4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” With this ironic statement, so begins what might be the greatest and most popular novel of all time. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a tale of irony and contradictions, of misconceived intentions and misunderstood personalities. The Bennet family, headed by Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, are in a bit of a pickle. When they were young, they made the mistake of living somewhat beyond their means, with every intention of having a son who would ultimately inherit the Bennet estate (Longbourn) and care for his parents; unfortunately, not only did the Bennets fail to have a son, but, instead, they had five daughters! Now, Longbourn will eventually become the property of Mrs. Bennet’s next of kin (a cousin by the name of Collins). Mr. and Mrs. Bennet must find each of their daughters a suitable, well-to-do husband or risk their being lost to poverty or ruin. The trials, tribulations, and happy accidents which follow in the course of one year, bring the Bennet to the brink of familial ruin and then, like a pendulum, back to the pinnacle of happiness.
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.
Of all Jane Austen works, Pride and Prejudice might have the largest and most varied cast of characters, each of whom has a distinct personality and serves a purpose to the larger story. One minor concern with some Austen works is that, with the exception of the heroine, the cast can, at times, be rather static (the heroes, in particular, are often similar and rather unheroic, on the whole). In this novel, though, Austen has given us characters across the spectrum of personalities: First, there are the five Bennet girls, including sensible, positive-minded Jane (the eldest). Elizabeth, the one most like her father, is our hero and the one who can best read others’ characters and intentions except when her own prejudices are involved (against Mr. Darcy, primarily). The two youngest, Lydia & Kitty, are rather shallow and materialistic, like their mother, and the middle daughter, Mary, is a bit of a bookish snob and bore. In addition to this minor cast are added the larger cast, which includes the four romantic interests: Darcy, Wickham, Bingley, and Collins. Each of these men is a distinct character and all of them have entirely separate personalities, a welcome change to other Austen works. The Bingley sisters, Georgiana Darcy, Madam de Bourgh, and the Bennets’ cousins also engage with the primary family, in lesser or greater scale, depending on necessity. It is one of the most diverse, interactive casts in pre-Victorian literature and Austen keeps a handle on them (for her reader) quite well, while also allowing them freedom to grow and to surprise us (and Lizzie Bennet!) at times.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
It is impossible to talk about Jane Austen without discussing her ridiculous talent for prose, style, and language. Her characters are brilliant, yes, but they work at their best, here, because Austen knows how to deliver their stories, actions, and words with varying amounts of suspense, surprise, wit, sarcasm, or forwardness, depending on what the occasion calls for. The narrator is a semi-omniscient third-person – she is omniscient when positioned closely to Elizabeth, so that the reader largely sees what Elizabeth sees, understands, and feels; however, to keep the sense of suspense alive, Austen does not allow her narrator complete knowledge of the story; or, if she does, the narrator is limited in what she is allowed to reveal to the reader. Instead, other elements of narration are incorporated, to get these more distant facts across. For example, there is the use of gossip, which brings unknown information to Elizabeth, both at the beginning and end of the story, which she would not have been privy to otherwise. Also, there is the use of letters (some believe Pride and Prejudice, when it was called First Impressions, might have originally been written in epistolary form and then reworked, as was the case with Sense and Sensibility). These letters provide information to Elizabeth at a distance – making her aware of things that were happening outside of her general vicinity. All of these layers of narration are added to her strength in general storytelling, a mastery of language, and a keen understanding of human nature, particularly willing prejudices, for what results in an essentially perfect example of fictional narrative. If Austen had originally written this in epistolary form, then her choice to rewrite it into standard prose further demonstrates her literary wisdom and genius craftsmanship.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
Of course, the primary themes in Pride and Prejudice are Love and Reputation. This is perhaps the most widely-read “love story” of all time, and the reason it works is because, though it begins and ends in a somewhat traditional storybook manner (“Once Upon a Time / Happily Ever After”), it is anything but traditional in what happens in the in-between. We have a narrator who is well-known for being the best judge of character, yet her own poor judgment and self-willed prejudices blinds her from seeing a man for who &how he truly is; this, in turn, nearly prevents her from finding true happiness . Darcy’s pride is also to blame, in the beginning, for his coming across to the Bennet’s as unlikable and even mean-spirited. Their reputations are important to them, but a poor first impression (then the added impressions Darcy has of the Bennet family, the ridiculous mother, in particular, as well as Elizabeth’s impressions of Darcy’s horrible aunt, the Bingley sisters, etc.), seem to conspire to keep these two would-be lovers apart. Ultimately, pride and prejudices must be set aside and characters must learn that it is possible to protect one’s reputation without making it the most important thing in the world and, when this is accomplished, happiness and peace of mind will follow. Other elements (motifs) of interest include the idea of “the journey” and courtship. In the year that the story takes place, there is quite a bit of traveling taking place, both for Elizabeth and other characters. Elizabeth is clearly a wandering soul – she is seen throughout the story to be walking around, on her own and with others. This gives the reader a clear idea of her character (strong, determined, independent). It also provides opportunities for others (Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, etc.) to meet her in private and, during these walks, they relay important information to her, which could not have been mentioned or which would not have come up during conversation with company. The courtship motif is also present from start to finish, but the primary two are those between Jane and Bingley (the first courtship) and between Elizabeth and Darcy (the unexpected/unlikely courtship). There are many others as well, but the message is that courtship brings about the true nature of individuals’ personalities and helps to determine whether or not a marriage will be successful and, if so, what kind of marriage it will be (mutually respectful, passionate, whimsical, one of substance, one of comfort/necessity, etc.). Ultimately, Austen explores the many different reasons for marriage and seems to make a final comment on which type is most laudable and fulfilling.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest: Love, Reputation, Class, Courtship, Personality, Marriage
“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! – When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
“I have not the pleasure of understanding you.”
“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.”
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
“Till this moment I never knew myself.”
“I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.”
“To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love.”
“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”