PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
SUBJECTS — World/England; Literature/England;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Romantic Relationships; Sisters; Humility;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect.
2006 Version: Age 12+; MPAA Rating: PG for some mild thematic elements; 127 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
1995 BBC Miniseries: Age: 12+; No MPAA Rating; Drama; 300 minutes; Color. Filmed on location in Derbyshire.
1940 Version: Age: 12+; No MPAA Rating; Drama; 118 minutes; B & W.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.
Pride and Prejudice describes the unlikely courtship of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Their relationship begins with mutual contempt, but moves forward as they mature and learn that their first impressions, based on pride and prejudice, were incorrect. The story is set in upper middle class English society at the beginning of the 19th century. These films are based on Jane Austen’s classic novel.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
2006 Golden Globe Awards Nominations: Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy; Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (Keira Knightley); 2006 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Keira Knightley); Best Achievement in Art Direction; Best Achievement in Costume Design; Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score.
Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet; Talulah Riley as Mary Bennet; Rosamund Pike as Jane Bennet; Jena Malone as Lydia Bennet; Carey Mulligan as Kitty Bennet; Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet; Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennet; Claudie Blakley as Charlotte Lucas; Sylvester Morand as Sir William Lucas; Simon Woods as Mr. Bingley; Kelly Reilly as Caroline Bingley; and Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy,
1995 BBC MINISERIES
1996 Emmy Awards: Best Costume Design for a Mini-Series, 1996 Emmy Award Nominations: Outstanding Mini-Series, Outstanding Choreography, Outstanding Writing.
Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth, Crispin Bonham Carter, Anna Chancellor, Susannah Harker, Julia Sawalha, Alison Steadman, Benjamin Whitrow, David Bark-Jones, Polly Maberly, Lucy Briers, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Adrian Lukis.
1940 Academy Awards: Best Art Direction, Black & White.
Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Edmund Gwenn, Edna May Oliver, Mary Boland, Maureen O’Sullivan, Ann Rutherford, Frieda Inescort.
Robert Z. Leonard.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
Each movie will demonstrate that first impressions are often wrong and that a person can mature if he or she keeps an open mind. The films will also acquaint children with the problems caused by class prejudice in England.
Each of these films is an excellent introduction to Jane Austen’s classic novel. Austen’s works are not easy for even the most advanced readers. A college level teacher has reported that her students are more interested in reading another Jane Austen novel, Sense and Sensibility, after they have seen one of the film versions. When tested against a control group who only read the book, students who had seen the film before reading the novel had a better understanding of the characters and the plot. Viewing this film in advance of reading the novel Pride and Prejudice should have the same result. (See “Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility as Gateway to Austen’s Novel” by Cheryl L. Nixon, contained in Jane Austen in Hollywood, Edited by Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield, 1998, University of Kentucky Press, pages 140 – 147.) For more suggestions about using filmed adaptations of literary works in the ELA classroom, see Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories, and Plays.
MINOR. While the characters pay lip service to the principle that people should marry for love and not concern themselves with wealth or position, two of the Bennet sisters end up marrying men of wealth and position. Each film version departs somewhat from the novel. See Helpful Background Section below and the sidebar comment.
Review Before Seeing the Film and communicate as much of the content as possible to your child. You will not be able to cover everything but do the best you can. Immediately after the movie, or at odd times over the next week (for example at the dinner table or in the car on the way to school) bring up some of the Discussion Questions, starting with the Quick Discussion Question in the sidebar. Don’t worry if you can only get through a few questions. Just taking the film seriously and discussing it is the key. Allow your child to watch the movie several times and continue to ask and help him or her answer more discussion questions.
What Students Should Know Before They See the Film
Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) was the unmarried daughter of a clergyman. She grew up in a secure middle-class household and wrote novels which explored universal patterns of human behavior. Her stories dealt with upper and middle-class English society in which relationships were often based on gain, rather than affection or admiration. Austen’s novels are satiric and humorous with rich attention to detail and insightful treatment of character. Austen’s major novels are Sense & Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Northanger Abbey (1818), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1816) and Persuasion (1818).
At the beginning of the 19th century, when Jane Austen was writing her novels, few professions were open to respectable women. Writing novels was not one of them. For that reason, Pride and Prejudice was first published anonymously; its author described only as “a lady.” The inscription on Jane Austen’s tomb described her as a daughter, a Christian, but not as a writer.
The information set out below will aid in the understanding and appreciation of the story of Pride and Prejudice.
(1) A CLASS BASED SOCIETY UNDERGOING CHANGE
From the time of the Norman conquest in 1066 through much the 1800s, England was organized with a monarch (a king or a queen) at the top, a powerful aristocracy that supported the monarch (or fought about who the monarch would be), and then the rest of society. Aristocrats were originally warriors given land by William the Conqueror in exchange for providing knights and soldiers for his army. Before the Industrial Revolution (1760-1830) the English economy was based almost entirely on farming and the raising of livestock such as cows or sheep. The wealth and power of the aristocracy was based on the ownership of land. New agricultural practices and the Industrial Revolution led to many changes, among them the mass movement of peasants to the cities, the factory system, the disruption of extended family relationships, the rise of the mercantile class, and the reduction in power of the landed aristocracy.
This transformation of English society was well underway by the early 1800s. Mechanical power and inventions allowed machines to do the work that men and animals had done previously. Manufacturing and commerce had become increasingly efficient and profitable. Many manufacturers and merchants became very wealthy and a middle class of small business owners and professionals arose to serve the new economy. The aristocracy retained their title and social position but their wealth was increasingly threatened. The newly rich began to purchase titles, marry into aristocratic families, and arrogate to themselves the manners and attitudes of the aristocracy. However, the old aristocracy didn’t let them forget that their wealth had come from “the trades”.
The old aristocracy is represented by Darcy and “the Right Honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh”. The mercantile class, businessmen who were very wealthy, represented by the Bingleys, are shown eagerly adopting the lifestyle of the landed aristocracy. They displayed their wealth through fine carriages, elegant dress, large country homes with landscaped grounds, and titles whenever they could purchase them. The middle class, (the Lucas’ and the Bennets) tried to mimic the aristocracy and the very wealthy to the extent that they could. Money and the social position that it could buy were seen as the key to a happy life.
However, during the Industrial Revolution, the rest of society was struggling. Peasants were being evicted from the estates on which their ancestors had labored and were moving to the cities by the tens of thousands. The lucky ones obtained some type of work in the factories or serving the wealthy and the new middle class. However, many could not find steady work or succumb to rum, the drug of the age. In the early 1800s, a third of England was living near starvation. See e.g., Oliver Twist. Bread riots and worker protests were met with force and repressive measures.
Political power was still retained by the aristocracy. The House of Lords, whose members were from the traditional aristocracy and the church, passed on all bills coming from the House of Commons. The House of Commons, supposedly the voice of the people, was itself not representative. Only men with substantial property could vote. Even then, representation was skewed because of “pocket boroughs” (electoral districts which were controlled by the aristocracy) and “rotten boroughs” (electoral districts in which, because of the depopulation of the countryside, only a few voters were left.) Note that after the American Revolution the vast majority of male U.S. citizens owned some land and could therefore vote. However, universal male suffrage was not the rule throughout the U.S. until 1920. The first state to allow women to vote was Wyoming in 1890. While other states followed Wyoming’s lead, women didn’t get the vote in federal elections and in all state elections until 1920. Despite the fact that boys much younger than 21 were permitted to enlist in the military, it was only in 1976 with the passage of the 21st amendment that 18 – 20-year-olds were guaranteed the right to vote.
(2) THE ROLE OF MONEY AND STATUS IN DETERMINING WHO TO MARRY
In modern Western society, people who marry to improve their social status or for money are considered shallow and shortsighted. They are condemned as “gold diggers”. However, marrying for status or money was the norm in the upper classes until the last hundred and fifty years. Marriages were unions of families in which wealth was consolidated and combined or in which people with social status but little money were able to secure the financial backing of people with money but little social status. Thus, in England, a member of the hereditary aristocracy who did not have money or the prospect of a large inheritance (a daughter or a younger son) would marry into a family with newly acquired wealth. By the same marriage, a person of little social status but much money could improve his or her social status.
The concept of arranged marriages has been prevalent through much of the world and in different cultures. See e.g., Fiddler on the Roof. Arranged marriages are still the norm in many countries in the Middle and Far East.
The superiority of marriages based on affection is the subject of many plays, songs, stories, and other works of art. These were some of the ways in which Western society worked through the conflict between those who preferred marriages of convenience and those who advocated marriages based on affection. Pride and Prejudice and some of the other works by Jane Austen can be counted among these. Romeo and Juliet (1597) is another. Eventually, when the conditions of society had changed sufficiently, the consensus turned against arranged marriages of convenience. This occurred in different countries at different times but, in Western society, marriages of affection were the norm by the end of the 19th century. Now, in Europe and the United States, children simply inform their parents of their choice of a husband or wife even if marrying that person is a radical departure from what was expected. See, for example, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
In the England of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, social status was based on birth and connection to the aristocracy or the royal family. However, if people were boorish or acted badly, they would be condemned by society no matter what their social status. Thus, Darcy was condemned by Mereton society because of his disdainful attitude.
(3) THE STATUS OF WOMEN AND THE IMPORTANCE OF REPUTATION
In the early 1800s, English women lived in a society with narrow and rigid expectations for their behavior. The laws of the time concentrated wealth in the hands of the oldest male heir. (There were a few women like Lady de Bourgh and Georgiana Darcy who became wealthy by inheritance from a relation, but they were relatively few.) A woman who didn’t marry might become a governess, but this job had a status only slightly above that of a servant and it paid little. They could not enter business or professions. The writing was considered beneath a lady of any social status. Spinster aunts were tolerated in the households of their parents, or of a married brother or sister. Jane Austen was in this position. She never married and was paid little for her writing. She lived with her family all of her life.
Through Mrs. Bennet, Jane Austen tells us what could happen to Elizabeth if she didn’t accept an offer of marriage made to her by a man she abhors:
[I]f you take it into your heart to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husband at all–and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead — I shall not be able to keep you …. Vol. I, Chapter XX.
Charlotte Lucas admits that she was never a romantic and was always looking for a financially secure situation. The narrator, in discussing Charlotte’s reflections on marrying, tells us that:
Charlotte herself was tolerably composed. She had gained her point and had time to consider it. Her reflections were in general satisfactory. [Her husband] to be sure was neither sensible nor agreeable, his society was irksome, and his attachment to her must be imaginary. But still, he would be her husband. — Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage has always been her object; it was the only honorable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative she had now obtained and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it. Vol. I, Chapter XXII.
Thus, the business of getting a husband with the wealth to provide support and social standing was very important for a young woman. Accomplishment in the “arts”, such as singing, playing the piano, drawing, dancing, reciting poetry, embroidering, or painting designs on tables were areas in which ladies could distinguish themselves. Pride and Prejudice Study Guide from the Glencoe Library.
A good reputation was essential for a woman to marry well. In addition, the reputation of her family must be good as well or the woman would be “tainted by association”. In this story, the unseemly behavior of Mrs. Bennet, Lydia and Kitty was one of the major reasons that Mr. Darcy’s “better judgment” placed in the way of his affection for Elizabeth. Recognizing the taint that Lydia’s scandalous behavior would cause, Elizabeth stated that: “Our whole family must partake of [Lydia’s] ruin and disgrace.” Later, Elizabeth remarked: “More things have been ruined by this than Lydia’s reputation.”
(4) CUSTOMS FOR SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND DATING
The world portrayed in Austen’s novels is filled with courtesies, customs, and rules of behavior which may not be familiar. Men would bow and women would curtsey when they met. One usually didn’t speak to another person unless first introduced by a mutual acquaintance, except that men could call upon another man who moved into the neighborhood. Most certainly women could not initiate the contact. People with social standing did not visit people who lived in certain unfashionable neighborhoods.
Lady Catherine asks Elizabeth, “Are any of your younger sisters out?” By this she referred to a custom of girls coming out into society (permitted to go to parties, etc.) and being offered on the marriage market. This custom was also followed in the U.S., among wealthy pretenders to aristocratic status, for well over a hundred years.
On one occasion, Elizabeth was at home by herself when, “to her very great surprise, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Darcy only, entered the room ….” According to accepted practices of the day, he should not have stayed and talked to her. However, to leave too early would be rude. Darcy stayed but a short time.
(5) THE MEANING AND SOCIAL ROLE OF ENTAIL
“Entail” is a bequest limited to a particular person or to a special class of heirs, most frequently the eldest male relative. Thus when property was subject to a properly drafted entail restriction the owner was not able to sell it and on his death, it automatically went to his closest male relative, no matter what he might say in his will. Typically, in England, entail was used when land was the chief source of wealth to ensure that property passed to the eldest male heir. This was seen as a way of preserving the strength and vigor of the aristocracy and the monarchy that it supported. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet had received his estate subject to entail in favor of a male heir. He was therefore unable to transfer his house and land to his wife or to his daughters.
Entail has now passed out of favor. In early 19th century England, entail was roundly condemned but it was enforced by courts. The characters in Pride and Prejudice universally criticize entail but are powerless to do anything about it.
In revolutionary and democratic United States, entail and most other policies favoring the oldest male child had been abrogated at the time of this story. Thomas Jefferson in particular successfully campaigned against both entail and primogeniture (the policy by which eldest sons inherited the parents’ estate and women and younger sons were left with nothing). He convinced the Virginia House of Burgesses to outlaw them. His goal was to split up large estates so that more men would be landowners and be able to participate in the governance of the country. Jefferson and many of the American revolutionaries believed that society would be more equitable if there was less disparity between rich and poor and if large concentrations of wealth were broken up.
Plots and Themes
Pride and Prejudice consist of several intertwined stories about relationships between couples. The main plot describes the courtship of Elizabeth and Darcy which must overcome initial first impressions, prejudice, pride and several other obstacles. The progress of the main plot is admirably served by several subplots of relations between other couples: Jane/Bingley, Mr. Collins/Charlotte, and Lydia/Wickham. The story of how love conquers is one of the basic stories of Western civilization (and probably many others as well).
TWM has identified eight major themes which weave their way through the story of Pride and Prejudice. The first five themes involve growth and learning by at least one of the major characters and they are the heart of the story. The positions of the characters as to the remaining themes are static, i.e., as the story goes along, the characters don’t learn or come to embrace a new and better viewpoint on those topics.
#1: THE DANGERS OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
The primary obstacle in the path of the Elizabeth/Darcy romance is their difficulty in getting beyond their pride and their prejudices. Darcy is inordinately proud of his social standing and prejudiced against those with a lower social standing than he. But Elizabeth is proud, too. As she admits, her pride was hurt by some of the statements that she overheard Darcy make at the dance at which they were first introduced. Darcy’s behavior, Wickham’s story, and finally Darcy’s interference with the Jane/Bingley romance, causes Elizabeth to feel a strong antipathy to Mr. Darcy. This was her “prejudice”.
The danger of pride and prejudice affects all human relationships, not just romantic relationships. This is a universal concern that will be with people through the ages. The events of the story taught Darcy and Elizabeth to discard their prejudices and that their pride was getting in the way of their true happiness. Darcy’s pride is obvious and based on social status. Elizabeth’s pride is described in the following dialog from the 1995 version:
Jane Bennet: And Mr Darcy may improve on closer acquaintance.
Elizabeth Bennet: You mean he’ll be in a humour to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men? “She is tolerable I suppose, but she’s not handsome enough to tempt me”.
Jane Bennet: It was very wrong of him to say so.
Elizabeth Bennet: Aye, a capital offence!
#2: FIRST IMPRESSIONS CAN BE MISLEADING AND PEOPLE CAN CHANGE, MAKING FIRST IMPRESSIONS OUT OF DATE
Snap judgments about people are often wrong. They often rely on prejudice. Some people believe differently and trust their immediate, intuitive response to others. The issue of whether to trust first impressions is a universal concern that will apply to human relationships through time. Like the theme of the dangers of pride and prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth learn through the events of the story that first impressions can be misleading.
There is another major problem with holding to first impressions. People change and grow. Elizabeth could never have loved the Darcy she first met. He was proud and prejudiced against her because his social standing was greater than hers. It was the Darcy who had cast away his pride and his prejudice, who had told Bingley that he had no objection to Bingley marrying Jane, who had renewed his proposal knowing that Wickham would be his brother-in-law, that Elizabeth loved.
#3: MARRIAGE SHOULD BE FOR LOVE; NOT WEALTH OR SOCIAL STATUS
Another major obstacle to Elizabeth and Darcy (and another primary theme) is the role of social status and wealth in the matrimonial decisions of young people in the England of the early 19th century. Darcy had a particular problem with reconciling himself to marrying a woman of a lower social status who was not wealthy. In this, Elizabeth was Darcy’s opposite. She knew all along that wealth and social position meant very little to her in the choice of a life partner. The lesson of this theme is one that Darcy learns through the course of the story.
(The plot undercuts this theme because Elizabeth ends up marrying into Darcy’s wealthy and socially prestigious family. If Austen had really wanted to play out this theme, she should have had Darcy suddenly lose his wealth. But Austen’s belief that wealth doesn’t matter in the choice of a mate only went so far.)
A sub theme is the importance of respecting your spouse. The relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet is the counter to what Elizabeth expects in her marriage to Darcy. As Mr. Bennet says to Elizabeth when he is trying to make sure that she really wants to marry Darcy: “Let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”
#4: A CRITIQUE OF THE CLASS SYSTEM IN ENGLAND
Austen uses the characters of Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, the sisters Bingley, and several more to ridicule those who genuflect to the aristocracy and the class structure. Darcy in his worst moments, such as his first proposal, also plays that role. However, his love for Elizabeth leads him to associate himself with those of a lower class. However, Austen’s critique of class structure is quite limited because it relates only to the differences between the “upper classes” and the middle classes. What of the farmers, the laborers, the servants, the seamstresses? They are not even considered.
#5: MEDDLING IN THE ROMANTIC AFFAIRS OF FRIENDS AND RELATIVES OFTEN LEADS TO TROUBLE
An obstacle in the Jane/Bingley relationship is the meddling of others in their affairs. Darcy and Bingley’s sisters, in an effort to prevent Bingley from making a bad match, keep him away from Jane, causing Jane great suffering and leading, in part, to Elizabeth’s initial rejection of Darcy’s marriage proposal. Lady Catherine tries to stop the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth. Darcy, at least, comes to the realization that his meddling was wrong and apologizes for it. This theme is further developed in Emma.
#6: THE DEPENDENCE OF WOMEN ON MEN FOR FINANCIAL SECURITY
In England through the 1800s the only way a woman could provide for her future was through an advantageous marriage. The treatment of Charlotte Lucas is the key to this theme. While she is a foil for Elizabeth in this regard, their situations are different. Austen acknowledges that Charlotte’s solution is perhaps the best solution for her due to the restrictions of society, her plainness, and her lack of a substantial fortune. Austen doesn’t condemn Charlotte, she condemns the conditions imposed by society which led Charlotte to this decision.
A sub-theme in the criticism of class structure is that a woman could not obtain an advantageous marriage unless she had a good reputation. A woman’s reputation could be ruined by misdeeds of members of her family as to which she was totally innocent. The story makes the point that Lydia’s misbehavior and the misbehavior of the other younger sisters and of Mrs. Bennet would injure the reputation of Jane and Elizabeth, two attractive and sensible girls who did not contribute to this misbehavior.
#7: THE BENEFITS OF A STRONG RELATIONSHIP AMONG SISTERS
Elizabeth and Jane are different in many ways but they have a strong and supportive relationship which serves them well throughout the story. The sisters respect those differences. For example, in Chapter 4 Elizabeth says to Jane “Oh! you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in my life.”
Their relationship with each other is by far stronger than any other relationship in the story and one gets the impression that after they marry they will still be close.
#8: THE POOR PARENTING TECHNIQUES OF MR. AND MRS. BENNET
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet make repeated mistakes in parenting. First they favor certain children. Mr. Bennet favors Elizabeth and then Jane and tells the other three that they are the silliest girls in England. Mrs. Bennet favors Lydia and allows Lydia to get away with anything she wants. Lydia repeatedly insults Mary and takes Kitty’s possessions. Neither Mr. or Mrs. Bennet do anything.
Mrs. Bennet sends Jane off into a coming rainstorm to visit Netherfield for the purpose of getting her sick so that she would have to stay there many days. As Mr. Bennet sarcastically comments:
“Well, my dear,” said Mr. Bennet, when Elizabeth had read the note aloud, “if your daughter should have a dangerous fit of illness, if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under your orders.” Vol. 1, Chapter VII.
The Bennets allow Lydia to go to Brighton, despite Elizabeth’s warnings. They do not reign in or discipline the younger girls. Mr. Bennet is distant and relatively uninvolved, but then the model of the involved father didn’t come into vogue until 150 years later.
The Bennets criticize each other in front of the children and do not consult before making decisions so that the children can see a united front. They undercut each other frequently. An example of this is when Mrs. Bennet asked Mr. Bennet’s help in persuading Elizabeth to accept Mr. Collins’ proposal. Instead of talking to his wife about a common position and trying to convince her to change her mind, Mr. Bennet completely undercut his wife by calling Elizabeth in without telling his wife what he was going to do. He then announced that while her mother would never talk to Elizabeth again if she didn’t marry Mr. Collins, that he (Mr. Bennet) would never talk to Elizabeth again if she did. Vol I, Chapter XX. This provided for humor in the book and the movies while at the same time displaying the dysfunctional nature of the parenting provided by the Bennets.
Literary Devices and Contrasting Characters
A standard literary device is to highlight the good points of a major character or how that character grows during the story by contrast with a minor character. The minor character is called the “foil” of the major character. Thus, Charlotte Lucas is a foil for Elizabeth with respect to the question of whether couples should marry for love or marry for financial security.
However, in Pride and Prejudice Austen goes beyond the concept of the foil by having several minor characters serve as contrasts with the major characters for different aspects of the personalities of the major characters. At times, Austen turns the concept of the foil on its head, using the strengths of a minor character to highlight the flaws of a major character.
What follows is a description of some of these contrasts of character.
The status consciousness of Darcy at the beginning of the book and his inability to appreciate anything that he considered beneath his social position is contrasted with Bingley’s appreciation of country manners and his ability to see the best in people and in situations.
Darcy shows more emotional growth than any other character in the story when he learns to give up his pride in his station in life and form relationships with persons who are beneath him in the pecking order, i.e. Elizabeth and her family. There are several characters who do not shed their allegiance to the status consciousness of society. They include not only the Bingley sisters but also Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins. Unlike Mr. Darcy, they are unable to change their ways.
Charlotte Lucas, who marries for a secure social and financial position, is a foil for Elizabeth and her insistence that she will marry only for love.
The differences between Jane and Elizabeth point out deficiencies in Elizabeth’s character that she must work through before she can find her way to Darcy. Elizabeth is too quick to criticize and Jane hardly ever thinks ill of anyone. The same differences are shown between Bingley and Darcy. Bingley is not a critical man but instead takes the best out of any situation, ignoring that which his sisters and Darcy would find beneath their social station and obnoxious. This use of less important characters to highlight the traits that the major characters must learn to forgo in order to reach the resolution of the plot is one of the devices that give this story its richness and complexity.
The relationships of the other Bennet sisters, characterized by bickering and jealousy, are contrasts with the close, loving and supportive relationship between Elizabeth and Jane.
Wickham’s duplicity is contrasted with Darcy’s honorable conduct. Elizabeth in the 1995 version: “One has all the goodness and one has all the appearance of it.”
The silly Mrs. Bennet and her bubble-headed younger daughters are contrasted with the sensible and thoughtful natures of Elizabeth and Jane. Lydia in particular, who rushes heedlessly into a relationship with Wickham that could ruin her and her sisters, is a foil for Elizabeth and Jane. Mary contrasts with Elizabeth, by being unable to play the piano but pushing it while Elizabeth plays the piano passably but doesn’t try to exhibit herself. It isn’t one of her better charms.
Those chained to the rigid social status and artificial sense of worth of the time: the Bingley sisters, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, her niece and Mr. Collins, are contrasted with Jane and Elizabeth who can see through the conventions of society and who try to evaluate people based on their character.
The relationships of the married couples (Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas, and Wickham and Lydia) contrast in different ways with the relationship that Elizabeth and Jane want to have with their husbands-to-be.
- Mr. Bennet does not respect his wife and deals with the frustrations in his life by retiring to his library and reading books. Mrs. Bennet is simply silly and is obsessed with marrying off her daughters. We expect that Darcy will forever respect Elizabeth and cherish her. Elizabeth will never be silly and obsessed with marrying off her children, as Mrs. Bennet is.
- Mr. Collins is incapable of true loving, as is his wife, Charlotte. She arranges their lives so that they see as little of each other as possible. Darcy and Elizabeth truly love each other; they will not arrange their lives to spend as much time apart as possible.
- Lydia will be happy for a few years but when she realizes that Wickham doesn’t love her, or cares for her much less than for the money she came with, she will be unhappy. For his part, Wickham will be miserable, tied to Lydia and probably go off to some distant part of the British Empire with the Army as soon as possible.
IRONY AND HUMOR
Irony and humor play major roles in highlighting the themes of the story. An excellent example is the ironic, tongue in cheek tone of the first two paragraphs of the book which are set out in both versions of the movie. (Elizabeth says the line the 1995 version.) To recapture this, we will use the first three paragraphs of the book. They are some of the best first paragraphs of any novel in the English language:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
The first sentence is highly ironic because the story describes a society in which women were most in want of husbands with fortunes. This was a very hard and harsh fact of life for women in middle and upper-class English society. This sentence sets the tone of the story as humorous, ironic, and dealing with money and romance.
The second paragraph confirms that the single man may not even be aware of his “need” for a wife. Instead, this “truth” that binds him is known to the community which presumptively considers him the “property” of “some one or other of their daughters”. Thus, the society Austen will be described in the book makes people into pieces in a game of marriage monopoly.
The third paragraph tells us that the game has begun. Through the book, we are shown that the “universally acknowledged” truth is based on a materialistic, false, and destructive society in which the corrosive effects of a worship of wealth and status degrade the humanity of people who cannot see through it.
The story is replete with ironic situations and statements. Here are a few:
- The opening statement when it refers to wealthy single men who are in want of a partner; it turns out that the persons most in want of a partner are young women without inheritances.
- Darcy is concerned about marrying into the Bennet family because of the impropriety of the actions of the girls and Mrs. Bennet, when his very own beloved sister, Georgiana, was ready to elope with Wickham, a highly improper act which, if generally known, would besmirch her reputation and was certainly worse than anything in the history of the Bennet family, until Lydia ran off with Wickham.
- Darcy prevents Bingley from proposing to Jane but then goes and proposes to Elizabeth.
- Mr. Collins’ letter to Mr. Bennet and his entire approach to the Bennet family which is premised upon the idea that he is a desirable match for a young gentlewoman such as Elizabeth (or even Charlotte).
- Because Darcy was able to force Wickham to marry Lydia, he was destined to have Wickham as a brother-in-law; this relates to the theme of Darcy learning to relinquish his pride in his social position.
- Lady Catherine of immensely high social status must depend upon the lowly Elizabeth for company. (Remember when Lady Catherine asked her to stay a month longer?)
PLOT AND SUBPLOT
The various subplots are important elements in this story. They include: the Bingley/Jane romance; the Collins/Charlotte marriage; the Lydia/Wickham seduction/marriage; and the conflict between Darcy and Wickham. Even the story of Elizabeth’s refusal of Mr. Collins and her relationship with Wickham could be considered subplots. Each of the subplots relates to a theme of the story and serves to highlight that theme.
LETTERS WRITTEN AND READ BY CHARACTERS
Letters are used by Jane Austen as a literary device to vary the pace of the story, to allow very emotional communications to be made while the speakers are insulated from the persons receiving the communication. During the period that Jane Austen wrote her novels, the use of letters in novels was quite popular. Some novels and plays were, and still are, written entirely in the form of letters.
Differences Between Male Characters in Austen's Novels and in the Movies
Jane Austen’s novels were a conservative reaction against the romantic literature of the early 1800s. This is shown in the severe restrictions on emotional display by men, hearkening back to the rational world view of the Enlightenment. Men always struggled against their emotions. In Darcy’s case, it was the emotion of love. His first proposal to Elizabeth was prefaced with: “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” He then goes on to dwell on the problems he had acknowledging his love: the concerns over Elizabeth’s inferiority; his distress over the inferiority of her family. All of these were ” … obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination.” Most modern film adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, by adding and subtracting scenes and by the facial expressions, sighs, longing looks and other nonverbal indications by the actors, modify Austen’s portrayal of men by showing them to be more emotional than the male characters in the novels and showing that they accept that emotion. These changes make Austen’s stories more interesting and acceptable to the modern mass audience.
An Austen male hero “equates courtship with emotional restraint and proves his worth by enacting that equation until a climactic event forces an emotional display that, in turn, forces courtship into marriage.” The aversion to emotional display by the men in Austen’s novels extends even to discuss their efforts to help others. An example is Darcy’s refusal to tell Elizabeth of his efforts to help Lydia, no matter how much good it would have done him in his courtship of Elizabeth. In Sense and Sensibility, Edward Ferrars intends to go forward with his secret engagement to Lucy Steele without revealing his true feelings to Elinor. Colonel Brandon will not tell Marianne about Willoughby’s indiscretions despite the fact that in doing so he would have eliminated a rival who was obviously favored by Marianne. In Emma, Knightley waits for an inordinately long time to declare his love for Emma despite being a close friend for many years. Even success in courting is characterized by restraint. The film adaptations of Emma and Persuasion, end in a kiss which is completely absent from the novel. Austen’s criticisms of male emotionality are confirmed by her anti-heroes, such as Willoughby. They are emotionally extravagant and ultimately unsuccessful.
Masculine emotionality is at odds with Austen’s own critique of “sensibility.” In the modern day re-creation of these characters, it is clear that “sensibility” has triumphed over the “sense” that Austen sought to champion. While the portrayal of men in the films turns on its head Austen’s view of the way men should act when courting, these changes may provide an interesting basis for discussion with students about changes in accepted courting behavior over time and the benefits of making film versions of classic novels when substantial changes in the plot or the characters are required for commercial success.
In the 2005 version, Darcy remains true to the unemotional character drawn by Ms. Austen and, for modern viewers, the film suffers as a result. Mr. Bingley, on the other hand, displays some emotionality and the character is enhanced as a result.
No suggested answers.
QUESTIONS RELATING TO MORE THAN ONE THEME
2. There are four young couples featured in this story. Describe how the experiences of three of these couples relate to the story’s major themes.
Elizabeth/Darcy: themes: (i) their own pride and prejudices almost cost them their relationship (Darcy’s pride being in his social position and his prejudice against those in an inferior social position; Elizabeth’s pride in herself which Darcy hurt by discounting her the first time they met; and Elizabeth’s prejudice against Darcy based on that slight, Wickham’s false charges against him, and Darcy’s actions in separating Bingley from Jane); (ii) first impressions may be misleading and people change so that first impressions are sometimes out of date; (iii) they had to overcome the meddling by Darcy’s relatives (Lady Catherine de Bourgh) to keep them apart; (iv) marriage should be based on love; (v) a critique of the class system of England at the time; (vi) the dependence of women on men for financial security; (vii) the importance of reputation for women seeking a good marriage; Jane/Bingely: (i) marriage should be based on love; (ii) they had to overcome the meddling by Bingely’s “friends” (including Darcy) and relatives (Bingley’s sisters) to keep them apart; (iii) the dependence of women on men for financial security; (iv) the importance of reputation for women seeking a good marriage; Charlotte/Mr. Collins: (i) the dependence of women on men for financial security; (ii) the evils of not marrying for love (how some women will accept an obnoxious man just for financial security); (iii) a critique of the class system of England at the time. Note that the Lydia/Wickham couple doesn’t really relate to the themes identified by TWM.
The following two questions are designed to be asked in sequence.
3. Describe the themes of this story which relate to the society in which the story is set.
Here are three: (1) a critique of the class systems in England at the time (the class and social structure of England in the early 1800s was based on birth and connections to the aristocracy; it had nothing to do with merit); (2) the dependence of women on men for financial security (the only way for upper class and middle-class women to make their way in the world was through a good marriage; they were denied other avenues for advancement); (3) wealth and social position were all too often factors in choosing a mate; matrimonial decisions should be made based on love and respect.
4. Describe the themes of this story which relate to interpersonal relationships. (Some themes relate to both the broader society and personal relationships. Do not include any themes that you discussed in your answer to the preceding question.)
They include: (1) pride and prejudice must be overcome to have true and meaningful relationships with people; (2) first impressions may be misleading, and people change so that first impressions are sometimes out of date; (3) the Bennets made many mistakes in child rearing (child rearing should be even handed among children and not solely focused on getting daughters married to the first gentleman who comes along and asks); (4) meddling in the romantic affairs of friends and relatives often leads to trouble; and (5) the benefits of a strong relationship among sisters.
5. Assume that after Mr. Collins proposed to Charlotte, but before she had accepted, she had discussed her plans with Elizabeth. What points would Charlotte have made in support of marrying Mr. Collins and what points would Elizabeth have made opposing such a marriage?
The key point is that given the society she lived in and her condition in life, there was a lot of justification for Charlotte’s decision to marry Mr. Collins. She was older than Elizabeth and very near spinsterhood. She did not stand to inherit much money from her family. As unpleasant as Mr. Collins may be, she had no prospects of finding anyone better. Elizabeth would respond that a life of spinsterhood would be better than one as the wife of a man she didn’t love, particularly Mr. Collins. [One of the great strengths of this story is that very little is black and white. While Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins was disappointing to Elizabeth and something that she could not have handled, for Charlotte there were a lot to commend a marriage to Mr. Collins.]
6. Mr. Collins’ letter to Mr. Bennet contains the following statement: “I cannot be otherwise than concerned at being the means of injuring your amiable daughters and beg leave to apologize for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them every possible amends …” What did Mr. Collins have in mind? What was ironic about the statement? What relationship does this irony have to at least two themes of the story?
Mr. Collins has in mind to marry one of the Bennet girls. He believed that he would be doing them a favor because: (a) he had a steady income from his parish and the likely prospect of owning the Bennet estate when Mr. Bennet died and (b) because of his association with Lady Catherine de Bourgh, he thought that he had a better social status than the Bennets. Since Mr. Collins sees marriage as an arrangement of property and social status in which young girls will jump at anything to marry someone with a secure income, good prospects, and better social status, he believes that he is doing the Bennets a favor. In fact, Mr. Collins is an unpleasant man who has nothing to offer but his income and whatever social status he has. He knows that there are others more handsome and witty, but he thinks that what he has to offer will overcome those deficiencies. Ironically, Elizabeth, the narrator, and the audience come to the opposite conclusion. The themes of the story that this irony refers to include: (1) the powerful role that money and social status played in the traditional view of marriage, while marriage should be pursued for love; (2) the financial dependence of women on men and the society’s refusal to allow them other means to support themselves; (3) the ridiculous nature of the social status system in place in England at the time in which birth, wealth and marriage conferred social status.
7. Elizabeth Bennet had many things to overcome before she found the man she wanted to marry. Some of these were internal and some external. Name four of them.
(1) her wounded pride; (2) her prejudice against Darcy based on her incorrect knowledge; (3) a tendency to jump to first impressions and hold onto them even when it appeared that Mr. Darcy had changed; (4) a hopeless mother; (5) an ineffective and distant father; (6) two badly behaved younger siblings in a world that held such actions against the entire family; (7) several snobbish and scheming females arrayed against her (Miss de Bourgh, Bingley’s sisters). Also, Elizabeth didn’t play the piano all that well, and she had no prospects to inherit money.
THE DANGERS OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
8. Many have said that the “pride” in the title of this work refers to Darcy and that the “prejudice” refers to Elizabeth. The truth is somewhat different. What is it?
Elizabeth and Darcy each suffer from both pride and prejudice. Darcy’s pride in his social standing causes him to look down on Elizabeth. This false pride is based on his prejudice against those with lower social standing than he enjoys. He pre-judges Elizabeth before he knows her at all based on her social standing. As for Elizabeth, her pride was hurt when Darcy made disparaging remarks about her, and this led her to pre-judge him, i.e. to come to a conclusion about him without knowing enough facts to justify that conclusion.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS CAN BE MISLEADING AND PEOPLE CAN CHANGE MAKING FIRST IMPRESSIONS OBSOLETE
9. List four things that influence a person’s first impression of another person. Which are valid and which are not?
There are many possibilities: clothing, physical appearance, manner of speech, accent, knowledge of slang, cleanliness, the way that the person moves, race, creed, national origin, sexual preference, etc.
10. What was Elizabeth’s first impression of Darcy? Was it justified?
Her first impression was that he was a snob. It was justified. He was acting like a snob. However, he changed later on, rendering her first impressions incorrect.
11. What was Darcy’s first impression of Elizabeth? Was it justified?
That she had a lower social standing than he and was not pretty enough to tempt him. This impression as to her social standing was correct, but Darcy suffered from the fact that it took him too long to realize that Elizabeth was pretty and smart and had “bewitched” him. In addition, she had become alienated from him because of his pride and prejudice, Wickham’s false stories, and Darcy’s meddling against the marriage of Jane/Bingley.
12. Like Darcy, Elizabeth made an error in her early evaluations. What was it?
Elizabeth’s evaluation of Darcy as a snob at the very begriming of the story was accurate. However, her belief in Wickham’s story about Darcy, based only on her instinctive like of Mr. Wickham and the fact that no one would tell her any actual facts contradicting it, turned out to be incorrect. Later, in the crucible of his love for Elizabeth, Darcy realizes the error of his snobbishness.
13. Have you ever had a first impression of someone that you later found out to be incorrect? What happened? Does it relate at all to the themes of this story?
There is no one correct answer to this question.
14. Do you agree that first impressions are not to be trusted, or do you rely upon your immediate, intuitive response to people?
There is no one correct response to this question. A good response should evaluate the role of prejudice in making first impressions.
MARRIAGE SHOULD BE FOR LOVE; NOT WEALTH OR SOCIAL STATUS
15. Mr. Collins thought that there were several reasons why Elizabeth should look favorably on his proposal of marriage. What were they?
Collins told her in his proposal: “It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy of your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of de Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in my favour, and you should take it into farther consideration that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion [of the small inheritance from her mother] is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications.” Vol. I, Chapter XIX
16. Charlotte Lucas says, “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.” What does this statement reveal about her? Do you agree with her statement? Explain.
It shows that she does not believe that people should marry for love. She is at this point in her life getting near to spinsterhood and desperate for a husband. She has no independent fortune because her father’s property will go to her brother.
17. There are three examples of marriages that are shown in this story to be problematic. What are they and what are their problems?
(1) The marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet: There is apparently no expression of love and Mr. Bennet has no respect for his wife. Mrs. Bennet is too silly to make a real attachment to a man. The Bennets do not coordinate their positions in advance and they freely contradict each other, undercut each other, and criticize each other in front of the children. (2) the marriage of Lydia and Wickham: Loveless on his part and immature on hers. (3) The marriage of Collins to Charlotte Lucas: based on considerations of financial security and comfort; loveless on both sides (Mr. Collins clearly loves his wife in a way that he would love any woman who showed him the least amount of affection and respect, however, it is an imaginary connection that might not stand the test of crisis).
18. What is the role of the Gardiners in this story? (Mr. Gardiner, who lives in London, is the brother of Mrs. Bennet. He serves as the front for Mr. Darcy’s efforts to help Lydia.)
They demonstrate a reasonably functional marriage, although this is not well developed. As a plot device, they are the means by which Darcy tries to help Lydia (and Elizabeth) by making Wickham marry Lydia.
A CRITIQUE OF THE CLASS SYSTEM IN ENGLAND
19. What is the role of money and property in this story?
It is a corrupting and limiting influence. It corrupts because women are under pressure to marry for financial security (Charlotte). It is limiting because women have no way to obtain it except through inheritance or marriage.
The following four questions are designed to be asked in sequence:
20. What is entail and what is its role in this story?
Entail is a restriction on the ownership of property that limits future ownership of the property to a special class of heirs, such as male relatives. Thus, in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet had received his estate subject to entail in favor of a male heir. Since he had no sons, he was unable to transfer his house and land to his wife or to his daughters. When Mr. Bennet died, the estate would go to his eldest male relative, Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins had no obligation to support Mr. Bennet’s wife and daughters. This sets up the situation in which the Bennet daughters, who had a relatively privileged upbringing, would be relegated to the working classes unless they could marry a man of wealth.
21. What is primogeniture and how does it relate to entail? What effect do they have on society?
Primogeniture is the preference for property passing to the oldest male heir. Entail was one of the ways to secure primogeniture. They were used in England to ensure that there were a few men who had great wealth. This assured a strong aristocracy to support the crown.
22. What did Thomas Jefferson and the American Revolutionaries think of primogeniture and entail?
These forms of inheritance were abolished in the democratic and revolutionary United States. Thomas Jefferson, in particular, campaigned against both entail and primogeniture. He convinced the Virginia House of Burgesses to outlaw them. His goal was to split up large estates so that more men would be landowners and able to vote. (Only landowners could vote at that time.) Jefferson, despite his own privileged and aristocratic lifestyle, believed that society would be better off if there were less disparity between rich and poor, and if large concentrations of wealth were broken up.
23. If the story of Pride and Prejudice had taken place in the U.S. of the early 1800s, how would it have been different?
The class divisions would have been much less powerful, and the Bennet girls could look forward to inheriting their father’s estate because primogeniture and entail had been outlawed in most of the U.S. The property would most likely have passed to Mrs. Bennet, if she had outlived her husband, and then it would have been divided evenly between the five girls, unless Mrs. Bennet had, by will, given the property to someone else or to her daughters in different percentages. For example, if her older daughters married into very wealthy families, Mrs. Bennet could have left the estate to the three younger daughters. While each girl would have received only a portion of the estate, they would not have had to face a life of penury if they were unable to marry well. The facts that drive this story arise from a class-based society in which entail and primogeniture applied to the inheritance of property. Pride and Prejudice could not have been written for the United States.
24. Rank the following characters in the film in order of their class standing in the English society of the day and explain your rankings. Note that Mr. Bingley’s father got his wealth in the trades, and Charlotte Lucas’ father also made his money in trade, but he was knighted by the Queen when he served as mayor of the town. Rank the following: Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Sir William Lucas, Mr. Bennet, and Mr. Wickham.
(1) Mr. Darcy because he comes from nobility and is rich, although he has no title; [From this point on, the exact order is not as important as showing an understanding of the components.] (2) Lady Catherine de Bourgh (she has a title, but she is a woman), (3) Mr. Bingley (he is a gentleman who is very rich but the source of this money is in the trades), (4) Sir William Lucas (he is a knight of moderate fortune; he made his money in the trades), (5) Mr. Bennet (a gentlemen of limited means whose estate is entailed away), (6) Elizabeth Bennet (a gentleman’s daughter with no prospect for an inheritance), and (7) Mr. Wickham (he is a scoundrel).
25. It is often said that Austen criticizes the class structure of English life in the early 1800s. However, many people are missing from this critique. Who are they?
Darcy and his relatives and friends are upper class. The Bennets are middle class. What about the workers and the servants? They are completely missing from Austen’s critique.
THE DEPENDENCE OF WOMEN ON MEN FOR FINANCIAL SECURITY:
26. Does Wickham’s situation show that the society of the time restricted men, as well as women? Was there any other way for Wickham to live than to marry a rich girl whose relatives would pay for the privilege of having Wickham as a son-in-law or to avoid a scandal?
Wickham could have remained in the army and made a career of it, or he could have gone into trade. He had already turned down a position in the clergy with a guaranteed income. Wickham was just a bad guy.
27. What would have happened if Darcy had not been able to buy Wickham off?
Lydia’s reputation would have been ruined, and by the custom of the time, the reputation of all of the Bennet girls would have been ruined. Then Darcy would have had to have made a decision of whether his love for Elizabeth was worth marrying a woman with a ruined reputation.
28. In the society portrayed in this story, what is the future for unmarried women without the wealth of their own?
Nothing good; spinsterhood, perhaps serving as a governess to a rich family.
MEDDLING IN THE ROMANTIC AFFAIRS OF FRIENDS AND RELATIVES OFTEN LEADS TO TROUBLE
29. Two people in this story marry for money. Who are they and how are they portrayed?
They are Wickham, portrayed as a bad apple, and Charlotte Lucas Collins, portrayed as sad and desperate. These characters play an important role in Austen’s critique of the economically motivated marriage of the day and the limits placed on the ability of women to advance themselves in business and society by any means other than marriage.
THE POOR PARENTING TECHNIQUES OF MR. AND MRS. BENNET
30. Evaluate the parenting techniques of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Give specific examples of poor and good parenting shown in the story.
Examples of poor parenting techniques: (1) They have favorites. Mr. Bennet is partial to Elizabeth and somewhat to Jane. He tells the other girls that they are the silliest girls in England. Mrs. Bennet is partial to Lydia and lets her do anything she wants. (2) They allow one child (Lydia) to take the things of other children (Mary and Kitty). (3) They do not enforce sufficient discipline of the younger girls. (4) They are not respectful of each other in front of their children. (5) They do not discuss parenting decisions together and come up with a common position. Instead they each take positions in front of the children. These positions often contradict each other. (6) They allow Lydia to go to Brighton without adequate supervision. (7) Mrs. Bennet sends Jane to Netherfield on horseback instead of in the carriage in the hope that Jane will get a cold and have to stay at Netherfield a few more days. Examples of good parenting by Mr. and Mrs. Bennet: (1) They love all their children (just some more than others). (2) Mr. Bennet is gentle and diplomatic when he asks Mary to stop playing the piano.
QUESTIONS FOCUSING ON CHARACTERS IN PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
31. Why is Elizabeth such a popular character?
She is lovely, clever, articulate, honest, virtuous and witty. However, she is not perfect. Her tendency to make hasty judgments and her sharp tongue get her into trouble and give her something to strive against. There were few characters as well drawn and as admirable in English literature, except for women in Shakespeare’s plays.
32. There was something really positive and caring toward the Bennet family that Mr. Collins showed by seeking a wife among the Bennet daughters. What was it?
By marrying into the Bennet family, Mr. Collins would have taken the responsibility of supporting the mother and all of the sisters after Mr. Bennet died. What was he going to do, kick the mother out of the house? Allow his sister-in-laws to be homeless? Mr. Collins never displayed any characteristics that would lead one to believe he would do that.
33. Mrs. Bennet describes Elizabeth as headstrong when Elizabeth refuses to accept Mr. Collins’ marriage proposal. Present the arguments supporting Mrs. Bennet’s position.
Mr. Collins offered a comfortable living and adequate social status. He offered security for the entire family because Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth’s sisters could have stayed at Longborn all of their lives. Elizabeth was at great risk of sinking into poverty if she did not find a husband with financial means.
34. What are the most important differences between Elizabeth and Jane? How do they relate to the difference between Bingley and Darcy?
Elizabeth was quicker of wit and quick to judge and criticize. Jane looked for the best in people, and it was difficult for her to think ill of anyone. She didn’t seem to have the sparkling and incisive wit of Elizabeth. Darcy was quick to criticize and judge people. Bingley, like Jane, looked at the best of any person or situation and focused on that.
35. Reflecting on the good fortune of herself and her sister Jane, Elizabeth says (in the novel): “I am the happiest creature in the world. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.” What does this tell you about the differences between Elizabeth and Jane?
There is no one correct answer to this question. The answer is subtle and requires interpretation. A good answer would mention Elizabeth’s great imagination, quick wit, and greater capacity to see the humor and irony in life. A good answer would mention that Elizabeth, more than Jane, had fought and argued her way to loving her future husband, with so many chances for the whole thing to have been spoiled, while Jane’s way to love was more serene, marred only by the period of separation. Jane had to do less thinking about it than Elizabeth.
36. Which character in this story grew the most?
It was clearly Darcy because he gave up his pride in his social position and embraced a family of lower social rank, which included silly embarrassing family members. He learned that social position was not a good predictor of virtue. Elizabeth also changed, but her changes did not relate to her basic world view and outlook. She learned that her opinions of one man were wrong and, perhaps, she became more cautious about making judgments about people. Darcy’s prejudice was against all those of lesser social position whereas Elizabeth’s was directed to one man and was based on his personal traits.
37. Compare Wickham and Bingley. They are alike in some ways, and they are different in others.
They are both pleasing men with good looks and elegant manners. As to wealth, Wickham is poor and Bingley rich. As to ethics, Wickham is a cad and Bingley appears to be a gentleman. Perhaps it is just that Bingley has never been tested.
38. What conflict did Darcy have to resolve before he could allow himself to pursue a relationship with Elizabeth?
The conflict was between his feelings of superiority and his allegiance to his class versus the qualities that he admired in a woman. Put another way: Darcy’s concept of the perfect woman was, for him, unattainable. He wanted a woman of his class, wealth, and social standing who had the qualities of character that Elizabeth had. Such a woman did not exist, and Darcy came to realize that class, wealth and social standing were less important to him than qualities of character.
39. The character of Mr. Collins has many purposes in this story, some relating to theme and some relating to plot. Describe at least two of them.
(1) Mr. Collins is presented as a man who would have very little to offer in a social and economic system based on merit. (2) He demonstrates, quite graphically, the financial inequality between men and women at the time. (3) As the undeserving beneficiary of entailment, he demonstrates the unfairness of that system. (4) As a ridiculous sycophant, he shows the stupidity of the class system based on accident of birth. (5) He provides a contrast to Mr. Wickham, who could have had all that Collins has and who would have been much better at being a preacher, if he had the character to earn a decent living. (6) Mr. Collins provides humor, he is the butt of many amusing situations. (7) Mr. Collins is the means to bring Lady Catherine into the story.
40. Name two good things about the character of Mr. Collins. There are actually four (some of them are a stretch, but they work).
The four possibilities are: (1) Recognizing the injury that the entailing of Longborn caused the Bennets, he looks first to the Bennet daughters for a wife (note that in his mind he is a most eligible bachelor with much to recommend him). (2) He appears to be an honest man who works at his profession (contrast this to Wickham who tries to get ahead by seducing young girls). (3) He allows Charlotte Lucas the space that she needs to put up with him. (4) He seeks to mend the rift between his family (more precisely his father) and Mr. Bennet.
41. Is Mr. Collins really concerned about the fact that his benefit from the entail of Mr. Bennet’s estate should hurt the Bennet sisters, or is he pretending to be concerned for the sake of show?
There is no one answer to this question. He does state that this is his intention. But then when Elizabeth refuses him, he falls immediately for Charlotte Lucas. But this could have been caused by his wounded pride, and the fact that no one else would have him.
42. Name two characters in the story with no positive traits.
There are four characters for whom nothing positive can be said: Wickham, the Bingley sisters, and Lady Catherine. Except for Wickham, whose character is fleshed out in detail, these people are just props for the story.
43. This question relates to the 1995 BBC version of the movie: What would the film have been like had the screenwriter remained true to the novel in the portrayal of the male characters? Do you think it is right for filmmakers to substantially modify Austen’s text and message to make the story palatable to modern audiences?
See Differences Between Male Characters in Austen’s Novels and in the Movies for a description of the differences. There is no one correct answer to this question.
44. What does Elizabeth’s response to Mr. Collins’ proposal tell us about her character?
She wants to marry only for love even if it puts her financial security in jeopardy. Not only is she unwilling to marry to help her own financial situation, she is not willing to marry to aid the financial situation of her family. By marrying Mr. Collins, Elizabeth would have secured the use of Longborn for her mother and sisters after her father’s death. There is some selfishness to Elizabeth’s character. She was unwilling to sacrifice her life for the sake of financial security for her sisters.
45. What does Elizabeth’s response to the proposal of Mr. Collins and to Mr. Darcy’s first proposal tell us about her character?
She is not willing to sacrifice her happiness and sense of self-worth for material positions and financial security. She is not intimidated by men or persons in authority.
46. What are the differences in character between Jane and Elizabeth?
Jane looks for the best in any situation or person and is very reluctant to come to a critical opinion of anyone. Elizabeth jumps to conclusions based on her keen intelligence and is not averse to seeing people or situations in a very bad light. She is quick to criticize and condemn.
47. What is the role of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in developing the themes of this story?
[Note, this question applies only to the novel and the 1995 and 2005 film versions. Ms. de Bourgh’s role was changed in the 1940 film version.] Lady Catherine de Bourgh is the voice of the societal prejudices and snobbishness that dominated Darcy at the beginning of the film. She is shown to be ridiculous.
48. Elizabeth says, “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me.” Give two examples.
We can think of several: (1) rejecting Mr. Collins’ proposal; (2) turning a deaf ear to her mother’s demand that she accept Mr. Collins’ proposal; (3) attacking Darcy in response to his first proposal; (4) dismissing Lady Catherine’s demand that she promise not to marry Darcy.
49. What is the role of Mr. Wickham in explicating the themes of the story?
He is the charming villain and shows how Elizabeth’s first impressions can again deceive her.
PLOT, IRONY AND OTHER LITERARY DEVICES
50. What is the role of Mr. Wickham in advancing the main plot of the Elizabeth/Darcy romance?
The answer can be put in three ways: (1) Mr. Wickham’s seduction of Lydia and Darcy’s response is a major reason why Elizabeth comes to understand Darcy’s true character and comes to love him. (2) Mr. Wickham’s seduction of Lydia provides the situation in which Darcy (unintentionally, for he wanted it to be a secret) proves himself to Elizabeth as a worthy person. (3) Mr. Wickham is a main motivator in the Lydia/Wickham romance subplot which is one of the ways in which the Elizabeth and Darcy get together.
51. What is the climax of the action in this novel?
Elizabeth’s acceptance of Darcy’s second proposal.
52. Describe the main plot and the subplots in this story.
The main plot is the course of the romance of Darcy and Elizabeth and the obstacles, self-imposed and imposed by others, that they had to overcome before they found each other. The subplots are: (1) the Bingley/Jane romance; (2) the Collins/Charlotte marriage; (3) the Wickham/Lydia seduction and marriage; (4) the conflict between Darcy and Wickham; (5) the Elizabeth/Collins relationship and (6) the Elizabeth/Wickham relationship.
53. There are many examples of irony or ironic statements in this story. Name them and, for each, tell us how they relate to themes of the story.
See Examples of Irony
54. In terms of the family relationships at the end of the story, what is the most ironic?
That Darcy would become the brother-in-law of Wickham. Another acceptable answer is that Darcy would become the son-in-law of Mrs. Bennet.
QUESTIONS ON OTHER TOPICS
55. Opening lines of books are important to tell us what the book is about. The opening line of Pride and Prejudice is one of the most famous in English literature. It is: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” What does this opening sentence tell us about the issues that will be treated in the story and what does it presage about how those issues will be treated?
It tells us that the story will be about money, romance and marriage. The line is ironic because, in reality, it is single women without money who are in need of husbands. The lightly humorous irony gives the reader a preview of how the story will deal with these subjects.
56. Jane Austen’s novels continue to be read almost 200 years after they were written. The stories have been repeatedly made into movies. Describe why this is true. Discuss at least theme and plot.
Many of the themes are based on astute observations of human character during one of the major passages of human life, choosing a mate. Lovers overcoming obstacles is one of the basic stories of that passage. Another reason is that they are true to life. For example, the heroine, Elizabeth, is not perfect. There are things she can learn from Jane and she makes mistakes in her evaluation of Darcy. A fourth reason is that the novels recognize that many issues in life have several sides and there is no one solution that is right for everyone. An example is the treatment of Charlotte Lucas. She marries Mr. Collins for financial security, an action which one of the main themes of the story criticizes. However, Charlotte’s actions are understandable and may be the best solution for her due to the restrictions imposed on her by English society of the 1800s as a woman without a separate fortune.
57. Darcy and Elizabeth, by exposing Wickham, could have prevented him from seducing Lydia. Do they bear any responsibility for what happened to Lydia because they kept quiet? Were they wrong in failing to expose Wickham?
The answer is that they do bear responsibility. Whether they were right or wrong to do what they did is less clear. Good answers will deal with Georgiana’s interest in keeping the matter secret. Common knowledge of the affair would have destroyed her reputation and made her somewhat less eligible for a good match (although many a man would have been tempted by her fortune). A good answer will also discuss the responsibility of Darcy and Elizabeth to unknown others to protect them from Wickham. (In this case it turned out to be Lydia who was seduced by Wickham, but when Darcy and Elizabeth made their decision to keep Wickham’s conduct secret they didn’t know that Wickham would strike so close to home. But if it would not have been Lydia, it would have been someone else. Fortunately for Miss King, someone in her family saw the danger and whisked her away.) A good answer to the question will balance the two obligations.
58. Describe some social conventions that exist today. They may be spoken or unspoken.
There is no one correct response to this question. To get the ball rolling, adults can suggest: people should not start to eat before the hostess is seated; men and women shake hands when they are first introduced; men can take off their shirts at the beach but women should have something covering their breasts; people should cover their mouths when they sneeze; people should not burp out loud (in some cultures burping at a meal is considered a compliment to the hostess).
59. Lady Catherine asks Elizabeth, “Are any of your younger sisters out?” What does she mean by this?
Young girls were kept at home. They “came out” when they were allowed to go to parties and were made available on the marriage market.
60. On one occasion, Elizabeth was at home by herself when, “to her very great surprise, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Darcy only, entered the room ….” What rule of etiquette did these two violate when they proceeded to have a discussion and Mr. Darcy didn’t immediately leave?
Unrelated men and women were not to be left alone in the same room.
61. Pride and Prejudice has often been criticized for the fact that it appears unconcerned with the politics of Austen’s day. Is this charge fair?
This is a valid criticism but does not justify ignoring a work which deals with basic questions of human life. Jane Austin wrote about what she knew.
62. Name two differences between accepted social behavior shown in the film and modern social behavior.
Modern courtship practices change, but, for example, couples no longer bow or curtsey when they meet. Couples can be alone together. People can introduce themselves to other people without the necessity of an introduction from someone else.
See the discussion questions under MARRIAGE SHOULD BE FOR LOVE; NOT WEALTH OR SOCIAL STATUS above.
1. When Darcy proposed to Elizabeth the first time, he told her of his pride and “His sense of her inferiority — of its being a degradation — of the family. Obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination ….” What was he talking about?
Darcy felt that his family had a higher class status than Elizabeth’s and that it would diminish that status if he married her.
2. In a society in which there are different social classes and the members of one class consider themselves to be “superior” to the other classes, can there be a true romantic relationship between a member of the “superior” class and a member of an “inferior” class? (In other words, in Jane Austen’s England, can there be a solid romantic relationship between an aristocrat and a member of the middle class?)
Yes, but only if the couple rejects the class distinctions and loves one another for who they are.
3. What will you consider when you chose a life partner?
The first step is an honest evaluation of one’s self. Learning from “Pride and Prejudice” you would have to be sure that you are truly in love with your prospective partner. Remember that a long lasting love is much more than a physical attraction. When two people are considering a life-long commitment they must discover what is important to each of them. What are their values and goals? What do they want to accomplish in their life? What do they enjoy doing for fun? Do they want to have children? If so, how many and when? What religious faith or philosophy will they want to pursue and use in raising the children? Do they understand that the marriage itself is an entity which requires work, commitment, and compromise and that no longer will each of the partners be individuals but part of the duality that is a strong marriage? We could go on for a long time. People have written books about this. But it is a start.
4. On several occasions, Darcy cannot talk easily to Elizabeth. Why is that?
He is too emotional and retreats into silence.
5. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement by Charlotte Lucas? “If a woman conceals her affection [for a man] … she may lose the opportunity of fixing him; and it will then be but poor consolation to believe the world equally in the dark. There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all begin freely — a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better shew more affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on.”
There is no one right answer to this question.
6. Describe the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and compare it to the marriage that Darcy and Elizabeth expect to have.
Here are a few: Mr. Bennet does not respect his wife. Mrs. Bennet appears too concerned with marrying off her daughters to pay any affectionate attention to her husband.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)
1. Can members of different social classes, one considered “inferior” to the other, truly respect each other? Defend your answer.
The answer to this question is that in determining the value of a person you must look at the individual and answer the following question: How has this individual faced the circumstances (the opportunities and disappointments) in his or her life? Does he or she show courage, initiative, honesty, compassion, responsibility, caring, etc.?
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
- Interview someone from an older generation. Ask if acceptable social behavior has changed in his or her lifetime. Use the response to create a chart that compares and contrasts the social rules in the two generations, yours and your interviewee’s. Topics to cover include: language (slang and profanity), greetings, farewells, kissing, touching, relations with parents, curfews, supervision, and dress. Pride and Prejudice Study Guide from the Glencoe Library.
- Have students discuss as a class or in small groups their ideas about marriage. What factors do they think help make a good marriage? How important do they feel marriage will be in their lives? What would they look for in a life partner? How much must the values in their life coincide? What are their ambitions? Are they consistent with yours? What do they enjoy doing for fun? Do they want to have children? If so, how many and when? What religious faith or philosophy will they want to pursue and use in raising the children? Will they commit themselves to the duality that is a strong marriage?
- Have the class write another ending to the story based on the following changed facts. The new endings should be evaluated as to how they exemplify the themes of the story and the characters in it.
Write another ending to the story given the following changed facts. Characters should act in ways that are consistent with their actions in the story. Your ending should be consistent with the themes of Pride and Prejudice. Add to your ending the fact that after he pays off Wickham, but before he proposes to Elizabeth for the second time, Darcy suffers a catastrophic financial loss. Pemberley must be sold and he is left almost penniless. He must now work for a living and cannot afford servants. He has lost all of his connections with people like Bingley. They will no longer associate with him because he has lost his wealth, and with it his social standing. Elizabeth, having heard of Darcy’s efforts on behalf of Lydia, now learns that he has lost all his property. At the same time a new suitor for Elizabeth arrives on the scene. The man is handsome, accomplished, and wealthy. He has made an excellent first impression on Elizabeth as to his intelligence and breeding. However, while she is fond of the new suitor, she knows her heart belongs to Darcy. Darcy writes her a letter telling her all and repenting that he tried to keep Jane and Bingley apart. He tells her that he has scraped together enough money for passage to the United States. He hopes that in America he will have more opportunity as a man without inherited wealth, connections or social standing. What will she do?
Here are some interesting alternatives: (1) Elizabeth knows she loves Darcy and doesn’t care about wealth. She decides she wants to marry him. (This is consistent with the themes that marriage decisions should be based on affection and that wealth should not be taken into consideration. It is consistent with the character of Elizabeth, but it is out of character for Darcy to ask Elizabeth to marry him a second time when he cannot support her.) After she receives Darcy’s letter Elizabeth tracks him down and insists that he marry her. Together they emigrate to the United States. (2) In the entire story of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth has never taken an affirmative action to get what she wants. She has turned down suitors and thanked Darcy for his help, but she has never totally broken the rules for social acceptance. Making sure that she will not act on an erroneous first impression this time, she takes a lot of time to get to know the new suitor. By this time Darcy has gone to the U.S. Should she wait and hope he will be successful and come back for her? Will she go after him? Or will she accept the new suitor and ensure that her family is financially secure?
Assignment: Write another ending to this story but assume that Elizabeth politely rejects Mr. Darcy’s first proposal but does not explain why. (The end result is that they don’t get together because Darcy will never have an opportunity to unburden himself about Wickham.)
Change the facts so that Elizabeth never discovers that Darcy helped Lydia. How will this affect the ending? What will happen?
Mr. Collins often expresses his views about marriage in the novel. Ask students to write and deliver a sermon by Mr. Collins on marriage. Have students decide, before writing the sermon, on the context in which the sermon is to be delivered (for example, after his own marriage, during Lydia’s disappearance, or around the time of Elizabeth’s marriage to Darcy).
- Students can create cartoons satirizing the fashions, social attitudes, or characters in Pride and Prejudice. Set up a classroom gallery to display the finished cartoons.
- Review with students how Mrs. Bennet is baffled and angered by the entailment of her husband’s estate. Ask students to research and write a paper explaining the practice of entailing an estate in England, why estates were entailed, and what impact entails had on families.
- To better the language of Jane Austen, select a few scenes and read them in a class or group setting. Then discuss the themes of the story that were involved in the passage and any literary devices used by Austen. Examples include: the first three paragraphs of the book; Collins proposal; Darcy’s first proposal; the scene of Elizabeth’s last visit to Rosings; the scene in which Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam talk about Darcy; Darcy’s second proposal.
BRIDGES TO READING
For Parents: Encourage your child to read Pride and Prejudice after seeing the film. The book is much more detailed than the film and contains language, incidents and descriptions not shown in the film. Perhaps parents could read the book at the same time as children. As you read, discuss what is happening to the various characters and what they are doing about it. Parents can also watch the film with their children and go over some of the discussion questions.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- “Balancing the Courtship Hero – Masculine Emotional Display in Film Adaptions of Austen’s Novels” and
- “Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility as Gateway to Austen’s Novel” contained in Jane Austen in Hollywood, Edited by Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield, 1998, University of Kentucky Press.
- Searching for Jane Austen by Emily Auerbach, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004
Attributions: Many thanks to Jennifer Elizabeth Briasco, a high school student from “The Republic of Pemberley,” for her valuable corrections to the 2004 version of this Guide.
This Learning Guide was last updated on April 11, 2010.