Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Classic Corner: Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth and Darcy

Pride and Prejudice is a love story about a poor girl and a rich guy who finally end up together.  Yeah that’s right.  It’s that simple.  Just your classic tale about two star crossed lovers who take a long time to get it right.  In fact, this story is more like some gossip you might hear somewhere or see on an entertainment television network, maybe even read in a tabloid. 

For those who have not read this sordid tale of love, let me break it down for you.  Let’s start by identifying the main characters: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.  

Elizabeth is from the poor family, the Bennets, she is the second oldest of five daughters and is approximately 20 years old.  None of the daughters are married and the family, other than Elizabeth and the oldest, Jane, are a little ‘trashy.’  At a big well to-do party, the family makes a big scene by showing their lack of manners and inappropriate behavior.  Elizabeth, despite her mother and sister’s silliness, is intelligent and behaves according to society’s expectations in regard to manners.  She is however, judgmental, less accommodating than women were expected to be in the early 1900’s and headstrong.  Elizabeth refuses to marry Mr. Collins, a clergyman employed by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, another important character.  Mr. Collins is dull, unattractive and self-important.  Elizabeth passes him off to her best friend, the homely Charlotte, which he marries.

Darcy
Mr. Darcy is a 28 year old bachelor who is wealthy, one of the wealthiest in the country, and owns Pemberley, a large expensive estate.  He is handsome and intelligent but has some social issues with shyness and being considered a snob.  Snob means excessively proud and better than everyone (for those unfamiliar with the term.)  As the story progresses, we find out that Mr. Darcy is not in fact an overly snobbish person but has a heart and cares deeply about people.  He tries to do what is best for others but it does not always work out best for those concerned. 



The rest of the Bennet family, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and the other sisters play only supporting roles in the story. Mr. Bennet generally ignores the women’s concerns, particularly those related to marriage.  He goes out of his way to irritate Mrs. Bennet.  Mrs. Bennet is silly and ignorant.  The other sisters, with the exception of Jane and Lydia, the youngest, are relatively unimportant.  Lydia is only 15 when this whole thing starts and completely unconcerned with society’s moral rules as well as her family’ reputation. 

Mr. Charles Bingley is the good looking wealthy guy who moves into the area.  Social and kind, he starts up a mutual flirtation with Jane.  Unfortunately, Mr. Bingley does what people tell him to do and leaves the area abruptly at the prompting of his sister, Caroline Bingley and Mr. Darcy.  Caroline dislikes both Jane and Elizabeth because they are poor as she herself is a wealthy socialite snob.  She thinks Jane is beneath Charles and Elizabeth is interfering with her attraction to Mr. Darcy since Darcy is obviously interested in Elizabeth.  Ultimately, after Darcy realizes his mistake in getting Bingley to leave the area and Jane, Darcy convinces Bingley to return and propose to Jane.

Mr. George Wickham is a minor character whose role is to interfere in Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship as well as strengthening it in the end through his actions.  At first he and Elizabeth are friends and he leads her to believe Darcy is a bad person and caused him distress.  He is an officer in the militia, so he has so-so wealth but not enough to be wealthy.  He eventually runs off with Lydia, disgracing the family.  We find out later he had attempted to marry Darcy’s younger sister to gain her fortune but the plan was thwarted.  Darcy finds Wickham and Lydia and pays for them to get married as well as gives them money so the family regains some respect.

Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas again, are minor characters who only serve to move the plot forward in various places.  Collins marries Charlotte after turned down by Elizabeth.  Elizabeth maintains contact with Charlotte, her best friend throughout the novel and learns various information from her along the way.

Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner are the uncle and aunt of the family.  It is through this aunt and uncle and her visit with them that Elizabeth ultimately ends up at Pemberley.  It is there she meets up with Darcy and his sister.  It is on this visit Elizabeth begins to acknowledge her attraction to Darcy.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh is the epitome of snobbish, wealthy, condescending behavior.  Kiss ups like Mr. Collins suck up to her and visit her often, taking Elizabeth along on occasion.  Elizabeth is respectful but refuses to suck up to Lady Catherine and is not intimidated by her haughtiness.   Near the end of the story, Catherine shows up in the middle of the night to warn Elizabeth not to marry Darcy, who at the time had not proposed again since she turned him down prior.  Lady Catherine basically tells her she is not good enough for Darcy.  Darcy notices Lady Catherine’s rude treatment of others, particularly Elizabeth and ceases to care about her opinion.  He goes against her opinion in the end by marrying Elizabeth.

These characters are all portrayed in England near the turn of the century when wealth and status mattered more to most than character or personality.  The rich stayed rich and married amongst themselves and the poor were expected to marry amongst themselves.  Crossing these imaginary boundaries was frowned upon and cautioned against.  In addition to the overall love story, there are undertones of the development of morality, self respect and values. 

  • Unlike the social opinion that the rich are inherently better than the poor, we see in this novel that is not the case.  Several of the poor in this story have better character, stronger senses of morality and better manners than the rich.  Some of the super wealthy are portrayed as terrible people who are rude and inconsiderate. 

We do, however, see on both sides the development of the opposite.  Darcy for example, overcomes his pride when he is confronted with just how terrible it is in Lady Catherine.  He goes out of his way to use his influence to reunite Mr. Bingley with Jane.  He also uses his wealth to obtain a marriage for Lydia and Mr. Wickham so that the Bennet family can regain respect in the public eye after the scandal.  And finally, he marries Elizabeth despite her social status because he loves her.

Elizabeth overcomes her prejudice against the rich to see that they are not all the same.  She realizes that Darcy is misunderstood and is not the snob she had suspected.  She softens her judgmental nature and headstrong attitude to embrace the love she feels for Darcy.

  • Summing it all up for those who have not read: Elizabeth is prejudiced against the rich, Darcy is too proud since he is super rich, everyone else supports the maintaining of the status quo and separation of the wealthy from the poor.  Developing as characters, as people, they overcome their problems and find a deep love together.  So while it is a classic love story, it also throws in the lesson that one cannot find true love until one truly knows oneself.

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