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Pride and Prejudice | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth faces internal and external obstacles to finding love and happiness. Describe some of her internal challenges.

One personal obstacle to Elizabeth's finding love and happiness is her prejudice. On her first meeting with Darcy, she judges him to be snobbish and unkind. When judging situations that don't involve her personally, Elizabeth is an accurate observer. However, in personal matters, she is less objective. For example, after her initial unpleasant interactions with Darcy, she allows her prejudice to be confirmed by an unreliable character, Wickham, whom she barely knows. Another obstacle to happiness is her pride. She is proud of her wit. Her conversation with Darcy is often laced with sarcasm, which frequently curtails their chances of having honest dialogue. And she is also proud of her judgment. She believes she has properly judged Darcy's character. Despite numerous opportunities to get to know Darcy better, she does not succeed until after his first disastrous proposal, when he spells out the truth in a letter.

In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth faces challenges from others that are obstacles to finding happiness in love. Describe some of these external challenges.

Elizabeth's family presents several obstacles to her finding love. Mrs. Bennet doesn't help Elizabeth's chances for a happy marriage. She actively supports the suit of someone her daughter loathes—Mr. Collins—for the sake of security. The happiness of her daughters is of little importance compared with the security a good marriage could provide. Her mother also causes problems for Elizabeth within society because she has a reputation for embarrassing conduct. Lydia Bennet is another family member whose conduct, in eloping with Wickham, would seem to endanger the family reputation and thus Elizabeth's chances with Darcy—although this turns out not to be the case. Because she wants Darcy for herself, Caroline Bingley actively works against Elizabeth's interests whenever she can. Her comments to Darcy about Elizabeth fall on deaf ears. But her warning about the Bennet family in general does seem to play a role in his abrupt departure with the Bingleys from Netherfield. Wickham senses that Elizabeth has a bad impression of Darcy, and he bolsters her dislike by telling Elizabeth a false story about Darcy's supposed cruelty. This misinformation plays a significant role in keeping the two apart. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is even more aggressive in her attempts to turn Elizabeth away from a potential relationship with Darcy. She wants Darcy for her own daughter. She actually insists that Elizabeth pledge not to marry him, which, to Lady Catherine's astonishment, Elizabeth refuses to do. Oddly enough, Jane and Bingley play a role in Elizabeth's unhappiness. If Jane had made it clear to Bingley that she returned his affections, and if Bingley weren't so easily influenced by his sisters and Darcy, then the two might have married much sooner. Instead, Bingley leaves Netherfield, creating bad feelings that keep Elizabeth and Darcy apart for months.

What roles do Mr. and Mrs. Bennet play in Lydia's elopement in Pride and Prejudice?

In their own ways both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet contribute to Lydia's elopement. Lydia, who seems to be Mrs. Bennet's favorite child, is immature and frivolous. Mrs. Bennet, who shares these characteristics, does not act as a good role model; she emphasizes the importance of physical beauty over character and encourages Lydia's flirtations with the militiamen. Under pressure from Lydia and her mother, Mr. Bennet makes a poor decision in letting Lydia spend the summer with the Forsters in Brighton, using the dubious (yet prescient) justification that Lydia will not give her family peace until she has embarrassed herself somewhere. In his defense, he is not aware of what a scoundrel Wickham is, and no one suspects that Wickham would target Lydia. However, over the long term, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have proven neglectful parents, which leads Lydia into trouble.

In Chapter 56 of Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine calls on Elizabeth at Longbourn. What does this visit reveal about her character and Elizabeth's?

Lady Catherine's visit to Longbourn is motivated by her wish to see Darcy married to her own daughter. Lady Catherine calls on Elizabeth at Longbourn after hearing a rumor that Darcy and Elizabeth will be engaged. She is outraged at the idea Darcy would marry anyone but her daughter. "And what is to divide them?'' she asks. "The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured!" Her methods reveal her snobbery and her absolute confidence that she can work her will on others. Elizabeth's response reveals her pride and intelligence. Although she admits that Darcy has not proposed to her, she says there would be nothing objectionable in it: "He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter; so far, we are equal." She refuses Lady Catherine's demand that she promise not to accept such a proposal, shrewdly pointing out the flaws in Lady Catherine's argument: "Supposing him to be attached to me, would my refusing to accept his hand, make him wish to bestow it on his cousin? ... You have widely mistaken my character, if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these." Lady Catherine is frustrated by her own powerlessness in this situation. She is not used to being denied her wishes.

In Chapter 33 of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth comes upon Darcy on her walks. What might be Jane Austen's purpose for writing about these encounters?

The walks where Elizabeth runs into Darcy, seemingly by accident, foreshadow the proposal that will take place in the following chapter. Elizabeth is so set against Darcy that she cannot see what is obvious to the reader—that Darcy is courting her. Elizabeth's obliviousness, reported through the omniscient narrator, is almost comical: "She felt all the perverseness of the mischance that should bring him where no one else was brought, and, to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform him at first that it was a favorite haunt of hers. How it could occur a second time, therefore, was very odd! Yet it did, and even a third." Not only does Elizabeth still dislike Darcy, she is convinced that he does not like her: "It seemed like willful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance, for on these occasions it was not merely a few formal inquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her." In fact, of course, Darcy is not doing penance but laying the groundwork for a marriage proposal. Elizabeth's prejudice against him obscures her perception of his true intentions and will stand in the way of her happiness until she can overcome it.

Consider the elopement of Wickham and Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. As a male, how do his options for the future differ from Lydia's?

For a woman, elopement had to end in marriage—otherwise, her reputation would be destroyed. Her family could cast her out, and with no possibility for respectable employment, she might be forced into prostitution. At best, her family might send her to live with a distant relative. Mr. Collins's advice to Mr. Bennet is to banish Lydia from Longbourn and never mention her name again. This seems hard-hearted but reflects a real concern for the family's reputation—something that could affect the possibility of marriages for the rest of the daughters. For a man, the consequences of a failed elopement are less dire. Wickham had already attempted to elope once, with Georgiana, and while his scheme did not succeed, he has still managed to gain respectability as a lieutenant in the militia, far from the site of his original disgrace. This, as it turns out, is because Darcy did not want to expose Georgiana to scandal by making Wickham's transgressions public. To damage Wickham's reputation would be to destroy his sister's. If Wickham were to fail in securing a good financial settlement in exchange for marrying Lydia Bennet, he, unlike Lydia, would still have options. Essentially, a woman who brought shame on her family acted on her own. A man, however, could count on the woman's family to do everything in their power to avoid shame; if not, he could simply start over—in the military, as Wickham did, for example.

Discuss the role of George Wickham in bringing Elizabeth and Darcy together in the novel Pride and Prejudice.

George Wickham plays an unwitting role in bringing Elizabeth and Darcy together, but not before placing a wedge between them. When Darcy wounds Elizabeth's pride, she forms an instant prejudice against him. The charming Wickham feeds her an unsavory story about Darcy's past, reinforcing her negative opinion. Of course, Elizabeth later learns that Wickham lied. In fact, with his easy charm and unscrupulous behavior, he is a perfect foil for Darcy. When Wickham runs off with Lydia, Darcy generously salvages the messy situation that Lydia and Wickham have caused. His actions make Elizabeth realize the full extent of Darcy's devotion to her. Ironically, the person who was formerly a wedge between Elizabeth and Darcy turns out to be the catalyst for their marriage.

In the novel Pride and Prejudice, why is Darcy reluctant for his friend Bingley to be romantically involved with Jane Bennet?

In Chapter 35, in a letter, Darcy admits to Elizabeth in that he was indeed instrumental in keeping Jane and Bingley apart, for the following reasons: He did not believe that Jane fully returned Bingley's affection. Darcy's admission here confirms Charlotte Lucas's warning in Chapter 11 that Jane should try to be more obvious about her attraction to Bingley, even at the risk of appearing forward. He has doubts about the class difference between the Bingleys and Mrs. Bennet. (He adds that this difference is not as serious as the class difference between Mrs. Bennet and himself. After all, like Mrs. Bennet's father, Mr. Bingley's father made money in trade.) He objects to the behavior of Jane and Elizabeth's family, to "the total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly betrayed by [Mrs. Bennet], by your three younger sisters, and occasionally even by your father." Because Bingley has a compliant nature and looks up to Darcy, he was persuaded to drop Jane. Although Darcy now regrets some of his actions, since Elizabeth has told him how crushed Jane is, his key regret is that he behaved dishonestly in hiding Jane's presence in London from Bingley. These revelations shows the high value Darcy places on reputation and proper conduct. His honest admissions lay the foundation for the reconciliation between Darcy and Elizabeth.

In Chapter 28 of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth visits Charlotte, who is now newly married to Mr. Collins. Describe how Elizabeth and Charlotte view the marriage differently.

When Elizabeth visits Charlotte at the parsonage in Hunsford, Charlotte seems very happy to see her. Mr. Collins points out every detail of his home and garden. Elizabeth suspects that his need to show off the property may be his not so subtle way of pointing out to Elizabeth what she missed by refusing his marriage proposal. She also notices that Charlotte keeps Mr. Collins busy in the garden. This may be the way that Charlotte copes with a match that is not ideal. Charlotte keeps her distance from Mr. Collins, thereby tolerating what Elizabeth would find intolerable.

Discuss Mr. Bennet's role as a parent in Pride and Prejudice.

Mr. Bennet has a detached approach to family life. He tends to retreat to his library, where he can safely ignore his wife, who talks incessantly and somewhat ridiculously. He also entertains himself by ridiculing people around him. His ridicule can be appropriate; his assessment of Mr. Collins is spot on, and he supports Elizabeth's decision not to marry him. His tendency to make jokes can also be inappropriate, as when he suggests that Elizabeth should fall in love with Wickham so that she can experience heartbreak. In this case, he seems to be lashing out at Elizabeth in his frustration over the split between Jane and Bingley. Mr. Bennet does not seem to have the patience for responsible parenting, or for protecting his family's reputation. He allows Lydia to go to Brighton, even though he should be able to predict it will lead to trouble. The fact that Mr. Gardiner and Darcy step in to solve the crisis with Lydia and Wickham reflects upon Mr. Bennet's general ineptness as a parent.

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