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Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

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Published by Max Butler

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Published by: Max Butler on Jul 04, 2012
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BARRON'SBOOKNOTESJANEAUSTEN'SPRIDEANDPREJUDICE^^^^^^^^^^JANEAUSTEN:THEAUTHORANDHERTIMESJaneAustenwasacountryparson'sdaughterwholivedmostofherlifeinatinyEnglishvillage.Shebeganwritingherfirstnovel,SenseandSensibility,whenshewasstillinherlateteens.Whenshewrotetheoriginalversionofhersecondandmostfamousnovel,PrideandPrejudice(originallyentitledFirstImpressions),shewasnotyettwenty-one.Atthattimeshehadneverbeenawayfromhome,exceptforafewyearsatagirls'boardingschoolbeforetheageoften.Andyet,althoughshehadseenalmostnothingoftheworldbeyondSteventon,thetownwhereshegrewup,shewasabletowriteawitty,worldlynoveloflove,money,andmarriage.JaneAusten'sworldseemsverynarrowtoustoday.Theyearshewasborn,1775,wasanimportantoneinEnglishaswellasAmericanhistory,buttothepeopleofthelittlevillageofSteventon,theAmericanRevolutionwassomethingveryfarawaythathardlytouchedtheirlivesatall.YearslaterwhileAustenwaswritinghernovels,EnglandwasinvolvedintheNapoleonicWars,butyouwon'tfindmuchmentionoftheminherwork.OnereasonthesewarsdidnotaffecttheEnglishathomeverymuchwasthattheywerefoughtentirelyonforeignsoiloratsea,andtheydidnotinvolveverylargenumbersofEnglishmen.(TwoofJaneAusten'sbrothersdidseecombatasnavalofficersandbothreachedtherankofadmiral,andanavalofficerwhodidwellinthewarsisoneofhermostattractiveheroesinherlastnovel,Persuasion.)Anotherreasonisthat--withouttelevision,radio,telephones,automobiles,orevenrailroads--newstraveledslowly.Peopletraveledverylittle,andwhentheydiditwasonfoot,bypubliccoach,or--iftheycouldaffordit--byprivatecarriage.Intheeveningstheysattogetheraroundthefire,motherandgirlsmendingorembroideringbycandlelightandoftensomeonereadingaloud.Forentertainment,theymightvisitaneighbororgotoadanceinthevillagepublichall.Attheseso-calledassemblies,youngpeoplewerechaperonedbymothersandaunts,andonlythemostcorrectbehaviorwastolerated.Iftherewasalargeestateintheneighborhood,thesquireorlordofthemanorwouldgiveeveningpartiesandoccasionallyaball,towhichhisladywouldinvitetheleadingfamiliesofthecountryside.JaneAustenwrotePrideandPrejudiceinthefamilysittingroomwhilehersixbrothersandasister,herfather'spupils,andvisitingneighborsswirledaroundher.Shewouldcoverhermanuscriptwithablotterduringinterruptionsandtakeupherpenagainwhentheroomwasquiet.Allthewhile,shewaswatching,listening,andthinkingabouttheworldaroundher.Thenovelreflectsherunderstandingofandactiveinvolvementwith"ordinary"people.TheplotofPrideandPrejudiceisbasedontheconcernsofpeopleinearlynineteenth-centurycountrysociety.Oneoftheseconcernsismoney.Austencouldobservethemoneyproblemsofamiddle-classfamilyrightinherownhome.AsaclergymanoftheChurchofEngland,herfatherwasaneducatedmanandagentleman.Buthisparishconsistedofonlyaboutthreehundredpeople,andhisincomedidn'tprovidewellforhisfamily,sohehadtotakeinstudentsinadditiontohischurchduties.Evenso,hecouldsendonlyoneson,theoldest,toOxford,andhecouldn'tgivehisdaughtersattractivedowriesoranincomeiftheyremainedunmarried.Likeotheryoungwomenoftheirsocialclass,JaneandhersisterCassandrawereeducated,mostlyathome,inthe"ladylike"subjectsofmusic,drawingandpainting,needlework,andsocialbehavior.Thankstoherfatherandherownliterarytastes,Janewasalsoverywellread.Tallandgraceful,withdarkhairandbea
 
utifulhazeleyes,sheenjoyedparties,likedtodance,andhadnumeroussuitors.Asitturnedout,however,neitherJanenorhersisterCassandraevermarried.Aftertheirfatherdiedin1805,theyandtheirmotherwerecaredforbyabrotherwhohadbeenadoptedbyawealthychildlesscoupleandhadinheritedasizableestate.(Suchadoptionswereafairlycommoncustomofthetime.)Suchrealitiesofmiddle-classlifearecentraltoPrideandPrejudice.CriticsofahundredorsoyearsagocalledJaneAusten"vulgar"and"mercenary,"becauseshewritessofranklyaboutmoney.Oneofthefirstthingswelearnabouthercharacters,forexample,ishowmuchincometheyhave.Hercriticsconsidereditbadtastetotalkaboutmoney,eitherone'sownorsomeoneelse's.ButinthemiddleclassofJaneAusten'stime,theamountofyourincomecouldbeamatteroflifeanddeath.Whatismore,itwasnotmoneyyouworkedforandearnedthatmattered,butmoneyyouwereborntoorinherited.Peoplewhoworked--businessmen,manufacturers,andevensomeprofessionalpeople,suchaslawyers--werenotacceptedasmembersofthe"gentry."Theywere"intrade,"andthegentrylookeddownonthem.WhileAustenwaswriting,agreatchangewascomingoverEngland.Theindustrialrevolutionwasreachingitsheight,andanewmiddleclassofprosperousfactoryownerswasdeveloping.Yetinthemidstofthischange,oneancientEnglishtraditionstillsurvived,andthatwasthatthetruegentrywerenotthenewlyrichinthecitiesbutthosewholivedontheirinheritedestates.Thenewmiddleclass,whohadbecomerich"intrade,"werethereforebuyingmanorhousesandestatesinthecountry,andsettinguptheirheirsasmembersofthelandedaristocracy.InPrideandPrejudicethetwoleadingmalecharactersrepresentthissocialchange.Mr.Darcy'saristocraticfamilygoesbackforgenerations,andhedrawshisincomefromhisvastestateoftenantfarms.HisfriendMr.Bingley,however,isheirtoafortunemade"intrade"andislookingforasuitablecountryestatetoestablishhimselfintheupperclass.Noticehowdifferentcharactersinthenovelreacttothesesocialdistinctions.JaneAustenherself,throughherheroineElizabeth,expresseshercontemptforsnobbery.You'llfindthatshepokesfunatthesnobsandmakesthemhermostcomicalcharacters.Still,therewasaveryserioussidetoallthis,andthatwasthesituationofyoungwomen.Inourtime,womenhavemanyotherchoicesinadditiontomarriage.InJaneAusten'stimeitwasn'tso.Ayoungwomanofherclassdependedforherhappiness,herhealth,infactthewholeshapeofherlife,onhermakingagoodmarriage.Ifherhusbandwaspoororagambleroradrunkard,sheandherchildrencouldsuffergenuineprivation.Agirlwithnofortuneofherownoftencouldnotattractahusband.Thenshemighthavetobecomeagoverness,livinginotherpeople'shouses,lookingaftertheirchildrenandsubjecttotheirwhims.ThenecessityofmakingagoodmarriageisoneofthemajorthemesofPrideandPrejudice,butthatdoesn'tmeanthenovelisoldfashioned.Infact,youmayfindthatyoucanmakeagoodargumentforcallingJaneAustenafeministandhernovelafeministnovel.It'saseriousnovelinmanyways,butalsoaveryfunnyone.JaneAustenbeganwritingnovelssimplytoentertainherselfandherfamily,withnoideaofhavingherstoriespublished.Inhertime,novelsweren'tconsideredarespectableformofliterature,ratherthewaymurdermysteriesandGothicromancesarelookeddownoninourowntime.Ministerspreachedandsocialcriticsthunderedagainstthehabitofreadingnovels.Meanwhile,hundredsofnovelswerebeingpublished--mostofthemtrashyromancesorwildlyexaggeratedadventur
 
eyarns--andpeoplewentrightonreadingthem.Mostofthesenovels,includingsomeofthebetterones,werewrittenbywomen.Writingwasoneofthefewpossibleoccupationsforanintelligent,educatedwoman.Womencouldwriteathomewhilefulfillingtheirtraditionalroleofrunningahouseholdandbringingupchildren.Theycouldstayoutofthepubliceye,hidingbehindanassumedname.GeorgeEliot'srealnamewasMaryAnnTravers,theBrontesisterswroteunderthenameofBell,andGeorgeSandinreallifewasMadameDudevant.WhenJaneAusten'sbookswerefinallypublished,thankstoherbrotherHenrywhoactedasheragent,thetitlepagejustsaid"ByaLady."Hernovelswerereadbyasmall,exclusiveaudienceduringherlifetime.Shelivedaquietlifeandneveryearnedforcelebrity.Austinwasworkingonhersixthandlastnovel,Persuasion,whenHenryfellillandshemovedtoLondontonursehim.Soonafterwardherownhealthbegantofail.WithCassandraashernurseandcompanion,shemovedtoWinchestertobetreatedbyafamoussurgeonthere.Heapparentlycouldnothelpher,andonJuly18,1817,shedied,justfivemonthsshortofherforty-secondbirthday.Judgingfromherletters,whichradiategoodhumorandlaughoffminormisfortunes,JaneAusten'slife,althoughshort,wasabusyandcontentedone.Ifthelively,wittyElizabethBennetinPrideandPrejudicewasmodeledonanylivingperson,themodelmusthavebeenJaneAustenherself.^^^^^^^^^^PRIDEANDPREJUDICE:THEPLOTIntheneighborhoodoftheBennetfamily'sestateofLongbourn,Mr.Bingley,anattractiveyoungbachelorwithagoodincome,hasmovedintothenearbymanor.HefallsinlovewiththeoldestofthefiveBennetdaughters,Jane.Buthisfriend,wealthyandaristocraticMr.Darcy,disapprovesofBingley'schoice.DarcyconsiderstheBennetfamilytobesociallyinferior,andheplotswithBingley'ssisterstoseparatethelovers.Meanwhile,though,DarcyisfindingithardtoresisthisownincreasingattractiontoJane'snextyoungersister,thevivaciousElizabeth.ElizabethisprejudicedagainstDarcybecauseheseemssoproudandconceited.ShealsosuspectsthathehasinterferedbetweenJaneandBingley.SheisevenmoreputoffwhenshehearsthatDarcyhastreatedayoungman,GeorgeWickham,cruellyandunjustly.WickhamtellsherthatDarcyhasdeniedhimtheinheritancethathisgodfather,Darcy'sfather,lefthim.WickhamcourtsElizabeth,andhisgoodlooks,charmingmanners,andstoryofinjusticeatDarcy'shandswinhersympathyanddeepenherprejudiceagainstDarcy.BecauseMr.Bennethasnoson,hisestatewillbeinheritedbyhisnearestmalerelative,Mr.Collins.ThispompousclergymancomestoLongbournseekingawife.HeproposestoElizabeth,whorejectshim--eventhoughmarryinghimwouldbetheonewaytokeepLongbourninthefamily.Buthewinsherbestfriend,CharlotteLucas,aplainyoungwomanwhomarriesCollinstoescapefromspinsterhoodintoasafe,ifloveless,marriage.Thestorycontinueswithaninterweavingofplotandsubplots.ElizabethvisitsCharlotte,nowMrs.Collins.Darcyvisitshisaunt,LadyCatherine,whoisMr.Collins'spatron.DarcyandElizabethmeetconstantly,andatlastheproposestoher,sayingwithmorehonestythantactthathedoesthisagainsthisbetterjudgment.Sheangrilyrejectshim,accusinghimofdestroyingJane'shappinessandWickham'slegitimateprospects.Later,inanearnestletter,hetellsherthetruthonbothcounts:hedidinterferebetweenJaneandBingley,buthedidnottreatWickhamunjustly.Infact,hesays,Wickhamisathoroughlybadcharacter.ElizabethbelievesDarcyforonce,andherprejudiceagainsthimbeginstoweake

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