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Pride Essay, Research Paper
The news that a wealthy young gentleman named Charles Bingley has rented the manor known as Netherfield Park causes a great stir in the neighboring village of Longbourn, especially in the Bennet household. The Bennets have five unmarried daughters, and their mother, a foolish and fussy gossip, recognizes that “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” She sees Bingley’s arrival as an opportunity for one of the girls to obtain a wealthy spouse, and therefore insists that her husband call on the new arrival immediately.
Mr. Bennet does so, after tormenting his family by pretending to refuse, and Mr. Bingley returns the visit. The Bennets invite him to dinner shortly afterward, but he is called away to London. Soon, however, he returns to Netherfield Park with his two sisters, his brother-in-law, and a friend named Darcy, and all five come to a ball in the nearby town of Meryton.
The Bennet sisters attend the ball with their mother, and the eldest, Jane, dances twice with Bingley, who declares her to be “the most beautiful creature” he ever beheld. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is snubbed by Darcy: both sit out a dance, and when Bingley suggests that his friend dance with Elizabeth, Darcy says that “she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me,” and goes on to declare that he has no interest in women who are “slighted by other men.” Because of these comments, and his refusal to dance with anyone not rich or well-bred, the neighborhood takes a dislike to Darcy. Meanwhile, Bingley is declared to be “amiable.”
At the end of the evening, the Bennet females return to their house, where Mrs. Bennet regales her husband with stories from the evening until he insists that she be silent. Upstairs, Jane expresses surprise that Bingley danced with her twice, Eliza tells her sister that she is unaware of her own beauty. Both girls agree that Bingley’s sisters are not well-mannered, but Jane insists that they are charming in close conversation, while Eliza continues to harbor a dislike for the two.
The author then provides us with Bingley’s background: we learn that he inherited a hundred thousand pounds from his father, but for now, in spite of his sisters’ complaints, he lives as a tenant. His friendship with Darcy is “steady,” despite their opposite characters, which are illustrated in their reactions to the Meryton ball. Bingley, cheerful and sociable, has an excellent time and is taken with Jane; Darcy, more clever but less tactful, finds the people dull and even criticizes Jane for smiling too often.
Bingley’s sisters, on the other hand, find Jane to be “a sweet girl,” and Bingley therefore feels secure in his good opinion of her.
The opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice — “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” — is one of the most famous first lines in literature. It immediately establishes the centrality of marriage to the novel: first, by introducing the arrival of Mr. Bingley, an event that sets the plot in motion; second, by its implication that the real truth is that a single woman must also be in want of a husband.
The first chapter is nearly all dialogue. Its last paragraph, in which Mr. Bennet is described as a “mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice,” and his wife as “a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper,” only affirms what the reader has already learned from their conversation. The character of the mother, indeed, remains on the level of ill-breeding and one-note hysteria throughout the novel. And while Mr. Bennet’s retreat into his wit and his library seem less sympathetic by the end of the book, the pattern of his behavior is accurately portrayed in the first conversation with his wife.
This opening typifies Austen’s method of characterization, in which people are revealed through dialogue. There is little physical description of the characters in Pride and Prejudice, and so the reader’s perspective is shaped largely through conversation. The importance of the verbal is made explicit at the end of the novel, when Darcy tells Elizabeth that he was first attracted by “the liveliness of your mind.”
The ball at Meryton brings the two couples — Darcy and Elizabeth, Bingley and Jane — together for the first time. Austen’s original title for the work was First Impressions, and the first impressions at the ball reflect the patterning of the two principle male-female relationships. The ease with which Bingley and Jane find one another is indicative of their easygoing personalities, which are never badly flustered by the obstacles that the novel throws in the way of their happiness. Indeed, their feelings for one another seem to change little after the initial attraction — there is no development of their love, only the delay of its consummation.
Darcy’s bad behavior, on the other hand, immediately betrays the pride and sense of social superiority that will be his chief difficulty in finding his way to Elizabeth. His snub creates a mutual dislike, as opposed to the mutual attraction of Jane and Bingley. And while his opinion of Elizabeth changes within a few chapters, her first impression of him as self-important and arrogant is not altered until midway through the novel. Nor, indeed, does the reader have any reason to doubt Elizabeth’s judgment.
The Bennets’ neighbors are Sir William Lucas, his wife, and their daughters, the eldest of whom, Charlotte, is Elizabeth’s closest friend. The morning after the ball, the women of the two families discuss the evening, and decide that while Bingley danced with Charlotte first, he considered Jane to be the prettiest of the local girls. The discussion then turns to Mr. Darcy, and Elizabeth states that she will never dance with him; everyone agrees that Darcy, despite his family and fortune, is too proud to be liked.
Bingley’s sisters exchange visits with the Bennets, and attempt to befriend Elizabeth and Jane. Meanwhile, Bingley continues to pay attention to Jane, and Elizabeth decides that her sister is “in a way to be very much in love” with him, but is concealing it very well. She discusses this with Charlotte Lucas, who comments that if Jane conceals it too well, Bingley may lose interest. Elizabeth says it is better for a young woman to be patient until she is sure of her feelings; Charlotte disagrees, saying that it is best not to know too much about your future husband’s faults.
Meanwhile, Darcy find himself attracted to Elizabeth, and begins listening to her conversations at parties, much to her surprise. At one party, at the Lucas house, Sir William Lucas attempts to persuade Elizabeth and Darcy to dance together, and Elizabeth refuses. Shortly afterward, Darcy tells Bingley’s unmarried sister that “Miss Elizabeth Bennet” is now the object of his admiration.
In the next chapter, we learn that Mr. Bennet’s property is entailed, meaning that it must pass to a man after his death and cannot be inherited by any of his daughters. His two youngest, Catherine (nicknamed Kitty) and Lydia, entertain themselves by beginning a series of visits to their mother’s sister, a Mrs. Phillips, in the town of Meryton, and gossiping about the militia stationed there.
One night, while the Bennets are discussing the soldiers at dinner, a note arrives inviting Jane to Netherfield Park for a day. Mrs. Bennet and Elizabeth conspire to send Jane by horse rather than coach, knowing that it will rain and Jane will be forced to spend the night at Mr. Bingley’s house. Unfortunately, their plan works out too well: Jane is soaked, falls ill, and is forced to remain at Netherfield as an invalid. Elizabeth goes to visit her — on foot — and causes a stir when she arrives with her stockings soaked. Jane insists that her sister spend the night, and the Bingleys consent.
That night, while Elizabeth is in her sister’s room, the Bingley sisters poke fun at the Bennets. Darcy and Mr. Bingley defend them, but even Darcy concedes that their lack of wealth and family make them poor marriage prospects.
After Elizabeth returns to the room, the discussion turns to Darcy’s library at his ancestral home of Pemberley, and then to Darcy’s opinions on what constitutes an “accomplished woman.” After he and Bingley list the attributes that such a woman would possess, Elizabeth declares that she “never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe, united.” She implies that Darcy is far too demanding.
The introduction of the Lucases allows Austen to comment on the pretensions that come with rank. Having gained a title, Sir William Lucas is described as having felt his new distinction “a little too strongly” and moved away from town in order to “think with pleasure of his own importance.” Sir William remains a sympathetic figure despite his snobbery, but the same cannot be said of Bingley’s sister, whose class-consciousness is evident in later chapters. Class is a pressing reality in Pride and Prejudice, but it never completely defines character. The well-born are as likely to be fools as the less respectable.
Charlotte Lucas’ comment that Jane does not display her affection for Bingley is an example of the careful structure of the novel. Darcy, of course, has the same impression, and he assumes that Jane is not in love with his friend. Charlotte’s conversation with Elizabeth, then, foreshadows Darcy’s justification for separating Bingley from Jane. The author is preparing us for subsequent developments in other ways, as well: Charlotte’s belief that it is better not to know one’s husband too well foreshadows her “practical” marriage to Collins, while Elizabeth’s more romantic view anticipates her refusal of two proposals.
Chapter VII mentions the entailment of Mr. Bennet’s estate for the first time. Entailment is a device that Austen also uses in Sense and Sensibility, and it serves to create a sense of urgency in her heroine’s search for a husband. It can also be read as a social commentary on the plight of women who are forced to find a spouse to avoid poverty — all because of a strange rule in English law stipulating that, in certain cases, women are forbidden from inheriting property.
These chapters see the development of Darcy’s feelings for Elizabeth. Their interactions are primarily in the form of banter and argument. Their disagreement over the possibility of a “perfect” woman, in which Darcy lists all the qualifications he seeks in a wife, reinforces his apparent egotism and self-absorption, but it also gives Elizabeth a chance to shine in a debate. As previously noted, Darcy will later praise the “liveliness” of her mind, and the importance of words to relationships in Austen cannot be underestimated. As critic Robert Polhemus puts it, the author “makes conversation the means and opportunity for her intelligent figures to touch and move one another.”
Meanwhile, the novel begins to undermine the negative impressions that we have of Darcy by contrasting him with Miss Bingley. His arrogance remains unpleasant, but he is unwilling to join in Miss Bingley’s snobbish dismissals of Elizabeth and her family. Like Lady Catherine de Bourgh later on, Bingley’s sister serves as the voice criticizing Elizabeth’s low connections. Also like Lady Catherine, her primary motivation is jealousy. Just as Lady Catherine wants Darcy to marry her niece, Miss Bingley wants him for herself — her spite is colored by self-interest.
At this point, Elizabeth’s feelings toward Darcy are neutral. She thinks him overly proud, but likes him enough to carry on conversations. Lydia and Kitty’s excitement over the soldiers, however, hints at the arrival of Wickham, who will destroy her opinion of Darcy.
The next day, Mrs. Bennet arrives with Lydia and Catherine to visit Jane. She spends much of her visit attempting to convince Bingley that he must remain at Netherfield, and makes a fool of herself — first by comparing country life to the city, and then by prattling on about Jane’s beauty. Near the end of the visit, fifteen-year-old Lydia asks Bingley whether he will hold a ball at Netherfield Park, and he states that he must wait until Jane is fully recovered.
In the evening, Elizabeth observes Miss Bingley piling compliments upon Darcy as he writes to his sister. The conversation then turns to Bingley’s style of letter-writing, and then to Bingley’s impetuous behavior, which in turn involves Elizabeth and Darcy in an argument over the virtues of accepting the advice of friends. Afterward, Miss Bingley plays “a lively Scotch air” on the piano-forte, and Elizabeth again refuses to dance with Darcy. Her refusal only increases his admiration, and he considers that “were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.” Ms. Bingley, observing his attraction, becomes jealous and spends the following day making fun of Elizabeth’s family, inviting Darcy to imagine them connected to his proud and respectable line.
Miss Bingley spends the following night, again, trying to attract Darcy’s attention: first by reading, then by criticizing the foolishness of balls, and finally by walking about the room. Only when she ask Elizabeth to walk with her, however, does Darcy look up, and then the two women discuss the possibility of finding something to ridicule in his character. He states that his only fault is resentment — “my good opinion once lost is lost forever.” Elizabeth replies that it is hard to laugh at a “propensity to hate every body,” and Miss Bingley, seeing Darcy being monopolized by Elizabeth once again, insists on music.
The next morning, Elizabeth writes to her mother to say that she and Jane are ready to return home. Mrs. Bennet had hoped that Jane would stay longer with Bingley, and refuses to send the carriage. Elizabeth, anxious to be away, insists on borrowing Bingley’s carriage, and she and her sister leave Netherfield Park. Darcy is glad to see them go, as Elizabeth attracts him “more than he liked,” considering that she is not a suitable prospect for matrimony.
The continuation of her visit to Netherfield only deepens Darcy’s feelings for Elizabeth — and Miss Bingley’s jealousy. Darcy, at least at this point, is still certain that he can never marry Elizabeth because of her rank and family, but he is sufficiently taken with her to attempt to avoid actual conversation with her on the last day of her stay — “he wisely resolved to be particularly careful that no sign of admiration should… escape him.”
For her part, Elizabeth has developed no romantic feelings for Darcy at all. For her, the stay at Netherfield has become extremely difficult because of Miss Bingley’s obvious jealousy.
Miss Bingley, in these chapters, is portrayed as Elizabeth’s opposite — foolish where the heroine is quick-witted, desperate for Darcy’s attention while Elizabeth disdains him. Bingley’s sister spends her time attempting to conform herself to what she perceives as Darcy’s idea of a perfect woman. One night, she takes up reading, choosing a book “because it was the second volume of his.” Of course, being uninterested in literature, she is quickly bored, and says loudly “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
By echoing Darcy’s own opinions, however, she ends losing him to Elizabeth, despite the fact that Elizabeth is not even attempting to appeal to him. By portraying Miss Bingley as completely unoriginal, the novel highlights Elizabeth’s originality and independence of spirit, and suggests that these, not the laundry list of accomplishments he gives, are the qualities that Darcy really desires in a woman. His rejection of Miss Bingley’s advances, then, serves to improve the reader’s opinion of Darcy.
Miss Bingley’s desperately obvious flirtation make her a figure of amusement for the reader. She is a parody of the man-hungry, snobbish, upper-class woman. Pride and Prejudice is filled with such targets for the author’s wit.
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