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Fun Friday–Pride & Prejudice (Part 3)

Friday, February 22, 2008


The third (and final) part of Pride & Prejudice airs this Sunday on PBS. Before we get into some more serious discussion of Pride & Prejudice, I thought I would pay tribute to Mr. Darcy with this little video I found on You Tube:

Now, back to the scholarly stuff . . .

All throughout her life, Austen was exposed to nearly every level of society from royalty to poverty. Through these experiences, she learned the importance of money and social connections to make one upwardly mobile. While England has always been seen as a country where “climbing the social ladder” was nearly impossible, it was during Austen’s lifetime that the combination of the war between England and France and the Industrial Revolution brought “persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honors which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of” (Persuasion 14). Men of “obscure birth” entered the Royal Navy and could, if they were intelligent and caught the notice of their commanding officers, rise quickly through the ranks. The higher a sailor’s rank, the greater the share of profits he received from the bounties paid by the government for capturing French warships—not to mention a share of any cargo the French ship might carry (this is seen in the character of Captain Frederick Wentworth in Austen’s last novel, Persuasion). Additionally, due to the changing economy brought on by the Industrial Revolution, merchants and tradesmen who would have otherwise been among the lower classes, made considerable amounts of money and established themselves amongst the landed country gentry, as did Mr. Bingley’s father in PP.

It is his pride in his own higher social status that leads to Darcy’s “ungentlemanly” first proposal halfway through the novel. “’Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?’” Darcy asks Elizabeth upon her outrage at his denigration of her family and connections (PP 127). He also admits to her that he has separated his friend Bingley from her sister because of these low connections. “’Towards him I have been kinder than towards myself’” (PP 126).

In the end, however, Austen leads her readers to understand that “human worth is to be judged by standards better and more enduring than social status” (McMaster 129). Even before his poorly-executed first proposal, Darcy recognizes the “ill breeding” of his aunt (PP 115). He takes Elizabeth’s accusations to heart when she first refuses him and begins to examine his own character and the way in which he has acted toward those around him. He not only encourages Bingley to marry Jane Bennet, he goes to considerable expense find his nemesis, George Wickham (who had tried to elope with Darcy’s own sister a year earlier), and Elizabeth’s sister Lydia, who have run off together. Darcy pays off Wickham’s considerable debts in an amount exceeding £10,000 (an entire year’s income for Darcy), and witnesses their forced marriage.

Elizabeth’s connections are, at the end of the novel, lower than they were to begin with; however, Darcy admits to her that he acted only out of his love for her and confesses that his feelings are still “unchanged,” that he still loves her (PP 239). Throughout the last half of the novel, Austen delves deeper into Darcy’s character and at this point, the reader realizes that it truly is not Darcy whose feelings have changed, but Elizabeth’s. He fell in love with her in spite of her social connections. Even knowing that her status has changed for the worse, his love for her is more important and has helped him overcome all of his internal objections. Elizabeth has learned to overcome her prejudice against a man she saw as haughty and conceited and learned to love him in spite of his overt pride in his rank in society.

Even though Elizabeth is a “gentleman’s daughter” and Mr. Bennet is closer to being Darcy’s equal in rank, being a landed gentleman, it is not Mr. Bennet but Mr. Gardiner, the humble tradesman living in Cheapside, whom Darcy comes to admire: “With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth really loved them” (PP 254).

In fact, the Gardiners played a key role in bringing Darcy and Elizabeth together. It was the Gardiners’ idea that they visit Pemberley when on their summer tour, and it is on this visit that Elizabeth learns to see that some of Darcy’s pride in his place in society is warranted, especially when she compares the seriousness with which he takes his responsibilities to her father’s flippant attitude. It is also on this visit that she sees Darcy in his natural, more comfortable environment and realizes that she has truly come to love him and realizes that much of his pride is not misplaced. On the subsequent visits during the Gardiners and Elizabeth’s stay in Derbyshire, Darcy comes to see Mr. Gardiner as a man of intelligence, wit, and good humor with whom he shares a love of the outdoors, especially fishing. While not his equal in rank, Darcy realizes he has found an equal in mind and disposition.

It is through the contrast of these relationships—by showing Lady Catherine to be not only ill bred but “every bit as ludicrous as Mrs. Bennet” (Johnson 354), by depicting Elizabeth as much more interesting and loveable than Miss de Bourgh, and by making Mr. Gardiner more worthy of respect than Mr. Bennet—that Austen created her most poignant commentary on the importance of social status when considering marriage. “The importance assigned to class distinction is the source of much of her comedy and her irony, as of her social satire” (McMaster 129). She doesn’t discount the importance of rank or connections; indeed, in none of her novels does she have someone marry completely outside of their social realm. What she does is ask the reader to see “with a critical eye” the “automatic social responses” for what they are: prejudice (Duckworth 309). Once Darcy overcomes his pride in his own perceived greatness and his prejudice against Elizabeth’s assumed lowness, he realizes that while her connections may be poor, she is his equal in mind and temperament, and she is the wife he wants.

Works Cited

  1. Friday, February 22, 2008 2:47 pm

    I LOVE IT! That’s fabulous. Oh, thank you Kaye. 🙂

    I really do need to read the book. I’ve pulled it out of the back bedroom and put it in the front room where I can be easily reminded to pick it up.


  2. Friday, February 22, 2008 5:50 pm

    Can’t tell you how much I wish I’d picked Jane Austen instead of F. Scott Fitzgerald as the topic for my senior English research paper. Sigh.

    I’ve enjoyed your dissecting of Austen, Kaye.

    And cannot wait to see the final two hours of P&P. Too bad it has to end.



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