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Pride and Prejudice | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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What are the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice?

The Gardiners are Mrs. Bennet's brother and sister-in-law. In the course of the novel, they make important contributions to the welfare of the Bennet family. With their mature, reasonable, and functional behavior, they offer a positive contrast to the rather hapless parents of the five Bennet daughters. In fact, when Lydia runs off to London with Wickham, Mr. Bennet returns home from London, leaving Mr. Gardiner there to resolve the crisis (which he does, with Darcy's help). Mrs. Gardiner serves as a wise counselor to Elizabeth, especially in warning her away from Wickham. When the Gardiners invite Elizabeth to join them on their holidays, they provide her with positive experiences away from the Bennet household. Mrs. Gardiner's desire to visit her native Derbyshire facilitates Elizabeth's journey to Pemberley, where she meets Darcy on his own turf and experiences a significant change of heart. All in all, the Gardiners are positive influences, and through a mixture of design and coincidence, they help bring about Elizabeth's reconciliation with Darcy. Furthermore, as Darcy experiences their intelligence and congeniality firsthand, he is forced to change his attitude about people of lower rank.

Discuss the concept of courtship as it is presented in Pride and Prejudice.

Courtships, or romantic relationships, play a major role in Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth is courted by Collins, then Darcy; her relationships with these two men drive the plot. The courtship of Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet parallels that of Elizabeth and Darcy in its complications and misunderstandings. Other, more minor courtships keep the plot moving as well, including the scandalous courtship of Lydia and Wickham. Courtships are important because they allow the characters to grow and change (or not) as they learn how to be with each other. For example, in the course of events, Elizabeth's prejudice toward Darcy changes into love as her understanding of human nature matures. In addition, courtship is the lead-in to marriage, which is the main characters' goal.

In Chapter 50 of Pride and Prejudice, what do readers learn about Mr. Bennet's handling of his finances?

Mr. Bennet planned inadequately for the financial future of his family. Instead of saving money earned from the yearly income of his estate, he routinely spent it all: "Mr. Bennet had very often wished before this period of his life that, instead of spending his whole income, he had laid by an annual sum for the better provision of his children, and of his wife, if she survived him." He did not save money early on, as he assumed that he would have a son to whom he could pass along his estate: "When first Mr. Bennet had married, economy was held to be perfectly useless, for, of course, they were to have a son." The birth of a son would have preserved the estate and allowed his family to continue enjoying its income. However, the Bennets did not a have a son. In fact, they had five daughters. Now, he must leave the estate to Mr. Collins, his closest male relative. Failing to save, combined with supporting a large family, has left the Bennets in a less than ideal financial situation. Mr. Bennet's ineffective financial planning is another example of his failing as a parent.

What is the role of Darcy's estate, Pemberley, in Pride and Prejudice?

In general, Pride and Prejudice does not contain detailed descriptions of places. The text focuses more on dialogue and descriptions of interactions among the characters. However in Chapter 43, Austen includes fairly detailed descriptions of Darcy's estate. At this point in the novel, Elizabeth is on holiday in Derbyshire with the Gardiners. Mrs. Gardiner wants to tour the great estate—a popular pastime then and now. Elizabeth is reluctant, but she has been assured that Darcy is not at home. Seeing the property through Elizabeth's eyes, readers learn that grounds have been landscaped with tasteful restraint to highlight their natural beauty: "It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance." In this uniquely detailed description of a setting, we see a reflection of its owner's personality. Elizabeth's response to the property is telling: "She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!" Until now, Elizabeth's encounters with aristocratic society have been less than impressive. At Pemberley, she sees an upper-class sensibility that she can appreciate. Her reaction is an early sign of her changing feelings about Darcy.

What is Jane Austen's attitude about class, as reflected in Pride and Prejudice?

Austen's novel focuses on the fortunate classes of 19th-century English society. Austen seems to have little use for characters such as Lady Catherine or Mr. Collins, who use their class to impress or intimidate others. The latter was born to the aristocracy, never lets anyone forget her rank, and tries to use it to intimidate Elizabeth. Mr. Collins improved his social status thanks to Lady Catherine, and, like his patroness, expects Elizabeth to be impressed. Caroline Bingley behaves with a snobbery that seems to mask insecurity about her status, which she would love to consolidate through marriage to Darcy. Darcy is another story. Like his aunt, Lady Catherine, he was born into the aristocracy, and in early scenes he is dismissive of people of lower rank. After spending time with Elizabeth and the Gardiners, he realizes that the nobility do not have a monopoly on the noble qualities, like honesty and generosity, in which he prides himself. After witnessing his aunt's shoddy behavior toward Elizabeth, he realizes that nobility does not even guarantee these qualities. Austen doesn't seem to be rallying for changes in the social structure. Elizabeth's awe at the beauty of Pemberley shows her appreciation for the advantages aristocracy can confer. And while the Bennets occupy the lower rung of the gentry, they are still far better off than most people at the time. They own land, they have servants, and they don't work. Furthermore, Elizabeth Bennet abides by the etiquette governing interactions between the gentry and the aristocracy. She does, however, hold herself to high standards of personal conduct and expects others of her class to do so as well. And she certainly does not think that differences in rank should prevent people who love each other from marrying. Austen's attitude seems to be that people born into good fortune should behave graciously, and people who have earned a higher place in society, like Mr. Gardiner, should be more welcome there.

Discuss Mr. Collins's letter to the Bennets after Lydia's elopement as an example of how Austen uses satire in Pride and Prejudice.

In the letter to Mr. Bennet in Chapter 57, Mr. Collins takes the liberty of commenting on the goings-on of the Bennet family without being asked. What is perhaps more revealing is his reaction to the Bennets' decision to accept Lydia and Wickham into their home after they are wed. Austen satirizes the hypocrisy of the clergy along with the character himself. The letter describes the Bennets' decision as "an encouragement of vice," and Mr. Collins tells the family that "had I been the rector of Longbourn, I should very strenuously have opposed it." Furthermore, he says, while the family should, as Christians, forgive the young lovers, they should never "admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing." Mr. Bennet speaks for the author when he says, "That is his notion of Christian forgiveness!"

In the novel Pride and Prejudice, what does the character of Elizabeth represent in relation to conventional ideas about love, marriage, and class?

Elizabeth Bennet, independent and outspoken, represents a challenge to conventional ideas about love and marriage. She is not enthralled by the romantic idea of love that led to her parents' unhappy marriage and that drove Lydia to run off with Wickham. Nor is she tempted by proposals from men she doesn't love; she expects more from marriage than material comfort. As she realizes in Chapter 50 (Volume 3, Chapter 8), she wants a husband whose character complements her own strengths and weaknesses. Elizabeth also represents a challenge to authority—the aristocracy—embodied by Darcy and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who calls her an "obstinate, headstrong girl" with "upstart pretensions." Readers are thrilled when Elizabeth prevails over the haughty and domineering Lady Catherine. And when Elizabeth helps Darcy shed his snobbery and open his heart, they cheer.

Discuss the letter that Mrs. Gardiner sends to Elizabeth in Chapter 52 of Pride and Prejudice. What is its impact?

When Lydia and Wickham come to Longbourn after their marriage, Lydia mentions that Darcy was at their wedding. This is a great surprise to Elizabeth. She writes to her aunt Gardiner to see if she can shed some light on this curious bit of information. The letter Elizabeth receives in return contains two critical pieces of information. Darcy orchestrated and paid for Lydia and Wickham's marriage—including what amounted to a substantial bribe for Wickham. Darcy explained to the Gardiners that he felt responsible for the Bennet's plight. If he had exposed Wickham as a scoundrel when he first had the chance, Wickham could not have preyed on girls like Lydia. Pride prevented him from airing his family's conflict with Wickham. Mrs. Gardiner's letter strongly expresses her opinion that Darcy is in love with Elizabeth. To Elizabeth, this information comes as a striking revelation. Thanks to the letter, Elizabeth has insight into Darcy's newfound humility. It also allows her to understand Darcy's kindness and concern for her family as a reflection of his regard for her.

Discuss the letter that Mr. Collins sends to Mr. Bennet in Chapter 57 of Pride and Prejudice. What is its impact?

Mr. Bennet privately shares with Elizabeth a letter he received from Mr. Collins. In the letter, Mr. Collins airs his opinion that an engagement between Darcy and Elizabeth is a bad idea, mostly because it doesn't meet with Lady Catherine's approval. Collins goes on to tell Mr. Bennet how he should deal with the Lydia and Wickham ("You ought certainly to forgive them as a Christian, but never to admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing."). The letter exposes Mr. Collins once again as a meddling person, a puppet of Lady Catherine, and a poor model of Christian charity. Mr. Bennet finds the letter ludicrous; he has not the slightest inkling that there is anything between Darcy and his daughter, much less a rumored engagement. Elizabeth finds his incredulity insulting; in fact, a proposal is just what she hopes for. However, she hides her feelings and pretends to laugh along with her father. Privately, she wonders how her father could be so insensitive.

Identify the climax of Pride and Prejudice, and explain why it is the climax.

The climax occurs in Chapter 34, when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth. This is the pivotal moment of the story, the turning point for what follows. After this episode, the other actions in the story begin to fall into place. For example, Elizabeth learns the truth about Wickham, to whom she had been attracted—and who had told her lies about Darcy. Then, after her sister's elopement, Elizabeth confirms for herself Darcy's assessment of Wickham. She also sees Darcy's essential goodness when he solves the problems the elopement has caused. The proposal is tense because of the way in which Darcy and Elizabeth express themselves so honestly in the exchange. She confronts him angrily about his role in separating Jane and Bingley, which is one of her chief objections to him: "I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted there." In response, Darcy is equally angry, as he justifies his frankly insulting proposal: "Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?—to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?" Elizabeth and Darcy lay their cards on the table here, figuratively speaking. Their heated exchange creates a precedence of openness that allows them in later chapters to revisit, more calmly, their mutual misconceptions, and to realize the extent of their respect and love for each other.

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