Pride and Prejudice
‘Pride is a very common failing, that human nature is particularly prone to...'
Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship is one wrought with this ‘blind, partial prejudice’ as they struggle to realise their own feelings and grow to love one another. This is due to the considerable inequality in social status and strong-willed stubbornness of Darcy and Elizabeth, which make them an unexpected match in the early 1800’s; the time during which Pride and Prejudice is set. However, despite Elizabeth’s low social standing, and inferior relations, her witty and intelligent nature is enough to secure Darcy’s heart. Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship epitomises love, status inequality, change, pride and prejudice.
It only took one evening for Mr Darcy to be decided as the ‘proudest, most disagreeable man in the world’ as he took no interest in people whose society he deemed unworthy. He only engaged with those of his own party and looked towards everyone else with contempt. While this was despicable behaviour, in some respects, Mr Darcy’s pride was justified. He did earn ‘ten thousand a year,’ owned the grand estate Pemberley and was a member of the esteemed upper class. Yet he takes this pride too far and allows himself treat those beneath him with barely more than cold civility. It is only when Elizabeth confronts him about his behaviour after the proposal that Mr Darcy begins to behave in a ‘more gentleman like manner.’ This moment signals the change in Darcy and is reflected by his kind attentions and politeness to the Gardiners later, whom he had previously believed held a status decidedly beneath his own. Only through Elizabeth is Darcy able to recognise his ‘abominable’ pride and learn to overcome it.
Elizabeth has her own kind of pride and although it is different to Mr Darcy’s it too impacts on her reason and good judgement. She so fully trusted her ability to discern that she immediately believed Wichkams’ story about Darcy and did not question its legitimacy. In this instance she is later proven to be wrong and this discovery utterly changes her perceptions of the two men. Elizabeth also displays pride in that she does not doubt her worthiness to such a wealthy man as Mr Darcy, despite her poor connections. This is revealed through her conversation with Lady Catherine where Elizabeth states that as she is a gentleman’s daughter and is therefore equal to Mr Darcy.
Darcy directs prejudice towards members of inferior classes which stem from his conditioning and privileged upbringing as a child. This drives him to believe that such people, including Elizabeth, are unworthy of his respect and society.
Elizabeth demonstrates prejudice as without even knowing Mr Darcy she declares him the ‘last man in the world she could ever be prevailed upon to marry.’ Perhaps this can be explained by her overhearing Mr Darcy’s rude judgement that while ‘tolerable’ she was ‘not handsome enough to tempt' him. However Elizabeth maintains an obstinate approach in her opinion whereas Darcy overcomes his initial feelings. Elizabeth accepts and does not question negative rumours against Darcy that circulate the town and does not look for any further knowledge to solidify her unfounded opinions. She truly acted like a ‘head-strong, foolish girl.’
Social Status - ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’
The Bennet family is a middle class family, who, in the eyes of upper class individuals such as Darcy, are inferior and undesirable. This is evident through Darcy's remark that ‘there is no other woman in the room, whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with. You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room.'
In Darcy’s perspective, marrying a woman of equal status is of importance to him. However, as his love for Elizabeth continues to flourish throughout the novel, he is able to 'remove his former prejudices' and admit his love for Elizabeth. This is a pivotal point in the novel as initially, this prejudice towards Elizabeth's social standing was one of the obstacles impeding their romantic relationship.
Elizabeth is not impressed by mere wealth or status, and instead values 'intelligence, good-manners, and virtue.' This is, however, an unusual attitude to hold during the 1800s, and proves to be the complete antithesis of the conventional sentiments of the time, which more accurately reflect those held by Mrs. Bennet. For Mrs. Bennet, ‘the business of her life was to get her daughters married’, which is evident through her words, ‘if I can see all my daughters well married, I shall have nothing to wish for.’ Mrs. Bennet pursues this life goal with so much dedication and passion, that she often is the source of crude embarrassment to her family, Elizabeth in particular. It is this behaviour that Darcy frowns upon as being typical of the middle class. Darcy reminds Elizabeth of the large gap in their social status, by stating that Elizabeth could hardly expect him to 'rejoice' in her 'inferior connections.' The lack of this behaviour is what enables Elizabeth to escape this class, and be seen as a worthy wife in the eyes of Darcy.
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.'
Elizabeth and Darcy represent a relationship that is obscure and uncommon during their time. This is predominately because of their large gap in social status, which would usually be enough to ensure that they would never marry. Nonetheless they overcome this barrier to become one of the most cherished love stories in history.
Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship changes significantly throughout the novel, from one extreme to the other. Elizabeth’s initial opinion of Darcy is that ‘he is the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world’. However, this opinion metamorphoses Elizabeth ‘thinks Mr. Darcy improves on acquaintance.'
Elizabeth’s attitude towards Darcy develops throughout the novel. Initially, ‘he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust, which turned the tide of his popularity, for he was discovered to be proud’. This discovery of Darcy’s pride was revealed when he refused to dance a single dance at the Netherfield Ball, and humiliated Elizabeth’s pride by declining to dance with her, due to her lack of beauty, ‘she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me’. From this point onwards, Elizabeth regards Darcy with distaste and contempt. These feelings are further heightened with the recount of Wickham’s deceitful story and the belief that Darcy caused her sister’s despair, by separating Jane and Mr. Bingley.
However, towards the conclusion of the novel, when Elizabeth reads Darcy's letter and his attributes are confirmed by his housekeeper ('I have never had a cross word from him in my life' and his the best landlord and the best master.') her thoughts begin to change. This change is evident as Elizabeth allows herself to imagine what it would be like to be Darcy’s mistress. Elizabeth’s desirable feelings towards Darcy are cemented with the discovery that Darcy saved the reputation of the Bennet family from Lydia’s elopement.
Mr Collins, awkward and solemn,' 'I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage sate.' (Charlotte)
On many levels the relationship between Mr Collins and Charlotte strongly contrasts that of Elizabeth and Darcy. To a large extent their marriage is one devoid of pride and prejudice, or at least these feelings are not directed towards each other.
Mr Collins feels prides himself on his connection to Lady Catherine. It is something which he continuously boasts of… He also portrays a sense of pride in receiving Elizabeth’s refusal of marriage. This he dismisses as common politeness and it takes some time for him to believe she is serious about not accepting him.
Charlotte likewise desires to be married. She is realistic and intelligent and knows that with her plain looks, position in life and age, she is unlikely to receive any other offers. Charlotte recognises the consequence of not being married which is to live under her younger brother with his support, and to her this would be a humiliating situation. Therefore her acceptance of Mr Collins can be attributed both to her sense of pride, common sense and desire to run her own home.
‘When you have had time to think it over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins's character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.’
Charlotte says this to Elizabeth in an attempt to ask Elizabeth to remove any of her prejudices against Mr. Collins, and to withhold from making any judgments on Charlotte about her marriage to Mr. Collins, as although Elizabeth would not be able to marry Mr. Collins and be happy, that doesn’t infer that no one could marry Mr. Collins and be happy, as in this case, Charlotte believes that she and Mr. Collins will be quite happy together.
Meanwhile Charlotte simply cannot afford to have prejudice as she suffers the limitations of being a poor woman in upper class society.
Mr. Collins’ marriage to Charlotte is of an advantageous nature; and is somewhat influenced by the pressure applied by his superior, Lady Catherine de Bourg, who believes that ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ Mr. Collins is not an upper class individual, however he is wealthy to an extent. Furthermore, in comparison to Charlotte, who is still living at home at the age of 27 and being supported by her parents, Mr. Collins is a man with money and prosperity! Mr. Collins can provide Charlotte with security, wealth and what might be her last chance to be mistress of her own house. In turn, Charlotte ‘accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment’
Therefore, Charlotte marries Mr. Collins for advantageous motives, and as a pragmatic transaction rather than as a romantic attachment. This is in stark contrast to Elizabeth's marriage, which is for love, and nothing less.
Mr. Collins represents the upper-middle class society, and has prospects of wealth, as ‘Mr. Bennet’s property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entitled in default of heirs male, on a distant relation’, which is Mr. Collins.
Despite Mr. Collins’ wealth, he remains inferior to Lady Catherine de Bourg, who is his ladyship, and the woman he spends all his time and energy toying around in an attempt to impress and please. Mr. Collins lacks characteristics of the middle to upper class, such as poise and intelligence. Instead, ‘Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man.’
Charlotte represents poor women of the upper class, and therefore must marry advantageously, as although she is not marrying into extreme upper class, she is still marrying into more status than she has originally, which was quite little due to the fact that she was still living at home, and had nothing she could call her own.