Both Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" set up contrasts between pretentious individuals and common integrity; both, with pointed satire, question the precepts of the upper social class. The two authors create ridiculous characters who consider themselves far above the others, but whom the reader sees as conceited and ridiculous. In Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine, blown full of social status, social standing, and pomp, ridicules and attempts to control the supposedly lesser world around her according to her precepts. To her, "honor, decorum, prudence, nay, interest forbid" the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. The "alliance will be [a] disgrace; [Elizabeth's] name will never even be mentioned by any of us." To Lady Catherine, this high-handedness is logical and necessary: the difference in social spheres between her and Elizabeth gives her the perfect right to meddle as she will. But both Elizabeth and the reader see through this asinine woman's attitude. The "extraordinary sources of happiness attached to her situation" of marriage would far outweigh any petty snobbishness, because to her the love she feels and the personal worth she has are the most important things. Pretentious dignity takes second seat to personal integrity.

Similarly, Pope's "Rape of the Lock" contrasts the empty ostentation of Sir Plume with the quiet common dignity of the nymph Clarissa's speech. Sir Plume represents the worst elements of vanity and misplaced respect. He is "of amber snuffbox justly vain,/ and the nice conduct of a clouded cane" (Canto 4, 123). His self-pride comes not from character traits, but from artificial markings of wealth and upper social class. Similarly, his speech, though applauded by the Baron, is as empty yet as haughty as his character:

"My Lord, why, what the devil!
Z — -ds! damn the lock! 'fore Gad, you must be civil!
Plague on 't! 'tis past a jest — nay prithee, pox!
Give her the hair" — he spoke, and rapped his box. (Canto 4, 127-130)

As though his snuff-box and aristocracy can somehow make up for his evident vacousness, he stands proud of an insipid and unmoving speech. Like Lady Catherine, he believes that his position should preempt any rationality. Only Clarissa wonders, "Say why are beauties praised and honored most,/ The wise man's passion, and the vain man's toast?" (Canto 5, 9-10) Only she sees "How vain are all these glories, all our pains,/ Unless good sense preserve what beauty gains" (Canto 5, 15-16). Her emphasis on good sense above the vanity of Sir Plume neatly matches Elizabeth's concern with the personal above the external.

Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000