I have now finished the first three novels written by Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice has by far been my favorite so far. I loved Northanger Abbey because of its heightened irony as a parodied gothic novel. I enjoyed Sense and Sensibility because it questioned, above any other novel that I have read, the relationship between reason and emotion. Now, coming to this third novel, what does it have to offer? It continues on in Austen’s normal wit and irony, and it contrasts and compares the head and the heart. However, there does seem to be much going on in this novel. The main theme I want to speak on is change. Later in the novel, our main character Elizabeth Bennet asks this question:
How is such a man to be worked on? (p. 210, Volume III Chapter IV)
Lizzy asks this question to Darcy, the mysterious man of pride, in relating information about the elopement of her sister. She asks how to deal with her father’s stubbornness in dealing with her sister’s scandal. However, I think this specific question asks a bigger question. How does one change? Austen sets out to answer this question through her characters in this novel.
Darcy is a man of pride. However, Austen does not think his pride so monolithic and simple. Austen, above anyone else I have read, understands the complexities of things such as pride and love. They cannot be narrowed down so easily.
Lizzy is a woman of prejudice. She has knowledge and it cannot be questioned. She is correct all the time. This comes to change of course. But what happens?
[Elizabeth]: “The letter, perhaps, began in bitterness, but it did not end so. The adieu is charity itself. But think no more of the letter. The feelings of the person who wrote, and the person who received it, are now so widely different form what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it, ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.”
[Darcy]: “I cannot give you credit for any philosophy of the kind. Your retrospections must be so totally void of reproach, that the contentment arising form them, is not of philosophy, but what is much better, of innocence. But with me, it is not so. Painful recollections will intrude, which cannot, which ought not to be repelled. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son, (for many years an only child) I was spoilt by my parents, who though good themselves, (my father particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable,) allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared to my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You shewed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased. (p. 282, Volume III Chapter XVI)
The novel starts out in sin. Darcy has his pride. Elizabeth sees Darcy’s pride and laughs. But Darcy reminds Elizabeth (through this, Austen is reminding the reader as well): “There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome” (p. 43, Volume I Chapter XI). I agree with the firs half of the sentence. There does seem to be in each and every one of these characters (and us) evil. Darcy has pride, but Elizabeth is not without sin; she struggles with prejudice. The characters start out in their faulty ways. Then, someone reveals their defect. Elizabeth reveals Darcy’s character when he first proposes to her. She is wrong in much of her accusations, but she is spot on with his pride. Darcy exposes Elizabeth in the letter he writes to her explaining himself. After their is exposure, there is recognition and recollection. Not only do the characters see the accusation, but they see the accusation to bear some sort of truth. Elizabeth and Darcy see that they are actually imperfect, not merely that someone says they are imperfect. This recognition leads to a humility; a realization that one is not better than others, but in fact worse. This humility leaves the soul open to change and formation in the ways of goodness. Darcy and Elizabeth thus go through the gradual process of change as they go through accusation, recognition, and submission in humility.