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Pride and Prejudice | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Pride and Prejudice | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


Define an entail and discuss its the role in the novel Pride and Prejudice.

An entail is a legal arrangement regarding ownership of property. It specifies that only male relatives may inherit property. Mr. Bennet has no sons, so his estate is going to go to his eldest male relative, a cousin named Mr. Collins. The Bennets know that when Mr. Bennet dies, they will no longer own Longbourn. It will belong to Mr. Collins, and he does not have to support the surviving members of the family. Mr. Collins believes that, if he marries one of the Bennet daughters, he will be doing the Bennet family a favor. In addition, because the Bennet sisters will not inherit the estate, they will have to marry into favorable situations in order to ensure their financial security. Mrs. Bennet does not fully understand the entail and blames Mr. Collins for it, even though he had nothing to do with the original arrangement. Leaving property to male heirs was a common arrangement. Interestingly, Lady Catherine de Bourgh mentions that her estate is not entailed, which allowed her to remain independently wealthy. It also means that her sickly daughter will inherit the estate.

Describe the use of dialogue in Pride and Prejudice to reveal characterization.

The characters' speeches reveal the personalities and opinions of the speakers. For example, Elizabeth speaks in a lively and honest way, although sometimes her comments are laced with verbal irony, reflecting her wit and intelligence. Mr. Bennet, on the other hand, almost always speaks with sarcasm, reflecting a bitterness and lack of concern for the feelings of others. Mr. Darcy is observant but often expresses himself with a bluntness that offends. Mr. Collins speaks in long-winded paragraphs full of cliches, pious comments, and flattery. Mrs. Bennet's utterances reflect her shallowness, irrationality, and obsession with finding mates for her daughters. Lydia speaks thoughtlessly and without regard for the feelings of others.

In Pride and Prejudice, what do Elizabeth's reactions to her first two marriage proposals reveal about her character?

Elizabeth's refusal to marry Mr. Collins places her family's financial security in jeopardy as well as her own. Had she accepted his proposal, her family's situation would have been secure. Longbourn would have remained the home of her mother and sisters after her father's death. However, she is unwilling to agree to a marriage that offers only financial security. Her rejection demonstrates her determination and strong will. She is also scrupulously polite to her unwanted suitor. Even though Mr. Collins's proposal shows how little he understands her character, he is a harmless character who, in his own way, means well. When she later rejects Darcy's first proposal, Elizabeth is much more angry. His proposal, too, would have guaranteed financial security—indeed, it would have made her very wealthy. But like Collins, Darcy misjudges her character. She has too much pride to accept a proposal that Darcy himself finds unworthy of him. Her ability to be polite to Mr. Collins shows how little emotional connection she has with him, while her response to Darcy shows deep disappointment. She is angry at his interference in Jane's relationship with Bingley; the pain he has caused her sister is unforgivable. She is also angry that he places almost as much stock in class and reputation as in love. It shows readers that she demands a husband who respects her as an individual, regardless of rank or family relations.

Elizabeth, the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice, exhibits great self-assurance. Is this a strength, a weakness, or both?

Elizabeth's self-assurance is both a strength and a weakness. She is able to stand up for herself when her well-being is threatened. This is clearly shown in Elizabeth's rejection of Mr. Collins's marriage proposal. While marrying Mr. Collins would be a great help to her family, she has enough self-respect to know that marriage to such a man would be an insult to her own intelligence. She continues to stand her ground in the face of her mother's anger at her refusal. However, her self-assurance turns to stubbornness when she fails to reconsider her flawed judgments or applies her own values to others. For example, she belittles Charlotte's decision to marry Mr. Collins, refusing to see that Charlotte may have made a prudent choice. More significantly, she clings to her original assessment of Darcy long after the reader sees that he is not quite as one-dimensional as she assumes. Elizabeth recognizes the strength of her stubbornness: "There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me." Later she will recognize the flaws in it.

How does Austen mock the behavior of social climbers in the relationship between Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice?

Mr. Collins embodies the worst qualities of the social climber: snobbishness and servility. His connection to Lady Catherine de Bourgh has inflated his sense of self-importance and influence, and he believes he can speak for her. For example, in preparing Elizabeth for a visit to Rosings, he presumptuously instructs her on what to wear: "Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about your apparel ... Lady Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply dressed. She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved." Through his long-winded speeches and letters, readers come to know him as pompous, overly formal, and obnoxious. But toward the lady himself, he is servile. While playing cards at Rosings, "Mr. Collins was employed in agreeing with everything her Ladyship said, thanking her for every [chip] he won, and apologizing if he thought he won too many." Austen does not frown on social mobility when it is earned. The Gardiners have done well for themselves through hard work, and she presents them as an intelligent couple with elegant manners.

How do Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy represent the author's view of ridicule in Pride and Prejudice?

Elizabeth claims she loves to laugh, and to make fun of things that are worthy of ridicule. Ridicule of "folly and nonsense" is the definition of satire, which Jane Austen displays throughout the novel. Elizabeth also claims that she tries not to ridicule an undeserving target. Darcy dislikes ridicule for this very reason, because he believes good people are hurt by it: "The wisest and best of men ... may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke." His sternness results in part from this fear of ridicule: "It has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule." Darcy has a point; some of the characters in the novel, such as Mr. Bennet and Caroline Bingley, tend to wield their stinging wit indiscriminately. Austen shows this tendency to be a weakness of character.

In Chapter 11 of Pride and Prejudice, Darcy describes some of his own faults. Discuss what he reveals and why it is important.

In Chapter 11, Elizabeth spurs Darcy to discuss his flaws, suggesting that he is both proud and vain. He objects to being called vain, but he embraces his pride, which he believes is appropriate "where there is a real superiority of mind" and if properly controlled. However, he admits that he has a temper, and is not forgiving once he has been crossed: "My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe too yielding—certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever." Darcy's self-awareness reveals his introspective character and a willingness to admit his faults. His discussion of pride, furthermore, provides a more nuanced view of the trait that Elizabeth condemns in him. Finally, his comment about his "good opinion" reflects the high value he places on reputation.

Discuss how different female characters in Pride and Prejudice view marriage.

For both Mrs. Bennet and Charlotte Lucas, marriage represents financial security and stability. As a result, Mrs. Bennet is driven by the goal of having her daughters marry well. Charlotte, being pragmatic, accepts Mr. Collins's proposal as way of establishing a secure future. She believes "happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance." Elizabeth and Jane both value love in marriage, although Elizabeth would probably be bored by the kind of marriage Jane makes—a union of two people who are perfectly alike. For a woman of her time, Elizabeth has a unique view of marriage. She seeks the stimulation of an intelligent partner and views marriage as the complementary pairing of two souls. She expresses this belief when she thinks she has alienated Darcy: "It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both: by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance." All of the women in the novel (and the men) view marriage as essential to protecting a woman's reputation—and by extension, the family's reputation. Protecting the reputation of the Bennet women is particularly important since so many of them will need husbands. When Lydia runs off with Wickham, she cannot return to Longbourn as an unmarried woman because her reputation has been ruined by her living with a man out of wedlock. The only viable solution to the problem is for the couple to marry.

In Chapter 11 of Pride and Prejudice, why do Caroline Bingley's attempts to get Darcy's attention fail?

Caroline Bingley is interested in Mr. Darcy. In this chapter, however, all of her attempts to attract Darcy only prove that they have little in common and help him notice Elizabeth's charms. After dinner, for example, Caroline attempts to act as if she shares his interest in reading and books: "Miss Bingley's attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy's progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some enquiry, or looking at his page." However, her real lack of interest in reading belies itself: "At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his, she gave a great yawn and said, 'How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!'' Then, getting no response, she suggests that she and Elizabeth walk around the room. This is another attempt to show off her elegant figure, as a way of getting Darcy's attention. This attempt backfires, however; it is Elizabeth he watches, and she draws him into one of many playful yet substantive conversations.

When Darcy first proposes to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, how does he insult her pride?

When Darcy proposes to Elizabeth for the first time, he explains that he loves her in spite of her family's lower social status. He believes he degrades himself in forming a bond with someone of her class, but he is willing to do so. Elizabeth finds this argument insulting and in no way convincing. She is angered that he apparently has no doubt she will accept his proposal, in spite of the insult to her family. She is also angry that he feels marrying her threatens his very integrity: "I might as well inquire ... why with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?" She is proud of her intelligence and personal conduct, and hurt that these qualities alone don't set aside his doubts.

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