A Close Reading of Pride and Prejudice

A/N: An Academic Essay for the letter Mr. Darcy gives Elizabeth in the iconic story of Pride and Prejudice.


 

There are numerous possible methods on how to analyse the iconic love story of Pride and Prejudice by the renowned Jane Austen, and a historical criticism is merely one of the more obvious ones.

I will, however, not analyse the entirety of the story, but rather centre most of my focus on a selected extract. For this extract I have chosen the letter, which Mr. Darcy presents to Elizabeth as his way of explaining and justifying his actions. The extract takes place about half-way through the story and it can be argued that it is the essential turning point for not only the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Ms. Elizabeth Bennett, but also for the story as a whole.

The letter is the result of Mr. Darcy overcoming his pride and realising that his unwillingness to accept the foolishness of Elizabeth’s relations has cost him his chance of extraordinary happiness. This realisation is brought on by Elizabeth’s refusal of his proposal of marriage, something which his pride deemed an impossibility. The letter itself also has the consequence of Elizabeth herself overcoming her prejudices towards Mr. Darcy, which has stemmed from a accumulation of personal pride, an unwillingness to give up her introductory impression of him and unverified rumours created by a charming, but duplicitous man by the name of George Wickham.

The letter can be separated into several parts, and each part serves to remove a little of the prejudiced dislike, which Elizabeth harbours for Mr. Darcy. The introductory part of the letter is merely an assurance to Elizabeth of the content of the letter not being a repetition of his unwanted confession of his admiration and esteem for her, the second is an explanation of his part in separating Elizabeth’s sister Jane Bennett from Mr. Darcy’s close friend Mr. Bingley, the third is an explanation of the truth behind the abhorrent behaviour of Mr. Wickham, and the fourth and concluding serves to give a way for Elizabeth to test the truthfulness in the letter as well as wishing a God’s bless to the lady in question.


It is important to note that the selected extract is a letter, and that Jane Austen is far from being exclusive in regards to using letters as a way of moving the story forward. Letters play a crucial role in the renowned story of the iconic love between the illustrious Mr. Darcy and expressive Ms. Elizabeth Bennett.

It is a letter, which devastates Ms. Jane Bennett as it destroys all hope that Mr. Bingley was planning to propose to her. It is a letter – in fact it is this particular letter – which removes the prejudice Elizabeth has against Mr. Darcy.

It is a letter, which informs Elizabeth of the ruination of her family through the elopement of her youngest sister, and finally; it is a letter, which carries the news of the redemption of not only her sister’s reputation, but that of the whole family, through the matrimonial union between Ms. Lydia Bennett and Mr. George Wickham.

This importance of matrimony is one of the numerous instances in the story, which reminds us that it takes place during a different time period. In the time the story was published, which was the beginning of the nineteenth century, marriage was not merely a matter of love for a young lady, but frequently also a necessity.

This counts particularly for a young woman such as Elizabeth Bennett, who has four sisters, but no brothers, as well as no fortune to speak of. It would have been deemed of uttermost importance that she would marry well, and wedlock to someone as affluent and influential as Mr. Darcy would indeed have been to marry well.

The award-winning author Katherine Paterson writes in the introduction to the selected edition of the renowned book; “Parents and guardians had a lot to say about matches, and they were usually concerned with how much money or property the potential spouse would bring to the union, which gave girl like the Bennett sisters with no property and little money poor prospects for a good match” (-3).

However, it is shown clearly in the selected extract that Elizabeth Bennett is not the type of woman to allow these kinds of cultural expectations to dictate her choices.

In the very beginning of the letter Mr. Darcy writes; “Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments or renewal of those offers which were last night so disgusting to you” (203).

It is clearly stated through this example that Mr. Darcy has finally comprehended the unwillingness of Elizabeth to marry him, and it is equally clear that this realisation pains him indefinitely. This pain is clarified in the pursuing lines as Mr. Darcy writes; “I write without intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten” (203-204).

This shows that Mr. Darcy desperately wishes to think as little as possible about Elizabeth’s refusal of the offer of his hand in the hope that he will find himself capable of forgetting the pain, which stems from realising that he will never unite himself with the woman, whom he admires and loves.

However, not only did Elizabeth refuse his offer of marriage, she also accused him of not being a gentleman. Back in the nineteenth century this was a far greater vilification than it would have been considered in our modern society. The line between a gentleman and that of a regular man so to speak was very distinct. It was nearly unheard of that a gentleman should bind himself in matrimony to a woman, who was not the daughter of a gentleman herself, and even though her economic condition and social connections were also considered important, they were nowhere near as crucial as whether or not the lady in question was officially recognized as the daughter of a gentleman.

It is also shown a few lines into the excerpt that Mr. Darcy most decidedly regards himself a gentleman. He writes; “the effort which the formation and the perusal of this letter must occasion, should have been spared had not my character required it to be written and read” (204).

His upbringing as a gentleman can also be seen later in the extract as he writes; “If, in the explanation of them, which is due to myself, I am under the necessity of relating feelings which may be offensive to yours, I can only say that I am sorry” (204).

Subsequently he furthermore writes; “Pardon me. It pains me to offend you” (206).

In the early nineteenth century shortly after the Edwardian era a woman was broadly considered the fragile gender, and it would not be uncommon for men such as Mr. Darcy to evaluate women to be unable to deal with the harsher reality of life.

Elizabeth, however, is a highly feminist character, whose happiness is not solely dependent on being taken care of by a man. Paterson describes Elizabeth as “an intelligent, witty and exceptionally strong-willed young woman” (-4).


Though the letter is principally an explanation and justification against the two recriminations Elizabeth has accused Mr. Darcy with after his denigration of the majority of Elizabeth’s closest family, it can likewise be interpreted as a love letter in disregard to Mr. Darcy’s assurances to the contrary.

There are numerous examples, which supports this hypothesis. “I had the honor of dancing with you” (205), “is praise no less generally bestowed on you and your eldest sister, than it is honorable to the sense and disposition of both” (206), and “last night; but I was not the master enough of myself to know what could and ought to be revealed” (211).

Love was not the same often indelicate affair back then as it is in our modern society. Paterson writes that for instance; “In those days etiquette did not permit a young lady to go after a gentleman of her choice – at least not too directly. Manners demanded delicacy and restraint. No hopping into the sack for these folks” (-3).


There are many themes found the iconic love story; the most significant ones of course being love, prejudice and pride.

Not only the love between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, but also between her eldest sister Jane and Mr. Bingley. The story can be viewed as a cautionary tale for the readers to not let a bad first impression as well as unwarranted pride ruin their chance for happiness as it nearly did for the two main characters of Pride and Prejudice.

There is a reason the well-known story is to this day, two hundred years later, still considered a love story on the same level as for instance Romeo and Juliet or Gone with the Wind. It is a classic love story about how love is about more than practicality.

Something which Mr. Darcy himself reflects on as he in the narration reminds himself that a wife may have other merits than mere monetary wealth and social connections.

There are also attraction and wit to take into consideration, and it is more than anything the wit of Ms. Elizabeth Bennett, which in Mr. Darcy’s mind ultimately triumph over the impracticality of their union.

Pride and Prejudice is a favourite of mine and I believe that it is a timeless story, which may be savoured across generations and in spite of of the numerous discernible changes, which time has brought to our modern society.

It is also a book, which has several adaptations made of it, some of the more noticeable ones being the movie Pride & Prejudice by director Joe Wright from 2005, and the literary continuation of the narrative; A Constant Love by Sophie Turner, which is furthermore a personal favourite of mine.



Works Cited

Austen, Jane, and Katherine Paterson. Pride and Prejudice. 1813. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2000. Print.

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