Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen’s most famous novel is almost universally loved for its classic, clever love story. When Elizabeth Bennet overhears Fitzwilliam Darcy refer to her as “tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me”, the die is cast — and they spend the rest of the novel navigating more misunderstandings and complicated emotions. Finally, of course, they reach an understanding and live happily ever after. But Pride and Prejudice is more than a love story: it is a lighthearted commentary on wealth, class, family, duty, communication and women’s place in society. And Austen conveys all this with warm characters, vivid storytelling and a sharp satirical wit.
Pride and Prejudice opens with a reflection on the importance of marriage: “It is a truth universally acknowledged” that wealthy, single men must be looking for a wife. For the Bennet sisters, marriage means security and a new life. For Elizabeth, it must also mean love. How has marriage changed?
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The Bennets are not poor — they are still part of England’s upper class. But they are certainly poorer than most of the characters of that class: the five sisters cannot inherit property, so they must marry to secure their future. Wealth, class and all of its trappings are still fiercely debated today.
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“A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern languages…” There were many pressures on women in Austen’s world (end of 18th to early 19th century), and little independence. Society has come a long way — but how much is left to do?
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Pride is tricky: it can bring people together, or it can make them blind to their own failures. In Pride and Prejudice, everyone at some point takes pleasure in their own achievements, or place in society. What makes us feel proud in the 21st century — and is it ever deserved?
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Elizabeth thinks Mr Darcy is a snob. He looks down on Elizabeth’s family — as does Lady Catherine. The characters in the novel, just like people in real life, are constantly making judgements about one another. What prejudices do we still grapple with today?
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