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Christina Anderson

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Title: Pride and Prejudice

Author: Jane Austen

Biographical information about the author: Jane Austen was born in England on December 16, 1775. She briefly attended boarding school with her older sister, Cassandra, during pre-adolescence, but due to financial difficulty she couldn't complete her education. Jane began to write in the 1790s and anonymously published her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, in 1811; two years later, she published Pride and Prejudice. Jane never married, although she received a marriage proposal in 1802; like her heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, she was determined to marry for love, not money. She fell ill in 1816 and died on July 18, 1817 at the age of 41.

Genre: Historical/Romantic Comedy

Characteristics of the genre: Takes place in a historical period, with realistic characters who are shaped by their setting, and focuses on young lovers dealing with both personal and social issues, which they eventually overcome and earn their happy ending.

Date of Publication: January 28, 1813

Historical information about the period of publication or setting of the novel: In the Regency period, the only option women had for their futures was marriage. Women were expected to be polite and demure, something Jane Austen mocks in Pride and Prejudice.  However, the seeds for the feminist movement were sown by Mary Wollstonecraft, a writer who first brought up the issue of women's independence.

Plot Summary

Exposition: A gentleman named Bingley moves into Netherfield, near the Bennet family's estate, Longbourn. Mrs. Bennet is over the moon, seeing this as an opportunity to get one of her daughters married.

Inciting Incident: The Bennets meet the mysterious Mr. Bingley at a town ball, where he shows interest in Jane Bennet. They also meet Mr. Darcy, Bingley's standoffish friend, who Elizabeth Bennet dislikes after he makes a rude comment about her.

Rising Action: Mr. Collins, the Bennets' cousin, visits; as the closest male relative to Mr. Bennet, he is set to inherit Longbourn. He proposes to Elizabeth out of charity; when she turns him down, he becomes engaged to Elizabeth's friend, Charlotte Lucas. Elizabeth meets a charming regiment soldier named Wickham. Wickham tells her that Darcy cheated him out of money and a job promised to him by Darcy's late father, which Elizabeth believes without question. The Bingleys suddenly move to London, much to the disappointment of Jane. While visiting Mr. Collins and Charlotte, Elizabeth learns that Darcy convinced Bingley to give Jane the cold shoulder. Darcy proposes to her; she furiously turns him down, citing his poor treatment of Jane and Wickham. Later, she receives a letter from Darcy, explaining his actions: Wickham was a cad who tried to take advantage of Darcy's younger sister, while Jane's open friendliness to everybody made him believe that she didn't favor Bingley. Elizabeth regrets her harsh treatment of Darcy.

Climax: Elizabeth visits Pemberley, Darcy's estate, with her aunt and uncle. Her opinion of Darcy changes when he acts politely to all of them and she hears the servant' praise of him. Later, she hears that her younger sister, Lydia, has eloped with Wickham. She and her aunt and uncle rush home, distraught. However, Lydia and Wickham are eventually found, and Wickham is persuaded to marry Lydia, which preserves her and her family's reputation.

Falling Action: Lydia and Wickham return to Longbourn, completely unrepentant of their actions. Lydia, while boasting about the wedding, reveals that Darcy was present. Elizabeth realizes that Darcy was the one to track down the couple and bribe Wickham into marrying Lydia. Bingley returns to Netherfield and proposes to Jane, who happily accepts. Later, Elizabeth is visited by Darcy's wealthy aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who is horrified by Darcy's feelings for Elizabeth. She tries to convince Elizabeth to promise not to accept a proposal from Darcy; Elizabeth refuses. When Darcy visits again, Elizabeth is grateful of Darcy's help with Lydia and Wickham. He proposes again, and this time she accepts.

Resolution: Elizabeth marries Darcy and moves to Pemberley, while Jane marries Bingley.

Memorable Quotes (min. 3)

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."(1) This is the first line of the book, and easily the most famous. The quote is important because it sets the tone for the novel--the narrator is snarkily poking fun at the importance Regency England attached to marriage. In a book that focuses on women and the expectations placed on them, Austen points out that men had a social burden as well.

" 'Indeed, Jane, you ought to believe me. No one who has ever seen you together can doubt his affection. Miss Bingley, I am sure, cannot. She is not such a simpleton. Could she have seen half as much love in Mr. Darcy for herself, she would have ordered her wedding clothes. But the case is this: We are not rich enough or grand enough for them.' "(79) This quote demonstrates the theme of Love vs. Marriage. While Jane and Mr. Bingley are most definitely in love, this doesn't matter to Bingley's sister; she wants her brother to marry up, and disapproves of the couple because she sees Jane as lower-class. This also demonstrates Miss Bingley's snobbery and hypocrisy, as technically, the Bennets and the Bingleys are of the same social class.

"What is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive?" (100) Elizabeth asks this question to defend Mr. Wickham when he begins courting a rich young woman and is considered a gold digger by Elizabeth's family. This quote demonstrates a certain double standard on Elizabeth's part, since she condemned Charlotte for her pragmatic marriage to Mr. Collins several chapters earlier. However, pragmatism is prevalent in all of the smarter characters' marriages: yes, Elizabeth likes Mr. Darcy, but she wouldn't have married him if he wasn't capable of supporting them.

Stylistic Devices and/or Literary Techniques (min. 5)

-Foreshadowing: While Lydia is prattling on and on about her trip to Meryton, where the soldiers are stationed, she says, "I should like to be married before any of you."(144). This foreshadows her elopement with Wickham, when she does become the first of the Bennet sisters to marry.

-Wickham's name provides a subtle clue to his true personality: he's actually "the wickedest young man in the world." (190)

-Jane Austen uses several characters as foils for each other; the main example would be Wickham versus Darcy. Darcy is cold and rude on the outside, while Wickham is affable and charming and desirable to Elizabeth. However, in the middle of the book, they switch places. Darcy is revealed to be a true gentleman, who atones for his mistakes and saves Elizabeth's family from ruin, while Wickham is a sleazy conman who seduces an underage girl (two, in fact) and tries to take advantage of the Darcy family's generosity. In the same way, Lydia and Elizabeth are also foils: while both are attracted to Wickham, Elizabeth is too sensible to ever consider marrying a man purely out of lust. Lydia is not so wise. There's a scene where Lydia spitefully insults the rich girl Wickham is courting, and Elizabeth realizes that "the coarseness of the sentiment was little other than her own breast had harboured and fancied liberal"(143); in other words, she is not so different from her petty, silly little sister. Elizabeth is shocked at the realization and strives to improve herself.

-The estates that the characters live in tend to be symbols for their own personalities. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy's aunt, lives in an estate described as a "handsome modern building" (102), but full of gaudy and expensive ornaments, setting Lady Catherine up as a haughty woman who likes to flaunt her own wealth. Pemberly, Darcy's estate, is "a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned." Like its owner, Pemberly possesses a natural charm, and Elizabeth is immediately enchanted.

-The point of view is set as third-person omniscient. The majority of the story is told from Elizabeth's side, and thus it's somewhat unreliable. We don't get to see Darcy's change of heart until Elizabeth does, for example (although anyone who thinks that Darcy's as much of a jerk as he appears must have been living under a rock for the past two hundred years). Apart from a line at the ending ("I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life." (251) ), the narrator is objective: any opinion expressed in the story is a mere retelling of the characters' opinions.

-There are several examples of irony in Pride and Prejudice. When Elizabeth refuses Mr. Collins' proposal, he assumes that she is merely stringing him along. She tells him, "I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time." (71). However, later on she refuses Darcy's first proposal and accepts the second one. Another example is when Caroline Bingley, who wants to marry Darcy, insults Elizabeth; she says that Elizabeth is "one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own" (25).

Significant Characters (min. 5)

Elizabeth Bennet (protagonist)--The novel focuses on her character development. She starts and ends as a snarky, headstrong, feisty young woman. These are not bad character traits, but Elizabeth combines them with a tendency to judge people quickly, which leads to misunderstandings. She takes Darcy's haughtiness and Wickham's smooth talking at face value, not realizing until later that their inner personalities are much different, and it takes several blunders on her part before she learns her lesson. She is very much a round character.

Fitzwilliam Darcy (deuteragonist)--Like Elizabeth, Darcy changes over the course of the story...but Darcy's personality change comes from Elizabeth's point of view. Darcy already had his good traits--his loyalty to his friends and his kindness to his servants--but Elizabeth does not see them until later. His character development comes from realizing that he can't just be nice around his friends and a jerk to everybody else. Once he learns that lesson, he and Elizabeth are able to truly understand each other. Like Elizabeth, he's also a round character, and can be described as loyal, haughty, and intelligent.

Jane Bennet (foil to Elizabeth)--Jane contrasts with Elizabeth in many ways--where Elizabeth is headstrong and quick to judge, Jane is demure and non judgemental to an almost ridiculous degree. She doesn't believe Elizabeth about Miss Bingley's spiteful attitude, and is sure that Wickham had a good reason for his behavior against Darcy. While her sweet disposition fits in with the expectations of women in her time, it almost becomes Jane's undoing when nobody can tell whether she is truly in love with Bingley or not. While Jane is an important character, she's also rather flat. She can be described as sweet, demure, and polite.

Charles Bingley (foil to Darcy)--Like Jane, Bingley is nice to everybody, which definitely contrasts with Darcy's haughty, superior attitude. Unfortunately, Bingley's pleasant attitude leads to a rather large character flaw: as Darcy puts it, "Your conduct would be quite as dependent on chance as that of any man I know; and if, as you were mounting your horse, a friend were to say, 'Bingley, you had better stay till next week,' you would probably do it, you would probably not go—and at another word, might stay a month." (31). In other words, he's prone to suggestion: when Darcy suggests that he stop courting Jane, he does so immediately, and he doesn't propose to her until he has Darcy's approval. Like Jane, he's a flat character, and can be described as pleasant, cheerful, and inactive.

George Wickham (antagonist)--While Darcy is a total jerk on the outside and a nice guy on the inside, Wickham is the complete opposite: first appearing to be a charming person, he turns out to be deceitful, greedy, and cowardly. He represents the second lesson Elizabeth has to learn about judging others. Like Elizabeth and Darcy, Wickham is a three-dimensional character.

Significance of Setting

As this is historical fiction, the characters are shaped by their setting. The whole premise of Pride and Prejudice revolves around land ownership and the need to marry--for men, because of society's expectations ("It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."(1)) and for women, because it's the only way to support themselves. For the Bennet sisters, this is especially important, because as females they cannot inherit their father's estate; if they can't marry, they will literally be thrown into the streets. Social class plays another significant role: the Bennet sisters are in the awkward position of being too upper class to work, but too poor to support themselves, Darcy and his aunt are old nobility, and the Bingleys are "nouveau riche", having made their money through trade.

Significance of the Opening Scene

The opening scene serves several functions: first of all, we learn about Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's personalities--how Mrs. Bennet is a marriage-obsessed, rather shallow person, and Mr. Bennet is snarky and rather inactive. Both of these characters' flaws are portrayed humorously and subtly, although they have much more serious circumstances later (Mrs. Bennet's embarrassing obsession with marriage is why Bingley initially doesn't propose to Jane, and Mr. Bennet's inactivity in his daughters' lives lead to Lydia eloping with Wickham). The tone is also established as humorous, and we, as modern readers, also get information about the setting.

Significance of the Ending/Closing Scene

At the end of the novel, we learn what happens to the characters in the future. Since this is a romantic comedy, the main couples are married and live happily ever after. Even Wickham and Lydia don't get their comeuppance, but continue leeching off Lydia's sisters (this must have been shocking to Regency readers: a character getting away with hooking up before marriage? That's almost as scandalous as a woman writing a book!) . The narrator, for the first time, expresses their own opinion: when talking about Mrs. Bennet, they say, "I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life." (251), which switches the point of view from third person to first person.

Possible Themes – Topics of Discussion (min. 3)

Marriages are only happy when made through love and mutual admiration.--Throughout Pride and Prejudice, there are many married couples--Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and Wickham and Lydia Bennett, who marry because of infatuation; Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins, who marry for pragmatic reasons; and Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth and Darcy, who marry for love. Out of all of them, Jane's and Elizabeth's marriages are the only ones that are truly happy; the other ones quickly fall back into toleration and disillusionment.

Feminism

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen explores what it means to be a woman in the Regency period. She shows the plight of poor, upper-class women such as the Bennet sisters and Charlotte Lucas, who are too well off to work but not rich enough to support themselves. She shows the differences in female education through Lady Catherine's daughter, who has a private governess, the Bingley sisters, who went to a seminary (boarding school), and the Bennets, who had virtually no education, and how this affects their lives: for example, if Lydia had been disciplined better, would she have acted the way she did? Austen also demonstrates the power dynamics of women: as a wealthy widow, Lady Catherine is the only truly independent woman in the novel. As single women, Elizabeth and her sisters have the power to establish their futures based on who they marry. It's no wonder Mrs. Bennet is so obsessed with her daughters' marriages: control over that is the closest thing she, as a married woman, can get to having power.

People can change their social class.

There are several characters in Pride and Prejudice who, through marriage or personal accomplishments, change their social class. In the beginning of the novel, Mr. Bingley, whose father made his fortune through trade, is looking to purchase an estate in the country: by purchasing an estate, he becomes a member of the landed gentry. Sir William Lucas, a tradesman, quits his business when he's knighted and also becomes a member of the gentry. Mrs. Bennet moves up by marrying a gentleman. While Elizabeth and Jane are technically in the same social class as Bingley and Darcy, in terms of education and wealth they're on opposite ends of the spectrum; therefore, they also elevate their status through their marriages.

AP English:  Literature and Composition- Major Works Data Sheet