“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”.
The first sentence of Pride and Prejudice is also one of the most famous ever written. This is typical of Jane Austens writing she sums up the theme of her book. She is being ironic, implying that parents with daughters assume that single men of “good fortune” want to get married, this of course could be the last thing on their minds.
Immediately in chapter one the social restrictions of the period have an effect. Mr Bennet the head of the household must go and visit Mr Bingly, this is because it would have seemed discourteous for women to visit a new neighbour without a previous visit from the man of the house.
“A forbidding, disagreeable countenance”. This is the first impression of Darcy, he comes across to be extremely proud and, “above his company”. With Mr Bingly’s amiable behaviour Darcy is contrasted and his arrogance is condemned. You could say prejudice sets against him. At the Netherfield ball Darcy is acquainted with Elizabeth Bennet. To whom he does not think to be pretty only “tolerable”. Later Darcy tells us it was shyness which lead to his awkward behaviour at the ball. However, it is hard to justify his comments made about Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s reaction to the critical comments made by Darcy at the ball give us good indication into what her character is like. Her reaction to his insult, making a joke of it to her family and friends shows she is resilient and vigorous.
The next stage of the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth involves a roller coaster of emotions. Jealousies, guilt, confusion, fatigue, hate! This is an extremely confusing section of the novel. Assumptions are made about people of whom they don’t know much about. The Bingly sisters and Mrs Bennet are the main culprits. This is part of the society that Jane Austen describes. People are quick to judge on appearances and rumours, just as Elizabeth is by Mrs Hurst. “Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy… and her petticoat, six inches deep in mud”. However, unlike his sisters Darcy pays Elizabeth a compliment and notices her intelligence and independence.
Mr Binglys idea of the “accomplished” women gives us an idea of the social expectations of the period. Elizabeth’s behaviour involving walking through the mud to visit Jane was considered unladylike.
Darcy faces the problem of liking Elizabeth but scorning her mother. Mrs Bennet shows herself to be shallow and narrow-minded and shows her hostility towards Darcy. An embarrassed Elizabeth changes the subject and Darcy is impressed by her wit.
In this society that Austen describes, you are judged quickly and once prejudice has set against you it is hard to reverse people’s feelings. Many of the people she describes are stubborn and unwilling to forgive and forget. This seems to be the case with Elizabeth and Darcy. Darcy’s comments made at the first ball will seem to haunt him forever. His love for Elizabeth is waiting to flourish but she cannot forget his remarks about her and believes his efforts to socialise with her are through pity. Elizabeth, unlike Jane is very critical of people’s hypocrisy. She refuses to change her opinion of Darcy.
Just as Darcy appears to be opening up and showing his emotions for Elizabeth, the proud side of his personality shows again. ” He wisely resolved to be particularly careful that no sign of admiration should now escape him”. He doesn’t want Elizabeth to think that he loves her. Maybe because of her social position and her connections, or because of her awkward mother and his sarcastic sisters. Whatever the reason he is now definitely attracted to her and already considering a possible future with her.
“Mr Wickham was the happy man towards whom almost every female eye was turned”. A good looking, pleasant man and by the ease of his conversation made him even more likeable. Elizabeth seems to trust this man already, the society may play a part in that but she seems to believe what he says about Darcy already. ” He meant to provide for me amply, and thought he had done it; but when the living fell, it was given elsewhere”. This shows how much Elizabeth dislikes Darcy that she is willing to believe him. Elizabeth cannot believe that a gentleman such as Darcy could break his father’s promise. It shows what she actually thought about Darcy in that she expected his pride to be enough for him to behave honestly. Elizabeth’s prejudice is now heavily against Darcy. Darcy’s plans for a future with Elizabeth are now ruined.
Elizabeth has now obviously taken a liking to Wickham. Compare and contrast Darcy and Wickham. They are completely different, for instance Darcy’s rich and Wickham is poor. So it seems that if Elizabeth likes Wickham then she cannot in a million years be interested in a relationship with Darcy.
At the next ball Darcy asks Elizabeth to dance. Stubborn as ever and blinded by prejudice she enjoys it but will not admit it.
After absence at balls and lack of social activity. Plus warnings from her family, Elizabeth realises her feelings for Wickham and ends her involvement with him.
Elizabeth’s promise to ” not be in a hurry” to marry, and her refusal to promise to be wise if tempted. Together these statements summarise her views on marriage. This coming after ending her involvement with Wickham shows that she is independent. Possibly her high regard for Wickham is wearing and her prejudice against Darcy likewise.
You can learn a lot about Elizabeth’s character when she visits Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Unlike the Lucases, Elizabeth isn’t apprehensive about meeting Lady Catherine. Elizabeth stands up to her and isn’t intimidated by her high rank.
Again Jane Austen uses irony in her book. Elizabeth was embarrassed by her mother’s lack of breeding and now Darcy is embarrassed about his aunt’s lack of manners.
Darcy shows his feelings for Elizabeth later on when they meet at Rosings. Not through dialogue but through his jealousy when his cousin and Elizabeth have a good conversation and Fitzwilliam appears to be an intelligent and interesting person to talk to. However Darcy and Elizabeth also have conversations which allow them to find out about each of their “public performances”. It is apparent that a bond between the two is growing, although Elizabeth still fails to sense this. It is also apparent that Darcy’s attitude is changing. Note his remark: “you cannot have been always at Longbourn”. He is impressed with her liveliness and sense of humour and believes there is not enough attraction in the country to keep her here.
Elizabeth’s prejudice against Darcy is at its height after his cousin tells her that Darcy was responsible for Bingly leaving Netherfeild and therefor causing Jane unhappiness.
Yet again as Elizabeth and Darcy start to get on another bombshell is dropped involving him. She cannot believe it and her hate for Darcy increases. It is ironic that Darcy chooses to propose to Elizabeth now! Elizabeth comes to the conclusion that it is Darcy’s “pride and caprice”, his snobbery about the Bennets “low connections”, which are the substance of the “strong objections”. Elizabeth is convinced that it is their lack of connections, which forced him to do what he did. Therefor a possible marriage involving Darcy and herself must be the most unlikely scenario.
Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth is a pivotal point of the novel. The fact that he feels the need to explain his actions shows the esteem in which he holds Elizabeth. Darcy has swallowed his pride and obviously prepared to overlook Elizabeth’s poor connections. However his frankness about this insults Elizabeth’s own pride and yet again her prejudice against him deepens.
“Astonishment, apprehension and even horror”. After the first reading of Darcy’s letter her opinion of him is unchanged. However after reading it several times and contemplating it her prejudice against Darcy starts to ease. She realises that Darcy’s actions involving Jane and Bingly are understandable and now has a different view of Darcy.
This shows good strength of character, to realise you were wrong after thinking something for so long. Elizabeth again shows she is resilient and that she has good character judgement.
Darcy earns Elizabeth’s respect when she hints to Wickham that her feelings for Darcy have changed and that she has heard the other half of the story concerning Wickham and Darcy. His reaction confirms that Darcy has told the truth. They part with ” a mutual desire of never meeting again”.
All the time you can gradually see Elizabeth’s general views in life change to be the same as Darcy’s. It appears that he has had an influence on her. For instance she starts to see how shallow her mother and younger sisters are. She even starts to see why Darcy told Bingly to go back to town. It is here where Darcy and Elizabeth appear to be a potentially good couple. Another step towards Elizabeth and Darcy being together is when Elizabeth unties the threads between Wickham and herself. Elizabeth is becoming more and more mature and sensible but maintaining her sense of humour. All signs to link her and Darcy.
A chance meeting with Darcy takes place when Elizabeth visits premberley. His civility to her aunt and uncle surprise her and her feelings about him start to change. Also the housekeepers views on Darcy sway Elizabeth’s feelings. She also dreams about becoming the mistress of a fine house like Pemberley. Her prejudice against Darcy’s pride remains but she starts to feel a “more gentle sensation” towards him.
This meeting triggers of a new start for the pair. Pride and prejudice has been altered on both sides.
The Gardiners now realise Darcy’s feelings for Elizabeth and she admits she now does not hate him. She has respect for Darcy after his rejected proposal from her. She thinks he has courage and his pride is no longer making decisions for him. Marrying is still a bit hasty at this stage however.
Another set back takes place when news of Lydia’s extravert behaviour comes. Darcy is there when Elizabeth opens the letter and he finds out. Elizabeth now believes any chance of romance between herself and Darcy is lost.
In the mist of the business between Wickham and Lydia Elizabeth realises she loves Darcy. The marriage would be ” to the advantage of both”. She still has fears that her sister’s foolishness could cost her happiness.
Darcy’s part in the marriage of Wickham and Lydia could be the final step towards a marriage with Elizabeth. Elizabeth is proud of his actions and has fallen in love with him. Mrs Gardiner tells Elizabeth that it was Darcy’s love for her that prompted him to pay for the wedding. A marriage between the two is now inevitable.
On their next meeting Darcy and Elizabeth say little to each other. Darcy has returned to his quiet, distant state and Mrs Bennets non-stop talk about her new son in law makes it awkward for the two to congregate.
Lady Catherine visit to Elizabeth again shows strength of character. Her refusal to never marry Darcy shows us she still wants to marry him and that she will not be pushed about, even by Lady Catherine de Bourgh!
Elizabeth is really hurt when her father mocks Darcy and she is forced to laugh it of. She fears Lady Catherine’s influence will stop the engagement and thoroughly believes she has lost Darcy forever.
Darcy finally proposes and Elizabeth gratefully accepts it. They both admit that pride and prejudice has halted their relationship but believe that with Elizabeth’s wittiness and Darcy’s serious nature they will make a successful marriage.