Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
8. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and her sister Emily's Wuthering Heights are leading examples of nineteenth century romantic novels, in which the characters undergo dramatic experiences and express intense passions and emotions. Jane Austen lived under the classical restraints of the eighteenth century, when it was considered proper to keep passions and emotions under control. Bronte was scornful of this control, and of the attention to propriety and good manners in Austen's novels. But she can be proved wrong in saying that Austen did not write about her characters' hearts. As early as Chapter 6 we have evidence of jealousy in Caroline Bingley's spiteful remarks about Elizabeth Bennet's family. In Chapter 10 Jane Bennet suffers her first disappointment in Bingley's attentions and it is clear that she is seriously in love. The most revealing exposure of her characters' hearts, however, comes in Chapter 34, in the scene in Hunsford parsonage, when Darcy, much against his will, declares his love for Elizabeth, and Elizabeth tells him off in a burst of anger for his treatment of Jane and Wickham. In Darcy's letter (Chapter 35) strong feelings of bitterness, injury, and regret are mingled with love and longing for Elizabeth's good opinion. It is not difficult to show that, within the convention of her time and the restrictions of her own way of life, Jane Austen wrote eloquently about her characters' hearts.
9. You may answer this question either yes or no, and find evidence in the novel to support either position. If you agree with Elizabeth that Charlotte is wrong to marry a man she cannot respect, let alone love, you can back your opinion (in Chapter 22) by pointing out Elizabeth's shocked disbelief and her answer to Charlotte's defense of her decision. But note that Elizabeth has to change her opinion somewhat (Chapter 28) when she sees Charlotte's unobtrusive but ingenious arrangements to keep her ridiculous husband out of her way, and when she observes Charlotte's contentment with the hardwon security of an independent household of her own. This is an opportunity to expand on the lot of women in Jane Austen's class and time, who often had to make such hard choices as Charlotte's. You might note, on the opposing side, that Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra both chose spinsterhood and were apparently contented with their choice, from the evidence of Jane's cheerful letters.
10. You can make a case for good manners in the serious sense in which Jane Austen treats them. In recent years young people have been scornful of manners as boring, artificial, and hypocritical. But every society has had its rules of social behavior, even the rough, pioneer society of the American Wild West. Jane Austen's world was pretty well dominated by such social forms as paying calls, making conversation, avoiding painful subjects. In Pride and Prejudice she shows how necessary these forms are as a kind of oil that smooths relationships and makes for consideration of others' feelings. Notice (in Chapter 45) during the morning call of Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner at Pemberley that Georgiana's companion is the one who keeps a polite conversation going, covering for Georgiana's shyness, and that Caroline Bingley violates good manners by her malicious remark about the officers, causing pain both to Darcy and his sister. But note also that when Austen's characters break the rules, it is either to reveal strong feelings, as in Caroline Bingley's case, or for the sake of comedy, as when Lady Catherine de Bourgh pries into the Bennet family arrangements in order to criticize them in her bossy way (Chapter 29). Mr. Collins' bowing and scraping (Chapters 14 and 18) are examples of good manners that have been carried to a ridiculous extreme. Your essay will give you an opportunity to explore good manners either as a form of civilized consideration for others, or as a cover for hypocrisy and social deceit. You will not find support for this latter judgment in Pride and Prejudice, however, because Jane Austen never saw good manners that way.
11. In the character of Darcy, Jane Austen gives us an example of the privileged life of the well-to-do landed gentry of her time. As Darcy's character unfolds, it becomes clear that privilege brings with it responsibility. Jane Austen was an accurate reporter of the society in which she lived. In eighteenth and nineteenth century England, the upper class of wealthy and educated men took over the responsibilities not only for government, but for charity, social welfare, and social reform. In Pride and Prejudice this responsibility becomes part of the story when Darcy's housekeeper (in Chapter 43), showing Elizabeth and the Gardiners through Pemberley, tells of his generous treatment of his servants and tenants, and Elizabeth muses on how many people's happiness lies within his guardianship. Darcy's sense of responsibility impresses her with his worth. Can you see a connection between modern philanthropies, foundations, art museum and university bequests by people of great wealth with this eighteenth century linkage of privilege and responsibility?
12. While the theme of her novel is getting her young women married, Jane Austen, unlike the romantic novelists, was not content to end her story with "And they lived happily ever after" but dared to examine the institution of marriage itself. She gives us five married couples, all different. The first, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, are introduced on the very first page and reappear throughout the novel. Mr. Bennet is the type of a husband who uses his featherbrained wife as a source of wry amusement. Even Elizabeth, who loves her father, admits to herself that his lack of respect for his marriage partner is a serious fault in a husband (Chapters 36, 42). Charlotte Lucas, married to Mr. Collins, wins Elizabeth's admiration for her management of her ridiculous husband, but hers is obviously a marriage of security rather than of happiness. Lydia's marriage to Wickham, a necessity to restore her respectability in society's eyes, soon loses all pretense of affection and deteriorates into the shallow relationship expected of two such irresponsible characters (Chapter 61). As for the two romantic marriages, Jane to Bingley and Elizabeth to Darcy, Mr. Bennet makes his ironic predictions (Chapter 59), and the novel closes with brief accounts of their happiness. The two marriages are different in quality but still both successful. What conclusions can you draw about Jane Austen's opinion of marriage? It seems that the success of a marriage in Austen's would-as perhaps in oursdepends on the characters of the married pair and the motives that brought them together in the first place.