Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Interpretations: Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Contains nine essays treating such topics as manners and propriety, love, intelligence, and society. Includes a chronology and bibliography.
Brown, Julia Prewitt. Jane Austen’s Novels: Social Change and Literary Form. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979. A response to critics who claim that Austen does not write about important issues because she writes about domestic life. Choosing a spouse points to life’s complexity, which intelligent characters know; the foolish choose badly, dooming themselves and future generations.
Gillie, Christopher. A Preface to Jane Austen. London: Longman, 1974. An invaluable guide that includes useful background material and brief discussions of Austen’s novels. A reference section contains notes on people and places of importance, maps, and explanations of numerous words used in the works. Amply illustrated. Annotated bibliography.
Halperin, John, ed. Jane Austen: Bicentenary Essays. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975. A collection of essays on various aspects of Austen’s work. An excellent chapter by Robert B. Heilman explains how the title Pride and Prejucide defines the theme and the structure of the novel. In another essay, Karl Kroeber suggests some reasons for the work’s lasting popularity.
Halperin, John. The Life of Jane Austen. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984. A thorough and highly readable critical biography, written with the stated purpose of making Jane Austen “come alive.” Argues that neither Elizabeth Bennet nor any other character in the novels should be taken as representing so complex a person as Austen. Has perhaps the best summary available of the theories about the genesis of Pride and Prejudice. The book also includes a family tree, copious notes, and numerous illustrations.
Honan, Park. Jane Austen: Her Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. A detailed biography that depicts Austen’s life and work and provides a portrait of England and the age. The chapter on Pride and Prejudice focuses on the novel’s reflection of a changing society in which economics, social class, and character all affect individual happiness.
Howe, Florence, ed. Tradition and the Talents of Women. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. Feminist criticism of various writers. An essay by Jen Ferguson Carr notes that although both Mrs. Bennet and Elizabeth are excluded from power in a male-dominated society, only the daughter is intelligent enough to use language to “dissociate herself from her devalued position.”
Kirkham, Margaret. Jane Austen, Feminism, and Fiction. Brighton, Sussex, England: Harvester Press, 1983. Although Elizabeth Bennet is the most appealing of Austen’s heroines, the novelist herself had misgivings about Pride and Prejudice, probably because its light-hearted ending depends upon Elizabeth’s losing her integrity. Concludes with a helpful summary of the critical tradition.
McMaster, Juliet, ed. Jane Austen’s Achievement. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1976. A collection of six papers delivered at the Jane Austen Bicentennial Conference at the University of Alberta. Lloyd W. Brown’s chapter “The Business of Marrying and Mothering” and A. Walton Litz’s “‘A Development of Self’: Character and Personality in Jane Austen’s Fiction” both deal with Pride and Prejudice.
Mansell, Darrel. The Novels of Jane Austen: An Interpretation. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1973. An interesting interpretation that insists Austen is less interested in imitating reality than in depicting the psychological progress of Elizabeth and Darcy. The chapter on Pride and Prejudice provides an excellent analysis of Austen’s use of irony.
Moler, Kenneth L. “Pride and Prejudice”: A Study in Artistic Economy. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Intended as a student’s companion to the novel, a useful book for the first-time reader of Jane Austen. Includes a historical context and critical reception of the novel. Also examines the themes of moral blindness and self-knowledge, art, and nature, as well as Austen’s use of symbolism, language, and literary allusion.
Smith, LeRoy W. Jane Austen and the Drama of Woman. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983. In Pride and Prejudice, Austen shows the ideal marriage as depending upon overcoming the institution’s “threat to selfhood.” Unlike most women of her period, Elizabeth Bennet insists both on choosing her own husband and on retaining her intellectual and emotional independence.
Sulloway, Alison G. Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989. Pointing out that in nineteenth century society men had “rights” and women had “duties,” this author examines the various areas in which women function in Austen’s novels, including the “Ballroom,” the “Drawing Room,” and the “Garden.” Sulloway’s approach is original and perceptive.
Yaeger, Patricia, and Beth Kowaleski-Wallace, eds. Refiguring the Father: New Feminist Readings of Patriarchy. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. A collection of essays on various writers. In “The Humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet,” Susan Fraiman argues that when Elizabeth Bennet marries Darcy, she is exchanging a passive, permissive father for a father figure who, as a strong-willed male of lofty social status, may give her ease but will certainly take away her independence.
Summary of the Novel
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are intent on having their five daughters marry above their middle-class station. A rich, single man, Charles Bingley rents an estate, Netherfield, nearby. Mrs. Bennet pushes her husband to immediately introduce himself and form an acquaintance. He obliges reluctantly. At a ball, all the Bennets are introduced to the Bingley party. Everyone likes the courteous Mr. Bingley, but his close friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is thought to be too arrogant and filled with unconcealed pride and vanity. He won’t dance with anyone outside of his own group or deign to speak with them. He states, within Elizabeth Bennet’s hearing, that “she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
Mr. Bingley’s affection for Jane develops quickly, to the concern of his sisters and Mr. Darcy. They can’t tolerate her lower status, and are embarrassed by her family’s manners and actions. Mr. Darcy, in spite of his better wisdom, becomes infatuated with Elizabeth. He is drawn to her uncensored wit and fine eyes. Miss Bingley’s jealous criticisms of her do nothing to lessen his admiration. Miss Bingley has made plans to entrap him for herself, but they seem blocked.
Caroline Bingley invites Jane to Netherfield. While she is en route, in the rain, Jane catches a severe cold. She is forced to stay at the estate and be treated by a local apothecary. Mrs. Bennet is delighted, because this puts Jane in proximity with Mr. Bingley and his wealth. Jane becomes more ill, and her sister Elizabeth goes to Netherfield to nurse her. The concern for her sister and strength of character appeal to Mr. Darcy, but he is afraid of his infatuation with someone who is economically inferior. The Bennet sisters’ departure after six days relieves nearly everyone.
Mr. Bennet’s estate, Longbourn, is entailed (by law bequeathed) to Mr. Collins, a clergyman and cousin. This is because he has no son; thus, his property will go after his death to Collins as the nearest male relative. Mr. Bennet receives an inane letter from Collins, apologizing for the entail, and hinting at the possibility of marriage with one of the Bennet daughters. He arranges for a fortnight stay at Longbourn, where his officious stupidity delights Mr. Bennet’s keen satiric sense, repels Elizabeth, and endears him to the vacuous Mrs. Bennet.
Mr. Bennet can’t wait for him to depart and soon tires of his praise of his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He sends his cousin on an errand to Meryton with his daughters. There, they meet George Wickham, a handsome and personable military officer. Elizabeth is intrigued when Wickham and Darcy, who obviously know each other, meet on the street and both seem uncomfortable. At a ball, soon after, Wickham tells his life story to Elizabeth. He states that Darcy disobeyed his own father’s will out of resentment. (Wickham was a ward of Darcy’s father and had been promised revenue for a clergyman’s position.) Wickham’s story makes Darcy look cruel and self-indulgent. Elizabeth buys this account, because she has pre-determined, negative views of Mr. Darcy’s arrogance and pride.
Elizabeth becomes infatuated with the charming Wickham, as do her younger sisters. She resents his absence from the ball thrown by Mr. Bingley at Netherfield. She attributes his lack of attendance to a dispute between Wickham and Darcy, because Wickham has persuaded her of Darcy’s bad character. She annoys Darcy by bringing up the subject, and is puzzled by his persistence in approaching her, as she does not know of his attraction. Elizabeth is mortified by her family’s behavior that evening. Mrs. Bennet loudly proclaims the merits of a match between Jane and Mr. Bingley. Mary, her sister, bores everyone with her mediocre piano playing. Mr. Collins, her cousin, gracelessly proposes marriage, and she is further embarrassed. He wants a marriage of convenience, and she wants no part of it. She tries to convince him that her refusal is earnest. The support of her father makes Collins see the truth.
The Bingley party leaves Netherfield for London, and Caroline Bingley writes to Jane to inform her that they won’t return until winter. She hints in her letter that Mr. Bingley intends to court Georgiana Darcy. This is a match that has been determined for years between the families.
Elizabeth rightly discerns that Bingley’s sisters and friend are trying to keep him from the Bennets. Her family is not prominent enough for their aspirations.
Mr. Collins, rejected by Elizabeth, is consoled by Charlotte Lucas, her best friend. To Elizabeth’s great surprise and astonishment, Charlotte plots to marry Mr. Collins, “from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment.” She had always considered herself plain and almost an old maid, so she snaps at a chance to be a respectable lady of society. He proposes, they marry, and they leave for their residence near Rosings. Elizabeth later accepts Charlotte’s invitation to visit her in her new establishment. Elizabeth is gratified that Charlotte has taken charge, choosing not to react to her husband’s stupidity or her patron’s insolent behavior. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a tyrannical despot. She tells everybody what to do, and is not to be contradicted. She plans to unite the family estates by marrying her daughter to Mr. Darcy, who is due to arrive at Easter.
Darcy continues to court Elizabeth. He seeks her companionship, but says little. One night, he declares his love and proposes. He is discourteous, and stresses his family’s superiority. Elizabeth is as angry as she is astonished. His seeming pride is unbearable to her, and she adamantly refuses his declaration and derides him. She accuses him of breaking up Jane and Bingley, and ruining young Mr. Wickham’s reputation. Darcy acknowledges both charges without seeming remorse or explanation, and leaves her with a cold, indifferent attitude.
The next morning, Darcy finds Elizabeth on one of her walks. He delivers a letter, which tries to answer her reproaches. Darcy intervened in Bingley’s romance because he wanted him to marry a wealthy person, and he was not convinced that Jane was truly in love with him. Jane’s placid manner never convinced him that there was any deep emotion between them. He went on to add that the Bennet family left a lot to be desired. Mrs. Bennet was vacuous, Mr. Bennet, indifferent and unequivocally negligent, and the two younger daughters were flirtatious and empty-headed. No criticism was leveled at either Jane or Elizabeth. He revealed that Wickham was a man without principle, and had presented his case falsely. Her former prejudice was now quite jarred, and she had to contemplate the probability of this being true.
Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner set off on a tour. One of their unofficial stops is at Derbyshire, which is her aunt’s and Darcy’s home county. Since they are in the vicinity of Pemberley, Darcy’s estate, Mrs. Gardiner wants to visit it. Elizabeth has apprehensions, but does not object when she learns the owner is away. She finds Pemberley extremely pleasant. The house is prestigious, and the gardens lavish. Elizabeth muses that if she had been more perceptive and indulgent, this place could have been hers. She hears the housekeeper’s glowing description of Darcy as being extremely good-natured and generous to the poor. Darcy unexpectedly appears, a day early, and both he and Elizabeth are embarrassed. Darcy is attentive and gracious and extremely cordial to the unpretentious aunt and uncle. Darcy insists upon Elizabeth meeting his sister, and they call the next day at the inn. The formidable Miss Darcy seems not proud, but shy. She barely is able to carry on a conversation without deference to her brother. There is much affinity between the two. It is not as obvious to Elizabeth that Darcy is still in love with her. The Gardiners see this, but await Elizabeth’s version. When Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth go to Pemberley for a requested return visit, Miss Bingley tries in vain to insult Elizabeth in her presence and behind her back. She fails completely to work her will on Darcy.
In the midst of her happiness, Elizabeth receives two letters from her sister Jane. They say that Lydia has eloped with Wickham. The pair left Brighton for London and are not presumably married. Elizabeth fears that her sister is permanently disgraced, and that her own re-discovered love for Darcy can never result in marriage. She and the Gardiners leave for home as fast as they can make preparations.
The eloped pair is elusive for several days. Mr. Bennet went after them, but returns home unfulfilled. Mr. Gardiner, who took the matter into his own hands, writes and states that they have been found. He adds that Lydia has agreed to a quick marriage. All of this has been arranged by Darcy. He works secretly to pay off Wickham’s gambling debts and ensure a suitable dowry. Mrs. Bennet is ecstatic about this development. Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth, and Jane are sure that Mr. Gardiner must have paid out a tidy sum to get Lydia married officially and save the family name. Little do they realize that it was Darcy’s work.
Mr. Darcy confronted Wickham, bribed him and offered a commission in the army if he would marry Lydia. He did this because of his love for Elizabeth, and because of his sense of blame for Wickham’s irresponsibility.
Lydia and Wickham visit Longbourn as a married couple. Elizabeth inadvertently learns of Darcy’s involvement in the marriage when Lydia passes on a confidence. She gets the complete story when she writes to Mrs. Gardiner.
Bingley returns to Netherfield and falls in love with Jane again. After a while, he proposes. She accepts. Mrs. Bennet’s joy is lessened by the appearance of Darcy, whom she has always distrusted.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh arrives at Longbourn, after hearing a rumor that Darcy is enraptured with Elizabeth. She ridicules Elizabeth and demands her to reject a proposal from Darcy. Elizabeth’s answer is reserved. Lady Catherine speaks with Darcy. This only lets Darcy acknowledge that Elizabeth has had a change of heart, and he renews his proposal to her. This time it is met with a positive attitude.
Estimated Reading Time
Fifteen hours should be allowed for the study of Pride and Prejudice. The chapters are grouped into sections. The chapters are short, but they should be read closely to capture nuances of plot and characterization. After reading each section, the student should answer all study questions to insure understanding and comprehension. The essay questions are guide-lines to be used, if needed.