1. Elizabeth Bennet's sister Mary embarrasses herself at Netherfield by her proud display at the pianoforte. Austen writes:
Mary... in consequence of being the only plain one in the family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments, and was always impatient for display... had neither genius nor taste, and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached." (1.6, 17)
How does Mary's behavior validate Alexander Pope's warnings in "Essay on Criticism"? In what other ways do the characters in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice validate Pope's admonitions? (Lily Huang)
2. Elizabeth tells Darcy this in an attempt to rationalize his feelings for her,"To be sure, you knew no actual good of me- but nobody thinks of that when they fall in love" (244). So, if love is not the admiration of good qualities, what is Austen's version of love? Quite evidently, from the fairly restrained nature of the relationships in the novel, it is not unmitigated passion. Is it a deep friendship combined with economic suitability? What is the difference between the three young love relationships: Elizabeth and Darcy, Bingley and Jane, and Lydia and Wickham? With how much sarcasm does Austen frequently use the phrase "violently in love?" Does love mean happiness to Austen? (Megan Lynch)
3. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth repeatedly rebuffs Mr.Collin's proposal of marriage. Mr.Collins, however, disregards her refusals as merely temporary resistance characteristic of female behavior.
To this, Elizabeth responds
"I do assure you, Sir, that I have no pretension whatever to that kind of elegance wich consists in tormenting a respectable man. I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed sincere. I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible...Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from the heart."
Throughout the story, Elizabeth emerges as unique among the Bennett daughters, a woman who asserts her independence and is, in some ways impertinent, yet is ultimately a moral and sympathetic character. How does this quotation indicate that she is unique? How does her character contrast with the customary role and portrayal of women in English society? Using this quotation as evidence, what is Austin trying to say about society's values in regard to both proper behavior and pursuit of marriage? Is Elizabeth a self-absorbed woman putting her needs above her family's, or is she a refreshingly candid and noble character deserving of praise? Does this response contribute to the complexities of her character? (John Rosenblatt)
4. In Jane Austen's novel, Pride and Predjudice, the characters all speak of pride as a failing human characteristic. It seems that all the unlikeable characters have an excess of pride, which causes them to be outcasts of society. Elizabeth speaks of Mr. Darcy's pride and how his personality has much to be improved on. Mary, the sister who is not at all concerned with society, believes that many people have too much pride:
Pride...is a very common failing, I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed, that human nature is particularly prone to it, and there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud with being vain. Pride relates more to our opinions of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us. (14)
Do Mary's ideas of pride relate to Samual Johnson's theories on human vanity?
Is it good to have some pride within oneself, or is it too dangerous, in fear of becoming a vain individual? How does this relate to the characters in Austen's novel? (Kate Edwards)
5. In Pride and Prejudice, there is a persistent conflict between generations. Marriage is often the symbolic concession or refutation of the characterÝs parents. Conceding to a parents wishes, against one's own, leaves the possibility of a life of values similar to the previous generation. Charlotte Lucas gloomily reflects her motherÝs wishes when she says, /p>
"I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins's character, connections, 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."
Elizabeth is shocked by the severity of such a concession. She could not suppose that Charlotte would sacrifice "every better feeling to worldly advantage." (end of Chapter 22)
Does Austen provide the ground for the collision of two worlds with schisms greater than the traditional generation gap? Do profound static and dynamic roles of the characters help to accentuate this comparison, or merely discredit the author's reliability in providing an account that is fair to both sides? Or does it even matter what side the author picks, as long as we are made aware of the conflict? (Kirk Fanelly)
6. The role of satire in the novel: how much of Austen's prose should be read as straght satire of women/men relationships, and how much is actually sincere commentary of the importance of virtue and honesty in marriage? What are the functions of the main characters? Do they serve as caricature portraits of society? Should we attempt to extract them from their social context in order to anayalze the novel? (Molly Rosen)
7. What is the function of gaze in a novel where characters' speech is a comparitively ineffective form of communication, a world in which "nothing she could say, however, had any influence?" (p. 67) Characters often turn to glances for answers as when Elizabeth "could not help frequently glancing her eye at Mr. Darcy, though every glance convinced her of what she dreaded; for though he was not always looking at her mother, she was invariably convinced that his attention was invariably fixed by her." (p. 67) Do non-verbal forms of communication prove effective or the cause of further problems and miscommunication? (Paul Grellong)
8. Accusations of pride and vanity come up again and again in Pride and Prejudice. Although both traits are often attributed to one person, they aren't the same thing:"Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonimously. A person may be proud without beng vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us."(15) When is pride a fault and when is it forgivable, even neccessary? When does pride become a vehicle for action, when its impediment in the text? How does the distinction between pride and vanity operate in the text? (Kieran Heffernan)
9. Pride and Prejudice deals extensively with the problem of understanding, analyzing, and defining an individual's character. Many of the people in the novel seem preoccupied in trifling and shallow existences, and individuals such as Mary, Lydia, Mr. Collins, Charlotte, and Mrs. Bennet have very flat characters. However, the main characters, namely Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, are very complex and three-dimensional in their characterization. Readers struggle to create a meaningful picture of these characters in their minds as they read, soon realizing, like Elizabeth and Darcy as they undertake a similar quest, that a true characterization is seemingly impossible, and perhaps even robbing individuals of all that makes them real:
"May I ask to what these questions tend?" [Darcy]
"Merely to the illustration of your character," said she, endeavouring to shake off her gravity. "I am trying to make it out."
"And what is your success?"
She shook her head. "I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly."
"I can readily believe," answered he gravely, "that report may vary greatly with respect to me; and I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either (63-64)."
How does Austen challenge our assumptions (and the assumptions of the characters in Pride and Prejudice) and cause us to question our ways of approaching and categorizing individuals? And why does she insert so many flat characters, with easily-packaged personalities, among the more complex characters whose lives are so engrossing? (Maura McKee)
10. After reading the first third of Pride and Prejudice, I have nothing that I want to ask, nor anything I wish to put forth for discussion. The book is boring — but since I must, consider the last paragraph of the first chapter:
Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her[Mrs. Bennet's] mind was less difficult to develope. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.
So, feminist thinkers, what do we make of a woman writer writing about a woman in such a way? (Wes Hamrick)
11. Within the society that Jane Austen depicts throughout her novel, Pride and Prejudice, women are confined to social conventions. Through the discourse of conversation between characters, we learn what is expected of women, such as,
A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions. (p.27)
While Austen presents to us characters who esteem such an abundance of narrow qualities in women, she moreover presents to us a few characters who do not strictly obey convention. Through the voice of Elizabeth, for example, we witness a young woman who rejects the marriage request of Mr.Collins and defies her mother's wishes concerning the subject. We also see Elizabeth disapprove of Miss Lucas's decision to marry for non romantic, practical reasons. It is evident that Austen is providing a window through which the reader has the opportunity to judge conventionality. And it is significant that this window is seen especially through the eyes of a woman. But how far does Austen allow women to stray from convention? And how deeply does she permit us to judge convention? After all, the focus of the story is centered around the conventions and expectations of courtship and marriage. (Kristen Dodge)
12. I noticed that, upon finishing the book, that Pride and Prejudice can be summed up in its very first line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." To what extent to you agree or disagree with this idea? I believe this because the story focuses on Jane and Elizabeth's quests for their husbands. What is Jane Austen trying to say by making this such a big focus of these two character's lives? I also notices that Mary shows almost no interest in men, while the other four sisters think of men constantly- how does this change our opinion of Mary? Do we think she's strange for being so interested in books? Is this what Austen wants us to think? Was marriage necessary to justify a woman's existence at that time in history? (Erin Emlock)
There is an obvious comparison being made between the two elder Bennet's. Mrs. Bennet is set up as a sort of over-exaggeration of a mother dutifully trying to marry her daughters away at all costs. Mr. Bennet is bestowed with an awareness of the absurdity of such a character. This is made most clear by his statement to Elizabeth after her refusal of Mr. Collins' hand, "Your mother will never marry you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do." (Pg. 85, Bantam Classics edition/March 1981) As a reader we tend to side with Mr. Bennet and the voice of apparent reason. But in such a time as the book takes place, is he being reasonable? Is Mrs. Bennet perhaps the reasonable one, having a clear idea of the such match-makings importance. Can a sort of blindness be attributed to both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, even though Mr. Bennet is portrayed in such an agreeable way and Mrs. Bennet made mockery of. Are our prejudices blinding us to necessity? (Ryan Martin)
13. In the first chapters of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, it is striking how, as we are introduced to the male characters, how much their wealth (capital) is discussed, and just how outright the discussion is. "Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year." (p. 8) Is capital background or foreground in this text? Could capital be read as lack, in the psychoanalytic sense? (Geoffrey Litwack)
In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen seems to establish to distinct worlds in order to critique her society. The first world, epitomized by Mrs. Bennett, concerns itself primarily with adhering to petty social conventions and finding "suitable" marraige partners. In stark contrast to this world, Austen presents a seemingly much more modern character, Elizabeth, who immediately comments on the "insipidity and yet the noise; the nothingness and yet the self-importance of all these people." But beyond her ability to recognize the foolishness of the society around her, how modern and sensible is Elizabeth? Certainly, she falters midway through the novel, but redeems herself through self-awareness: "I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and have driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never really knew myself." After this important realization, how are Elizabeth's decisions and behaviors influenced by her society and her own pride and prejudices? (Darren Martin)
14. Elizabeth states that "Our importance [as a family], our respectability in the world must be affected by the wild volatility, the assurance and disdain of all restraint which mark Lydia's character"(pg.49 of my edition). However, this doctrine is one which she is hard pressed to hold herself to, and later advises Jane in quite a different fashion. Jane asks" But why should you wish to persuade me that I feel more than I acknowledge?" Elizabeth responds "That is a question which I hardly know how to answer. We all love to instruct though we can teach only what is not worth knowing. Forgive me; and if you persist in indifference, do not make me your confidante" (p. 162). Is it this dilemma between honest action, and polite reserve which is the source of Elizabeth's problems, or is it truly the struggle of clashing prides? (Julianna Sassaman)
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000