Queensland University of Technology,
Lecture by Professor Phillip Nielsen.
KWB207: Notes for 15 May, 2013.
Pride & Prejudice:
Pride and Prejudice is a Regency Romance by Jane Austen. It tells the story of the Bennet family. Mr.
Bennet has 5 daughters, but according to English primogeniture laws, he could only pass his manor
on to sons, and his daughters are not prepared to join the working classes. Hence, the girls’ main
goal is to find husbands. Jane finds a husband early on, Mr. Bingley, but Elizabeth gets proposed to
by the rich, handsome, and arrogant Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. She refuses, but he keeps courting her
anyway. Mr. Wickham, a friend of Darcy’s, runs off with the youngest Bennet daughter, Lydia, which
provides much scandal and opportunities for sarcasm. In the end, Elizabeth falls for Darcy, and they
get married, leaving Elizabeth very wealthy (Darcy’s salary would put him, if he were real, in the top
400 richest men in England at the time).
The novel deconstructs the idea of love at first sight, and is still immensely popular. Parallels can be
drawn between this and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, particularly the pairing of
Elizabeth and Darcy, which parallels the bickering of Beatrice & Benedick.
The concerns during the early 19 century were the social environment as opposed to the individual
(Think of society/the family), the rise of the middle class, where capitalists could become wealthier
than even nobles. Marriage could improve your standing, but this was always quite fragile, and you
could fall easily. Even Darcy’s reputation wasn’t safe. At this time, we had the circulating public
libraries, and women novelists started coming out of the woodwork. The price of paper increased
because of the Napoleonic wars, so we had the circulating libraries and book clubs. A circulating
library was very popular in holiday towns, like Bath or Brighton. These things were private, and had a
lot of First Editions sold to them. Austen herself was quite popular here.
The novel wasn’t universally liked: Emily Bronte called it “Constrained” and “Confined”. Joseph
Conrad said he “Didn’t get it”. However, the first copy sold out, second print run also did. These
however, weren’t huge numbers, and the author Walter Scott sold more in her time. It was only
after Austen died that she really took off.
Austen thought the novel was too bright, and we only get a general description of Darcy, i.e. tall, rich
and handsome. Elizabeth is headstrong, beautiful and loyal, and she is rewarded, as opposed to
punished for having her own point of view. There’s the wedding and a happy ever after. The Regency
Romance became a genre.
The novel is very domestic. The personal is very political, with the two major character’s flaws:
Elizabeth is prejudiced, but Darcy is proud and arrogant. Both need to get over it before they reach a
rational happiness. Letters are important, because there’s more freedo