In the early 1800s, Jane Austens novels were different to anything else that had been written in those times, and regarded as quality works of literature by her critics. However, it wasnt until after her untimely death in 1817 that Austen was discovered to be a woman. She had remained anonymous throughout her career as a novelist, initially due to the prejudices and sexism of her times. The situation is similar to a fellow author of the 1800s, Mary Ann Evans, who posed as George Elliot in order to publish her literature. Without anonymity, these women would not have had millions of the worlds population poring over their writings nearly two hundred years on. It was a cultural barrier for women to enter a supposedly males world. Jane Austen wrote about the social difficulties everyday people faced in works such as Emma and Mansfield Park, but it is her most popular piece, Pride and Prejudice that displayed the most in-depth knowledge of the key themes of society.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a good wife. This is the opening line of Pride and Prejudice, which is an amazingly brief and honest summary of the book. Two of the main themes are declared, money and marriage, and it also sets the stage for a chase-either by the young man in search of a bride, or by young women in pursuit of him as a husband. In the first chapter, there is a conversation between the matriarch and patriarch of the Bennet family.
Mrs Bennet, an amazingly over-scrupulous woman intent arranging the five Bennet girls marriage, relates some important news to her husband that has obviously excited her, namely- Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the North of England, a single man named Mr Bingley, of four or five thousand a year! What a fine thing for our girls! Mrs Bennett seems particularly happy over the fact that Mr Bingley is a wealthy man who will bring one of her girls a title and honourable reputation.
Elizabeth Bennet, the second eldest of the daughters, is a lively, good-humoured young girl with an astonishing level of intelligence. Elizabeth is able to give her judgement on certain situations which arise, and is aware of the importance of social etiquette, though she does not always follow it herself. Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy is one of the richest men in Derbyshire, and has arrived as a guest in the Bennets home town of Hertfordshire to stay with his close friend Charles Bingley at Netherfield. Mr Darcy, having had a good upbringing and high social status, looks down upon the country folk at the Lucass ball, believing himself to be above their status. When Mr Bingley asks Mr Darcy what he thinks of Elizabeth, he replies She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me. This shows how much pride he has in his own social standing.
Bingleys sisters are also staying with him at Netherfield, and behave in the same proud manner of Mr Darcy. Indeed, the unmarried Miss Bingley is hoping to secure a match between her and Mr Darcy, whilst the other sister is already married to a man named Mr Hurst. By the time the second ball is held at Netherfield, Mr Darcy realises he harbours strong feelings for Elizabeth, and lets slip his feeling of admiration for her to Caroline Bingley, who cattily replies You will have a charming mother-in-law indeed, and, of course, she will always be at Pemberley with you. Miss Bingley laughs at the fact that Mr Darcy could hold a place in his heart for the likes of Elizabeth Bennet, whos family are much lower down the social charter, particularly the brash antics of Mrs Bennet.
When the eldest, Jane Bennet, is taken ill on the way to lunch at the Bingleys and is forced to recover at Netherfield, Elizabeth acts quickly and leaves immediately to come to her sisters aid. Unfortunately, it is still quite muddy from the rain, and Elizabeths dress is soiled. This was definitely not how a lady would have normally behaved; she would make sure that her appearance would always remain immaculate. Miss Bingley and Miss Hurst are quite shocked by Elizabeths antics.
Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair so untidy, so blowsy! Miss Bingley continues It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country town indifference to decorum. Clearly, they think it is strange that one should have such affection for a person they are close to, that they would disregard their own personal appearance. It is doubtful that the Bingley sisters would have done what Elizabeth did for Jane. They pity (In other words, pretend to feel remorse for) the Bennets status, I wish with all my heart she were well settled. But with such a father and mother, and such low connections, I am afraid there is no chance of it.
Mr Collins, Mr Bennets cousin, visits Longbourne early on in the book. Before his arrival, he sends a letter announcing his imminent arrival, to which Mrs Bennet is most displeased I do think it is the hardest thing in the world that your estate should be entailed away from your own children. Mr Bennet expands on this quote It certainly is a most iniquitous affair, and nothing can clear Mr. Collins from the guilt of inheriting Longbourne.
In Austens times, unless a patriarch had a son for a male heir, there would be no chance of the women in the family staying in the house after their husband or father died. This is partly why Mrs Bennet is so intent on marrying off her daughters as soon as possible, The Collinss will turn us out, before he is cold in his grave; and if you are not kind to us, brother, I do not know what we shall do. Jane Austen wrote about a similar situation in her previous novel Sense and Sensibility, where Mr Dashwood died, and had to leave all his estate and money to his son and his wife, so the female Dashwoods were left to find another home.
Mr Collins is one of the funniest characters in the book, as he comes across as a bit of a fool. He is a clergyman in Derbyshire, but his behaviour is far from holy. Mr Collins is willing to tell anybody who listens about his noble patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh. This is a great source of humour in the book, for Mr Collins social status is far from high, but he assumes his peers will be impressed by his connections- I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. At Netherfield, despite her dislike for Mr Darcy, Elizabeth is shocked when Mr Collins proposes he should introduce himself to Darcy, being Lady Catherine de Bourghs nephew. Her instant reply is You are not going to introduce yourself to Mr Darcy! Elizabeth is aware of the cultural barriers of this introduction, as the narration explains It must belong to Mr Darcy, the superior in consequence, to begin the acquaintance.
Netherfield ball reflected how socially inept the Bennett family were in the company of aristocrats. Elizabeth and Jane are acutely aware of their mother talking at the top of her voice- Mrs. Bennet seemed incapable of fatigue while enumerating the advantages of the match between Jane and Bingley. His being such a charming young man, and so rich, and living but three miles from them It is not only Mrs Bennet that is behaving in a way that no self-respecting person would do in polite company Marys powers were by no means fitted for such a display; her voice was weak, and her manner affected.
This is about the middle Bennet daughter, Mary. After Mary tries to start a new song, her father makes the situation worse by trying to stop her That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let the other young ladies have time to exhibit. Elizabeth knows her familys behaviour will bring unpleasant social implications amongst the guests in future, To Elizabeth it appeared that had her family made an agreement to expose themselves as much as they could during the evening
The day after the ball, Elizabeths second cousin Mr Collins makes her an offer she was not expecting, and proposes to her. But the fact is, that being, as I am, to inherit this estate after the death of your honoured father, I could not satisfy myself without resolving to chuse a wife from among his daughters, that the loss to them might be as little as possible, when the melancholy event takes place Mr Collins thinks that Elizabeths situation is so desperate that she will accept Mr Collins straightway, but he is wrong. Elizabeth refuses him You are too hasty sir. Mr Collins replies it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. It is quite true what the otherwise idiotic Mr Collins is saying, Elizabeth with her low connections may remain an old maid her whole life if she does not settle down.
When Elizabeth is staying at an inn with her aunt and uncle, Mr Darcy pays her a visit and admits how he feels about herIn 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. This is not a very wise proposal to make, as Mr Darcy has just blatantly stated that he has tried to fight off the feelings for Elizabeth in the past as he is her social superior. Elizabeth is, quite rightly, angry at the way the proposal was carried out, and Mr Darcy replies to her angry comment And this is all the reply which I am to have the honour of expecting! Mr Darcy was certain that a girl from a low class would certainly accept one of the richest and eligible men in Englands hand in marriage.
Lydia Bennet, the youngest out of the girls, is also the most mischievous. Lydia is very easy going and carefree with absolutely no regard whatsoever for social etiquette, much like her mother. She overrules her elder sister Kitty, for she is quite boisterous, and insists on following the regiment that has recently arrived in Meryton If we make haste, perhaps we may see something of Captain Carter before he goes. It was not the done thing for a lady to follow around other men endlessly. When Elizabeth is at Darcys house in Derbyshire, Miss Bingley says to her rather cuttingly Pray, Miss Eliza, are not the -shire militia removed from Meryton? They must be a great loss to your family.
However, Elizabeth dislikes Lydias frolicking with the officers as much as Miss Bingley, and is shocked when she hears Lydia is chosen to be an escort for the wife of one of the Colonels and is going to Brighton. Elizabeth pleads with her father not disallow Lydia, Her character will be fixed, and she will, at sixteen, be the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous. She continues My dear father, can you suppose it possible that they will not be censured and despised wherever they are known, and that their sisters will not be often involved in the disgrace? Elizabeth is not overreacting, she is quite right. For news soon emerges from Brighton that Lydia has eloped with Mr Wickham, who has a reputation for luring young girls away and bribing them for money. This was deemed incomprehensible, that a lady had run away to live with a man without them having been married.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcys aunt and Mr Collinss patroness, is the proud head of the noble estate Rosings Park. When she hears of the news that Elizabeth may be betrothed to her nephew, she takes a carriage straight down to Longbourne to confront her. She greatly hurts Elizabeths pride The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured? Elizabeth replies He is a gentleman; I am a gentlemans daughter. Lady Catherine makes a swift comeback But who is your mother? Lady Catherine is quite right, Mrs Bennet is not a gentlewoman and has not grown up to become one. She secured a marriage with Mr Bennet with her good looks alone.
Elizabeth turned down two proposals quite easily, unlike her close friend Charlotte Lucas, who becomes engaged to Mr Collins, much to her surprise. Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune. We learn Charlotte is twenty seven, which was not the right age to get married; it would have been younger than that. Charlotte explains to Elizabeth why, even though she felt no love for Mr Collins, she accepted his proposal I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collinss character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state. It was better for Charlotte to marry a man she had no feelings for, rather than wait for a mutual appreciation with a male like Elizabeth. Marrying someone she felt nothing for was better than being an old maid for the rest of her days. Mr Collinss connections however minor were still connections.
Due to the laws in olden-day England, it was cultural for a male heir to inherit the entire estate when the head of the family had died. This would leave all the females of the household destitute. It was socially unacceptable for a lady to struggle to maintain decorum, as the Bingleys stated. Social superiors had to introduce themselves first, which is precisely what Mr Collins did not do when he met Mr Darcy. Well brought up women certainly did not elope with their suitors.
It would have an adverse affect on the rest of the family, whom would find it hard to secure a marriage after such a scandal. Mr Darcy had fallen with love with Elizabeth, but certainly could not hope to marry her after the scandal of her sister. Darcy made sure Wickham married Lydia, their marriage was nothing but a social cover up. It should also be noted, how Jane Austen never wrote about a conversation between two males alone separated from other women. Perhaps this is because it wasnt socially accepted that a woman was alone for a considerable period of time with a group of males, much different to life nowadays, when plenty of females have close bonds to men.
Despite this, Pride and Prejudice was quite modern in its day. A hundred years previously, Mr Darcy would not have paid attention to Elizabeth, nor would Lady Catherine have taken to the trouble of going to Longbourne to meet Elizabeth. She would have summoned Elizabeth to Rosings instead. A few things have not changed since then, gays and lesbians were a taboo subject back then and the matter is still a sensitive subject to this day with a fair amount of people. A good example of how threatening homosexuality is to others can be seen in the film Heavenly creatures, where the families of two girls were sent into panic when they discovered that the girls were possibly in love with one another. It was deemed socially unacceptable, and thought of as a phase or a brief illness. That was the 1950s, but it is still not uncommon now.
However, there is a stark contrast to what was acceptable two hundred years previously to what is acceptable now. For example, it is not shameful at all for two people who are courting to live together. The rules and laws have been relaxed a great deal in general, but Austens masterpiece showed us what life was like to be living under them and the complications they bestowed.