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|Book Title :||Pride and Prejudice|
|Author :||Jane Austen|
|LoC Class :||Language and Literatures: English literature|
|Subject :||England -- Fiction, Young women -- Fiction, Love stories, Sisters -- Fiction, Domestic fiction, Courtship -- Fiction, Social classes -- Fiction|
Review of the book Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice is a romantic novel of manners written by Jane Austen in 1813. The novel follows the character development of Elizabeth Bennet, the dynamic protagonist of the book who learns about the repercussions of hasty judgments and comes to appreciate the difference between superficial goodness and actual goodness. Its humour lies in its honest depiction of manners, education, marriage, and money during the Regency era in Great Britain.
Mr. Bennet of Longbourn estate has five daughters, but his property is entailed and can only be passed to a male heir. His wife also lacks an inheritance, so his family will be destitute upon his death. Thus it is imperative that at least one of the girls marry well to support the others, which is a motivation that drives the plot. The novel revolves around the importance of marrying for love, not for money or social prestige, despite the communal pressure to make a wealthy match.
Pride and Prejudice has consistently appeared near the top of lists of "most-loved books" among literary scholars and the reading public. It has become one of the most popular novels in English literature, with over 20 million copies sold, and has inspired many derivatives in modern literature. For more than a century, dramatic adaptations, reprints, unofficial sequels, films, and TV versions of Pride and Prejudice have portrayed the memorable characters and themes of the novel, reaching mass audiences. The 2005 film Pride & Prejudice is the most recent film adaptation that closely represents the book.
Plot summary of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The novel is set in rural England in the early 19th century. Mrs. Bennet attempts to persuade Mr. Bennet to visit Mr. Bingley, a rich bachelor recently arrived in the neighbourhood. After some verbal sparring with her husband, Mrs. Bennet believes he will not call on Mr. Bingley. Shortly afterward he visits Netherfield, Mr. Bingley's rented residence, much to Mrs. Bennet's delight. The visit is followed by an invitation to a ball at the local assembly rooms that the entire neighbourhood will attend.
At the ball, Mr. Bingley's friendly and cheerful manner makes him popular with guests. He appears attracted to Jane Bennet (the Bennets' eldest daughter), with whom he dances twice. Bingley's friend, Mr. Darcy, reputed to be twice as wealthy, is haughty and aloof, causing a decided dislike of him. He declines to dance with Elizabeth (the Bennets' second-eldest daughter), stating she is not attractive enough to tempt him. Elizabeth finds this amusing and jokes about it with her friends.
Mr. Bingley's sister, Caroline, later invites Jane to Netherfield for dinner. On her way there, Jane is caught in a rain shower and develops a bad cold, forcing her to stay at Netherfield to recuperate. When Elizabeth goes to see Jane, Mr. Darcy finds himself becoming attracted to Elizabeth (stating she has "fine eyes"), while Miss Bingley grows jealous, as she herself has designs on Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet's cousin and the heir to the Longbourn estate, visits the Bennet family. He is a pompous, obsequious clergyman who intends to marry one of the Bennet girls. After learning that Jane may soon be engaged, he quickly decides on Elizabeth, the next daughter in both age and beauty.
Elizabeth and her family meet the dashing and charming army officer, George Wickham, who singles out Elizabeth. He says he is connected to the Darcy family and claims Mr. Darcy deprived him of an occupation (a permanent position as a clergyman in a prosperous parish with good revenue) promised to him by Mr. Darcy's late father. Elizabeth's dislike of Mr. Darcy is confirmed.
At the ball at Netherfield, Mr. Darcy asks Elizabeth to dance, and, despite her vow never to dance with him, she accepts. Excluding Jane and Elizabeth, several Bennet family members display a distinct lack of decorum. Mrs. Bennet hints loudly that she fully expects Jane and Bingley to become engaged, and the younger Bennet sisters expose the family to ridicule by their silliness.
Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth. She rejects him, to her mother's fury and her father's relief. Shortly afterward, the Bingleys suddenly depart for London with no plans to return. After Elizabeth's rejection, Mr. Collins proposes to Charlotte Lucas, a sensible young woman and Elizabeth's friend. Charlotte, older (27), is grateful for a proposal that guarantees her a comfortable home. Elizabeth is aghast at such pragmatism in matters of love. Meanwhile, a heartbroken Jane visits her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in London. It soon is clear that Miss Bingley has no intention of resuming their acquaintance, leaving Jane upset, though composed.
In the spring, Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr. Collins in Kent. Elizabeth and her hosts are invited to Rosings Park, the imposing home of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, imperious patroness of Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy's wealthy aunt. Lady Catherine expects Mr. Darcy to marry her daughter, as planned in his childhood by his aunt and mother. Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, are also visiting at Rosings Park. Fitzwilliam tells Elizabeth how Mr. Darcy recently saved a friend, presumably Bingley, from an undesirable match. Elizabeth realises the prevented engagement was to Jane and is horrified that Mr. Darcy interfered. Later, Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, declaring his love for her despite her inferior social rank. She rejects him angrily, stating she could never love a man who caused her sister such unhappiness and further accuses him of treating Wickham unjustly. Mr. Darcy brags about his success in separating Bingley and Jane and suggests that he had been kinder to Bingley than to himself. He dismisses the accusation regarding Wickham sarcastically but does not address it.
Later, Mr. Darcy gives Elizabeth a letter, explaining that Wickham, the son of his late father's steward, had refused the living his father arranged for him and was instead given money for it. Wickham quickly squandered the money and when impoverished, asked for the living again. After being refused, he tried to elope with Darcy's 15-year-old sister, Georgiana, for her considerable dowry. Mr. Darcy also writes that he separated Jane and Bingley due to Jane's reserved behaviour, sincerely believing her indifferent to Bingley, and also because of the lack of propriety of the other members of her family.
Some months later, Elizabeth accompanies the Gardiners on a tour of Derbyshire. They visit Pemberley, the Darcy estate (after Elizabeth ascertains Mr. Darcy's absence). The housekeeper there describes Mr. Darcy as kind and generous, recounting several examples of these characteristics. When Mr. Darcy returns unexpectedly, he is exceedingly gracious and later invites Elizabeth and the Gardiners to meet his sister, and Mr. Gardiner to go fishing. Elizabeth is surprised and delighted by their treatment. She then receives news that her sister Lydia has run off with Wickham. She tells Mr. Darcy immediately, then departs in haste, believing she will never see him again as Lydia has ruined the family's good name.
After an immensely agonising interim, Wickham has agreed to marry Lydia. With some veneer of decency restored, Lydia visits the family and tells Elizabeth that Mr. Darcy was at her and Wickham's wedding. Though Mr. Darcy had sworn everyone involved to secrecy, Mrs. Gardiner now feels obliged to inform Elizabeth that he secured the match, at great expense and trouble to himself. She hints that he may have had "another motive" for having done so, implying that she believes Darcy to be in love with Elizabeth.
Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy return to Netherfield. Bingley proposes to Jane, who accepts. Lady Catherine, having heard rumours that Elizabeth intends to marry Mr. Darcy, visits Elizabeth and demands she promise never to accept Mr. Darcy's proposal. Elizabeth refuses and the outraged Lady Catherine leaves. Darcy, heartened by his aunt's indignant relaying of Elizabeth's response, again proposes to her and is accepted. Elizabeth has difficulty in convincing her father that she is marrying for love, not position and wealth, but Mr. Bennet is finally convinced. Mrs. Bennet is exceedingly happy to learn of her daughter's match to Mr. Darcy and quickly changes her opinion of him. The novel concludes with an overview of the marriages of the three daughters and the great satisfaction of both parents at the fine, happy matches made by Jane and Elizabeth.
Major themes of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Many critics take the title as the start when analysing the themes of Pride and Prejudice but, Robert Fox cautions against reading too much into the title (which was first entitled: First Impressions), because commercial factors may have played a role in its selection. "After the success of Sense and Sensibility, nothing would have seemed more natural than to bring out another novel of the same author using again the formula of antithesis and alliteration for the title. The qualities of the title are not exclusively assigned to one or the other of the protagonists; both Elizabeth and Darcy display pride and prejudice." The phrase "pride and prejudice" had been used over the preceding two centuries by Joseph Hall, Jeremy Taylor, Joseph Addison and Samuel Johnson. Austen probably took her title from a passage in Fanny Burney's Cecilia (1782), a popular novel she is known to have admired:
'The whole of this unfortunate business, said Dr Lyster, has been the result of PRIDE and PREJUDICE. […] if to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you owe your miseries, so wonderfully is good and evil balanced, that to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you will also owe their termination.' (capitalisation as in the original)
A theme in much of Austen's work is the importance of environment and upbringing in developing young people's character and morality. Social standing and wealth are not necessarily advantages in her world and a further theme common to Austen's work is ineffectual parents. In Pride and Prejudice, the failure of Mr and Mrs Bennet as parents is blamed for Lydia's lack of moral judgment. Darcy has been taught to be principled and scrupulously honourable but he is also proud and overbearing. Kitty, rescued from Lydia's bad influence and spending more time with her older sisters after they marry, is said to improve greatly in their superior society. The American novelist Anna Quindlen observed in an introduction to an edition of Austen's novel in 1995:
Pride and Prejudice is also about that thing that all great novels consider, the search for self. And it is the first great novel that teaches us this search is as surely undertaken in the drawing room making small talk as in the pursuit of a great white whale or the public punishment of adultery.
The opening line of the novel famously announces: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." This sets marriage as a motif and a problem in the novel. Readers are poised to question whether or not these single men need a wife, or if the need is dictated by the "neighbourhood" families and their daughters who require a "good fortune".
Marriage is a complex social activity that takes political economy and economy generally, into account. In the case of Charlotte Lucas, the seeming success of her marriage lies in the comfortable financial circumstances of their household, while the relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennet serves to illustrate bad marriages based on an initial attraction and surface over substance (economic and psychological). The Bennets' marriage is an example that the youngest Bennet, Lydia, re-enacts with Wickham and the results are far from felicitous. Although the central characters, Elizabeth and Darcy, begin the novel as hostile acquaintances and unlikely friends, they eventually work toward a better understanding of themselves and each other, which frees them to truly fall in love. This does not eliminate the challenges of the real differences in their technically-equivalent social status as gentry and their female relations. It does however provide them with a better understanding of each other's point of view from the different ends of the rather wide scale of differences within that category.
When Elizabeth rejects Darcy's first proposal, the argument of marrying for love is introduced. Elizabeth only accepts Darcy's proposal when she is certain she loves him and her feelings are reciprocated. Austen's complex sketching of different marriages ultimately allows readers to question what forms of alliance are desirable especially when it comes to privileging economic, sexual, companionate attraction.
Money plays a fundamental role in the marriage market, for the young ladies seeking a well-off husband and for men who wish to marry a woman of means. George Wickham tried to elope with Georgiana Darcy, and Colonel Fitzwilliam married for money. Marrying a woman of a rich family also ensured a linkage to a high family, as is visible in the desires of Bingley's sisters to have their brother married to Georgiana Darcy. Mrs Bennet is frequently seen encouraging her daughters to marry a wealthy man of high social class. In chapter 1, when Mr Bingley arrives, she declares "I am thinking of his marrying one of them".
Inheritance was by descent but could be further restricted by entailment, which would restrict inheritance to male heirs only. In the case of the Bennet family, Mr Collins was to inherit the family estate upon Mr Bennet's death and his proposal to Elizabeth would have ensured her security but she refuses his offer. Inheritance laws benefited males because most women did not have independent legal rights until the second half of the 19th century and women's financial security depended on men. For the upper-middle and aristocratic classes, marriage to a man with a reliable income was almost the only route to security for the woman and the children she was to have. The irony of the opening line is that generally within this society it would be a woman who would be looking for a wealthy husband to have a prosperous life.
Austen might be known now for her "romances" but the marriages in her novels engage with economics and class distinction. Pride and Prejudice is hardly the exception. When Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, he cites their economic and social differences as an obstacle his excessive love has had to overcome, though he still anxiously harps on the problems it poses for him within his social circle. His aunt, Lady Catherine, later characterises these differences in particularly harsh terms when she conveys what Elizabeth's marriage to Darcy will become, "Will the shades of Pemberley be thus polluted?" Although Elizabeth responds to Lady Catherine's accusations that hers is a potentially contaminating economic and social position (Elizabeth even insists she and Darcy, as gentleman's daughter and gentleman, are "equals"), Lady Catherine refuses to accept Darcy's actual marriage to Elizabeth even as the novel closes.
The Bingleys present a particular problem for navigating class. Though Caroline Bingley and Mrs Hurst behave and speak of others as if they have always belonged in the upper echelons of society, Austen makes a point to explain that the Bingleys are trade rather than inheritors and rentiers. The fact that Bingley rents Netherfield Hall – it is, after all, "to let" – distinguishes him significantly from Darcy, whose estate belonged to his father's family and through his mother, is the grandson and nephew of an earl. Bingley, unlike Darcy, does not own his property, but has portable and growing wealth that makes him a good catch on the marriage market for poorer daughters of the gentry, like Jane Bennet, ambitious cits (merchant class), etc. Class plays a central role in the evolution of the characters and Jane Austen's radical approach to class is seen as the plot unfolds.
An undercurrent of the old Anglo-Norman upper class is hinted at in the story, as suggested by the names of Fitzwilliam Darcy and his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh; Fitzwilliam, D'Arcy, de Bourgh (Burke), and even Bennet, are traditional Norman surnames.
Through their interactions and their critiques of each other, Darcy and Elizabeth come to recognise their faults and work to correct them. Elizabeth meditates on her own mistakes thoroughly in chapter 36:
"How despicably have I acted!" she cried; "I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself."
Other characters rarely exhibit this depth of understanding or at least are not given the space within the novel for this sort of development. Tanner writes that Mrs Bennet in particular, "has a very limited view of the requirements of that performance; lacking any introspective tendencies she is incapable of appreciating the feelings of others and is only aware of material objects". Mrs Bennet's behaviour reflects the society in which she lives, as she knows that her daughters will not succeed if they don't get married. "The business of her life was to get her daughters married: its solace was visiting and news." This shows that Mrs Bennet is only aware of "material objects" and not of her feelings and emotions.
Style of Book Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice, like most of Austen's works, employs the narrative technique of free indirect speech, which has been defined as "the free representation of a character's speech, by which one means, not words actually spoken by a character, but the words that typify the character's thoughts, or the way the character would think or speak, if she thought or spoke". Austen creates her characters with fully developed personalities and unique voices. Though Darcy and Elizabeth are very alike, they are also considerably different. By using narrative that adopts the tone and vocabulary of a particular character (in this case, Elizabeth), Austen invites the reader to follow events from Elizabeth's viewpoint, sharing her prejudices and misapprehensions. "The learning curve, while undergone by both protagonists, is disclosed to us solely through Elizabeth's point of view and her free indirect speech is essential ... for it is through it that we remain caught, if not stuck, within Elizabeth's misprisions." The few times the reader is allowed to gain further knowledge of another character's feelings, is through the letters exchanged in this novel. Darcy's first letter to Elizabeth is an example of this as through his letter, the reader and Elizabeth are both given knowledge of Wickham's true character. Austen is known to use irony throughout the novel especially from viewpoint of the character of Elizabeth Bennet. She conveys the "oppressive rules of femininity that actually dominate her life and work, and are covered by her beautifully carved trojan horse of ironic distance." Beginning with a historical investigation of the development of a particular literary form and then transitioning into empirical verifications, it reveals free indirect discourse as a tool that emerged over time as practical means for addressing the physical distinctness of minds. Seen in this way, free indirect discourse is a distinctly literary response to an environmental concern, providing a scientific justification that does not reduce literature to a mechanical extension of biology, but takes its value to be its own original form.
Development of the novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Austen began writing the novel after staying at Goodnestone Park in Kent with her brother Edward and his wife in 1796. It was originally titled First Impressions, and was written between October 1796 and August 1797. On 1 November 1797 Austen's father sent a letter to London bookseller Thomas Cadell to ask if he had any interest in seeing the manuscript, but the offer was declined by return post. The militia were mobilised after the French declaration of war on Britain in February 1793, and there was initially a lack of barracks for all the militia regiments, requiring the militia to set up huge camps in the countryside, which the novel refers to several times. The Brighton camp for which the militia regiment leaves in May after spending the winter in Meryton was opened in August 1793, and the barracks for all the regiments of the militia were completed by 1796, placing the events of the novel between 1793 and 1795.
Austen made significant revisions to the manuscript for First Impressions between 1811 and 1812. As nothing remains of the original manuscript, we are reduced to conjecture. From the large number of letters in the final novel, it is assumed that First Impressions was an epistolary novel. She later renamed the story Pride and Prejudice around about 1811/1812, which she sold the rights to publish the manuscript to Thomas Egerton for £110 (equivalent to £7,381 in 2019). In renaming the novel, Austen probably had in mind the "sufferings and oppositions" summarised in the final chapter of Fanny Burney's Cecilia, called "Pride and Prejudice", where the phrase appears three times in block capitals. It is possible that the novel's original title was altered to avoid confusion with other works. In the years between the completion of First Impressions and its revision into Pride and Prejudice, two other works had been published under that name: a novel by Margaret Holford and a comedy by Horace Smith.
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