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Pride and Prejudice (Austen)

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen, 1813
~ 480 pp. (varies by publisher)


Summary 
This rich social commentary—Pride and Prejudice—is sometimes considered to be Jane Austen's finest novel*. It is certainly among her more famous ones. Austen sets her entertaining study of manners and misconceptions against the backdrop of a class-conscious society in 18th-century England.

Spirited, intelligent Elizabeth Bennet is alternately enchanted and affronted by Mr. Darcy. She is quick to suspend her usual, more rational judgment when it comes to him. She also is quick to believe the worst gossip about this haughty, opinionated man, who soon manages to alienate Elizabeth and her family. But is the condescending air that Mr. Darcy wars an indication of his real character? Or has Elizabeth's pride gotten in the way of her chance for true romance? (From Norton Critical Editions .)



Author Bio 
Born—December 16, 1775
Where—Steventon in Hampshire, UK
Death—July 18, 1817
Where—Winchester, Hampshire
Education—taught at home by her father


In 1801, George Austen retired from the clergy, and Jane, Cassandra, and their parents took up residence in Bath, a fashionable town Jane liked far less than her native village. Jane seems to have written little during this period. When Mr. Austen died in 1805, the three women, Mrs. Austen and her daughters, moved first to Southampton and then, partly subsidized by Jane's brothers, occupied a house in Chawton, a village not unlike Jane's first home. There she began to work on writing and pursued publishing once more, leading to the anonymous publication of Sense and Sensibility in 1811 and Pride and Prejudice in 1813, to modestly good reviews.

Known for her cheerful, modest, and witty character, Jane Austen had a busy family and social life, but as far as we know very little direct romantic experience. There were early flirtations, a quickly retracted agreement to marry the wealthy brother of a friend, and a rumored short-lived attachment—while she was traveling—that has not been verified. Her last years were quiet and devoted to family, friends, and writing her final novels. In 1817 she had to interrupt work on her last and unfinished novel, Sanditon, because she fell ill. She died on July 18, 1817, in Winchester, where she had been taken for medical treatment. After her death, her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published, together with a biographical notice, due to the efforts of her brother Henry. Austen is buried in Winchester Cathedral.

Jane Austen's delightful, carefully wrought novels of manners remain surprisingly relevant, nearly 200 years after they were first published. Her novels—Pride and Prejudice and Emma among them—are those rare books that offer us a glimpse at the mores of a specific period while addressing the complexities of love, honor, and responsibility that still intrigue us today. (From Barnes & Noble.)



Book Reviews 
(Older works have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)

Pride and Prejudice has always been, since its publication in 1813, Austen's most popular novel. The story of a sparkling, irrepressible heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, the behavior of whose family leaves much to be desired, and Mr. Darcy, a very rich and seemingly rude young man who initially finds Elizabeth "tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me," is, in the words of the Penguin Classics edition editor Tony Tanner, a novel about how a man changes his manners and a woman changes her mind. Through the ages, its chief delights for readers have been its flawed but charming heroine ("I think [Elizabeth] as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print," Austen herself wrote to her sister, Cassandra); its humorous treatment of a serious subject; brilliant and witty dialogue laced with irony; a cast of humorous minor characters; and Austen's nearly magical development of a complex but believable love relationship between two complex people.
Penguin Classics (Introduction to Mansfield Park)



Discussion Questions 
1. Pride and Prejudice is probably Austen's most famous, most beloved book. One element, the initial mutual dislike of two people destined to love each other, has become a cliché of the Hollywood romance. I'm sure you can think of numerous examples.

This book has been described by scholars as a very conservative text. Did you find it so? What sort of position do you see it taking on the class system? It has also been described as Austen's most idealistic book. What do you suppose is meant by that?

2. In 1814 Mary Russell Mitford wrote: "It is impossible not to feel in every line of Pride and Prejudice...the entire want of taste which could produce so pert, so worldly a heroine as the beloved of such a man as Darcy.... Darcy should have married Jane."

  • Would you have liked the book as well if Jane were its heroine?
  • Have you ever seen a movie version in which the woman playing Jane was, as Austen imagined her, truly more beautiful than the woman playing Elizabeth?

Who doesn't love Elizabeth Bennet?!!

3. Two central characters in Austen have her own first name.

  • In Emma: Jane Fairfax is a decorous, talented, beautiful woman.
  • In Pride and Prejudice: Jane Bennet is everything lovely.

What do you make of that?

4. Lydia and Wickham pose a danger to the Bennet family as long as they are unmarried and unchecked. But as a married couple, with little improvement in their behavior, this danger vanishes.

In Pride and Prejudice marriage serves many functions. It is a romantic union, a financial merger, and a vehicle for social regulation. Scholar and writer Mary Poovey said that Austen's goal "is to make propriety and romantic desire absolutely congruent."

  • Think about all the marriages in the book with respect to how well they are fulfilling those functions.
  • Is marriage today still an institution of social regulation?
  • What about it would change if gay marriage were legally recognized?

5. Austen suggests that in order to marry well a woman must be pretty, respectable, and have money. In the world of Pride and Prejudice, which of these is most important? Spare a thought for some of the unmarried women in the book—Mary and Kitty Bennet, Miss de Bourgh, Miss Georgiana Darcy, poor, disappointed Caroline Bingley. Which of them do you picture marrying some day? Which of them do you picture marrying well?

6. Was Charlotte Lucas right to marry Reverend Collins?

7. What are your feelings about Mr. Bennet? Is he a good father? A good husband? A good man?

8. Darcy says that one of Wickham's motivations in his attempted elopement with Georgiana was revenge. What motivations might he have had for running off with Lydia? (Besides the obvious...)

9. Elizabeth Bennet says,".... people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever."

  • Do any of the characters in the book change substantially? Or do they, as Elizabeth says of Darcy, "in essentials" remain much as they ever were?

10. Elizabeth is furious with Darcy for breaking up the match between Jane and Mr. Bingley. Although he initially defends himself, she changes his mind. Later when Lady Catherine attempts to interfere in his own courtship, he describes this as unjustifiable.

  • Should you tell a friend if you think they're about to make a big mistake romantically?
  • Have you ever done so? How did that work out for you?

(Questions issued by Penguin Classics edition—cover image, top right.)

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