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Pride and Prejudice | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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What are the differences in personality between Jane and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice?

Elizabeth Bennet is described as having "a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous." Like her father, she can have an ironic tongue. Her quick and critical mind quickly forms opinions about people, which are often difficult to dislodge. Although she tends to be cheerful, at her lowest point in the novel her critical tendencies nearly overwhelm her: "The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense." Jane Bennet is much more tolerant. She tends to see the good in people. In fact, Elizabeth says to Jane, "'Oh, you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in any body. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in my life.'" Where Elizabeth tends to be judgmental, Jane tends to be too trusting, refusing to admit that Caroline Bingley is working against her until the fact is too obvious to ignore.

Describe the relationship of the two sisters, Jane and Elizabeth, in the novel Pride and Prejudice.

Jane and Elizabeth, the eldest of the five Bennet sisters, are close friends. They look out for each other's welfare. For example, when Jane becomes ill during her visit to Netherfield, Elizabeth walks three miles through the mud to check on her and stays for days to nurse her back to health. Much of Elizabeth's anger toward Darcy relates to his interference in the happiness of Bingley and Jane. Later in the novel, when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, it is Jane in whom she most wants to confide. The two are closer to each other than to any other members of their family. At the end of the novel, Jane and Elizabeth are happy to be settled within thirty miles of each other's estates. In contrast, the narrator suggests that Jane is glad to live some distance from her mother and that Mr. Bennet visits Pemberley a bit too often.

How does Austen use Mr. Collins's first letter and visit to Longbourn to criticize both sycophants and the clergy?

Mr. Collins, the cousin to whom Longbourn is entailed, writes a letter explaining that he wants to repair the strained relations between himself and the Bennets and talks about his good fortune in obtaining a clerical position from Lady Catherine de Bourgh. His writing is full of cliches, pompous declarations, and obsequious comments about his benefactor. Through his own words, the reader gets a sense of his obnoxious personality. At the Bennet home, he is equally ridiculous. In Chapter 14, invited to read to his hosts, he rejects a novel, which he says he never reads (a clear bit of irony on Austen's part), preferring instead to read a preachy sermon, which the bored Lydia rudely interrupts. He continues to speak fawningly about Lady Catherine, and when Mr. Bennet asks him how he comes up with such "pleasing" compliments, Collins says that he sometimes spends time composing flattering comments in advance. Through the character of Collins, Austen satirizes both the sycophancy of people who hope to improve their status through their association with their social betters and the tediousness of clergymen who spout pieties instead of showing true humility. By making Longbourn's heir such a ridiculous figure, Austen also satirizes the absurdity of the practice of entailment, which favors male heirs regardless of merit.

In Chapter 19 of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth Bennet. What reasons does he offer for this proposal, and what makes the proposal absurd?

In his long-winded proposal to Elizabeth, Mr. Collins offers the following reasons and assurances. Marriage will set an example for his parishioners. Marriage will make him happy. Lady Catherine has urged him to marry a gentlewoman of modest means. His association with Lady Catherine will be an advantage to Elizabeth. Marriage will allow Elizabeth to stay at Longbourn, as he will inherit it. He can assure her of his "most violent affections." He will never reproach her for the small amount (₤1,000) that she will inherit from her mother. In spite of her "manifold attractions," she is unlikely to receive another marriage offer. The order in which Collins presents his reasons reflects his priorities, making the proposal absurd. His affections for Elizabeth are near the bottom of the list, while his position and happiness are at the top. Making the proposal even more ridiculous, Collins has no idea of the reception he can expect. He refuses to accept Elizabeth's rejection, believing she is just being coy.

In Chapter 40 of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth tells Jane about Darcy's proposal and subsequent letter. How does this conversation reveal examples of situational ironies in the plot?

As they discuss Darcy's revelations about Wickham's villainy, Elizabeth says, "There certainly was some mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and other all the appearance if it." Her observation sums up one of the central ironies of the plot: while Wickham's open manner and charm made him seem like a good person, it is Darcy who is revealed to have behaved more honorably. Another example of situational irony is that Elizabeth's tendency to judge and then mock has come home to roost. She says, "I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him, without any reason. It is such a spur to one's genius, such an opening for wit, to have a dislike of that kind." She also realizes that just as Darcy has been prejudiced against her family background, she has been prejudiced by her susceptibility to Wickham's charm: "The misfortune of speaking with bitterness is a most natural consequence of the prejudices I had been encouraging." As these ironies are revealed, Elizabeth experiences profound personal growth.

How does Austen show that Elizabeth is different from the other members of the Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice?

Austen shows that Elizabeth is an intelligent and perceptive person who analyzes others as well as herself. As a result of her inquisitive mind, she is the one member of the Bennet family who changes in the novel. The other members of her family do not significantly change. Mr. Bennet remains ironic and detached. Mrs. Bennet remains fixated on the material gains her daughters can make through marriage. Jane remains optimistic and good-natured, although she does finally recognize Caroline Bingley's duplicity. Lydia continues to be selfish and immature. The other sisters, Mary and Kitty, and are not as fully developed or explored in the novel but also show little growth. As a result of her introspection, brilliantly depicted in her dialogue and thought, Elizabeth is able to grow and achieve happiness.

Mr. Darcy intervenes to remedy the crisis of Lydia's elopement. How does his action affect the plot of Pride and Prejudice?

Both Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner go to London in order to locate Lydia and Wickham and bring about a marriage, which will mitigate the damage to Lydia's reputation. However, it is Darcy's intervention that ultimately makes the marriage possible. His role is not revealed until Mrs. Gardiner shares with Elizabeth the true account of the wedding. Darcy has paid Wickham, essentially bribing him to comply. He has also repaid Wickham's substantial debts and secured employment for him, which is meant to ensure a stable future for the Wickhams. His intervention causes Elizabeth to understand how much he loves her, and to appreciate his devotion to her. The revelation of Darcy's role in the marriage is a major turning point, as it leads to Elizabeth to recognize his inherent kindness.

In the novel Pride and Prejudice, how does Elizabeth demonstrate pride?

Although pride is most frequently associated with Darcy's character, Elizabeth also has a sense of pride—which is wounded at the first ball when she overhears Darcy criticize her appearance. Of that encounter, she says, "I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine." Wickham's attention to Elizabeth helps restore her pride, and this makes her too willing to believe him when he shares with her some stories that seem to confirm Darcy's nasty character. Elizabeth is also proud of her intellect and judgment, a fact that she laments when she realizes the truth about Wickham: "'How despicably have I acted!'' she cried; 'I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities!'" The pride Elizabeth exhibits in the first part of the novel is really more a type of vanity. Interestingly, she later learns to value a pride that is more akin to Darcy's: pride in a well-earned reputation for honesty and integrity.

In Chapter 5 of Pride and Prejudice, the notions of pride and vanity are discussed. How is pride different from vanity in the novel? Which characters reflect these qualities?

Mary, the middle Bennet sister and the most studious, defines the difference between pride and vanity: "'Pride,' observed Mary who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, 'is a very common failing, I believe. ... Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what readers would have others think of us.'" Pride and vanity, one internally and the other externally motivated, are both negative qualities, according to Mary's assessment. While vanity does tend to have uniformly negative connotations, not all characters view pride in the same way. Charlotte Lucas believes people like Darcy, "with family, fortune, and everything in [their] favor," have "a right to be proud." Darcy himself does not condemn well-regulated pride: "Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride—where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation." Later, he admits to Elizabeth that the pride he derived from his class superiority, which let him assume that Elizabeth would accept his first proposal, was actually vanity: "What will you think of my vanity? I believed you to be wishing, expecting my address." Austen frequently mocks this type of class vanity in other characters, like Sir William Lucas, Mr. Collins, and, most strongly, Lady Catherine. Finally, Elizabeth comes to realize that some forms of pride are proper, like the pride Darcy takes in gentlemanly conduct: "I love him. Indeed he has no improper pride. He is perfectly amiable." Changing attitudes about pride are one of the marks of character growth in the novel.

In the novel Pride and Prejudice, how are Elizabeth's initial impressions of Darcy and Wickham different?

In Chapter 3, Elizabeth takes an immediate dislike to Darcy based on his aloof manner, which is compounded by his refusal to dance with her. In Chapter 16, when she first meets Wickham, his personality is in sharp contrast to Darcy's. He engages her in lively conversation, and she is charmed and flattered by his attention. As the novel unfolds, Elizabeth learns that first impressions are not always accurate. As she gets to know Darcy she learns to appreciate him. By the same token, she finds out that Wickham, despite his charms, is not genuine. In fact, the stories he has shared about Darcy are false. Elizabeth learns that her first impressions are not always correct.

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