Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Jane Austen blends Realism with Romance in her Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is a complex novel mixing romance with realism. Austen used a variety of features to make the novel Pride and Prejudice seem more realistic and relevant to the period of the 19th century. At the same time it has also the touch of romance.

The plot of Pride and Prejudice is like the plot of a romance. In a romance the hero comes out and frees the heroine from her casement. In context of Pride and Prejudice we can say that Darcy is the idealized hero, who comes and frees the heroine from the social bondage. In order to free the heroine, the hero has to fight with a captor or villains. In the same way Darcy has to fight with his sisters and Lady Catherine.

The social reality for women during 18th century was that it was almost impossible to survive without a man’s care, so it was typical for a young woman to live in her father’s house until she moved into her husbands. Women would not inherit or own property, and had very few opportunities to earn their own money.

Because of this social climate, the reality is that the five Bennet sisters do not have a choice about marriage. They must marry in order to secure their financial future. Their father’s estate will be inherited by their male cousin, Mr. Collins. Austen addresses the social realities of the time and also satisfies the reader’s desire for romance by having Jane and Elizabeth’s suitors not only be rich but also be dashing, attractive and moral.

Realism of characters makes the novel more believable and they also contribute to fulfill romantic appeal of the novel.

Pride and Prejudice focuses on Elizabeth Bennet, an intelligent young woman with romantic and individualistic ideals, and her relationship with Mr. Darcy, a wealthy gentleman of very high status. At the outset of the novel, Elizabeth’s loud and dim-witted mother, her foolish younger sisters, and her beautiful older sister Jane are very excited because a wealthy gentleman, Mr. Bingley, is moving to their neighborhood. The young women are concerned about finding husbands because if Elizabeth’s father, a humorous and ironical man, were to die, the estate could be left to their pompous cousin Mr. Collins. Mr.Bingley soon becomes attached to Jane while Elizabeth grows to dislike his close friend Mr. Darcy, whom the village finds elitist and ill-tempered. Under the influence of his sisters and Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley eventually moves away to London. Mr. Collins, an irritating clergyman, then proposes to his cousin Elizabeth, who refuses him. He marries her friend Charlote instead. 

Though love was certainly important, it was obvious that women were dependent upon men for financial stability and that marriage was often based more on finance and social status then love. Even the marriages that the young girls observed seemed to lack love. It demonstrates a desire for something more versus the realities of the time.

Elizabeth visits Charlotte, where she and Mr. Darcy meet again at the house of his aunt. Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, but she refuses him, partly based o her belief that he dissuaded Mr. Bingley from pursuing a relationship with Jane. In a letter to Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy explains his actions regarding Jane and Mr. Bingley, as well as the way in which he has treated his estranged childhood companion, Mr. Wickham. 

The encounter between Darcy and Elizabeth in the Darcy’s state has also the charm of a romance. Elizabeth visits Darcy’s estate with his uncle and auntie and accidentally meets Darcy. This time Elizabeth is better disposed toward him, but they are interrupted by a scandal involving Elizabeth’s sister Lydia, who has eloped with Mr. Wickham. Mr. Bennet and his brother- in –law Mr. Gardiner attempt to resolve the situation, but it is actually Mr. Darcy who resolves the situation by paying Mr. Wickham and convincing him to marry Lydia. Mr. Bingley then returns to his estate in the Bennet’s neighborhood and soon becomes engaged to Jane. Afterward, despite Lady Catherine’s attempt to prevent the engagement, Elizabeth marries Mr. Darcy.

One of the social realities explored in this book, beyond the need for a woman to secure financial security through marriage, was the importance of reputation and adhering to social standards. When Lydia runs off with Wickham, the family is distraught not only because Lydia's reputation will be hurt, but also because the entire family will be wrapped up in her disgrace. Mary's comments on the subject adequately explain the feelings of the times:

Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable; that one false step involves her in endless ruin; that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful;Mr. Collins' comments also show the seriousness of this breach of decency:
The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this......had it been otherwise, I must have been involved in all your sorrow and disgrace.

When Lady Catherine comes to Elizabeth to try to scare her away from Darcy, she also uses Lydia's elopement as a serious strike against any alliance:
And is such a girl to be my nephew's sister? .... Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?"
At this time, a family could get by without riches, but it was impossible to get by without reputation.
A special emphasis has been placed on the way Austen portrays her character’s speech and thoughts. In this novel, dialogue is described as the most appropriate means in order to achieve a preferably close approach to reality. The dialogue in Pride and Prejudice is expanded with direct and indirect versions of speech. The vivacity of the character’s persona, their feelings and different tempers are perceptible through their dialogue and provide a narration that is as realistic as possible.

We also find the touch of romance in the dialogues. When Elizabeth Bennet meets the handsome Mr. Darcy, she believes he is the last man on earth she could ever marry. But as their lives become knotted in an unexpected adventure, she finds herself captured by the very person she swore to loathe for all eternity. Jane, also feel attraction for Mr. Bingley and it is also reflected through dialogue.

There are elements of conventional romance in the novel. Since the picture drawn is of everyday life and activities, it is easy for us to comprehend it and is that much more real to us.