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Barron's Booknotes-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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The leading female character in the novel is just under twenty-one. She is not as beautiful as her older sister but pretty enough, with fine eyes and a light, graceful figure. Mr. Darcy is attracted by her looks, but he especially likes what he calls her "lively mind"- she herself calls it her "impertinence." She is quick to make fun of people's absurdities and hypocrisies, but she's also deeply serious about some things-particularly about people's power to make each other happy or unhappy. This seriousness is the main source of her prejudice against Darcy, and also-when she learns more about him-the source of her love for him. Unlike Jane, she is quick to express her feelings; she is fiery in expressing her anger at Darcy for what she believes he has done to make Jane unhappy and to ruin Wickham's prospects. She also tries to persuade her father that he must be firm with Lydia, but she fails to budge him. She is too loyal to criticize her father openly, but she admits to herself that he is wrong in his treatment both of Lydia and of his wife.


Darcy is the leading male character in the novel, a tall, handsome man of twenty-eight, who first scorns and then falls in love with Elizabeth, much against his will. Unlike his friend Bingley, who is delighted with the friendly country society, Darcy's first impression is that there is no one attractive enough to dance with or even talk to. Even Elizabeth seems to him merely "tolerable" when he first sees her. His ancient family name, magnificent estate, and sizable fortune all contribute to his pride. But there's another side to his character, as Elizabeth and we, the readers, learn. He is a generous master to his servants and tenants and a loving brother to his young sister Georgiana. He is so steadfast in his love for Elizabeth-even though she has rejected him,- that he finds and rescues her sister from disgrace. He does this in secret, not expecting even to be thanked for it. He is too honorable to win Elizabeth's hand by this unselfish action alone. He does not want her gratitude; he wants her love. Darcy's character gradually unfolds in the course of the story, and we, along with Elizabeth, like him better the more sides of him we see. We also see that he takes Elizabeth's criticism of him to heart-makes an effort to curb his pride and judge people according to what they really are, not merely by their rank in society. He demonstrates this change by his politeness and then his growing friendship with Elizabeth's aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, even though Mr. Gardiner is "in trade." The gradual revelation and development of Darcy's character-from pride to generosity and gentleness-is one of the strengths of the novel.


Elizabeth's older sister is in her early twenties. She is the family beauty, and she is also the sweetest-natured of the family. She can't see anybody's faults and is never cross or angry. Her calmness and even temper turn out to be a disadvantage to her, however, when she doesn't seem to return Bingley's affection and he is easily discouraged from proposing to her. Although Jane hides her feelings from most people, Elizabeth knows that she really loves Bingley and suffers at losing him.


Darcy's friend provides a contrast to Darcy the way Jane provides contrast to Elizabeth. Where Darcy is proud and hard to please, Bingley is easygoing and ready to like everybody. He is also good-looking and a highly eligible bachelor. As the heir to a fortune, he is looking for a country estate, but he is taking his time and enjoying his freedom. Although he is attractive, he is unsure of himself and quick to believe Darcy when Darcy says that Jane Bennet doesn't love him. When Darcy changes his opinion of the situation, Bingley just as readily renews his attentions to Jane and wins her hand. As Elizabeth says, from Darcy's point of view Bingley is a most convenient friend, so willing to be led in the way that Darcy wants him to go.


Charles's sister is a fashionable young woman and what we today would call a social climber. She would like to forget that her own and her brother's fortunes were made "in trade" and is ambitious to step up higher in society by way of marriage. When Charles seems interested in Jane Bennet, Caroline pretends to be friendly to her, but she lets Jane know that she hopes her brother will marry Darcy's sister. She also conspires with Darcy to separate her brother from Jane. As for Elizabeth, Caroline is barely polite to her face and critical, even spiteful, behind her back. She is obviously jealous of Darcy's growing interest in Elizabeth. She herself had hoped to marry him.


Elizabeth's father is a witty, scholarly country gentleman whose comments and opinions contribute much to the comedy of the novel. But he is also a disappointed man, who long ago gave up all hope of finding happiness in his marriage-and who treats his foolish wife and younger daughters as objects of amusement. He loves his two older girls, Jane and Elizabeth (Elizabeth is his favorite). But his unwillingness to control his wife's silly talk and his youngest daughter Lydia's flirtatious behavior comes close to wrecking both Jane's and Elizabeth's hopes of making happy marriages. Another of his disappointments is that his estate is entailed-meaning that it can go only to a male heir-and he has no son. Like most human beings, he would like to avoid unpleasantness, particularly the unpleasantness of having to save money and provide for the future. In his early years, always expecting the birth of a boy, he saw no need to save any of his income in order to provide for his daughters' future. By the time the fifth Bennet baby turned out to be still another girl, it seemed to him too late to do anything about the situation. Elizabeth loves her father dearly, but even she can't pretend that he doesn't have these serious faults as a husband and father.


Elizabeth's mother is a figure of fun from the very opening scene of the novel; the fact is that she is really not very bright. Her whole purpose in life is to get her daughters married, but her lack of sense and judgment goes far to damage their prospects. She babbles constantly, complains of her nerves, and takes to her bed when things go wrong. She is even more embarrassing to her two older daughters when she is in good spirits, making silly comments and boasting loudly of their expectations. Her indulgence of Lydia's wildness carries the family to the brink of disaster.


The youngest daughter is a feather-brained sixteen-year-old interested only in bonnets, balls, and flirting with the officers stationed in town. She is not beautiful, but her youth and high spirits make her attractive-she is probably much like what Mrs. Bennet was at that age. Like her mother, she has little common sense, no judgment of right and wrong, and no understanding of the suffering her thoughtless behavior causes her family, particularly her older sisters. Both she and Mrs. Bennet take pride in the fact that Lydia is the first of the girls to be married, with no thought at all of the circumstances of the marriage, the character of her husband, and the poor prospects for their future happiness.


Mary is the middle sister, a plain, bookish girl given to showing off her musical accomplishments, much to Elizabeth's embarrassment.


Kitty, as she is called, is older than Lydia but trails after her and shares in the younger girl's misadventures.

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Barron's Booknotes-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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