Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Jane Austen’s most popular novel, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ deals with the theme of love and marriage in the rigid social structure in England in the early 19th century.  It tells the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, two of the most timeless and popular characters of literature.  Austen sets the theme of the novel in the very first sentence, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
We are first introduced to witty and passive Mr. Bennet and his comical and garrulous wife.  Mrs. Bennet constantly complains of the condition of her poor nerves as she has five daughters to marry off.  Jane always sees the good in people, Elizabeth is sensible with a quick wit and their father loves them both.  Their younger sisters, Mary, Kitty and Lydia bring out much of Jane Austen’s humour.
Mr. Bingley and his friend, Mr. Darcy enter this sleepy neighbourhood and set the story in motion.  Austen brings out the troubles faced by women due to the inheritance laws at the time.  They were forced to marry wealthy men in order to secure their future.  On the death of Mr. Bennet, his property would pass to his cousin Mr. Collins as he has no male heirs.  Thus, there was no room for love or choice in making a match.  Women had to settle for what they could.  Thus, when Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins’ proposal, we see that she is unlike other women of her time.  She refuses to compromise on her belief that nothing but the deepest love would make her marry a man.  However, her friend Charlotte is more practical and being the eldest among many siblings, she accepts Mr. Collins.
In the mean time, Elizabeth develops much hatred for Mr. Darcy as she thinks he is arrogant.  Mr. Wickham tells her more lies about Darcy that adds to her prejudice against him.  The class structure in England led land owners like Mr. Darcy to believe they were superior.  However we learn later in the novel that both the protagonists were under false first impressions of each other and the people around them.  Elizabeth was proud of her judgment of character but in her prejudice she had not noticed that Mr. Darcy was in fact a kind and generous man who was only looking after the best interests of his friend while Wickham was sly and unreliable.
When Lydia elopes with Wickham, Elizabeth and Darcy are finally brought together and they manage to overcome their pride and prejudices.  In portraying Lydia’s situation, Austen also subtly criticizes the society that condemns an entire family for the foolishness of one sister.  Austen’s quiet humour in dealing with characters like Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley serves to provoke change in society.
The beauty of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is in the way Austen has shaped her characters, especially the two protagonists.  They seem to grow through the novel.  They overcome their faults and they are dynamic and multi-layered.  Both Darcy and Elizabeth refuse to compromise on their convictions and Elizabeth is unlike any woman of her time.  She is willing to risk everything for what she truly believes in, at a time when women were helpless and dependent.  She has strong opinions and the wit and sharpness to express them even in the face of spiteful remarks.  Mr. Darcy is proud but as Charlotte says, he has the right to be so.  Like Mr. Collins, Darcy’s first proposal is condescending and Lizzy rejects him like she did with Mr. Collins.  However Mr. Darcy manages to change and amend his actions and Elizabeth sees him for what he truly is.
Thus Jane Austen melds together her criticism of society and her skilful use of language and humour to create memorable characters.  With each reading, the novel seems to grow with oneself and that is what makes Pride and Prejudice a classic.

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