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Understanding Pride and Prejudice

The classic novel Pride and Prejudice is set in 19th-century England and features Elizabeth Bennet, one of five daughters from a respectable family. While there are many characters and developing relationships in this story, the main thread follows Elizabeth and a man called Mr. Darcy, who initially seem to detest one another, but later fall in love.

The novel examines ‘pride’ (an excessively high opinion of oneself) and ‘prejudice’ (judgmental beliefs not based on reason), against the backdrop of family, society and status.

Context

The novel was published in 1813. It is one of the most popular novels in the English language ever written, selling over twenty million copies worldwide.

Although it is not stated in the novel, it is written against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars. This was a series of wars between France and other European countries, including England. They started in 1799 and ended when Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Jane Austen grew up in Steventon, a small village in Hampshire, and was the seventh of eight siblings. Her father was a Church of England clergyman (religious leader). She published all her novels anonymously and only became famous after her death. Though her novels concern marriage and dramatic events, Jane was single all her life.

Genre of the novel

The novel can be classified into different genres:

GenreFeatures of this genreHow we see this in Pride and Prejudice
Novel of mannersRecreates the customs, etiquettes and habits in the social world.

There is a strong concern with characters behaving in a socially acceptable way. Some characters will meet the expected customs of the society, while others will differ from them.
There are strict behaviour codes in the society of the novel. When characters break these, they are judged harshly by others.

The Bingley sisters are appalled when Elizabeth walks to Netherfield rather than going by carriage. Lydia’s relationship outside of marriage with George Wickham risks being a scandal for her and the family. They have to marry to make this respectable.
RomanceThere has to be a love story at the centre of the plot.

There will be challenges and obstacles that prevent the couple from being together. It typically ends with the couple being together and having a hopeful future.
The novel sets up the relationship between the strong, independent Elizabeth and the mysterious, powerful Mr Darcy. They are prevented from being together because of Elizabeth’s initial dislike for him for how he has treated others.

She also has an initial attraction for Mr Wickham. Elizabeth’s love for Darcy grows after his actions in preventing Lydia’s disgrace. Ultimately, she agrees to his proposal.

The Narrator

  • The novel uses a third-person omniscient narrator. Omniscient means that the narrator has knowledge of all events and characters.
  • As well as telling the story, the narrator often comments on characters and events. This shapes the reader’s opinions. For example, at the beginning of the novel, Mr Bennett is described as “so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve and caprice.”

Tone

  • The novel is written in a witty and humorous way. Much of the humour and wit is evident in the dialogue, such as the bickering between Mr and Mrs Bennet.
  • Several characters, such as Mr Collins, are shown to be foolish and ignorant in a way that amuses the reader.

Settings

  • The events take place at the start of the 1800s. George Wickham is a soldier, and there are several mentions of the military; these hint at the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars.
  • The events of the novel move across different counties, including Hertfordshire, Derbyshire, Kent, Sussex and London.
  • Most of the novel takes place within homes and estates. These include Longbourn (home of the Bennets), Netherfield Park (home of the Bingleys), Lucas Lodge (home of the Lucases), and Pemberley (home of Mr Darcy).

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