card game in which various players could participate, offered an opportunity to place bets. It was fashionable for women to play such a game, and cards might well serve as a replacement for conversation or reading. Elizabeth’s negative attitude to the game, her resistance too, displays her candor, her intelligence, and her integrity.
Elizabeth’s reluctance to play leads Caroline Bingley into conversation with Darcy concerning the depth, range, and extent of the library at his country estate at Pemberly. The ensuing conversation between Caroline Bingley, the younger sister of Bingley, who has designs on Darcy, Darcy, and Elizabeth, works on several levels, as do most of the dialogues in Jane Austen’s novels. On one level, there is the surface meaning of what is said. In this instance, the “accomplishments” of young ladies are outlined. These extend from Bingley’s “they all paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses.” These accomplishments reflect considerable free time, and wealth—the servants performing many of the household duties. Darcy objects to the generalization that this applies to all women, as he “cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of [his] acquaintance.” Miss Bingley and Darcy produce another list of accomplishments: “A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word.” Further, “she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.” The listing is as unrealistic as Bingley’s was generalized. The words “greatly,” “thorough,” “certain something,” and “half” reinforce the idealistic nature of such demands. Further physical accomplishments such as the ability to walk in a certain manner are juxtaposed with intellectual ones, such as a knowledge of music and modern languages. Darcy wants “something more substantial, in the improvement of her [a woman’s] mind by extensive reading,” revealing very high standards, and that he is exceedingly difficult to please.
Other layers of meaning underlie the apparently witty surface of the dialogue. Darcy’s desire for “something more substantial” could be viewed as a reflection of his views concerning the perception of the superficiality of women’s education. He rebukes Caroline Bingley for using “all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation.” This “cunning” he finds “despicable”—a strong word of condemnation in the vocabulary of Jane Austen’s novels. On the other hand, he is searching “for something more substantial.” So character competition, rivalry between characters, and as yet unrealized wishes are revealed through dialogue. Elizabeth by implication has provoked Darcy’s interest. She has implicitly challenged him in her riposte to him, “you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman.” This has resulted in his expansion of the qualities he is looking for. Of course, underlying such a dialogue is a narrowly subscribed rigid structure of courtship and the marriage, capturing the right husband, the right prey, is the only way in which Jane Austen’s heroines can land a secure existence. It is rare that disparities of class, income, and social status are bridged, in for instance a meeting of intellects.
Chapter 8 concludes on a note of fine social distinction. Initially, when Jane was taken ill, an apothecary was summoned. By the end of the chapter, the Bingleys are “convinced that no country advice could be of any service, recommended an express to town for one of the most eminent physicians” (37, 39–40). They do not regard a country apothecary as sufficiently competent to deal well with serious medical problems. This mirrors contemporary doubts concerning the status of apothecaries. In 1821, apothecaries formed an association to improve their station and education. Intense disputes in the medical world over status, competency, rights, and privileges in the provincial England of the 1829–31 prereform years are to find brilliant fictional depiction. George Eliot in Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (1871–72), especially in the character of Lydgate, exposes a world of chicanery and deceit, his idealism crushed by the harsh realities of social existence.
Jane Austen’s narrative is hurried along in chapter 9. Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, and Kitty expose themselves as silly during a visit to Netherfield. Lydia reminds Bingley of his promise to give a ball. They demonstrate to Darcy the inferior social status to which Elizabeth Bennet belongs. The chapter contains some interesting observations. Darcy remarks that “In a country neighborhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society,” to which there is the riposte, “But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever” (42–43). These sentiments resemble Jane Austen’s inevitable choice of the country for the canvas of her fiction. She writes on September 9, 1814, to her niece Anna, who is planning a novel, “You are now collecting your People delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life;—3 or 4 families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on” (Letters, 275).
Letter writing forms the subject of chapter 10. At the start of the chapter, Darcy’s attempts to write a letter to his sister are continually thwarted by Caroline Bingley’s overattentiveness. She constantly flatters Darcy to gain favor with him, complimenting him “on his hand-writing, on the evenness of his lines, or on the length of his letter.” This results in a four-way conversation among Darcy, Caroline, her brother Charles, and Elizabeth. In the dialogue, Elizabeth’s sarcasm at Bingley’s expense produces a response from Darcy on the theme of pride and humility that pervades the book. Elizabeth tells Bingley that his “humility . . . must disarm reproof.” Darcy replies, “Nothing is more deceitful . . . than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.” The result is a lengthy dialogue consisting largely of a verbal sparring match between Darcy and Elizabeth with occasional interruptions from Bingley on intentions, “friendship and affection.” At the conclusion, Elizabeth appears to have got the better of Darcy. She tells him that he “had much better finish his letter,” and “Mr. Darcy took her advice and did finish his letter.” Elizabeth becomes the object of Darcy’s gaze, while Mrs. Hurst and her sister sang. Darcy then asks her to dance and Elizabeth gives an elaborate negative, her response relating to assumptions she has made concerning his intentions: “You wanted me, I know, to say ‘Yes,’ that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste.” Elizabeth takes delight in “cheating a person of” [what she assumes to be] “their premeditated contempt.”
Elizabeth’s expectations are again proved to be formed incorrectly. She was “amazed at [Darcy’s] gallantry.” The narrator tells her readers “there was a mixture of sweetness and archness, in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody.” The use of “archness” is ambiguous, implying adroit cleverness. Consequently, “Darcy had never been so bewitched by a woman as he was by her. He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.” The awareness of Darcy’s attraction to Elizabeth results in Caroline Bingley’s jealousy. She will try to get “rid of Elizabeth” as quickly as possible. Caroline reminds Darcy of Elizabeth’s mother and silly sisters “to provoke” [him] into disliking her. At the end of the chapter, Elizabeth exhibits her knowledge of appropriate taste. She deflects Darcy’s attempt to apologize for the rudeness of Mrs. Hurst and Caroline Bingley with the observation, “You are charmingly group’d and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth” (67–53). The youthful Jane Austen was very fond of writers on the picturesque such as William Gilpin (1724–1804). For Gilpin, groups of three (a group of three cows is one of the examples given by Gilpin) are attractive because of their irregularity.
In chapter 11, the verbal dueling between Darcy and Elizabeth continues assisted by Caroline Bingley. Her brother is preoccupied with talking to Jane, who has recovered sufficiently to leave her room and spend some time downstairs. In describing the scene, Jane Austen draws upon her favorite poet, William Cowper. “Mr. Hurst had . . . nothing to do, but to stretch himself on one of the sofas and go to sleep” (54). Cowper at the opening of his poem The Task (1785) described the sofa “as a symbol of luxury and indolence” in his lines “Thus first necessity invented stools. / Convenience next suggested elbow chairs, / And luxury th’accomplished Sofa last” (i, 86–88). Against this background, Darcy and Elizabeth enact a contest of wills on “vanity and pride.” Their conversation elicits some of their most memorable lines in the book. Elizabeth tells Darcy, “I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.” (Jane Austen’s emphasis) This results in a defense from Darcy of pride, which “where there is a real superiority of mind . . . will be always under good regulation.” It also evokes a listing of his faults ranging from his “temper,” which “is I believe too little yielding.” He finds that he “cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself.” These are sentiments that will soon be tested when Wickham appears on the scene. At this point, as Darcy tells Elizabeth, she “is willfully to misunderstand” everybody and especially him. By the end of the chapter, there has been a subtle change in Darcy’s attitude to Elizabeth: “He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention” (54–58).
A shorter chapter consisting of seven brief paragraphs of omniscient narration follows chapter 11, where dialogue dominates. The focus is on Jane and Elizabeth’s departure from Netherfield and return to Longbourn. Mrs. Bennet does her best to forestall this without success. There is also attention to the impact of the stay, particularly on Darcy. In a passage of erleble Rede (free indirect speech), the reader learns that Elizabeth “attracted him more than he liked—and Miss Bingley was uncivil to her, and more teasing than usual to himself.” Consequently, Darcy adopts a policy of disguise and deception: “he wisely resolved to be particularly careful that no sign of admiration should now escape him” (Jane Austen’s emphasis). The chapter concludes with Elizabeth and Jane’s return home. In the final paragraph, there is a pun. The sisters found their sister “Mary, as usual, deep in the study of thorough bass”: the study of musical harmonies and also the study of human sin, or baseness. In the last sentence, (59–60), folly and frivolity gain the upper hand, with rumor circulating concerning goings on in the militia. Within two chapters, serious dialogue underlying a contest of wills between Darcy and Elizabeth has been replaced by trivia.
A new character enters into the narrative in the next chapter through the device of an elaborate and character-revealing letter. He is introduced by a conversation between members of the Bennet family on the subject of Mr. Collins “who, when I [Mr. Bennet] am dead, may turn you all out of his house as soon as he pleases” (61). The reader is also told that there has been a long-standing family quarrel on the matter of inheriting Longbourn. Mr. Bennet reads his distant relative’s letter, which is wordy, elaborate, pompous, pedantic, and replete with cliché. The letter consists of one paragraph of five lengthy sentences with elaborate subclauses: “the average sentence-length in this letter is 71.4 words” (Page, 186). It contains formulaic expressions such as “trespass on your hospitality,” wellworn metaphors (“heal the breach,” “the offered olive branch”) superficial hollow phrases (“bounty and beneficence,” “promote and establish”). The letter also reveals Collins’s superciliousness and deference to his patron, “the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh.” Mr. Bennet seems to take Collins’s sentiments in the letter at their face value, as the reflection of “a most conscientious and polite young man.” Elizabeth, on the other hand, is more penetrating, aware of “his extraordinary deference for Lady Catherine.” She thinks that “he must be an oddity,” and finds his style to be “very pompous.” She has doubts about his being “a sensible man” (62–64).
The remainder of chapter 13 and all of chapter 14 are preoccupied with the Reverend Collins’s visit to Longbourn. The ostensible reason for the visit is an attempt at a rapprochement between him and the Bennet family regarding the entail issue. The real reason has to do with the advice of his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings in Kent. “She had even condescended to advise him to marry as soon as he could, provided he chose with discretion.” So his visit to Longbourn has another motive. He had received complimentary reports concerning the Bennet girls and wishes to marry one of them to please his patroness. Mr. Bennet concludes that “his cousin was as absurd as he had hoped” (66, 68), stupid, lacking tact, and full of his own self-importance.
Jane Austen concurs with her character’s judgment. She opens chapter 15 with the sentence, “Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been little assisted by education or society” (70): he lacked common sense, reasonableness, and wisdom. Mrs. Bennet, true to form, can only think of the prospects Collins offers as an eligible match for one of her daughters. Believing Jane to be spoken for, to Bingley, she thinks that Elizabeth will make an appropriate match for Collins.
There are several interesting allusions in these chapters. Collins in his letter in chapter 13 tells Mr. Bennet that Lady Catherine de Bourgh “has preferred me to the valuable rectory” (63). Subsequently, the narrator reveals that “A fortunate chance had recommended [Collins] to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant” (70). Lady Catherine has allowed Collins to live in a parish and the house that went with it, which she controls. Collins, as a clergyman, would benefit from the house, allied income, and property gained from the parishioners of, for instance, other land belonging to the church. He and any family he may have can live comfortably and in style provided he is appropriately deferential to the controlling authority—in this instance, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Collins is, of course, too deferential. In chapter 14 at Longbourn, Collins reads extracts from “Fordyce’s Sermons” (68) to Lydia. This is singularly ironic. James Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women (1766) had attacked modern fiction for the harmful effects it had on the imagination of the young. As will be revealed, Lydia in particular is especially foolish and headstrong. In Mr. Bennet’s library, Collins is attracted to “one of the largest folios in the collection.” In other words, Collins is attracted to appearances, a folio being the largest of book sizes, rather than to content and quality. Lady Catherine attracts him as she has great wealth, status, and influence.
During Collins’s Longbourn visit, other new characters are introduced into the story. Mr. Bennet retreats into his library; it is a place of escape, peace, and quiet. “In his library [Mr. Bennet] had been always sure of leisure and tranquillity; and though prepared, as he told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and conceit in every other room in the house, he was used to be free from them there.” Narratively, the retreat to the library is used as a device to get Collins away from the house at Longbourn and allow him to join the Bennet girls on a walk to Meryton. In Meryton, they encounter Mr. Denny, the militia officer about whom rumors had been circulating. Denny is accompanied by a “young man [who] wanted only regimentals to make him completely charming. His appearance was greatly in his favour.” The narrator adds, “he had all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure and very pleasing address.” These tributes are all to external qualities. Nothing is said about his internal behavior, his character. Denny introduces Wickham to the Bennet party, and as he is doing so, a coincidence occurs (Jane Austen sometimes uses coincidence as a plot device). The significance of such a device is often not immediately apparent and is frequently revealed on revisiting the novel or subsequently (as in this instance) as the plot unfolds. As Wickham is being introduced, Bingley and Darcy are seen on horseback. Immediately they come to greet Jane and Elizabeth. The latter, “happening to see the countenance of both” Darcy and Wickham “as they looked at each other, was all astonishment at the effect of the meeting. Both changed colour, one looked white, the other red.” The effect of the chance encounter on each other and the discomfort it induced in both is appropriately viewed through Elizabeth’s eyes. Her misperception of Darcy’s actions and prejudice in Wickham’s favor is to have serious plot consequences. Jane Austen uses free indirect speech to convey the impact on Elizabeth: “Mr. Wickham, after a few moments, touched his hat—a salutation which Mr. Darcy just deigned to return. What could be the meaning of it?—It was impossible to imagine; it was impossible not to long to know” (71–73).
The answer to this question will be satisfactorily resolved only after much misunderstanding at the resolution of the novel. Through the use of a chance meeting, and the observance of it by one of the characters, who will be most affected by the history underlying the meeting, Jane Austen uses small fine detail that has the utmost significance. However, the narrative focuses directly not on this brief encounter; in fact, Darcy and Bingley ride on quietly. It moves to Mrs. Philips’s reaction to her nieces and reception of Mr. Collins. By the end of the chapter, Mrs. Philips has invited the Bennets to dinner the next evening. Pressured by Lydia and Kitty, she also agrees to invite the new officer, Wickham, too.
Their encounter with Wickham at the Philips’s Meryton home is the subject of chapter 16. While the others play whist, Wickham and Elizabeth are able to talk and she asks him about Darcy. Wickham tells her that Darcy’s father “was one of the best men that ever breathed, and the truest friend that [Wickham] ever had.” Elizabeth finds it “quite shocking” when informed by Wickham that his career has been destroyed by Darcy, who ignored the wishes of his late father and denied Wickham “the best living in his gift.” Elizabeth asks, “What can have induced [Darcy] to behave so cruelly?” According to Wickham, Darcy was jealous of him owing to “his father’s uncommon attachment to” him, and his “pride.” Wickham explains that he grew up with Darcy, they “were born in the same parish, within the same park, the greatest part of [their] youth was passed together.” His father was the “most intimate, confidential friend” of Darcy’s father. Wickham tells Elizabeth that “almost all [Darcy’s] actions may be traced to pride;—and pride has often been his best friend.” In the previous speech, somewhat ironically in the perspective of subsequent plot unraveling, Elizabeth refers to Darcy’s actions as “abominable” and “dishonest”: She has accepted what Wickham has told her at face value and without verification.
Wickham refers to Darcy’s brotherly concern and kindness. Darcy “has also brotherly pride, which with some brotherly affection, makes him a very kind and careful guardian of his sister” (Jane Austen’s emphasis). Again Jane Austen places a hint in the narrative, a cue that subsequently is to grow in her story. Wickham tells Elizabeth that Darcy’s “sister is nothing to [him] now,” the implication being that there was a relationship. In response to Elizabeth’s inquiry concerning the relationship between Bingley and Darcy, Wickham claims not to know Bingley, adding, “He is a sweet tempered, amiable, charming man. He cannot know what Mr. Darcy is.” This can be read at several levels: as an untruth in that Bingley has recognized Darcy’s strengths, Bingley has more to learn about Darcy’s strength of character, or a true account of the state of affairs between them. Wickham, when hearing the name of Lady Catherine de Bourgh from Collins, informs Elizabeth that she is Darcy’s aunt and wishes to combine her property with him. “Her daughter, Miss de Bourgh, will have a very large fortune, and it is believed that she and her cousin will unite the two estates” (78, 80–83). Elizabeth is impressed by Wickham; what he has told her reinforces her prejudices, her own sense of Darcy’s character.
In chapter 17, the omniscient narrator tells her readers that “Elizabeth felt herself completely taken in” by Wickham (87). The chapter opens with a discussion between Elizabeth and Jane on truth and deception. Jane makes excuses for Bingley, and he is included among those whom Darcy has mistreated. Jane is less certain than her sister, and is less inclined to rush to judgment. “One does not know what to think,” she tells Elizabeth, who immediately replies, “One knows exactly what to think.” Elizabeth finds it, ironically, difficult to believe “that Mr. Wickham should invent such a history as he gave me last night; names, facts, every thing mentioned without ceremony.” She adds, “If it be not so, let Mr. Darcy contradict it. Besides, there was truth in his looks.” At this stage in the novel, Elizabeth is taken in by appearances, by surface charm and glitter. The sisters’ discussion is interrupted by an invitation from “Mr. Bingley and his sisters” to “the long expected ball at Netherfield.” Preparations for the event, with whom Elizabeth in particular is to dance, preoccupy the remainder of the chapter, most of which is omniscient narration. There is a self-serving, slightly ridiculous speech from Collins in which he solicits the first two dances in advance from Elizabeth. She had been dreaming that Wickham would be her partner. Instead, she finds herself the subject of Collins’s increasing attention and chooses to ignore a “hint” from her mother that “the probability of their marriage was exceedingly agreeable to her,” (Jane Austen’s emphasis), that is, Elizabeth’s mother, not Elizabeth. The upcoming Netherfield ball makes even the usually unbearable weather, “such . . . succession of rain as prevented their walking to Meryton once . . . endurable to Kitty and Lydia,” the two youngest (85–86, 88).
The Netherfield ball, which takes place in chapter 18, is the important social happening so far in the novel. There have been many social events already: visits, meals, walks, and assemblies. The upcoming ball is important, for most of the key characters are present except one, who is most conspicuous by his absence—Wickham. The ball has been carefully prepared and demonstrates Bingley’s benevolence. He comes personally to Longbourn to deliver an invitation, and goes ahead with the plan for the ball in spite of his sister’s and Darcy’s objections to it. The ball also arouses expectations. At the event, Collins, Elizabeth, Jane, and Bingley hope to develop their relationships. Mrs. Bennet too expects that these courtships will be cemented in actual marital proposals. Elizabeth looks forward to seeing Wickham and gaining information that he is correct concerning Darcy. The actual ball does not prove to be a disappointment but ironically is not what the Bennets expected. Wickham is absent, the courtship of Bingley and Jane is not developed, Mr. Collins makes little if any headway with Elizabeth, and Elizabeth is unable to confront Darcy. She suspects that he is the reason why Wickham is absent but is unable to substantiate what remains a suspicion based on her prejudice against him. Darcy’s view that the Bennet sisters are unsuitable marital partners is confirmed by the behavior of Mrs. Bennet and Mary, who sings far too much when asked to perform.
Chapter 18, the description of Netherfield, is lengthy. It operates on many levels and has consequences that reemerge in the novel. For instance, in Darcy’s lengthy letter to Elizabeth after she has rejected his proposal of marriage, he refers to “the evening of the dance at Netherfield” (197). Through the advantage of hindsight, Elizabeth is in accord with Darcy’s view of what occurred. The immediate consequences are that Jane receives a letter from Caroline Bingley telling her that their “whole party have left Netherfield . . . and are on their way to town; and without any intention of” returning (116). Jane is also told that Caroline and Louisa, her sister, are optimistic that there will be a marriage between Bingley and Georgina, Darcy’s sister. Elizabeth attempts to reassure Jane that this is probably a mistake on Caroline Bingley’s part and that Bingley is “in love with” her (119). However, before this letter has been received, the day following the ball, Elizabeth herself has been the subject of a proposal from Mr. Collins.
Before examining this, we briefly analyze the structure of the Netherfield Ball chapter. It opens with Elizabeth’s disappointment at finding Wickham absent. There is then a dialogue between her and Darcy accompanying their dancing together. The subject of Wickham is raised by Elizabeth but they are interrupted by Sir William Lucas, who mentions the closeness of the relationship between Jane and Bingley and speculates that “a certain desirable event . . . shall take place.” This “seemed to strike [Darcy] forcibly.” There follows a conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth on the subject of reading, books, and prejudice during which there is a warning from Darcy to Elizabeth “not to sketch [his—Darcy’s] character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either.” The actions of this chapter illustrate one of Jane Austen’s continuing preoccupations in her work, to demonstrate that appearances are deceptive. Caroline Bingley then tells Elizabeth, after she and Darcy have separated, that she should not believe what Wickham tells her: “George Wickham has treated Mr. Darcy in a most infamous manner.” Elizabeth is so prejudiced in Wickham’s favor and against Darcy that she refuses to believe Caroline. She is not even reassured by Jane’s report of Bingley informing her of his defense of Darcy. The rest of the chapter is taken up with Collins’s plan to introduce himself to Darcy, a relative of his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and elaborate prolix speeches by Collins to Elizabeth and others. Elizabeth is preoccupied with visions of the consequences of a marriage between Jane and Bingley. The reader is to learn later on that similar thoughts are engaging Darcy, hence his desire to separate the two, a reason being, the unsuitability of a marriage to someone with a mother such as Mrs. Bennet, who insists in making ridiculous observations overheard by Darcy. The family is further shown to disadvantage by Mary’s singing. She becomes the subject of “derision” among the Bingley sisters.
The chapter ends with an unhappy Elizabeth, lengthy speeches from Collins, “a manoeuver” from Mrs. Bennet to delay the Bennet family departure, and Mrs. Bennet’s certainty that “she should undoubtedly see her daughter settled at Netherfield, in the course of three or four months.” Mrs. Bennet’s irresponsible actions have partly contributed, as emerges, to the opposite taking place. The last paragraph also tells readers that “Elizabeth was the least dear to her [Mrs. Bennet] of all her children.” “Dear” here is a term of endearment, of affection. It also has financial implications. Mrs. Bennet does not mind Elizabeth marrying the less wealthy Mr. Collins, who is “quite good enough for her” (Jane Austen’s emphasis)—Elizabeth. Her “worth . . . was eclipsed by Mr. Bingley and Netherfield” (92, 94, 100, 102–103).
The next five chapters focus not on Jane and Bingley, on Darcy or Wickham, but on Collins and his attention toward Elizabeth. Mr. Collins’s proposal to Elizabeth is comic. The source of its being comedy is its incongruity. Collins proposes in a pedantic manner, as if he is delivering a Sunday sermon. He tells Elizabeth at some length his “reason for marrying,” his home is “a humble abode,” “music an innocent diversion,” death a “melancholy event.” He even informs Elizabeth that he “should hope to lead [her] to the alter ere long.” His proposal is full of condescension and acute awareness of social rank. He is proposing because his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, has instructed him to do so. Collins is also actively aware of money and Elizabeth Bennet’s financial state. He tells her on that matter he “shall be uniformly silent” after she has been made aware how perilous her financial situation is, “that one thousand pounds in the 4 per cents . . . will not be [hers] till after [her] mother’s decease, is all that [she] may ever be entitled to.” This will only generate an annual income of £40, which, compared to Mr. Bennet’s present income of £2,000 annually and Collins’s of a few hundred pounds, is not enough to live on. In any case, on Elizabeth’s marriage the meager income will pass as capital to her husband. Elizabeth’s money will become one of the sources of the income by which Collins’s status is judged. In Collins’s case, his status depends on his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s good graces.
Chapters 20 and 21 deal with the consequences of Elizabeth’s rejection of Collins’s offer. Mrs. Bennet naturally is mortified to hear that what she considers to be such a suitable marital proposal has been rejected. She turns to Mr. Bennet to support her and persuade Elizabeth to reconsider. Elizabeth is “summoned” to her father’s sanctum, his retreat from his wife and other domestic inconveniences, the library. His response is ironic and in some respects egocentric. Mr. Bennet tells Elizabeth, “Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do” (Jane Austen’s emphasis). He tells his wife to “allow [him] the free use of [his] understanding on the present occasion,” in other words, that his wishes should be preeminent. Further, that he “shall be glad to have the library to [himself] as soon as may be.” In other words, for selfish reasons he takes his daughter’s part and wishes to be left alone. His short, antithetically based sentences, his wit is used as a defensive mechanism.
Mrs. Bennet too retreats, not to the library, but to berating her daughters and Charlotte Lucas, who is visiting about her “nervous complaints” (105–106, 112–113).
In the meantime, Jane relates in chapter 21 the contents of a letter she has received from Caroline Bingley. The rest of the chapter is taken up with Elizabeth and Jane’s reactions to the letter as Jane reads passages from it to her sister. Elizabeth is concerned to reinforce Bingley’s strength of genuine attachment to Jane in spite of what Caroline Bingley tells her. Jane is much less disposed to think negative thoughts or motives of anyone. She tells Elizabeth, “Caroline is incapable of wilfully deceiving any one; and all that I can hope in this case, is that she is deceived herself” (114). The reader, however, is largely presented with Elizabeth’s perception of what has occurred.
The final two chapters of the first volume of Pride and Prejudice concern a marriage not anticipated earlier in its narrative. The opening paragraphs of chapter 22 are sufficient to report Collins’s proposal to Charlotte Lucas and her acceptance, “solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment, [she] cared not how soon that establishment were gained.” As Charlotte explains to Elizabeth, who has expressed incredulity at the engagement, she is “not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home.” She is a realist, as she tells Elizabeth, “considering Mr. Collins’ character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.” Charlotte has no illusions, her “opinion of matrimony was not exactly” Elizabeth’s, who would not “have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage.” Elizabeth perceives that her friend has disgraced herself. She, Charlotte, has lowered herself in “her esteem” and Elizabeth is convinced “that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.” Once again, subsequent events in the narrative are to demonstrate that Elizabeth’s prejudgment of the situation is incorrect. Charlotte, who has realistically married for pragmatic reasons, is able to be “tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.” Charlotte’s choice is a realistic reflection of the marriage market. It is a logical and a reasonable choice based not on desire and love but upon practicality.
The last chapter of the first volume focuses on anxiety in the Bennet family. Mrs. Bennet, practical as ever, is “in a most pitiable state.” She fears that the marriage between Charlotte and Collins, heir to the Longbourn estate, will have practical adverse consequences upon the Bennets: that Collins was “resolving to turn herself and her daughters out of the house, as soon as Mr. Bennet were dead.” Mrs. Bennet’s temper is not improved by a visit from her friend and neighbor Lady Lucas, who has “the comfort of having a daughter well married” before Mrs. Bennet has achieved such a desired goal. Further, neither Jane nor Elizabeth has heard any news of Bingley’s whereabouts or of his return to Netherfield. In short, the first volume concludes on a downbeat note for the Bennet family with none of their expectations fulfilled (122, 125, 130, 127).
Volume 2, Chapter 1
The second book opens with the summary of a letter Caroline Bingley has written to Jane. The contents of the letter are not relayed as on a previous occasion by Jane but by the author. They are then conveyed through each characters’ reactions to the contents: in this instance, Jane’s and primarily Elizabeth’s. The latter’s reactions are conveyed in erlebte Rede, or the indirect speech mode. Jane Austen subsequently uses dialogue between the sisters and then between Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth to convey reaction to the letter. The chapter concludes with a “dispelling [of] gloom, which the late perverse occurrences had thrown on many of the Longbourn family” by the regular presence of Wickham at Longbourn. Jane is left as the only person refusing to think ill of the Bingleys. She is the only one who has refused to condemn Darcy “as the worst of men.” Caroline’s letter confirmed that Bingley will spend the winter in London, and she suggests an attachment between Bingley and Georgiana Darcy. Elizabeth distrusts Caroline’s motives, attributing them to an attempt to make Jane believe falsely that she was misled in her impression of Bingley’s strength of feeling toward her. Subsequently in the narrative, Elizabeth’s insight into Caroline’s motivation will be verified, and Jane shown to be too trusting but correct about Darcy.
Volume 2, Chapter 2 (Chapter 25)
New characters, the Gardiners, are introduced into the narrative. Gardiner, Mrs. Bennet’s brother, is “a sensible, gentleman-like man, greatly superior to his sister as well by nature and education.” He is successful in trade and his warehouse. He and his wife live in Gracechurch Street, London, in a part of the city associated with trade and money but socially acceptable. Mrs. Bennet’s welcome for Mrs. Gardiner allows Jane Austen, through the use of a casual remark made in dialogue by Mrs. Bennet, to comment on the very latest fashion controversies. Mrs. Bennet is “very glad to hear what you [Mrs. Gardiner] tell us, of long sleeves” (138–140). In a letter to her sister, Cassandra, of March 9, 1814, Jane Austen writes, “I wear my gauze gown today, long sleeves & all; I shall see how they succeed, but as yet I have no reason to suppose long sleeves are allowable . . . Mrs. Tilson had long sleeves, too & she assured me that they are worn in the evening by many” (Letters, 261–262). This is just one small example of the way in which a Jane Austen narrative is littered with allusions to contemporary fashion and behavior.
On hearing of Jane’s disappointment from Elizabeth, Mrs. Gardiner invites Jane to stay with her in London. The reader is informed that Mrs. Gardiner, too, before her marriage “spent a considerable time” where both Wickham and Darcy grew up, and her memory seems to confirm the prejudice against Darcy. Volume 2, Chapter 3 (Chapter 26) Mrs. Gardiner warns Elizabeth to be cautious about Wickham. Her caution is a practical one. In this respect, she is not dissimilar to Charlotte Lucas. Mrs. Gardiner tells Elizabeth, “if he had the fortune he ought to have, I should think you could not do better.” But Elizabeth’s “sense,” her common sense, sensibleness should take priority over her “fancy,” her selfish, impractical desires. Elizabeth promises not to rush into anything or to disappoint either her aunt or her father, but she believes that the days for making marriages based solely on financial or practical considerations are over: “young people are seldom withheld by immediate want of fortune, from entering into engagements with each other.” Ironically, this indeed is the case in Pride and Prejudice and contrary to Elizabeth’s expectations.
Charlotte is married and extracts a promise from Elizabeth to visit her and her new home at Hunsford in Kent. Charlotte’s letters to Elizabeth are full of praise for “the house, furniture, neighbourhood and roads.” Jane meanwhile has gone to London to stay with her aunt Gardiner; she sees Caroline Bingley briefly and then writes a lengthy letter to Elizabeth, which is quoted in full. Jane admits to having been duped by Caroline, and she and Elizabeth believe that “all expectation from” Bingley “was now absolutely over.” Elizabeth has a disappointment of her own to contend with. Wickham has turned his attentions toward a Miss King, who has acquired an inheritance of 10,000 pounds, a sum much more than the amount Elizabeth can hope to inherit or bring to a marriage. She is still sympathetically disposed or prejudiced in Wickham’s favor, telling her aunt that her sisters “Kitty and Lydia take his defection much more to heart” than she does. In this way, Jane Austen once again is placing hints in the narrative of what is to come. Elizabeth adds to her aunt that her sisters “are young in the ways of the world.” Elizabeth, after her experience with Charlotte’s actions, realizes that “handsome young men must have something to live on, as well as the plain.”
Volume 2, Chapter 4 (Chapter 27)
In March, Elizabeth accompanies Sir William Lucas and his second daughter, Maria, on a visit to Charlotte Lucas at Hunsford in Kent. They interrupt the journey with a visit to the Gardiners at Gracechurch Street and to Jane. They also spend their time in London during “the morning in bustle and shopping, and the evening at one of the theatres.” Before leaving her Aunt Gardiner’s, Elizabeth agrees to accompany them on a tour of Derbyshire and the Lake District—a popular venue for scenic travel. Further, Elizabeth in a dialogue with her aunt over Wickham’s transfer of affection to Miss King, an heiress, is ready to accept his “mercenary” behavior as appropriate to “a man in distressed circumstances.” Elizabeth is “sick of them all”—that is, men. The chapter ends on an optimistic note: “Adieu to disappointment and spleen” (142, 144– 146, 149, 150, 152–153).
Volume 2, Chapter 5 (Chapter 28)
Collins greets his visitors to Hunsford Parsonage with a “formal civility.” Elizabeth is impressed by how comfortable her friend Charlotte is and by her “evident enjoyment” of her new surroundings. She also notices how adroitly Charlotte manages her husband, encouraging, for instance, his gardening, which he enjoys and which also gets him out of the Parsonage. The Parsonage is situated near the boundary of Rosings Park, and Rosings House is within walking distance. The day following their arrival they have visitors. Humorously, Elizabeth mistakes Mrs. Jenkinson, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s companion, for the patroness herself. She “expected at least that the pigs were got into the garden, and here is nothing but Lady Catherine and her daughter!” Elizabeth is pleased that the daughter “looks sickly and cross” and hence will be a suitable match for Darcy (155, 157–158).
Volume 2, Chapter 6 (Chapter 29)
The next day, they visit Rosings and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Collins shows his visitors Rosings Park. In spite of his superciliousness and exceeding deference to his patroness, Collins is practical and impressed by possessions. For instance, he enumerates the cost of the glazing at Rosings Park. Windows and glazing were very expensive as windows had been subject to tax since 1696, with additional taxes relating to the weight of glass being subsequently introduced. The amount and size of windows in a new property indicated the owner’s wealth, and windows in general were a status symbol. Sir William Lucas and his daughter Maria are overwhelmed by the “grandeur surrounding” them. Lady Catherine, through her manner of receiving her visitors, does not hesitate to make them feel that they are of “inferior rank” to her. Elizabeth remains aloof from being overawed by either Lady Catherine, her rank, her money, or her surroundings or from being reminded that her “father’s estate is entailed to Mr. Collins.” She is not phased by Lady Catherine’s shock at learning that she, Elizabeth, did not have a governess. The reader learns through Lady Catherine’s interrogation of Elizabeth that the latter is not yet “one and twenty.” Elizabeth shocks Lady Catherine by speaking forthrightly to her and refusing to be overawed (162, 164, 166).
Volume 2, Chapter 7 (Chapter 30)
Sir William’s Hunsford visit is only for a week. Elizabeth is left with Charlotte, who she discovers has found a way to accommodate her husband without too much interference from him. Charlotte even has arranged the Parsonage so that she and her husband have their own separate space. Lady Catherine manages even “the minutest concerns” of the parishioners who live nearby, being regularly informed of local developments by Mr. Collins. Lady Catherine is visited at Easter by her two nephews, Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam. The latter is Darcy’s cousin and with Darcy guardian of Georgiana Darcy. The two soon call at the Parsonage. The meeting between Darcy and Elizabeth is a very brief one in the seventh chapter of the second volume. Most of the chapter is omniscient narration, with occasional interweaving into Elizabeth’s perspective. Two instances of dialogue occur. Collins perceives that Darcy would not have visited the Parsonage so soon if Elizabeth had not been present. Elizabeth asks Darcy whether he happened to see Jane in town: the answer is not given.
Volume 2, Chapter 8 (Chapter 31)
The Lucases and Elizabeth are invited to Rosings after church on Easter evening. The focal point of chapter 8 is Elizabeth’s performance at the piano during the visit, the responses this produces especially in Darcy, his attentiveness to her, and his embarrassment at “his aunt’s ill breeding.” Two key moments are evident in the encounter. Elizabeth tells Colonel Fitzwilliam when responding to his request to tell him “what [she has] to accuse [Darcy] of” (169, 173–174), that at his first ball, he danced only four times, in spite of the scarcity of gentleman. This may be perceived as the reason for Elizabeth’s initial prejudice against Darcy. The second key moment occurs when Elizabeth uses her piano performance to provide a counterpoint to Darcy’s evident shyness and lack of social skills. In this chapter Darcy shows yet again that he is incapable of small talk. Jane Austen uses Elizabeth’s apparently superficial conversation during her piano playing to reveal deep emotion and feelings. She has much to teach Darcy, who ironically appears not to hear the real import or context of what she is saying to him. If he had listened to her, he would not have immediately proposed and would have saved himself anguish. Elizabeth also learns in the chapter that Darcy apparently has no interest in developing a relationship with the sickly-looking Anne de Bourgh, the only daughter of Lady Catherine and heiress to the Rosings estate and properties.
Volume 2, Chapter 9 (Chapter 32)
Darcy’s difficulty in expressing himself is further illustrated in chapter 9 when he visits the Parsonage and finds Elizabeth alone. Tongue-tied, he responds in brief sentences to Elizabeth’s questions concerning Bingley and the possibility of his returning to Netherfield. He presents a more benevolent side of Lady Catherine than has surfaced previously by telling Elizabeth that she enlarged the Parsonage when Mr. Collins first appeared at Hunsford. Darcy seems genuinely concerned with the happiness of Charlotte, Elizabeth’s friend. In the course of their conversation, Darcy “drew a chair a little towards her,” revealing emotion and affection but his tone changes and they are interrupted. The chapter concludes with Elizabeth and Charlotte speculating as to “why Mr. Darcy came so often to the Parsonage” and why Colonel Fitzwilliam also appears so much. Elizabeth is aware of Darcy’s “earnest, steadfast gaze” but dismisses Charlotte’s suggestion of “the possibility of his being partial to her.” In the last paragraph of the chapter, the indirect speech pattern focuses on Charlotte’s thoughts rather than Elizabeth’s. The attention is on Colonel Fitzwilliam’s many positive attributes. But, as ever in a Jane Austen novel, there is a “counter balance” to his “advantages.” These are, as is so often the case, practical and material: “Darcy had considerable patronage, in the church and his cousin could have none at all” (174, 180–181). In other words, Darcy had the real wealth, connections, and status, Fitzwilliam had none.
Volume 2, Chapter 10 (Chapter 33)
Chapter 10 of the second volume is well placed structurally to occur before Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth. It explains why she is so hostile toward him and plants signposts indicating that his proposal should not be a total surprise to the reader or even to Elizabeth, if she had read the signs correctly. Darcy finds every possible reason to meet her in the grounds of Rosings, on walks, to ask her questions about the happiness of the Collinses and her opinion of Rosings: “he seemed to expect that whenever she came into Kent again she would be staying there too.” In terms of the perspective of the unfolding of the narrative, this turns out to be true. Elizabeth talks with Colonel Fitzwilliam, indicating to him the sense that Darcy enjoys “the power of doing what he likes.” She also discovers that Darcy is exceedingly wealthy and that younger sons such as Colonel Fitzwilliam “cannot marry where they like.” Estates were handed down from father to eldest son, and younger sons often went into the church or armed forces unless they married an heiress.
Fitzwilliam also explains to Elizabeth that he and Darcy have joint guardianship for Georgiana Darcy, Darcy’s 16-year-old sister. There is a hint in Fitzwilliam’s asking Elizabeth “why she supposed Miss Darcy likely to give them any uneasiness,” that “she had somehow or other got pretty near the truth.” This is not developed at this point in the novel. Fitzwilliam inadvertently reveals that recently Darcy has “saved a friend from the inconveniences of a most imprudent marriage, but without mentioning names or any other particulars.” Elizabeth believes that this is a reference to Jane, and that Darcy has been “the cause of all that Jane has suffered, and shall continue to suffer.” Moreover, Darcy “had ruined for a while every hope of happiness for the most affectionate, generous heart in the world.” Elizabeth brooding upon this suffers a headache. Unwilling to see Darcy, she remains at the Parsonage as the Collinses go to Rosings. The chapter ends on a slight note of wry humor. Mr. Collins is not concerned with Elizabeth’s health but with incurring Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s displeasure “by her staying at home” (182–187).
Volume 2, Chapter 11 (Chapter 34)
Chapter 11 of the second volume has been regarded as the focal structural point of the novel. “Irony in Pride and Prejudice is more totally verbal in the first half of the novel than in the second . . . the verbal irony is necessary to the ambiguity that enables Darcy and Elizabeth so completely to misunderstand each other.” Joseph Wiesenfarth, in The Errand of Form: An Assay of Jane Austen’s Art (1967), argues that the plot of the novel “builds to a statement of problems that arise through verbal ambiguity. Darcy comes to think that Elizabeth loves him whereas” (63) she is very hostile to him, owing to the way she perceives he has treated Jane and Wickham. She is brooding on this treatment when Darcy appears at Hunsford and is most agitated. He confesses his love for her and requests her hand in marriage. Taken by surprise and shaken, she is unable to respond sufficiently. Constructing this as a positive, Darcy explains his own struggle against his pride, “his sense of her inferiority . . . of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination” (189). Elizabeth rejects him and asks him to resolve, in Wiesenfarth’s words, the “four problems that keep them apart: the problems of Bingley’s separation from Jane, of Darcy’s relation to Wickham, of the Bennet family’s impropriety, and of Darcy’s ungentlemanly manners.” These problems are resolved in the second half of the novel (Weinsheimer, 51). Darcy’s response to what is from his perspective a surprising rejection is that of total honesty, telling Elizabeth that “these offences might have been overlooked, had not your [Elizabeth’s] pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design.” The chapter concludes with Elizabeth reflecting on Darcy’s “abominable pride” and his refusal to explain his actions satisfactorily. Unable to face company, even Charlotte, somewhat in the manner of her father, who retreats to his library, she “hurried . . . away to her room” (192–194).
Volume 2, Chapter 12 (Chapter 35)
The following chapter focuses on the consequences of what has taken place. The next morning, Elizabeth goes on a different route to avoid meeting Darcy during the walk. However, he has anticipated her, meets her, and asks her to read a letter, the text of which takes up the rest of the chapter. Darcy dated it “from Rosings at eight o’clock in the morning” (192). He has adhered to social convention by delivering it “privately to avoid comprising Elizabeth’s reputation,” for the “letter breaks contemporary social convention since correspondence between” a man and a woman “was only acceptable if the couple were engaged” (Stafford, 325). The letter outlines in some detail the part Darcy has played in Bingley’s separation from Jane, and it also explains Darcy’s relationship with Wickham. Darcy tells Elizabeth that he perceived that at Netherfield, Jane’s “look and manner were open, cheerful and engaging, as ever, but without any symptom of pecular regard” for his friend Bingley. Darcy “was desirous of believing her indifferent.” Further, Darcy was in danger of connecting himself with a family who behaved with a “total want of propriety” not, as Elizabeth perceived, that they lacked suitable connections. He specifically refers to the conduct of Mrs. Bennett and to the “three younger sisters,” not to either Jane or Elizabeth.
Most of the lengthy two-paragraph letter is taken up with Wickham’s family history, conduct toward Darcy, and his sister Georgiana. Colonel Fitzwilliam is offered as collaborating witness to what Darcy relates about Wickham. Elizabeth is told that Wickham is the son of a most respected steward who served long and honorably in the family on the Darcy Pemberley estate in Derbyshire. Wickham was educated as a gentleman and promised a church living on the Pemberley estate if he stuck to his promise to become a clergyman. On the death five years previously of Darcy’s father, Wickham was left a not inconsiderably legacy of £1000. However, Wickham had serious character defects. He gave up a career in the church for that of the law, but “his studying the law was a mere pretence,” and in London, “being now free from all restraint, his life was a life of idleness and dissipation.” When he had spent his legacy he asked for the Pemberley living, but Darcy refused. Wickham turned his attentions to Darcy’s young sister Georgiana, who “was then but fifteen.” Wickham’s attempt to elope with her, his “chief object was unquestionably my sister’s fortunes, which is thirty thousand pounds . . . [and] . . . the hope of revenging himself on me,” was foiled at the very last minute. At the end of the letter, Darcy asks “God [to] bless” Elizabeth and reveals his aristocratic Christian name “Fitzwilliam”—his mother being Lady Anne Fitzwilliam, the aunt of Colonel Fitzwilliam (197–198, 201–203).
Volume 2, Chapter 13 (Chapter 36)
The following chapter is preoccupied with Elizabeth’s conflicting reactions to Darcy’s letter, with the “contrariety of emotion” it “excited.” She finds his explanation of the Jane-Bingley separation unsympathetic: “his style was not penitent, but haughty. It was all pride and insolence.” However, assessing the evidence presented regarding Wickham, using her memory, she believes that she has been erroneous in her attitude toward Darcy. “She grew absolutely ashamed of herself—Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.” So much so that she revises her reaction to Darcy’s explanation of the Jane-Bingley relationship: “She felt that Jane’s feelings, though fervent, were little displayed, and that there was a constant compliancy in her air and manner.” Elizabeth admits that “vanity, not love, has been my [her] folly” and is in accord with Darcy’s judgment of her family’s behavior. Two issues then remain to be resolved: the conduct of the Bennet family and Darcy’s manner, his pride, his behavior (204, 208).
Volume 2, Chapter 14 (Chapter 37)
Elizabeth misses the farewell call from Fitzwilliam and Darcy to the Parsonage. Both leave Rosings. The Collinses and Elizabeth then visit Rosings. Lady Catherine, observing “that Miss Bennet seemed out of spirits,” urges her to stay on at Hunsford Parsonage, telling Elizabeth, “you will have been here only six weeks. I expected you to stay for two months.” Lady Catherine is most solicitous as to how women travel, for “Young women should always be properly guarded and attended, according to their station in life.” She points out that the summer before last, when her “niece Georgiana went to Ramsgate . . . [she] made a point of her having two men servants go with her,” a small detail the irony of which is not lost on Elizabeth in view of what Darcy has just revealed in his letter about Wickham’s attempted seduction. This chapter following Darcy’s letter then turns to Elizabeth’s solitary reflections on it. She is unable to find a solution: Her sisters and mother and her “own past behaviour . . . were hopeless of remedy”; furthermore “Jane had been deprived by the folly and indecorum of her own family!” In short, Elizabeth leaves Rosings in a depressed state (211–213).
Volume 2, Chapter 15 (Chapter 38)
Chapter 15 of the second volume opens with Mr. Collins “paying [Elizabeth] the parting civilities which he deemed indispensably necessary.” These are lengthy: “words were insufficient for the elevation of his feelings . . . Elizabeth tried to unite civility and truth in a few short sentences.” She regrets leaving Charlotte in such a situation but recognizes her independence of spirit and spirit of self-reliance. She travels with Maria Lucas, who, no longer intimidated into silence by Lady Catherine and Rosings, exclaims “it seems but a day or two since we first came!—and yet how many things have happened!” She sums them up: “We have dined nine times at Rosings, besides drinking tea there twice!” adding “that much I shall have to tell!” Elizabeth to herself adds that she will have a good deal “to conceal.” Elizabeth is in a “state of indecision” as to what she should reveal to Jane. There is the fear of grieving Jane, of “exceedingly astonish[ing] Jane,” and there is little of Elizabeth’s own vanity left (215–218).
Volume 2, Chapter 16 (Chapter 39)
Elizabeth, Jane, and Maria Lucas return to Hertfordshire in the second week of May. Immediately, the two older sisters are confronted by the adolescent behavior of their younger sisters Kitty and Lydia. Lydia has purchased a bonnet, a very fashionable adornment especially when taken home, as Lydia intends, to “pull it to pieces.” Lydia relays the latest gossip to her sisters. This concerns the militia, who “are going to be encamped near Brighton,” a fashionable seaside resort on the south English coast, 50 miles or so south of London. Brighton had a disreputable reputation, the prince regent having transformed his house at the resort into something much grander for his mistress Mrs. Fitzherbert. Lydia reveals that “there is no danger of Wickham’s marrying Mary King,” the heiress, as she has gone out of harm’s way to Liverpool, a commercial center on the northwest coast. Lydia’s questions to her sisters concerning what happened to them during their stay in London and Kent reveal that Jane “is almost three and twenty,” with the implication that she “will be quite an old maid soon.” Lydia confesses that she would be “ashamed” if she were not married before such an age, and that Aunt Philips “says Lizzy had better have taken Mr. Collins.” She adds, however, that she does “not think there would have been any fun in it.” Lydia’s ambitions are to be married first. The chapter is preoccupied with Elizabeth and Jane’s reception at Longbourn, Lydia’s self-obsession and continued reference to Wickham, and attempts to go to Brighton to be with the officers (219–221).
Volume 2, Chapter 17 (Chapter 40)
Alone with Jane, Elizabeth is able to tell her of Darcy’s proposal, her reaction, and George Wickham’s perfidy. This has a serious effect on Jane, who is always trying to see the positive side of other people. She “would willingly have gone through the world without believing that so much wickedness existed in the whole race of mankind, as were here collected in one individual.” She finds it difficult to make a choice between Darcy and Wickham. The two sisters both consider the implications of appearance and character. Elizabeth confesses her mistaken prejudice against Darcy to Jane, and they resolve to keep quiet about Wickham’s character, especially as “the general prejudice against Mr. Darcy is so violent, that it would be the death of half the good people in Meryton, to attempt to place him in an amiable light.” Although Elizabeth has told Jane about Darcy’s proposal, her reaction to it, and Wickham, she has not told Jane about Darcy’s attitude to her family or role in the separation of Bingley and Jane. The latter “was not happy” and “still cherished a very tender affection for Bingley.” The chapter concludes with Mrs. Bennet constantly reminding Elizabeth that Charlotte and Mr. Collins “will never be distressed for money” and that on the death of Mr. Bennet, they will occupy Longbourn.
Volume 2, Chapter 18 (Chapter 41)
The 18th chapter of the second volume consists of lengthy conversations between Elizabeth and Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth and Wickham prefaced by quips from mainly Lydia and Mrs. Bennet, and concludes with accounts of Lydia’s excitement at leaving for Brighton. Lydia believes that “A little sea-bathing would set [her] up for ever.” Jane Austen probably agrees with her (229). She enjoyed her sea bathing at Lyme, writing to her sister Cassandra on September 14, 1804, “The Bathing was so delightful this morning . . . that I believe I staid in rather too long” (Letters, 95). Lydia receives “an invitation from Mrs. Forster, the wife of the Colonel of the regiment, to accompany her to Brighton.” Kitty, of course, is jealous. Elizabeth tries to prevent the visit, making her father aware of “all the improprieties of Lydia’s general behaviour.” Further, “she will, at sixteen, be the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous.” Mr. Bennet agrees with Elizabeth but will not stop the visit, telling Elizabeth, “We shall have no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not go to Brighton.” He believes that Colonel and Mrs. Forster “will keep her out of any real mischief.”
The author tells us, “In Lydia’s imagination, a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthly happiness.” As the narration unfolds, the very opposite of this occurs. Before Lydia leaves for Brighton, Wickham does too. Elizabeth and Wickham meet and she tries to confront him with revealing the truth of his relationship with Darcy. Wickham, however, bluffs his way through the conversation, insisting, ironically, that Darcy “is wise enough to assume ever the appearance of what is right” (Jane Austen’s emphasis), and pointing out that Darcy’s “pride” might well in future “deter him [Darcy] from such foul misconduct” as Wickham asserts he has experienced at Darcy’s hands. There has been already a reversal in the plot. Elizabeth, earlier all too prepared to accept what Wickham said, is now no longer prepared to do so. At the end of the evening, “they parted at last with mutual civility, and possibly in mutual desire of never meeting again”—the word “possibly” having ironic implications. The penultimate chapter of volume 2 concludes with Lydia and her departure once again the focus of proceedings (230–235).
Volume 2, Chapter 19 (Chapter 42)
The final chapter (19) of the second volume serves something of a reviewing function from Elizabeth’s perspective of what has taken place previously and also presages what is to happen. It opens with her assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of her father’s character. She “had never been blind to the impropriety of her father’s behaviour as a husband” and especially to his habit of “exposing his wife to the contempt of her own children.” In view of the family situation, she looks forward to her upcoming “tour to the Lakes,” and she wishes, too, that Jane could accompany her. Lydia promised before she left for Brighton to write home regularly, but her letters are late in coming and short. The arrival of summer meant that “Everything wore a happier aspect” in Longbourn and Meryton. However, a change in the Gardiner business plans means that they will be unable to travel as far north as planned, will have less time, and will “go no farther northward than Derbyshire.” Elizabeth is very disappointed. The Gardiners arrive at Longbourn and leave their children, “two girls of six and eight years old and two younger boys . . . under the particular care of their cousin Jane” (236–239). Their destination is Lambton, a fictitious Derbyshire town where Mrs. Gardiner had once lived and “not more than a mile or two” away from Pemberley. The second volume concludes with Elizabeth about to visit Pemberly with the Gardiners. She agrees to do so after she has established that Darcy and his family will be away for the summer.
Volume 3, Chapter 1
In the lengthy first chapter of the third volume, topography is used as a clear reflection of character. Pemberley and its grounds are largely perceived through Elizabeth’s eyes. All is harmony, order, and propriety on the estate, with none of the ostentation of Rosings Park and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Elizabeth’s first impression of Pemberley’s environs is so positive that “she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” (245). She has “come to recognize not merely the money and status of Pemberley, but its value in the setting of a traditional social and ethical orientation, its possibilities” (Gray, 311–312). Inside Pemberley, “Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his [Darcy’s] taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture at Rosings.” She reflects that she “might have been mistress” of the place. In this setting, her objection to Darcy’s manners disappears. She and the Gardiners are shown around the house by Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, who has known Darcy “since he was four years old.” They learn that Wickham “has turned out very wild” and Mrs. Reynolds observation on Darcy’s generosity of spirit, charitableness, even-tempered nature, and kindness run counter to Elizabeth’s perceptions of Darcy. Mr. Gardiner is “highly amused by the kind of family prejudice, to which he attributed [Mrs. Reynolds’s] excessive commendation of her master,” who is also “the best landlord and the best master . . . that ever lived.” Elizabeth’s reactions to Mrs. Reynolds’s praise of Darcy are conveyed in erlebte Rede, indirect speech. She asks herself the question, “What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant?” The servant’s whole being, whole existence, depends on the person served.
As the Gardiners and Elizabeth are departing from Pemberley House and its immediate surroundings, Darcy appears unexpectedly. “Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with the deepest blush,” and this reveals the depth of feeling between the two. Elizabeth is overcome by the “impropriety” (a sense of behavior she has become aware of from Darcy) of her being at Pemberley. Darcy also finds the meeting difficult and “at length, every idea seemed to fail him.” He becomes speechless. Elizabeth is “overpowered by shame and vexation, . . . Never in her life had she seen his manners so little dignified, never had he spoken with such gentleness as on this unexpected meeting.” Elizabeth’s thoughts are now totally focused on what Darcy is thinking rather than on the beauties of the Pemberley grounds or even her companions, her aunt and uncle. In the grounds they encounter once again Darcy, who waits to be introduced to the Gardiners, with whom he strikes up an immediate rapport. Darcy invites Mr. Gardiner to fish in the grounds “as often he chose” and offers him fishing tackle and indicates the best “parts of the stream” where to fish. They learn that Darcy has come ahead of “Mr. Bingley and his sisters” to see that all was prepared for their visit. He wishes them to meet his own sister. Darcy and Elizabeth walk together. In the carriage going to their lodgings, she and the Gardiners discuss her meeting with Darcy. Mrs. Gardiner is skeptical that Darcy “could have behaved in so cruel a way by any body, as he has done by poor Wickham.” On the contrary, Darcy has “dignity in his countenance.” The chapter ends with Mrs. Gardiner’s renewing a former friendship in the Pemberley area and Elizabeth doing “nothing but think, and think with wonder, of Mr. Darcy’s civility, and above all, of his wishing her to be acquainted with his sister” (246–259). Volume 3, Chapter 2 (Chapter 44)
Darcy brings his shy sister “little more than sixteen, her figure was formed, and her appearance womanly and graceful” to visit Elizabeth and the Gardiners. They are followed shortly after by Bingley. It is evident to the Gardiners “that [Darcy] was very much in love with” Elizabeth; however, “of the lady’s [Elizabeth’s] sensations they remained a little in doubt.” Elizabeth has noted the remarkable “improvement of manners” on Darcy’s part, and she had not previously “seen [Darcy] so desirous to please, so free from self- consequence, or unbending reserve.” There is even verification from mutual acquaintances of what Darcy said of Wickham, and they learn that Darcy had discharged Wickham’s debts. Elizabeth reflects, “Such a change in a man of so much pride excited not only astonishment but gratitude—for to love, ardent love, it must be attributed” (261–266). Volume 3, Chapter 3 (Chapter 45)
The Gardiners and Elizabeth revisit Pemberley, where Georgiana Darcy, Mrs. Hurst, Caroline Bingley, and Mrs. Annesley, with whom the latter lives in London, receive them. Darcy has been with Gardiner and some others fishing on the estate. He joins them, and Caroline Bingley’s attempts to speak ill of Elizabeth before Darcy, and to introduce by implication the name of Wickham, only produce Darcy’s compliments concerning Elizabeth: “I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance” (271).
Volume 3, Chapter 4 (Chapter 46)
Volume 3, chapter 4 is concerned with the two letters Elizabeth receives from Jane and Elizabeth’s confession of their content to Darcy. In the first of the letters, Jane tells Elizabeth that Wickham and Lydia have eloped, apparently to Scotland. In the second, Jane reveals that they have gone to London and that it is doubtful whether Wickham will marry Lydia. In short, their uncle Gardiner’s advice is urgently needed. Just as Elizabeth is on her way to find her uncle, she encounters Darcy. In her obvious distress Elizabeth tells Darcy what has happened, observing, “You know him too well to doubt the rest. She has no money, no connections, nothing that can tempt him to—she is lost forever.” She confesses to Darcy that she should have acted differently when her “eyes were opened to [Wickham’s] real character.” Darcy says little in response and Elizabeth feels a deep sense of shame: “her power was sinking; every thing must sink under such a proof of family weakness, such an assurance of the deepest disgrace” (Jane Austen’s emphasis). She believes that she will not see Darcy again, and the rest of the chapter is taken up with her rumination on her feelings toward Darcy, Wickham and Lydia’s actions, and concern for Jane to deal with “a family so deranged; a father absent, a mother incapable of exertions and requiring constant attendance” (277–278, 280). Accounts are quickly settled at the inn, and the Gardiners with Elizabeth return to London.
Volume 3, Chapter 5 (Chapter 47)
Discussion of Lydia’s elopement between Elizabeth and the Gardiners forms the basis for the first part of the next chapter. Elizabeth reflects on the folly of her father’s behavior, his lack of example, “indolence,” and lack of attention to his family. She confesses to the Gardiners as they journey toward Longbourn, that she, too, “was ignorant of the truth” herself until she saw Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam at Rosings. Even then, “that she,” her sister Lydia, “could be in any danger from deception never entered [Elizabeth’s] head” (Jane Austen’s emphasis). They return to a distraught Longbourn. Mrs. Bennet overreacts and believes that her husband will be killed in a duel with Wickham and “the Collinses will turn [them] out” of their house “before he is cold in the grave.” Mary remarks to Elizabeth “that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable—that one false step involves her in endless ruin—that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful—and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex” (283–285, 287, 289). Meanwhile, Mr. Gardiner has gone to London to help Mr. Bennet in his search for Lydia and Wickham. Colonel Foster has reported that his wife, Harriet, received an irresponsible note form Lydia saying that they are going to Gretna Green, a town on the EnglishScottish border well known for marriages of couples who have eloped. The chapter concludes with Jane’s account of her father’s attempts to locate the runaway couple.
Volume 3, Chapter 6 (Chapter 48)
The attitude to Wickham in Meryton has been rapidly transformed: “all seemed striving to blacken the man, who, but three months before, had been almost an angel of light.” Notes of debt, intrigues, and attempted seduction emerge. Mrs. Gardiner receives a letter from her husband recounting what has occurred and wondering whether Elizabeth knows if Wickham has any relatives: “Elizabeth was at no loss to understand from whence this deference for authority proceeded.” Perhaps this is a hint that Mr. Gardiner is aware that she has contact with Darcy, who, it emerges subsequently, is involved in the case. Anxiously awaiting news by letter, they receive a letter not from Mr. Gardiner but from Mr. Collins addressed to Mr. Bennet. Seemingly a letter of condolence, he advises Mr. Bennet “to throw off [his] unworthy child from [his] affection for ever,” and tells Bennet that Lydia’s action have damaged the marital prospects of his other daughters. Intelligence from Colonel Forster in Brighton is reported in a letter from Mr. Gardiner. Wickham has run up enormous debts in Brighton and has been involved in gambling. On hearing of Mr. Bennet’s impending return home, Mrs. Bennet, contrary to her earlier sentiments on her husband’s welfare and worry about his death in a duel, now asks, “Who is to fight Wickham, and make him marry her, if he comes away?” Elizabeth reflects that if “she had known nothing of Darcy, she could have borne the dread of Lydia’s infamy somewhat better.” Mr. Bennet returns home, regretting his decision to allow Lydia to go to Brighton, but again displays a lack of direction and adroitness in dealing with his daughters, joking with Kitty that if she behaves “for the next ten years,” he shall review a prohibition he has imposed on balls and army officers (294–300).
Volume 3, Chapter 7 (Chapter 49)
Jane and Elizabeth are walking together “in the shrubbery behind the house” when the housekeeper, Mrs. Hill, tells them that Mr. Bennet has received an express letter from Mr. Gardiner. He writes to say that Lydia and Wickham have been found and that a marriage between them has been arranged. The terms of the marriage he outlines at some length. The rest of the chapter presents differing viewpoints to news of the proposed marriage. Mr. Bennet reluctantly agrees to the terms, observing that “Wickham’s a fool, if he takes [Lydia] with a farthing less than ten thousand pounds.” Elizabeth assumes that the settlement, a bribe, has come from Mr. Gardiner. Jane is concerned to put a positive light on the affair, arguing that Wickham’s “consenting to marry [Lydia] is a proof . . . that he is come to a right way of thinking.” Elizabeth believes their conduct to be reprehensible. Mrs. Bennet, on hearing the news, is ecstatic: “She will be married at sixteen!” She is “in such a flutter,” she tells Jane that she is unable to write, and goes to Meryton to “tell the good, good news.” Elizabeth, on the other hand, “sick of this folly, took refuge in her own room.” She reflects that Lydia’s marriage will bring “neither rational happiness nor worldly prosperity” although she sees “all the advantages of what they had gained” (301, 304–307).
Volume 3, Chapter 8 (Chapter 50)
In the next chapter, the eighth of the third volume, Mr. Bennet wishes that he had been more sensible in portioning his income and “laid by an annual sum, for the better provision of his children and his wife.” He agrees to the Wickham-Lydia marriage settlement and then returns, the omniscient narrator relates, “to all his former indolence” after asking the Gardiners for the particulars of the settlement. Mrs. Bennet is preoccupied with wedding trivia. Mr. Bennet forbids Lydia from entering Longbourn and refuses to “advance a guinea to buy clothes for his daughter.” Elizabeth’s thoughts are on Darcy, and she regrets telling him what has happened; “She was convinced that she could have been happy with him; when it was no longer likely they should meet.” Mr. Gardiner writes again to Mr. Bennet, pointing out that Wickham has the possibility of a commission in the regular army as opposed to the militia. He will be stationed at Newcastle in the north of the country. Jane and Elizabeth prevail on Mr. Bennet to receive Lydia and Wickham after the marriage and before they depart for Newcastle (308–311).
Volume 3, Chapter 9 (Chapter 51)
Following the wedding, the couple is received coolly by Mr. Bennet at Longbourn. “Elizabeth was disgusted . . . Lydia was Lydia still; untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless.” Wickham, too, behaves as if nothing amiss has taken place. Elizabeth is also so distressed by Lydia’s behavior that “she got up, and ran out of the room” (315, 317). Lydia describes the wedding and reveals a secret that Darcy attended. Elizabeth immediately writes to her aunt Gardiner for more information.
Volume 3, Chapter 10 (Chapter 52)
Most of the following chapter is taken up with Mrs. Gardiner’s detailed explanation of events leading to the wedding and Darcy’s role in it. He had found Wickham, whom he persuaded to marry Lydia. Wickham’s considerable “debts are to be paid . . . another thousand in addition to her own settled upon her [Lydia], and his commission purchased.” All of this is Darcy’s work, for Darcy considered it “his duty to step forward, and endeavor to remedy an evil, which had been brought on by himself” owing, Darcy says, “to his mistaken pride.” Darcy and Mr. Gardiner had jointly arranged the wedding. Mrs. Gardiner concludes her letter by saying how much she likes Mr. Darcy, who “wants nothing but a little more liveliness, and that, if he marry prudently, his wife may teach him” (324, 322, 324–325).
The rest of chapter 10 is taken up with Elizabeth’s reaction to the letter and an encounter with Wickham. A lengthy passage of indirect speech conveys Elizabeth’s reactions. “Her heart did whisper, that he had done it for her,” but Darcy as “Brother-in-law of Wickham! Every kind of pride must revolt from the connection.” Elizabeth personally was “humbled, but she was proud of” Darcy. She then encounters Wickham, who speaks to her openly about Darcy and his family. Elizabeth lets Wickham know clearly that she no longer believes his account of past affairs and relationships, yet as she and he “are brother and sister,” she parts with him on not unfriendly terms (326, 329).
Volume 3, Chapter 11 (Chapter 53)
At the start of the next chapter, Elizabeth “was pleased to find that she had said enough to keep [Wickham] quiet.” Mr. Bennet is no longer unfavorably disposed toward Wickham. “He simpers, and smirks, and makes love to us all.” Mr. Bennet adds that he defies “even Sir William Lucas himself, to produce a more valuable son-in-law,” words that will prove to be ironically incorrect by the end of the novel, when the extremely wealthy Mr. Darcy becomes a son-in-law. News reaches Longbourn that Bingley is to return to Netherfield. This time, unlike at the start of the novel, Mr. Bennet refuses to call on him. Three days after his arrival at Netherfield, Bingley and Darcy call on the Bennets at Longbourn. Elizabeth had concealed from Jane Darcy’s role in Lydia’s marriage “or to relate her own change of sentiment towards him.” Darcy is largely silent during the visit, and Elizabeth “in such misery of shame” has to listen to her mother reveling in the news of the marriage of Lydia and Wickham. Elizabeth’s “misery, for which years of happiness were to offer no compensation, received soon afterwards material relief, from observing how much the beauty of her sister re-kindled the admiration of her former lover” (330, 334, 337).
Volume 3, Chapter 12 (Chapter 54)
Volume 3, chapter 12, focuses on the fortunes of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet at “a large party assembled at Longbourn” (340). Jane spends the evening singled out by Bingley for his special attention. Elizabeth and Darcy are able to spend but brief moments together.
Volume 3, Chapter 13 (Chapter 55)
In the following chapter, Darcy leaves for 10 days in London, and Bingley continually calls on Jane at Longbourn. Elizabeth “smiled at the rapidity and ease with which an affair was finally settled, that had given them so many precious months of suspense and vexation.” The engagement is announced and Elizabeth is careful not to mention to Jane the role of Darcy in parting her and Bingley previously, “for, though Jane had the most generous and forgiving heart in the world, [Elizabeth] knew it was a circumstance which must prejudice [Jane] against him [Darcy].” The chapter ends with a paragraph remarking upon the remarkable reversal of “misfortune” that had occurred to the Bennet family within a few weeks of Lydia’s elopement (347, 350).
Volume 3, Chapter 14 (Chapter 56)
In the next chapter, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, responding to “a report of a most alarming nature,” visits Longbourn to insist that Elizabeth make a promise not to marry Darcy. The two walk outside the house, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh confronts Elizabeth, who refuses at first to respond to the questions concerning a marriage between herself and Darcy. Lady Catherine asserts that Darcy “is engaged to my daughter” (Jane Austen’s emphasis). She follows this dogmatic assertion with a lengthy catalogue of reasons why Elizabeth should not marry Darcy and why her daughter should. These range from the gratitude due to her for entertaining Elizabeth, her own “determined resolution,” Lady Catherine’s sense that her daughter and Darcy “are formed for each other.” She then tells Elizabeth that her life as Darcy’s wife will be miserable: “honour, decorum, prudence, nay, interest [in the financial as well as the emotional sense] forbid it,” in short, the “alliance will be a disgrace,” and will “ruin [Darcy] in the opinion of all his friends, and make him the contempt of the world.” Elizabeth responds in a spirited manner to these insults and arguments. She counters them. Lady Catherine has no right to concern herself with Elizabeth’s affairs; Elizabeth is socially equal to Darcy, the world will have “too much sense” to be outraged by the marriage. Elizabeth is “only resolved to act in that manner, which will in my [her] opinion, constitute my [her] happiness.” Lady Catherine leaves Longbourn without sending “compliments” (353–356, 358) to Mrs. Bennet. To the very end, she is insulting.
Volume 3, Chapter 15 (Chapter 57)
Chapter 15 opens with Elizabeth’s private reaction to the visit. She feels that Darcy’s “notions of dignity” would probably outweigh other considerations and that she will not see him again. The family are surprised at Lady Catherine’s visit. Mr. Bennet tells Elizabeth that he has received a letter from Mr. Collins congratulating him on Elizabeth’s marriage, too. Mr. Bennet offends Elizabeth with his comments concerning a “Mr. Darcy, who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish, and who probably never looked at you in his life!” (Jane Austen’s emphasis). Collins proceeds to tell Mr. Bennet how he would have dealt with Lydia, commends his Christian sense of “forgiveness,” and adds that Charlotte, his wife, is pregnant: a male heir would eventually inherit Longbourn on Mr. Bennet’s death. At the end of the chapter, however, in spite of what he considers to be his wit, Mr. Bennet “had most cruelly mortified [Elizabeth] by what he had said of Mr. Darcy’s indifference, and she could do nothing but wonder at such a want of penetration” (361, 363–364).
Volume 3, Chapter 16 (Chapter 58)
Darcy appears with Bingley at Longbourn. The family go for a walk and Darcy and Elizabeth are together, and Elizabeth thanks him for his “unexampled kindness to [her] poor sister” Lydia. Darcy explains that his actions were taken out of consideration for her, Elizabeth, alone. Elizabeth tells Darcy that “her sentiments” have utterly transformed toward him. Darcy tells her that Lady Catherine told him of her visit to Elizabeth. This has the opposite effect of what Lady Catherine intended, as it provides Darcy with hope, for, if Elizabeth had “irrevocably decided against [Darcy, she] would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly.” Darcy recollects their past misunderstandings and tells Elizabeth of his objects and motives for his actions. Both of them review the relationship of Bingley and Jane. She, Elizabeth, has told Darcy that “all her former prejudices [against him] had been removed” (365–366, 368).
Volume 3, Chapter 17 (Chapter 59)
Elizabeth tells an incredulous Jane that she and Darcy are engaged and she tells Jane of Darcy’s “share in Lydia’s marriage.” Darcy and Elizabeth agree that he shall ask for Mr. Bennet’s consent, although they are unsure how Mrs. Bennet will take the news. After Darcy has spoken to Mr. Bennet, her father asks Elizabeth, “what are you doing? Are you out of your senses, to be accepting this man? Have not you always hated him?” Her father’s real concern is with Elizabeth’s happiness. She confesses, “I love him.” On hearing this, Mr. Bennet gives his consent. He says that he knows she “could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband.” Elizabeth reassures him and tells him “what Mr. Darcy had voluntarily done for Lydia.” Her mother, on hearing the news from Elizabeth, reacts unlike her usual self. She “sat quite still, and [was] unable to utter a syllable.” Mrs. Bennet quickly changes her opinion of Darcy and “stood in such awe of her intended son-in-law, that she ventured not to speak to him.” Mr. Bennet regards Wickham as “perhaps” his “favourite” son-in-law but tells Elizabeth that he “shall like your husband quite as well as Jane’s” (Jane Austen’s emphasis) (374, 376–379).
Volume 3, Chapter 18 (Chapter 60)
The final two chapters tie up the loose ends. Elizabeth gets “Darcy to account for his having ever fallen in love with her.” Darcy explains that “Lady Catherine’s unjustifiable endeavours to separate [them] were the means of removing all [his] doubts.” Elizabeth sends her aunt Gardiner a letter inviting her and her family to spend Christmas at Pemberley. Darcy informs Lady Catherine of the upcoming marriage, and Mr. Bennet does likewise to Mr. Collins. Charlotte arrives back at Lucas lodge “to get away till the storm was blown over.” Elizabeth “looks forward with delight to the time when” she and Darcy can be at Pemberley (380–381, 383).
Volume 3, Chapter 19 (Chapter 61)
In the final chapter, the author tells her readers that Bingley purchased an estate “within thirty miles of” Pemberley. Kitty spent most of her time with Jane or Elizabeth and “Mary was the only daughter who remained at home.” Lydia and Wickham live “unsettled,” unhappy lives. Georgiana Darcy and Elizabeth drew closer to each other. Lady Catherine “condescended to wait on them at Pemberley” and with the Gardiners who “had been the means of uniting” Darcy and Elizabeth, they were always “on the most intimate terms” (385–388).
Immediate reactions of readers to Pride and Prejudice echo subsequent ones pointing to the novel’s enduring qualities and critical heritage. Carey and Lea’s 1832 American edition was noticed by the National Gazette and Literary Register, published in Philadelphia. The journal concludes its observations by noting, “If the American world will read novels, let us have those of which the moral is good, the text pure, and the instructiveness practical and domestic; entertaining and ingenious, but free from all poison.” In 1815, the editor of John Murray’s journal, the Quarterly Review, William Gifford, notes similar qualities on the other side of the Atlantic. He too thought that the novel would not corrupt morals and lacked the melodramatic qualities evident in gothic novels by Mrs. Radcliffe and others parodied by Jane Austen in her posthumously published Northanger Abbey (1817). Gifford wrote to John Murray, “I have for the first time looked into ‘Pride and Prejudice’; and it is really a very pretty thing. No dark passages; no secret passages; no wind-howlings in long galleries; no drops of blood upon a rusty dagger-things that now should be left to ladies’ maids and sentimental washer women,” in other words, the ingredients of the gothic novel written by Mrs. Radcliffe and others. The dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan advised a Mrs. Sherriff, whom he met at a dinner party around the time of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice, “to buy it immediately, for it was one of the cleverest things he ever read.”
In the preface to the Memoir of his sister Jane, Henry Austen writes that when the novel was first published, “a gentleman, celebrated for his literary attainments, advised a friend of the authoress to read it, adding, with more point than gallantry, ‘I should like to know who is the author, for it is much too clever to have been written by a woman.’ ” Other contemporary readers were drawn to the characterization. John William Ward, the first Earl of Dudley (1781–1833), drew the attention of the wife of the Scottish philosopher Dugald Stewart (1753–1828) to Mr. Collins: “There is a parson,” he wrote “quite admirable.” Anne Isabella Milbanke, who was to marry Lord Byron, in 1813 described Pride and Prejudice as “at present the fashionable novel. It . . . contains more strength of character than other productions of this kind.” But not all were pleased. Sir Humphry Davy (1778–1829), the distinguished chemist, wrote, “ ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I do not very much like. Want of interest is the fault I can least excuse in works of mere amusement, and however natural the picture of vulgar minds and manners is there given, it is unrelieved by the agreeable contrast of more dignified and refined characters occasionally captivating attention. Some power of new character is, however, ably displayed, and Mr. Bennett’s [sic] indifference is in truth not exaggeration.” Davy had literary interests and was acquainted with Wordsworth and Coleridge. However, he is not remembered today for his literary criticism but as a distinguished chemist and inventor primarily of laughing gas and a safety lamp for use in coal mines (Gilson, 104, 27, 26, 25, 26).
Jane Austen was critical of Pride and Prejudice, writing in a letter to her sister, Cassandra, on February 4, 1813, that it “is rather too light & sparkling;—it wants shade” (Letters, 203). However, critics and general readers have looked most favorably on the novel since its initial publication. After outlining the plot of a “very agreeable novel” in an unsigned review in the journal Critical Review shortly following its publication, the reviewer observes
The above is merely the brief outline of this very agreeable novel. An excellent lesson may be learned from the elopement of Lydia:—the work also shows the folly of letting young girls have their own way, and the danger which they incur in associating with the officers, who may be quartered in or near their residence. The character of Wickham is very well pourtrayed;—we fancy, that our authoress had Joseph Surface [a character in Sheridan’s play The School for Scandal who seems to be charming and upright but in fact is a thorough going villain] before her eyes when she sketched it; as well as the lively Beatrice, when she drew the portrait of Elizabeth. Many such silly women as Mrs. Bennet may be found; and numerous parsons like Mr. Collins, who are every thing to every body; and servile in the extreme to their superiors. Mr. Collins is indeed a notable object.
The sentiments, which are dispersed over the work, do great credit to the sense and sensibility of the authoress. The line she draws between the prudent and the mercenary in matrimonial concerns, may be useful to our fair readers. . . . We cannot conclude, without repeating our approbation of this performance, which rises very superior to any novel we have lately met with in the delineation of domestic scenes. Nor is there one character which appears flat, or obtrudes itself upon the notice of the reader with troublesome impertinence. There is not one person in the drama with whom we could readily dispense;—they have all their proper places; and fill their several stations, with great credit to themselves, and much satisfaction to the reader (Southam, I: 46–47).
Sir Walter Scott, a most astute critic, wrote in his journal on March 14, 1826, that he reread
for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements, and feelings, and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. Scott adds, “What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!” (Gilson, 475).
Charlotte Brontë also recognizes Jane Austen’s ability to convey the realities of everyday life. However, in a letter to the critic George Henry Lewes (1817–79), she asks him why he “like[s]” Jane Austen “so very much” and expresses reservations about Lewes’s suggestion that Pride and Prejudice should be regarded as a model for her own writing. For Charlotte Brontë, the novel gives “an accurate, daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face! a carefully-fenced, highly-cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers.” Regrettably, there is “no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like,” she writes to Lewes on January 12, 1848, “to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses” (Southam, I: 126–128).
Lewes, in an essay, “The Novels of Jane Austen,” in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1859, compares Jane Austen to Shakespeare. For Lewes, Jane Austen “makes her very noodles [comic characters such as Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mrs. Bennet, and others] inexhaustible amusing, yet accurately real. We never tire of her characters.” He praises, as does Scott, her realism and ability to depict everyday life (Kaminsky, 91–92). In a review of Jane Eyre written 12 years earlier, Lewes refers to “the greatness of Miss Austen,” to “her marvellous dramatic power” (Ashton, 82). Another Victorian admirer of Jane Austen, herself a fine novelist, Margaret Oliphant, observes in “Miss Austen and Miss Mitford,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (March 1870), that “Lady Catherine de Bourgh and the housekeeper at Pemberley—conventional types of the heaven above and the abyss below—are the only breaks which Miss Austen ever permits herself upon the level of her squirearchy.” For Mrs. Oliphant, “Nothing could be more lifelike, more utterly real” than the Bennet family. She particularly admires the portrait of Mr. Collins who “stands before us tall and grave and pompous, wrapt in a cloud of solemn vanity, servility, stupidity and spitefulness, but without the faintest gleam of self-consciousness or suspicion of the ridiculous figure he cuts.” Yet Mrs. Oliphant wonders “whether our author is in reality the gentle cynic she has concluded her to be, or if she has produced all these marvels of selfish folly unawares, without knowing what she was doing, or meaning anything by it” (Southam, I: 215, 219, 221). I
n a lecture “The Lesson of Balzac” given in 1905, Henry James notes Jane Austen’s “little touches of human truth, little glimpses of steady vision, little master-strokes of imagination.” These elements of artistry have been ignored in the “beguiled infatuation, a sentimentalized vision” embodied in the popular view of “our dear, everybody’s dear Jane” (Southam, I: 32). Virginia Woolf, writing in the Common Reader, also draws attention, like Henry James, to Jane Austen as “mistress of a much deeper emotion than appears on the surface” (142). The serious nature of Jane Austen’s art and in particular its exemplification in Pride and Prejudice is fully explored in Mary Lascelles’s Jane Austen and Her Art (1939). With Lascelles’s work, “the day of the ‘amateur’ essayist addressing ‘the common reader’ was now past. Henceforth, criticism was seen to be a serious activity” (Grey, 108). Lascelles stresses Jane Austen’s narrative art and form based on “the symmetry of correspondence and antithesis. . . . This pattern is formed by diverging and converging lines, by the movement of two people who are impelled apart until they reach a climax of mutual hostility, and thereafter blend their courses towards mutual understanding and amity” (Lascelles, 160).
D. W. Harding’s “Regulated Hatred: An Aspect of the Work of Jane Austen” was originally presented as a lecture to the Literary Society of Manchester University on March 1939. Published in Scrutiny 8 (1940), it emphasizes the satirical element in her work. Jane Austen uses “caricature” in, for instance, her depiction of characters such as Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. “The implications of her caricatures as criticism of real people in real society,” he writes, “is brought out in the way they dovetail into their social setting.” Charlotte, who is “decent, stodgy . . . puts up cheerfully with Mr. Collins as a husband; and Elizabeth can never quite become reconciled to the idea that her friend is the wife of her comic monster” (Harding, 13–14). Harding’s focus on the satirical and ironic elements of Austen’s art becomes a framework for much subsequent criticism, especially in the period of close reading, of attention to the words on the page, which lasted from the 1930s to the middle 1970s. For instance, Dorothy Van Ghent in her The English Novel: Form and Function (1953) isolates in the opening chapter of Pride and Prejudice the use of the words “property,” and “fortune,” “possession,” “establishment,” and “business.” These words have, she writes, “consistently been setting up the impulsion of economic interest against those nonutilitarian interests implied by the words ‘feelings’ and ‘love’ ” (Grey, 302).
Irony and its implications is the focus of Marvin Mudrick’s Jane Austen: Irony as Defense and Discovery (1952). In his chapter on Pride and Prejudice, as in her other work, Jane Austen “deals with the distinction between false moral values and true,” but she is dealing with something more complex, the relationship between the self and society (107). In his introduction to A Collection of Critical Essays (1963), Ian Watt recognizes that “in general, the criticism of Jane Austen in the last two decades is incomparably the richest and most illuminating that has appeared.” Watt also noted that “recent criticism has perhaps failed to give the nature of Jane Austen’s social and moral assumptions an equally exacting analysis” (13). Subsequent studies attempted to remedy this want of emphasis. For instance, linguistic perspectives were used in Norman Page’s The Language of Jane Austen (1972), which has chapters on “Style in Jane Austen’s Novels,” her use of syntax, and the way in which she uses letters in her novels. Jane Austen’s vocabulary, sentence structure, and “Modes of Address are the subject of K. C. Phillipps’s Jane Austen’s English (1970), with its most useful index to the words actually used in her novels (225–229). Both these studies place Jane Austen’s use of language within a specific historical framework and make clear the historical antecedents at work in her application of words and phrases. To take one example from many, Barbara Hardy’s Reading of Jane Austen (1975) is a subtle exploration by a superb close critical reader of Jane Austen’s “flexible medium, a capacity to glide easily from sympathy to detachment, from one mind to many minds, from solitary scenes to social gatherings” (14).
There are studies that placed Jane Austen within a historical and literary context. Frank W. Bradbrook’s Jane Austen and Her Predecessors (1966) demonstrates how thoroughly her novels are permeated by contemporary literary allusions. Alistair M. Duckworth’s The Improvement of the Estate: A Study of Jane Austen’s Novels (1971) places her subject within an 18th-century “providential” novel and a more contemporary tradition. Duckworth uses the word “estate” as a central metaphor in Jane Austen’s novels, in which there is an inherent conservatism. The union of Darcy and Elizabeth, for instance, represents “the vitalized reconstitution of a social totality, the dynamic compromise between past and present, the simultaneous reception of what is valuable in an inheritance and the liberation of the originality, energy and spontaneity in the living moment” (Grey, 314). A similar perspective is conveyed in Marilyn Butler’s influential Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (1975), which treats its subject’s political, educational, and literary frameworks, concluding that Pride and Prejudice is essentially a “conservative novel” (214). However, such studies give way in the 1970s and after to works increasingly influenced by theoretical considerations. Thus, for instance, Steven Cohan and Linda M. Shires’s Telling Stories: A Theoretical Analysis of Narrative Fiction (1988) focuses on structuralist and poststructuralist methodology. It instances Pride and Prejudice as an example of a narratological perspective to fiction. In recent years, feminist perspectives have focused prominently on Jane Austen. Patricia Meyer Spacks’s The Female Imagination (1975) argues that Elizabeth Bennet’s development in the novel is a “paradigm of adolescent potential fulfilled.” Spacks writes that Elizabeth in the course of the novel learns to appreciate “the positive advantages of maturity over childishness, even in a society whose rigidities offer protection to the continued immaturity . . . characteristic of most of its members” (155). Nina Auerbach, in her Communities of Women: An Idea in Fiction (1978), writes that Jane Austen’s perspective of women is a negative one. In the world of Pride and Prejudice “the malevolent power of the mother is ennobled by being transferred to the hero, and the female community of Longbourn, an oppressive blank in a dense society, is dispersed with relief in the solidity of marriage” (55).
Feminist ideas circulating in the 18th century, the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Fanny Burney, and Maria Edgeworth, form the context of discourse in a study such as Alison Sulloway’s Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood (1989). For Sulloway, the marriages at the end of Pride and Prejudice, the union of Darcy and Elizabeth, Jane and Bingley, exemplify that “Christian hope” and “infectious joy” . . . “triumph over [Jane Austen’s] rational social cynicism,” which recognizes, as D. W. Harding and others have acknowledged, “the bizarre compensatory equations built into every marriage” (217). Claudia L. Johnson, on the other hand, in Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel (1988), views Pride and Prejudice as exhibiting a “conservative yearning for a strong, attentive, loving, and paradoxically perhaps, at times even submissive authority” (73).
Pride and Prejudice has been the recipient of eclectic perspectives, from those emphasizing power structures, Marxist analyses, class issues, and cultural concerns, among other approaches. To instance five other readings from many, Joseph Wiesenfarth’s chapter “Pride and Prejudice: Manners as Self- Definition” in his Gothic Manners and the Classic English Novel (1988) refines earlier observations on the novel found in his The Errand of Form: An Assay of Jane Austen’s Art (1967) and “Austen and Apollo” in Jane Austen Today (1975). Drawing on ideas in the writings of Mikhail Bahktin, Wiesenfarth judiciously observes that “Jane Austen make a case in Pride and Prejudice for a prudent marriage and against a mercenary marriage” (25). He concluded his analysis, “Jane Austen classically articulates Pride and Prejudice as a novel of manners by casting it in the form of a case that dramatizes the development of the cardinal virtues in two individuals of complementary character whose freedom to love each other satisfies society’s concern for . . . coherence and continuity” (40). Oliver MacDonagh, in his Jane Austen: Real and Imagined Worlds (1991), views Charlotte’s marriage as a “career” move based on mercenary, pragmatic calculation. Juliet McMaster’s “Talking about Talk in Pride and Prejudice,” in Jane Austen’s Business: Her World and Her Profession (1996), focuses on speech and the use of language in the novel. She agrees with Tony Tanner’s summary of Pride and Prejudice as “a novel in which the most important events are the fact that a man changes his manners and a young woman changes her mind” (Introduction, Pride and Prejudice . 7). She adds that “these changes were not accidental: each [Darcy and Elizabeth] effects the change in the other, and through their powers in language” (93).
Two other readings of the novel, both published in the year 2004, suffice to demonstrate the protean quality of recent approaches that this deeply admired novel generates. The distinguished German critic of 19th- and 20th-century fiction in En glish, Paul Goetsch, finds earlier antecedents for the various kinds of “laughter” found in Pride and Prejudice. Goetsch follows an analysis of laughter in the novel with the comment “that women and men like [it] for different reasons.” The former may prefer “Jane Austen’s sensitivity to the position of women in society and the moments of autonomy and freedom from social restraints the Elizabeths and Lydias of her world enjoy.” On the other hand, men may prefer Jane Austen “because the fascinating, defiant female protagonist can be tamed after all.” Goetsch concludes, “It is of course equally possible that both women and men like to read the novel for the same or some of the same reasons” (“Laughter in Pride and Prejudice,” in Redefining the Modern, 40, 41). Emily Auerbach’s chapter “The Liveliness of Your Mind: Pride and Prejudice,” in her Searching for Jane Austen, presents a many-faceted perspective on the novel and its author. She concludes that “the humor between Elizabeth and Darcy will enrich, not polarize, their union. . . . Like Elizabeth and Darcy blending liveliness and judgment, Austen’s own fiction offers sparkling amusement and serious instruction, barbed wit and gentle wisdom” (165).
Primary Texts: Jane Austen’s Letters. Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye. 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Pride and Prejudice. Edited by R. W. Chapman. The Novels of Jane Austen, II. 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998 reprint [Page references are to this edition.] ———. Edited by Donald Gray. A Norton Critical Edition. 3d ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000. ———. Edited by James Kinsley, with an introduction and Notes by Fiona Stafford. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. ———. Edited by Pat Rogers. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. ———. Introduction by Tony Tanner. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin Books, 1975.
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