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Possible Essay Questions For Pride And Prejudice 1995


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    LEARNING GUIDE TO:



    SUBJECTS — World/England; Literature/England;
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — RomanticRelationships; Sisters; Humility;
    MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect.
    2006 Version: Age 12+; MPAA Rating: PG for some mild thematic elements; 127 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

    1995 BBC Miniseries: Age: 12+; No MPAA Rating; Drama; 300 minutes; Color. Filmed on location in Derbyshire.

    1940 Version: Age: 12+; No MPAA Rating; Drama; 118 minutes; B & W.

    Description:     Pride and Prejudice describes the unlikely courtship of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Their relationship begins with mutual contempt, but moves forward as they mature and learn that their first impressions, based on pride and prejudice, were incorrect. The story is set in upper middle class English society at the beginning of the 19th century. These films are based on Jane Austen's classic novel.

    Benefits of the Movie:     Each movie will demonstrate that first impressions are often wrong, and that a person can mature if he or she keeps an open mind. The films will also acquaint children with the problems caused by class prejudice in England.

    Each of these films is an excellent introduction to Jane Austen's classic novel. Austen's works are not easy for even the most advanced readers. A college level teacher has reported that her students are more interested in reading another Jane Austen novel, Sense and Sensibility, after they have seen one of the film versions. When tested against a control group who only read the book, students who had seen the film before reading the novel had a better understanding of the characters and the plot. Viewing this film in advance of reading the novel Pride and Prejudice should have the same result. (See "Emma Thompson's Sense and Sensibility as Gateway to Austen's Novel" by Cheryl L. Nixon, contained in Jane Austen in Hollywood, Edited by Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield, 1998, University of Kentucky Press, pages 140 - 147.) For more suggestions about using filmed adaptations of literary works in the ELA classroom, see Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories and Plays.






 




WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. Movies as Literature Homework Project.



    Possible Problems:    MINOR. While the characters pay lip service to the principle that people should marry for love and not concern themselves with wealth or position, two of the Bennet sisters end up marrying men of wealth and position. Each film version departs somewhat from the novel. See Helpful Background Section below and the sidebar comment.

    Parenting Points:     Review Before Seeing the Film and communicate as much of the content as possible to your child. You will not be able to cover everything but do the best you can. Immediately after the movie, or at odd times over the next week (for example at the dinner table or in the car on the way to school) bring up some of the Discussion Questions, starting with the Quick Discussion Question in the sidebar. Don't worry if you can only get through a few questions. Just taking the film seriously and discussing it is the key. Allow your child to watch the movie several times and continue to ask and help him or her answer more discussion questions.
 
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:   An earlier version of the book on which the movie was based was given the title "First Impressions." Give some examples of how characters in this movie change their first impressions of people?

Suggested Response: Darcy comes to realize that his first impressions of Elizabeth are wrong and that she is beautiful and accomplished. Elizabeth comes to realize that many of her first impressions of Darcy were mistaken, especially in that he has changed substantially over the course of the story.


    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

    2005 VERSION

      Selected Awards:   2006 Golden Globe Awards Nominations: Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy; Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy (Keira Knightley); 2006 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Keira Knightley); Best Achievement in Art Direction; Best Achievement in Costume Design; Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score.

      Featured Actors:   Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet; Talulah Riley as Mary Bennet; Rosamund Pike as Jane Bennet; Jena Malone as Lydia Bennet; Carey Mulligan as Kitty Bennet; Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet; Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennet; Claudie Blakley as Charlotte Lucas; Sylvester Morand as Sir William Lucas; Simon Woods as Mr. Bingley; Kelly Reilly as Caroline Bingley; and Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy,

      Director:  Joe Wright

    1995 BBC MINISERIES

      Selected Awards:  1996 Emmy Awards: Best Costume Design for a Mini-Series, 1996 Emmy Award Nominations: Outstanding Mini-Series, Outstanding Choreography, Outstanding Writing.

      Featured Actors:  Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth, Crispin Bonham Carter, Anna Chancellor, Susannah Harker, Julia Sawalha, Alison Steadman, Benjamin Whitrow, David Bark-Jones, Polly Maberly, Lucy Briers, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Adrian Lukis.

      Director:  Simon Langton.

    1940 VERSION
      Selected Awards:  1940 Academy Awards: Best Art Direction, Black & White.

      Featured Actors:  Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Edmund Gwenn, Edna May Oliver, Mary Boland, Maureen O'Sullivan, Ann Rutherford, Frieda Inescort.

      Director:  Robert Z. Leonard.
 










Some differences in the three movie versions: The 1995 version is longer and more complete than the 2005 or the 1940 versions. It offers more detailed character and plot development. There are also differences in the story line. For example, the 1940 version changes the plot of the novel in having Ms. Catherine de Bourgh confront Elizabeth on behalf of Darcy, testing her, but hopeful that Elizabeth will prove herself worthy. In the book, the 2005 version and in the 1995 film, Ms. de Bourgh is earnestly trying to keep her daughter's engagement to Darcy on track and bullies Elizabeth into agreeing not to marry Darcy.



    Helpful Background:

    What Students Should Know Before They See the Film

    Jane Austen (1775 - 1817) was the unmarried daughter of a clergyman. She grew up in a secure middle class household and wrote novels which explored universal patterns of human behavior. Her stories dealt with upper and middle class English society in which relationships were often based on gain, rather than affection or admiration. Austen's novels are satiric and humorous with rich attention to detail and insightful treatment of character. Austen's major novels are Sense & Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Northanger Abbey (1818), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1816) and Persuasion (1818).

    At the beginning of the 19th century, when Jane Austen was writing her novels, few professions were open to respectable women. Writing novels was not one of them. For that reason, Pride and Prejudice was first published anonymously; its author described only as "a lady." The inscription on Jane Austen's tomb described her as a daughter, a Christian, but not as a writer.

    The information set out below will aid in the understanding and appreciation of the story of Pride and Prejudice.

    (1) A CLASS BASED SOCIETY UNDERGOING CHANGE

    From the time of the Norman conquest in 1066 through much the 1800s, England was organized with a monarch (a king or a queen) at the top, a powerful aristocracy that supported the monarch (or fought about who the monarch would be), and then the rest of society. Aristocrats were originally warriors given land by William the Conqueror in exchange for providing knights and soldiers for his army. Before the Industrial Revolution (1760-1830) the English economy was based almost entirely on farming and the raising of livestock such as cows or sheep. The wealth and power of the aristocracy was based on the ownership of land. New agricultural practices and the Industrial Revolution led to many changes, among them the mass movement of peasants to the cities, the factory system, the disruption of extended family relationships, the rise of the mercantile class, and the reduction in power of the landed aristocracy.

    This transformation of English society was well underway by the early 1800s. Mechanical power and inventions allowed machines to do the work that men and animals had done previously. Manufacturing and commerce had become increasingly efficient and profitable. Many manufacturers and merchants became very wealthy and a middle class of small business owners and professionals arose to serve the new economy. The aristocracy retained their title and social position but their wealth was increasingly threatened. The newly rich began to purchase titles, marry into aristocratic families, and arrogate to themselves the manners and attitudes of the aristocracy. However, the old aristocracy didn't let them forget that their wealth had come from "the trades".

    The old aristocracy are represented by Darcy and "the Right Honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh". The mercantile class, businessmen who were very wealthy, represented by the Bingleys, are shown eagerly adopting the lifestyle of the landed aristocracy. They displayed their wealth through fine carriages, elegant dress, large country homes with landscaped grounds, and titles whenever they could purchase them. The middle class, (the Lucas' and the Bennets) tried to mimic the aristocracy and the very wealthy to the extent that they could. Money and the social position that it could buy were seen as the key to a happy life.

    However, during the Industrial Revolution the rest of society was struggling. Peasants were being evicted from the estates on which their ancestors had labored and were moving to the cities by the tens of thousands. The lucky ones obtained some type of work in the factories or serving the wealthy and the new middle class. However, many could not find steady work or succumbed to rum, the drug of the age. In the early 1800s a third of England was living near starvation. See e.g., Oliver Twist. Bread riots and worker protests were met with force and repressive measures.

    Political power was still retained by the aristocracy. The House of Lords, whose members were from the traditional aristocracy and the church, passed on all bills coming from the House of Commons. The House of Commons, supposedly the voice of the people, was itself not representative. Only men with substantial property could vote. Even then, representation was skewed because of "pocket boroughs" (electoral districts which were controlled by the aristocracy) and "rotten boroughs" (electoral districts in which, because of the depopulation of the countryside, only a few voters were left.) Note that after the American Revolution the vast majority of male U.S. citizens owned some land and could therefore vote. However, universal male suffrage was not the rule throughout the U.S. until 1920. The first state to allow women to vote was Wyoming in 1890. While other states followed Wyoming's lead, women didn't get the vote in federal elections and in all state elections until 1920. Despite the fact that boys much younger than 21 were permitted to enlist in the military, it was only in 1976 with the passage of the 21st amendment that 18 - 20 year olds were guaranteed the right to vote.

    (2) THE ROLE OF MONEY AND STATUS IN DETERMINING WHO TO MARRY

    In modern Western society, people who marry to improve their social status or for money are considered shallow and shortsighted. They are condemned as "gold diggers". However, marrying for status or money was the norm in the upper classes until the last hundred and fifty years. Marriages were unions of families in which wealth was consolidated and combined or in which people with social status but little money were able to secure the financial backing of people with money but little social status. Thus, in England, a member of the hereditary aristocracy who did not have money or the prospect of a large inheritance (a daughter or a younger son) would marry into a family with newly acquired wealth. By the same marriage, a person of little social status but much money could improve his or her social status.

    The concept of arranged marriages has been prevalent through much of the world and in different cultures. See e.g., Fiddler on the Roof. Arranged marriages are still the norm in many countries in the Middle and Far East.

    The superiority of marriages based on affection is the subject of many plays, songs, stories, and other works of art. These were some of the ways in which Western society worked through the conflict between those who preferred marriages of convenience and those who advocated marriages based on affection. Pride and Prejudice and some of the other works by Jane Austen can be counted among these. Romeo and Juliet (1597) is another. Eventually, when the conditions of society had changed sufficiently, the consensus turned against arranged marriages of convenience. This occurred in different countries at different times but, in Western society, marriages of affection were the norm by the end of the 19th century. Now, in Europe and the United States, children simply inform their parents of their choice of a husband or wife even if marrying that person is a radical departure from what was expected. See, for example, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

    In the England of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, social status was based on birth and connection to the aristocracy or the royal family. However, if people were boorish or acted badly, they would be condemned by society no matter what their social status. Thus, Darcy was condemned by Mereton society because of his disdainful attitude.

    (3) THE STATUS OF WOMEN AND THE IMPORTANCE OF REPUTATION

    In the early 1800s, English women lived in a society with narrow and rigid expectations for their behavior. The laws of the time concentrated wealth in the hands of the oldest male heir. (There were a few women like Lady de Bourgh and Georgiana Darcy who became wealthy by inheritance from a relation, but they were relatively few.) A woman who didn't marry might become a governess, but this job had a status only slightly above that of a servant and it paid little. They could not enter business or the professions. Writing was considered beneath a lady of any social status. Spinster aunts were tolerated in the households of their parents, or of a married brother or sister. Jane Austen was in this position. She never married and was paid little for her writing. She lived with her family all of her life.

    Through Mrs. Bennet, Jane Austen tells us what could happen to Elizabeth if she didn't accept an offer of marriage made to her by a man she abhors:
    [I]f you take it into your heart to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husband at all--and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead -- I shall not be able to keep you .... Vol. I, Chapter XX.
    Charlotte Lucas admits that she was never a romantic and was always looking for a financially secure situation. The narrator, in discussing Charlotte's reflections on marrying, tells us that:
    Charlotte herself was tolerably composed. She had gained her point, and had time to consider it. Her reflections were in general satisfactory. [Her husband] to be sure was neither sensible nor agreeable, his society was irksome, and his attachment to her must be imaginary. But still he would be her husband. -- Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage has always been her object; it was the only honorable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative she had now obtained and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it. Vol. I, Chapter XXII.
    Thus, the business of getting a husband with the wealth to provide support and social standing was very important for a young woman. Accomplishment in the "arts", such as singing, playing the piano, drawing, dancing, reciting poetry, embroidering, or painting designs on tables were areas in which ladies could distinguish themselves. Pride and Prejudice Study Guide from the Glencoe Library.

    A good reputation was essential for a woman to marry well. In addition, the reputation of her family must be good as well or the woman would be "tainted by association". In this story, the unseemly behavior of Mrs. Bennet, Lydia and Kitty was one of the major reasons that Mr. Darcy's "better judgment" placed in the way of his affection for Elizabeth. Recognizing the taint that Lydia's scandalous behavior would cause, Elizabeth stated that: "Our whole family must partake of [Lydia's] ruin and disgrace." Later, Elizabeth remarked: "More things have been ruined by this than Lydia's reputation."

    (4) CUSTOMS FOR SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND DATING

    The world portrayed in Austen's novels is filled with courtesies, customs, and rules of behavior which may not be familiar. Men would bow and women would curtsey when they met. One usually didn't speak to another person unless first introduced by a mutual acquaintance, except that men could call upon another man who moved into the neighborhood. Most certainly women could not initiate the contact. People with social standing did not visit people who lived in certain unfashionable neighborhoods.

    Lady Catherine asks Elizabeth, "Are any of your younger sisters out?" By this she referred to a custom of girls coming out into society (permitted to go to parties, etc.) and being offered on the marriage market. This custom was also followed in the U.S., among wealthy pretenders to aristocratic status, for well over a hundred years.

    On one occasion, Elizabeth was at home by herself when, "to her very great surprise, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Darcy only, entered the room ...." According to accepted practices of the day, he should not have stayed and talked to her. However, to leave too early would be rude. Darcy stayed but a short time.

    (5) THE MEANING AND SOCIAL ROLE OF ENTAIL

    "Entail" is a bequest limited to a particular person or to a special class of heirs, most frequently the eldest male relative. Thus when a property was subject to a properly drafted entail restriction the owner was not able to sell it and on his death it automatically went to his closest male relative, no matter what he might say in his will. Typically, in England, entail was used when land was the chief source of wealth to ensure that property passed to the eldest male heir. This was seen as a way of preserving the strength and vigor of the aristocracy and the monarchy that it supported. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet had received his estate subject to entail in favor of a male heir. He was therefore unable to transfer his house and land to his wife or to his daughters.

    Entail has now passed out of favor. In early 19th century England, entail was roundly condemned but it was enforced by courts. The characters in Pride and Prejudice universally criticize entail but are powerless to do anything about it.

    In revolutionary and democratic United States, entail and most other policies favoring the oldest male child had been abrogated at the time of this story. Thomas Jefferson in particular successfully campaigned against both entail and primogeniture (the policy by which eldest sons inherited the parents' estate and women and younger sons were left with nothing). He convinced the Virginia House of Burgesses to outlaw them. His goal was to split up large estates so that more men would be landowners and be able to participate in the governance of the country. Jefferson and many of the American revolutionaries believed that society would be more equitable if there was less disparity between rich and poor and if large concentrations of wealth were broken up.
 





TWM has prepared a Pride and Prejudice -- Helpful Background.






BUILDING VOCABULARY: Below is a sampling of the words or phrases in the films that will be helpful for children to know before they see the films. Knowing these expressions will make the dialog more understandable.

Selected Words and Expressions Used in the 2005 version:

inconvenient ---- vanity ---- amiable ---- scruples ---- "inferiority of your circumstances" ---- arrogance ---- conceit ---- conceited ---- disdain ---- "the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry" ---- ardently ---- "struggled in vain" ---- "I can bear it no longer" ---- torment ---- "single object" (in the sense of the only reason for an action) ---- "my better judgment" ---- expectations ---- "the inferiority of your birth by rank and circumstance" ---- "put aside" ---- flattery ---- delicacy ---- "These pleasing attention[s] precede from the impulse of the moment - or are they the result of previous study?" ---- arise ---- elegant ---- compliment ---- manners ---- rehearse ---- duet ---- "You are too generous to trifle with me" ---- scarce ---- "has taught me to hope as I'd scarcely allowed myself before" ---- bewitch ---- incandescent, incandescently ---- "I'm quite at my leisure" ---- "the intercourse of friends and family"

Selected Words and Expressions Used in the 1995 BBC/A & E Production.

All of the words described above for the 2005 version and the following:

"fair prospect" (as in how something looks)---- "fine prospect" (as in how something looks) ---- "in want of a wife" ---- savage ---- "country manners" ---- "close with the attorneys directly" (settle the terms of the deal with the attorneys at once) ---- to slight, slighted ---- "flatly refused to stand up with her" ---- "it's of little matter" ---- tolerable, intolerable ---- handsome, handsomest, "one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance" ---- "a reputed beauty" ---- ill-favored ---- to tempt, temptation, ---- capital (in the sense of very good, wonderful) ---- "a capital offence" ---- entail, entailed away ---- droll ---- "very elegant hand" ---- condescend, condescension ---- polite, politeness ---- inducement ---- to vex, vexation ---- "to give offense" ---- fastidious ---- abominable ---- affability ---- consideration ---- arrogant ---- presumption ---- "It behooves us all to take very careful thought before pronouncing an adverse judgment on any of our fellow men." ---- matrimony, — escapade ---- doctrinal ---- "high dudgeon" ---- "have a care" ---- "taciturn disposition" ---- diverted ---- patroness ---- privacy (pronounced with a short "i" and the accent on the first syllable) ---- disdain ---- "to make allowances" ---- pardon, unpardonable ---- insupportable ---- tedious ---- "I am all astonishment" ---- impartial ---- conviction ---- "to take a turn about the room" ---- "That would defeat the object" ---- insufferable ---- "triumph over us" ---- naughty ---- dreadful ---- "She still keeps her state above stairs? Lends such an elegance to our situation" ---- "an accomplished woman" ---- felicity ---- disgrace ---- "general acquaintance" ---- "general prejudice" ---- irretrievable ---- culpable ---- villain ---- fiend ---- condolence ---- tainted ---- "tainted by association" ---- consolation ---- to be "severe with oneself" ---- fetch ---- smelling salts ---- remedy ---- to "take too much upon yourself" ---- to "give way" ---- condolence ---- indifferent ---- "quite unable to account," ---- insincere ---- "universally contradicted" ---- "not to be bourne" ---- "arts and allurements" ---- induce ---- explicit ---- alliance ---- disgrace ---- headstrong ---- endure ---- "honor and credit" ---- blemish ---- "idle report" ---- abhorrence ---- deprived ---- countenance ---- to address.




Keira Knightley (Elizabeth in the 2005 version): "The reason [Elizabeth's] character has lasted as one of the favorite female roles in English literature is that any woman who reads the book sees herself as Elizabeth Bennet. I was terrified of taking the role. . . . Every woman wants to be her, because she's intelligent, she's got great wit, she's extremely passionate." JASNA web page on the new movie version of Pride and Prejudice.






Austen was educated in human nature by her observations of friends, family, and neighbors. It was from these people, living in middle to upper class English society of the late 1700s and early 1800s, that Austen constructed her novels. She had no experience with lives of poverty, murder, sexual adventure, famine, epidemic, war or the high councils of state and she did not write about them.







The different positions of men and women in this society found expression in language. An unmarried woman was a "spinster," a word with a negative connotation. A man who did not marry was referred to as a "confirmed bachelor," a term without any negative connotation.







DIALOGUE:
(Life in a Marriage of Convenience)

Charlotte: Mr. Collins tends the gardens himself and spends a good part of every day in them.

Elizabeth: The exercise must be beneficial.

Charlotte: Indeed it is. I encourage him to be in his garden as often as possible. Then he has to walk to Rosings nearly every day.

Elizabeth: So often? Is that necessary?

Charlotte: Perhaps not, but I admit I encourage him in that also. And when he is in the house, he is mostly in his book room which affords a good view of the road whenever Lady Catherine's carriage should drive by.

Elizabeth: And you prefer to sit in this parlor.

Charlotte: Yes. So you see, it often happens that a whole day passes in which we have not spent more than a few minutes in each other's company. I find that I can bear the solitude very cheerfully. I find myself... quite content with my situation Lizzy. ...




Jane Austen wrote so convincingly about the people in her immediate society that her nineteenth-century readers often confused her fiction with reality. They wrote letters to Austen saying they were sure they had met the person represented by a certain character.






The end of this section in the left column is the end of the handout Pride and Prejudice -- Helpful Background which TWM recommends be read by students before they see the film or read the novel. See TWM's Terms of Use.


    Plots and Themes

    Pride and Prejudice consists of several intertwined stories about relationships between couples. The main plot describes the courtship of Elizabeth and Darcy which must overcome initial first impressions, prejudice, pride and several other obstacles. The progress of the main plot is admirably served by several subplots of relations between other couples: Jane/Bingley, Mr. Collins/Charlotte, and Lydia/Wickham. The story of how love conquers is one of the basic stories of Western civilization (and probably many others as well).

    TWM has identified eight major themes which weave their way through the story of Pride and Prejudice. The first five themes involve growth and learning by at least one of the major characters and they are the heart of the story. The positions of the characters as to the remaining themes are static, i.e., as the story goes along, the characters don't learn or come to embrace a new and better viewpoint on those topics.

    #1: THE DANGERS OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE     The primary obstacle in the path of the Elizabeth/Darcy romance is their difficulty in getting beyond their pride and their prejudices. Darcy is inordinately proud of his social standing and prejudiced against those with a lower social standing than he. But Elizabeth is proud, too. As she admits, her pride was hurt by some of the statements that she overheard Darcy make at the dance at which they were first introduced. Darcy's behavior, Wickham's story, and finally Darcy's interference with the Jane/Bingley romance, causes Elizabeth to feel a strong antipathy to Mr. Darcy. This was her "prejudice".

    The danger of pride and prejudice affects all human relationships, not just romantic relationships. This is a universal concern that will be with people through the ages. The events of the story taught Darcy and Elizabeth to discard their prejudices and that their pride was getting in the way of their true happiness. Darcy's pride is obvious and based on social status. Elizabeth's pride is described in the following dialog from the 1995 version:
    Jane Bennet: And Mr Darcy may improve on closer acquaintance.

    Elizabeth Bennet: You mean he'll be in a humour to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men? "She is tolerable I suppose, but she's not handsome enough to tempt me".

    Jane Bennet: It was very wrong of him to say so.

    Elizabeth Bennet: Aye, a capital offence!

    #2: FIRST IMPRESSIONS CAN BE MISLEADING AND PEOPLE CAN CHANGE, MAKING FIRST IMPRESSIONS OUT OF DATE     Snap judgments about people are often wrong. They often rely on prejudice. Some people believe differently and trust their immediate, intuitive response to others. The issue of whether to trust first impressions is a universal concern that will apply to human relationships through time. Like the theme of the dangers of pride and prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth learn through the events of the story that first impressions can be misleading.

    There is another major problem with holding to first impressions. People change and grow. Elizabeth could never have loved the Darcy she first met. He was proud and prejudiced against her because his social standing was greater than hers. It was the Darcy who had cast away his pride and his prejudice, who had told Bingley that he had no objection to Bingley marrying Jane, who had renewed his proposal knowing that Wickham would be his brother-in-law, that Elizabeth loved.

    #3: MARRIAGE SHOULD BE FOR LOVE; NOT WEALTH OR SOCIAL STATUS     Another major obstacle to Elizabeth and Darcy (and another primary theme) is the role of social status and wealth in the matrimonial decisions of young people in the England of the early 19th century. Darcy had a particular problem with reconciling himself to marrying a woman of a lower social status who was not wealthy. In this, Elizabeth was Darcy's opposite. She knew all along that wealth and social position meant very little to her in the choice of a life partner. The lesson of this theme is one that Darcy learns through the course of the story.

    (The plot undercuts this theme because Elizabeth ends up marrying into Darcy's wealthy and socially prestigious family. If Austen had really wanted to play out this theme, she should have had Darcy suddenly lose his wealth. But Austen's belief that wealth doesn't matter in the choice of a mate only went so far.)

    A sub theme is the importance of respecting your spouse. The relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet is the counter to what Elizabeth expects in her marriage to Darcy. As Mr. Bennet says to Elizabeth when he is trying to make sure that she really wants to marry Darcy: "Let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life."

    #4: A CRITIQUE OF THE CLASS SYSTEM IN ENGLAND     Austen uses the characters of Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, the sisters Bingley, and several more to ridicule those who genuflect to the aristocracy and the class structure. Darcy in his worst moments, such as his first proposal, also plays that role. However, his love for Elizabeth leads him to associate himself with those of a lower class. However, Austen's critique of class structure is quite limited because it relates only to the differences between the "upper classes" and the middle classes. What of the farmers, the laborers, the servants, the seamstresses? They are not even considered.

    #5: MEDDLING IN THE ROMANTIC AFFAIRS OF FRIENDS AND RELATIVES OFTEN LEADS TO TROUBLE     An obstacle in the Jane/Bingley relationship is the meddling of others in their affairs. Darcy and Bingley's sisters, in an effort to prevent Bingley from making a bad match, keep him away from Jane, causing Jane great suffering and leading, in part, to Elizabeth's initial rejection of Darcy's marriage proposal. Lady Catherine tries to stop the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth. Darcy, at least, comes to the realization that his meddling was wrong and apologizes for it. This theme is further developed in Emma.

    #6: THE DEPENDENCE OF WOMEN ON MEN FOR FINANCIAL SECURITY     In England through the 1800s the only way a woman could provide for her future was through an advantageous marriage. The treatment of Charlotte Lucas is the key to this theme. While she is a foil for Elizabeth in this regard, their situations are different. Austen acknowledges that Charlotte's solution is perhaps the best solution for her due to the restrictions of society, her plainness, and her lack of a substantial fortune. Austen doesn't condemn Charlotte, she condemns the conditions imposed by society which led Charlotte to this decision.

    A sub-theme in the criticism of class structure is that a woman could not obtain an advantageous marriage unless she had a good reputation. A woman's reputation could be ruined by misdeeds of members of her family as to which she was totally innocent. The story makes the point that Lydia's misbehavior and the misbehavior of the other younger sisters and of Mrs. Bennet would injure the reputation of Jane and Elizabeth, two attractive and sensible girls who did not contribute to this misbehavior.

    #7: THE BENEFITS OF A STRONG RELATIONSHIP AMONG SISTERS     Elizabeth and Jane are different in many ways but they have a strong and supportive relationship which serves them well throughout the story. The sisters respect those differences. For example, in Chapter 4 Elizabeth says to Jane "Oh! you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in my life."

    Their relationship with each other is by far stronger than any other relationship in the story and one gets the impression that after they marry they will still be close.

    #8: THE POOR PARENTING TECHNIQUES OF MR. AND MRS. BENNET     Mr. and Mrs. Bennet make repeated mistakes in parenting. First they favor certain children. Mr. Bennet favors Elizabeth and then Jane and tells the other three that they are the silliest girls in England. Mrs. Bennet favors Lydia and allows Lydia to get away with anything she wants. Lydia repeatedly insults Mary and takes Kitty's possessions. Neither Mr. or Mrs. Bennet do anything.

    Mrs. Bennet sends Jane off into a coming rainstorm to visit Netherfield for the purpose of getting her sick so that she would have to stay there many days. As Mr. Bennet sarcastically comments:
    "Well, my dear," said Mr. Bennet, when Elizabeth had read the note aloud, "if your daughter should have a dangerous fit of illness, if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under your orders." Vol. 1, Chapter VII.
    The Bennets allow Lydia to go to Brighton, despite Elizabeth's warnings. They do not reign in or discipline the younger girls. Mr. Bennet is distant and relatively uninvolved, but then the model of the involved father didn't come into vogue until 150 years later.

    The Bennets criticize each other in front of the children and do not consult before making decisions so that the children can see a united front. They undercut each other frequently. An example of this is when Mrs. Bennet asked Mr. Bennet's help in persuading Elizabeth to accept Mr. Collins' proposal. Instead of talking to his wife about a common position and trying to convince her to change her mind, Mr. Bennet completely undercut his wife by calling Elizabeth in without telling his wife what he was going to do. He then announced that while her mother would never talk to Elizabeth again if she didn't marry Mr. Collins, that he (Mr. Bennet) would never talk to Elizabeth again if she did. Vol I, Chapter XX. This provided for humor in the book and the movies while at the same time displaying the dysfunctional nature of the parenting provided by the Bennets.
 






The comparison of the various characters and the contrast of the experiences of the several couples are the key to understanding this story.






Each person who writes about these stories develops their own list of themes. These are the themes that strike us. Others will extract different themes from Pride and Prejudice.





Austen poses universal questions in a microcosmic setting: How can a complex person maintain his or her individuality and freedom in a world of social pressures and restrictions? How do preconceived notions affect people's relationships? Study Guide for Pride and Prejudice from the Glencoe Literature Library.




Another reference to the source of Elizabeth's pride:

       "His pride," said Miss Lucas, "does not offend so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favor, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud." ---- "That is very true," replied Elizabeth, "and I could easily forgive his pride if he had not mortified mine."



Was Elizabeth Justified in Believing Wickham?

Wickham seemed sincere. Not wanting his sister's name to be sullied, Darcy had not disclosed to his "general acquaintance" what Wickham had done. The only information that Elizabeth received against Wickham was from Miss Bingley, a source that Elizabeth found to be untrustworthy. In addition, Miss Bingley accused Wickham of "nothing worse than being the son of Mr. Darcy's steward ..." Vol. I, Chapter XVIII.

Jane reported that Mr. Bingley was "quite ignorant of the circumstances" but that he vouched for the "probity and honor" of his friend Mr. Darcy. Bingley had never met Wickham. Elizabeth quite correctly discounted Bingley's impression. Ibid.




The characters of the story accept the fact that, on occasion, even men marry for money or financial security. Before Elizabeth realized that Wickham made a practice of attempting to seduce young girls as a way to an easy life, she understood the allure for him of a young woman with a fortune:

Maria Lucas: Who's that girl dancing with Mr. Wickham?

Elizabeth Bennet: Her name is Mary King.

Charlotte Lucas: She's come to stay with her uncle in Mereton.

Maria Lucas: She's not very pretty, is she?

Charlotte Lucas: Beauty is not the only virtue, Maria. She has just inherited a fortune of ten thousand pounds, I understand.

Mrs. Gardiner: Now that is a definite virtue.







Descriptions of the life of the poor in early 19th century England are almost entirely missing from the writings of Jane Austen. She depicted what she knew, the life of the middles and upper classes.












Donald Sutherland (Mr. Bennet in the 2005 version): "It's a novel about women. It's not about men. It's not about Darcy. It's about Jane Austen trying to deal with the terrible restrictions that are being imposed upon women." JASNA web page on the new movie version of Pride and Prejudice. This is an interesting point of view which has a kernel of truth. However, Darcy is the only character in the story who fundamentally changes his world view by discarding his pride of social position and his prejudice against those of inferior status. Elizabeth reacts to this change in him, but her world view remains the same. And so, the story, especially as portrayed in the 1995 version, is about both women and men.




One of the enduring beauties of this story are the many contrasting characters and couples that are used to explore its themes.




Mr. Bennet: An unhappy alternative lies before you. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.


    Literary Devices and Contrasting Characters

    CONTRASTING CHARACTERS

    A standard literary device is to highlight the good points of a major character or how that character grows during the story by contrast with a minor character. The minor character is called the "foil" of the major character. Thus, Charlotte Lucas is a foil for Elizabeth with respect to the question of whether couples should marry for love or marry for financial security.

    However, in Pride and Prejudice Austen goes beyond the concept of the foil by having several minor characters serve as contrasts with the major characters for different aspects of the personalities of the major characters. At times, Austen turns the concept of the foil on its head, using the strengths of a minor character to highlight the flaws of a major character.

    What follows is a description of some of these contrasts of character.
    The status consciousness of Darcy at the beginning of the book and his inability to appreciate anything that he considered beneath his social position is contrasted with Bingley's appreciation of country manners and his ability to see the best in people and in situations.

    Darcy shows more emotional growth than any other character in the story when he learns to give up his pride in his station in life and form relationships with persons who are beneath him in the pecking order, i.e. Elizabeth and her family. There are several characters who do not shed their allegiance to the status consciousness of the society. They include not only the Bingley sisters, but also Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins. Unlike Mr. Darcy, they are unable to change their ways.

    Charlotte Lucas, who marries for a secure social and financial position, is a foil for Elizabeth and her insistence that she will marry only for love.

    The differences between Jane and Elizabeth point out deficiencies in Elizabeth's character that she must work through before she can find her way to Darcy. Elizabeth is too quick to criticize and Jane hardly ever thinks ill of anyone. The same differences are shown between Bingley and Darcy. Bingley is not a critical man but instead takes the best out of any situation, ignoring that which his sisters and Darcy would find beneath their social station and obnoxious. This use of less important characters to highlight the traits that the major characters must learn to forgo in order to reach the resolution of the plot is one of the devices that gives this story its richness and complexity.

    The relationships of the other Bennet sisters, characterized by bickering and jealousy, are contrasts with the close, loving and supportive relationship between Elizabeth and Jane.

    Wickham's duplicity is contrasted with Darcy's honorable conduct. Elizabeth in the 1995 version: "One has all the goodness and one has all the appearance of it."

    The silly Mrs. Bennet and her bubble-headed younger daughters are contrasted with the sensible and thoughtful natures of Elizabeth and Jane. Lydia in particular, who rushes heedlessly into a relationship with Wickham that could ruin her and her sisters, is a foil for Elizabeth and Jane. Mary contrasts with Elizabeth, by being unable to play the piano but pushing it while Elizabeth plays the piano passably but doesn't try to exhibit herself. It isn't one of her better charms.

    Those chained to the rigid social status and artificial sense of worth of the time: the Bingley sisters, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, her niece and Mr. Collins, are contrasted with Jane and Elizabeth who can see through the conventions of society and who try to evaluate people based on their character.
    The relationships of the married couples (Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas, and Wickham and Lydia) contrast in different ways with the relationship that Elizabeth and Jane want to have with their husbands-to-be.

    • Mr. Bennet does not respect his wife and deals with the frustrations in his life by retiring to his library and reading books. Mrs. Bennet is simply silly and is obsessed with marrying off her daughters. We expect that Darcy will forever respect Elizabeth and cherish her. Elizabeth will never be silly and obsessed with marrying off her children, as Mrs. Bennet is.
    • Mr. Collins is incapable of true loving, as is his wife, Charlotte. She arranges their lives so that they see as little of each other as possible. Darcy and Elizabeth truly love each other; they will not arrange their lives to spend as much time apart as possible.
    • Lydia will be happy for a few years but when she realizes that Wickham doesn't love her, or cares for her much less than for the money she came with, she will be unhappy. For his part, Wickham will be miserable, tied to Lydia and probably go off to some distant part of the British Empire with the Army as soon as possible.

    IRONY AND HUMOR

    Irony and humor play major roles in highlighting the themes of the story. An excellent example is the ironic, tongue in cheek tone of the first two paragraphs of the book which are set out in both versions of the movie. (Elizabeth says the line the 1995 version.) To recapture this, we will use the first three paragraphs of the book. They are some of the best first paragraphs of any novel in the English language:
    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

    However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

    "My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"
    The first sentence is highly ironic because the story describes a society in which women were most in want of husbands with fortunes. This was a very hard and harsh fact of life for women in middle and upper class English society. This sentence sets the tone of the story as humorous, ironic, and dealing with money and romance.

    The second paragraph confirms that the single man may not even be aware of his "need" for a wife. Instead, this "truth" that binds him is known to the community which presumptively considers him the "property" of "some one or other of their daughters". Thus, the society Austen will be describing in the book makes people into pieces in a game of marriage monopoly.

    The third paragraph tells us that the game has begun. Through the book we are shown that the "universally acknowledged" truth is based on a materialistic, false, and destructive society in which the corrosive effects of a worship of wealth and status degrade the humanity of people who cannot see through it.

    The story is replete with ironic situations and statements. Here are a few:
    PLOT AND SUBPLOT

    The various subplots are important elements in this story. They include: the Bingley/Jane romance; the Collins/Charlotte marriage; the Lydia/Wickham seduction/marriage; and the conflict between Darcy and Wickham. Even the story of Elizabeth's refusal of Mr. Collins and her relationship with Wickham could be considered subplots. Each of the subplots relates to a theme of the story and serves to highlight that theme.

    LETTERS WRITTEN AND READ BY CHARACTERS

    Letters are used by Jane Austen as a literary device to vary the pace of the story, to allow very emotional communications to be made while the speakers are insulated from the persons receiving the communication. During the period that Jane Austen wrote her novels, the use of letters in novels was quite popular. Some novels and plays were, and still are, written entirely in the form of letters.
 


Pride and Prejudice is like a multifaceted cut gem, with each facet being the comparison of one character to another. It is a gem that glistens in the light of understanding.



DIALOGUE: (Darcy/Bingley Contrasted)

Mr. Bingley: Darcy, I shall never understand why you go through the world determined to be displeased with everything and everyone in it.

Mr. Darcy: And I will never understand why you are always in a rage to approve of everything and everyone that you meet.




Elizabeth to Jane after Bingley has proposed: If you give me forty such men I couldn't be as happy as you. I would need your goodness for that.









Elizabeth on Lady de Bourgh: "Mr. Collins ... speaks highly both of Lady Catherine and her daughter; but from some particulars that he has related of her ladyship, I suspect his gratitude misleads him, and that in spite of her being his patroness, she is an arrogant, conceited woman." Vol. 1, Book XVI




Here is another example of Austen's ironic tone from Chapter 4 of the novel. The narrator is describing the Bingley sisters: "They were in fact very fine ladies; not deficient in good humor when they were pleased, nor in the power of being agreeable when they chose it, but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town [in London], had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank, and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother's fortune and their own had been acquired by trade."





Elizabeth [is] one of the most intriguing female characters in fiction. Austen is known for her complex and appealing heroines. As one critic noted: For the first time in English literature, outside Shakespeare, we meet heroines who are credible,with minds, with the capacity to think for themselves, with ambition and wit. . . . . Study Guide for Pride and Prejudice from the Glencoe Literature Library.














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    Differences Between Male Characters in Austen's Novels and in the Movies

    Jane Austen's novels were a conservative reaction against the romantic literature of the early 1800s. This is shown in the severe restrictions on emotional display by men, hearkening back to the rational world view of the Enlightenment. Men always struggled against their emotions. In Darcy's case it was the emotion of love. His first proposal to Elizabeth was prefaced with: "In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." He then goes on to dwell on the problems he had acknowledging his love: the concerns over Elizabeth's inferiority; his distress over the inferiority of her family. All of these were " ... obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination." Most modern film adaptations of Jane Austen's novels, by adding and subtracting scenes and by the facial expressions, sighs, longing looks and other nonverbal indications by the actors, modify Austen's portrayal of men by showing them to be more emotional than the male characters in the novels and showing that they accept that emotion. These changes make Austen's stories more interesting and acceptable to the modern mass audience.

    An Austen male hero "equates courtship with emotional restraint and proves his worth by enacting that equation until a climactic event forces an emotional display that, in turn, forces courtship into marriage." The aversion to emotional display by the men in Austen's novels extends even to discussing their efforts to help others. An example is Darcy's refusal to tell Elizabeth of his efforts to help Lydia, no matter how much good it would have done him in his courtship of Elizabeth. In Sense and Sensibility, Edward Ferrars intends to go forward with his secret engagement to Lucy Steele without revealing his true feelings to Elinor. Colonel Brandon will not tell Marianne about Willoughby's indiscretions despite the fact that in doing so he would have eliminated a rival who was obviously favored by Marianne. In Emma, Knightley waits for an inordinately long time to declare his love for Emma despite being a close friend for many years. Even success in courting is characterized by restraint. The film adaptations of Emma and Persuasion, end in a kiss which is completely absent from the novel. Austen's criticisms of male emotionality is confirmed by her anti-heroes, such as Willoughby. They are emotionally extravagant and ultimately unsuccessful.

    Masculine emotionality is at odds with Austen's own critique of "sensibility." In the modern day re-creation of these characters, it is clear that "sensibility" has triumphed over the "sense" that Austen sought to champion. While the portrayal of men in the films turns on its head Austen's view of the way men should act when courting, these changes may provide an interesting basis for discussion with students about changes in accepted courting behavior over time and the benefits of making film versions of classic novels when substantial changes in the plot or the characters are required for commercial success.

    In the 2005 version Darcy remains true to the unemotional character drawn by Ms. Austen and, for modern viewers, the film suffers as a result. Mr. Bingley, on the other hand, displays some emotionality and the character is enhanced as a result.
 


The quotation and the substance of this section are taken from "Balancing the Courtship Hero - Masculine Emotional Display in Film Adaptions of Austen's Novels", contained in Jane Austen in Hollywood, Troost and Greenfield, Editors. The quotation is from page 25.





The following scenes have been added or substantially modified in the 2005 version to show male emotionality:
    (1) Darcy taking off his clothes and diving into the pond as he returns to Pemberley;

    (2) Darcy's night of pacing back and forth while writing a response to Elizabeth's rejection of his marriage proposal (in the novel the text of the reply is revealed as Elizabeth reads it, not as it is written by an emotionally distraught Darcy);

    (3) when Elizabeth, searching for the Bingley party, interrupts Darcy playing billiards alone; he is startled and agitated by this encounter with an intensity of response beyond what one would normally expect; and

    (4) the fencing practice in which Darcy tries to divert his energy from thinking of Elizabeth. In addition, Darcy is shown staring at Elizabeth, smiling at Elizabeth, gazing into space, and brooding. Ultimately, Darcy becomes "an awkward hero tortured by an excess of emotions he cannot express" (Ibid at page 31).



    Discussion Questions:

    1.  See Questions Suitable for Any Film.

    QUESTIONS RELATING TO MORE THAN ONE THEME

    2.  There are four young couples featured in this story. Describe how the experiences of three of these couples relate to the story's major themes.

    The following two questions are designed to be asked in sequence.

    3.  Describe the themes of this story which relate to the society in which the story is set.

    4.  Describe the themes of this story which relate to interpersonal relationships. (Some themes relate to both the broader society and personal relationships. Do not include any themes that you discussed in your answer to the preceding question.)

    5.  Assume that after Mr. Collins proposed to Charlotte but before she had accepted, she had discussed her plans with Elizabeth. What points would Charlotte have made in support of marrying Mr. Collins and what points would Elizabeth have made opposing such a marriage?

    6.  Mr. Collins' letter to Mr. Bennet contains the following statement: "I cannot be otherwise than concerned at being the means of injuring your amiable daughters and beg leave to apologize for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them every possible amends ..." What did Mr. Collins have in mind? What was ironic about the statement? What relationship does this irony have to at least two themes of the story?

    7.  Elizabeth Bennet had many things to overcome before she found the man she wanted to marry. Some of these were internal and some external. Name four of them.

    THE DANGERS OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

    8.  Many have said that the "pride" in the title of this work refers to Darcy and that the "prejudice" refers to Elizabeth. The truth is somewhat different. What is it?

    FIRST IMPRESSIONS CAN BE MISLEADING AND PEOPLE CAN CHANGE MAKING FIRST IMPRESSIONS OBSOLETE

    9.  List four things that influence a person's first impression of another person. Which are valid and which are not?

    10.  What was Elizabeth's first impression of Darcy? Was it justified?

    11.  What was Darcy's first impression of Elizabeth? Was it justified?

    12.  Like Darcy, Elizabeth made an error in her early evaluations. What was it?

    13.  Have you ever had a first impression of someone that you later found out to be incorrect? What happened? Does it relate at all to the themes of this story?

    14.  Do you agree that first impressions are not to be trusted, or do you rely upon your immediate, intuitive response to people?

    MARRIAGE SHOULD BE FOR LOVE; NOT WEALTH OR SOCIAL STATUS

    15.  Mr. Collins thought that there were several reasons why Elizabeth should look favorably on his proposal of marriage. What were they?

    16.  Charlotte Lucas says, "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance." What does this statement reveal about her? Do you agree with her statement? Explain.

    17.  There are three examples of marriages that are shown in this story to be problematic. What are they and what are their problems?

    18.  What is the role of the Gardiners in this story. (Mr. Gardiner, who lives in London, is the brother of Mrs. Bennet. He serves as the front for Mr. Darcy's efforts to help Lydia.)

    A CRITIQUE OF THE CLASS SYSTEM IN ENGLAND

    19.  What is the role of money and property in this story?

    The following four questions are designed to be asked in sequence:

    20.  What is entail and what is its role in this story?

    21.  What is primogeniture and how does it relate to entail? What effect do they have on society?

    22.  What did Thomas Jefferson and the American Revolutionaries think of primogeniture and entail?

    23.  If the story of Pride and Prejudice had taken place in the U.S. of the early 1800s, how would it have been different?

    24.  Rank the following characters in the film in order of their class standing in the English society of the day and explain your rankings. Note that Mr. Bingley's father got his wealth in the trades and Charlotte Lucas' father also made his money in trade but he was knighted by the Queen when he served as mayor of the town. Rank the following: Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Sir William Lucas, Mr. Bennet, and Mr. Wickham.

    25.  It is often said that Austen criticizes the class structure of English life in the early 1800s. However, many people are missing from this critique. Who are they?

    THE DEPENDENCE OF WOMEN ON MEN FOR FINANCIAL SECURITY

    26.  Does Wickham's situation show that the society of the time restricted men, as well as women? Was there any other way for Wickham to live than to marry a rich girl whose relatives would pay for the privilege of having Wickham as a son-in-law or to avoid a scandal?

    27.  What would have happened if Darcy had not been able to buy Wickham off?

    28.  In the society portrayed in this story, what is the future for unmarried women without wealth of their own?

    MEDDLING IN THE ROMANTIC AFFAIRS OF FRIENDS AND RELATIVES OFTEN LEADS TO TROUBLE

    29.  Two people in this story marry for money. Who are they and how are they portrayed?

    THE POOR PARENTING TECHNIQUES OF MR. AND MRS. BENNET

    30.  Evaluate the parenting techniques of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Give specific examples of poor and good parenting shown in the story.

    QUESTIONS FOCUSING ON CHARACTERS IN PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

    31.  Why is Elizabeth such a popular character?

    32.  There was something really positive and caring toward the Bennet family that Mr. Collins showed by seeking a wife among the Bennet daughters. What was it?

    33.  Mrs. Bennet describes Elizabeth as headstrong when Elizabeth refuses to accept Mr. Collins' marriage proposal. Present the arguments supporting Mrs. Bennet's position.

    34.  What are the most important differences between Elizabeth and Jane? How do they relate to the difference between Bingley and Darcy?

    35.  Reflecting on the good fortune of herself and her sister Jane, Elizabeth says (in the novel): "I am the happiest creature in the world. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh." What does this tell you about the differences between Elizabeth and Jane?

    36.  Which character in this story grew the most?

    37.  Compare Wickham and Bingley. They are alike in some ways and they are different in some ways.

    38.  What conflict did Darcy have to resolve before he could allow himself to pursue a relationship with Elizabeth?

    39.  The character of Mr. Collins has many purposes in this story, some relating to theme and some relating to plot. Describe at least two of them.

    40.  Name two good things about the character of Mr. Collins. There are actually four (some of them are a stretch, but they work).

    41.  Is Mr. Collins really concerned about the fact that his benefit from the entail of Mr. Bennet's estate should hurt the Bennet sisters, or is he pretending to be concerned for the sake of show?

    42.  Name two characters in the story with no positive traits.

    43.  This question relates to the 1995 BBC version of the movie: What would the film have been like had the screenwriter remained true to the novel in the portrayal of the male characters? Do you think it is right for filmmakers to substantially modify Austen's text and message to make the story palatable to modern audiences?

    44.  What does Elizabeth's response to Mr. Collins' proposal tell us about her character?

    45.  What does Elizabeth's response to the proposal of Mr. Collins and to Mr. Darcy's first proposal tell us about her character?

    46.  What are the differences in character between Jane and Elizabeth?

    47.  What is the role of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in developing the themes of this story?

    48.  Elizabeth says, "There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me." Give two examples.

    49.  What is the role of Mr. Wickham in explicating the themes of the story?

    PLOT, IRONY AND OTHER LITERARY DEVICES

    50.  What is the role of Mr. Wickham in advancing the main plot of the Elizabeth/Darcy romance?

    51.  What is the climax of the action in this novel?

    52.  Describe the main plot and the subplots in this story.

    53.  There are many examples of irony or ironic statements in this story. Name them and, for each, tell us how they relate to themes of the story.

    54.  In terms of the family relationships at the end of the story, what is the most ironic?

    QUESTIONS ON OTHER TOPICS

    55.  Opening lines of books are important to tell us what the book is about. The opening line of Pride and Prejudice is one of the most famous in English literature. It is: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." What does this opening sentence tell us about the issues that will be treated in the story and what does it presage about how those issues will be treated?

    56.  Jane Austen's novels continue to be read almost 200 years after they were written. The stories have been repeatedly made into movies. Describe why this is true. Discuss at least theme and plot.

    57.  Darcy and Elizabeth, by exposing Wickham, could have prevented him from seducing Lydia. Do they bear any responsibility for what happened to Lydia because they kept quiet? Were they wrong in failing to expose Wickham?

    58.  Describe some social conventions that exist today. They may be spoken or unspoken.

    59.  Lady Catherine asks Elizabeth, "Are any of your younger sisters out?" What does she mean by this?

    60.  On one occasion, Elizabeth was at home by herself when, "to her very great surprise, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Darcy only, entered the room ...." What rule of etiquette did these two violate when they proceeded to have a discussion and Mr. Darcy didn't immediately leave?

    61.  Pride and Prejudice has often been criticized for the fact that it appears unconcerned with the politics of Austen's day. Is this charge fair?

    62.  Name two differences between accepted social behavior shown in the film and modern social behavior.
 




Select questions that are appropriate for your students.






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Darcy: The fault is mine so must the remedy be.




















As actress Keira Knightley said, "The reason [Elizabeth's] character has lasted as one of the favorite female roles in English literature is that any woman who reads the book sees herself as Elizabeth Bennet." JASNA web page on the new movie version of Pride and Prejudice.


    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:


    See the discussion questions under MARRIAGE SHOULD BE FOR LOVE; NOT WEALTH OR SOCIAL STATUS

    1.  When Darcy proposed to Elizabeth the first time, he told her of his pride and "His sense of her inferiority -- of its being a degradation -- of the family. Obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination ...." What was he talking about?

    2.  In a society in which there are different social classes and the members of one class consider themselves to be "superior" to the other classes, can there be a true romantic relationship between a member of the "superior" class and a member of an "inferior" class? (In other words, in Jane Austen's England, can there be a solid romantic relationship between an aristocrat and a member of the middle class?)

    3.  What will you consider when you chose a life partner?

    4.  On several occasions Darcy cannot talk easily to Elizabeth. Why is that?

    5.  Do you agree or disagree with the following statement by Charlotte Lucas? "If a woman conceals her affection [for a man] ... she may lose the opportunity of fixing him; and it will then be but poor consolation to believe the world equally in the dark. There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all begin freely -- a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better shew more affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on."

    6.  Describe the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and compare it to the marriage that Darcy and Elizabeth expect to have.
 For suggested answers:    click here.


    Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts) Using The Six Pillars of Character

    Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


    (Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)

    1.  Can members of different social classes, one considered "inferior" to the other, truly respect each other? Defend your answer.

 


Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.

Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics. For suggested answers:    Ethicse">click here.


    Bridges to Reading: For Parents: Encourage your child to read Pride and Prejudice after seeing the film. The book is much more detailed than the film and contains language, incidents and descriptions not shown in the film. Perhaps parents could read the book at the same time as children. As you read, discuss what is happening to the various characters and what they are doing about it. Parents can also watch the film with their children and go over some of the discussion questions.
 



MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: Other excellent film adaptations of Jane Austen novels include: Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Persuasion.
 





    Assignments, Projects and Activities:

    • Assignments, Projects and Activities Suitable for Any Film.


    • Interview someone from an older generation. Ask if acceptable social behavior has changed in his or her lifetime. Use the response to create a chart that compares and contrasts the social rules in the two generations, yours and your interviewee's. Topics to cover include: language (slang and profanity), greetings, farewells, kissing, touching, relations with parents, curfews, supervision, and dress. Pride and Prejudice Study Guide from the Glencoe Library.


    • Have students discuss as a class or in small groups their ideas about marriage. What factors do they think help make a good marriage? How important do they feel marriage will be in their lives? What would they look for in a life partner? How much must the values in their life coincide? What are their ambitions? Are they consistent with yours? What do they enjoy doing for fun? Do they want to have children? If so, how many and when? What religious faith or philosophy will they want to pursue and use in raising the children? Will they commit themselves to the duality that is a strong marriage?


    • Have the class write another ending to the story based on the following changed facts. The new endings should be evaluated as to how they exemplify the themes of the story and the characters in it.
      Assignment: Write another ending to the story given the following changed facts. Characters should act in ways that are consistent with their actions in the story. Your ending should be consistent with the themes of Pride and Prejudice. Add to your ending the fact that after he pays off Wickham, but before he proposes to Elizabeth for the second time, Darcy suffers a catastrophic financial loss. Pemberley must be sold and he is left almost penniless. He must now work for a living and cannot afford servants. He has lost all of his connections with people like Bingley. They will no longer associate with him because he has lost his wealth, and with it his social standing. Elizabeth, having heard of Darcy's efforts on behalf of Lydia, now learns that he has lost all his property. At the same time a new suitor for Elizabeth arrives on the scene. The man is handsome, accomplished, and wealthy. He has made an excellent first impression on Elizabeth as to his intelligence and breeding. However, while she is fond of the new suitor, she knows her heart belongs to Darcy. Darcy writes her a letter telling her all and repenting that he tried to keep Jane and Bingley apart. He tells her that he has scraped together enough money for passage to the United States. He hopes that in America he will have more opportunity as a man without inherited wealth, connections or social standing. What will she do?

      Some Suggestions: Here are some interesting alternatives: (1) Elizabeth knows she loves Darcy and doesn't care about wealth. She decides she wants to marry him. (This is consistent with the themes that marriage decisions should be based on affection and that wealth should not be taken into consideration. It is consistent with the character of Elizabeth, but it is out of character for Darcy to ask Elizabeth to marry him a second time when he cannot support her.) After she receives Darcy's letter Elizabeth tracks him down and insists that he marry her. Together they emigrate to the United States. (2) In the entire story of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth has never taken an affirmative action to get what she wants. She has turned down suitors and thanked Darcy for his help, but she has never totally broken the rules for social acceptance. Making sure that she will not act on an erroneous first impression this time, she takes a lot of time to get to know the new suitor. By this time Darcy has gone to the U.S. Should she wait and hope he will be successful and come back for her? Will she go after him? Or will she accept the new suitor and ensure that her family is financially secure?
    • Assignment: Write another ending to this story but assume that Elizabeth politely rejects Mr. Darcy's first proposal but does not explain why. (The end result is that they don't get together because Darcy will never have an opportunity to unburden himself about Wickham.)


    • Assignment: Change the facts so that Elizabeth never discovers that Darcy helped Lydia. How will this affect the ending? What will happen?


    • Mr. Collins often expresses his views about marriage in the novel. Ask students to write and deliver a sermon by Mr. Collins on marriage. Have students decide, before writing the sermon, on the context in which the sermon is to be delivered (for example, after his own marriage, during Lydia's disappearance, or around the time of Elizabeth's marriage to Darcy).


    • Students can create cartoons satirizing the fashions, social attitudes, or characters in Pride and Prejudice. Set up a classroom gallery to display the finished cartoons.


    • Review with students how Mrs. Bennet is baffled and angered by the entailment of her husband's estate. Ask students to research and write a paper explaining the practice of entailing an estate in England, why estates were entailed, and what impact entails had on families.


    • To better the language of Jane Austen, select a few scenes and read them in a class or group setting. Then discuss the themes of the story that were involved in the passage and any literary devices used by Austen. Examples include: the first three paragraphs of the book; Collins proposal; Darcy's first proposal; the scene of Elizabeth's last visit to Rosings; the scene in which Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam talk about Darcy; Darcy's second proposal.
 















Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.


    Bibliography:In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

    • "Balancing the Courtship Hero - Masculine Emotional Display in Film Adaptions of Austen's Novels" and
    • "Emma Thompson's Sense and Sensibility as Gateway to Austen's Novel" contained in Jane Austen in Hollywood, Edited by Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield, 1998, University of Kentucky Press.
    • Searching for Jane Austen by Emily Auerbach, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004

    Attributions: Many thanks to Jennifer Elizabeth Briasco, a high school student from "The Republic of Pemberley," for her valuable corrections to the 2004 version of this Guide.


    Last updated April 11, 2010.




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Bharat Tandon on Mrs Bennet

Read the opening chapter of Pride and Prejudice, and you might feel that there's nothing more to be said about Mrs Bennet. After all, Austen's narrator signs off her beautifully pitched dramatic exposition of Elizabeth's parents with something that sounds like a categorical declaration: "Her mind was less difficult to develope [sic]. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news." Indeed, had this been Austen's previous novel, Sense and Sensibility, there probably wouldn't be anything more to be said, since that story, at least in its early sections, is reassuringly direct and decided in its narratorial judgments.

Reread the beginning of Pride and Prejudice, on the other hand, and matters begin to seem far less clear cut. Take that famous opening sentence, for example: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Readers have long noted that, as a statement, it's far from "universal"; rather, it's a prime example of the technique, with which Austen experiments from the later parts of Sense and Sensibility onwards, of "free indirect style", in which characters' subjective opinions are presented as if they were external judgments. And after all, whose opinions are being presented here? The more one reads of what follows in the novel, the more it looks as if a chapter that closes with a putdown of Mrs Bennet might also begin with a sentence that channels her thoughts. Nor is this the only incident where the reader is obliged to take on Mrs Bennet's restricted views; compare the verdict on Darcy's standoffishness at his first public appearance: "His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and every body hoped that he would never come there again" (prominent among this "every body" being Mrs Bennet, of course).

Why, then, might Austen feel the need to let Mrs Bennet so far into the narrative texture of a novel that clearly sees her as an object of ridicule? Her track record in Pride and Prejudice is not great, given that she tries to strongarm Elizabeth into accepting the odious walking cliche that is Mr Collins, as well as encouraging the very flirtatiousness that results in Lydia's elopement with Mr Wickham (presumably because she sees in her air-headed youngest daughters a reflection of her own past self). One explanation, I think, can be found in Austen's employment of the word "business". In this light, Mrs Bennet can be seen not as an aberration within the world of Pride and Prejudice, but more as an excessive, pathological response to a genuine social grievance. For, to someone in Mrs Bennet's modest social and economic position, getting that many daughters married off would indeed have been a serious business – especially considering the institutionalised iniquity of a family inheritance entailed away from the female line of succession.

Austen's art as a whole is an extraordinary aesthetic response to a whole set of contemporary constraints and pressures, whether those pressures be sexual, economic, or simply the claustrophobic atmosphere of populated social spaces; and if Mrs Bennet is sometimes unbearable, she's also the symptom of larger causes that are even less bearable. Austen couldn't avoid them, nor does her fiction try to. And whatever else one might lay at Mrs Bennet's door, she sticks up for her daughters, as when she declares of Mr Bingley that "he used my daughter extremely ill … I am sure Jane will die of a broken heart, and then he will be sorry for what he has done". After all, who ever wanted their own mother to be impartial? You might not always want Mrs Bennet in your space, but there are worse people to have on your side.

Bharat Tandon is the author of Jane Austen and the Morality of Conversation (Anthem Press)

John Mullan on Mr Bennet

Everyone seems to love Mr Bennet, a satirical cove who relishes the follies of other characters. He's a master of the dry bon mot – who can forget his way of interrupting Mary's painful performance on the piano ("You have delighted us long enough. Let the other young ladies have time to exhibit")? But this shows us why we should think badly of him. He stops his daughter in her Suzuki-style, metronomic tracks, but his ironic barb amuses us at her expense. Everything is comedy to him. When Jane Bennet has her heart broken by Mr Bingley's sudden departure and subsequent neglect, Mr Bennet seems to think it is all a laugh. "Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then. It is something to think of, and it gives her a sort of distinction among her companions." The astute reader of Pride and Prejudice will reflect that even his droll ripostes are usually deplorable. "If my children are silly, I must hope to be always sensible of it." But not to do anything about it. He treats his younger offspring as objects of derision, but does nothing to improve their minds or their manners.

He married the idiotic Mrs Bennet because he found her sexy. He was "captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give". Having discovered his error, he has retreated into mockery of his wife. From the very first chapter, he is teasing and tormenting poor, stupid Mrs Bennet. She is desperate that he should visit Mr Bingley, the new single man in possession of a good fortune, and Austen tells us that he had always intended to do so, "though to the last always assuring his wife that he should not go". It may be funny, but it is connubial torture. A psychologist would surely say that he is punishing her for his own folly in having been attracted to her in the first place. Late in the novel Elizabeth reflects that, because she is fond of her father, she has too often ignored "that continual breach of conjugal obligation and decorum which, in exposing his wife to the contempt of her own children, was so highly reprehensible".

Much turns out to be Mr Bennet's fault. On an income of £2,000 a year, he ought to have been able to build up a sizable inheritance for his daughters, but has entirely failed to do so. He simply trusted that he would eventually have a son, who would duly inherit the estate and its income; by giving him five daughters, providence has denied him this security and ensured that his cousin, Mr Collins, will get everything.

And in critical moments he likes to be absent. He does not bother to attend the assembly room ball, where Jane first meets Mr Bingley and Elizabeth is insulted by Mr Darcy. He is at home reading a book. When trouble brews and voices are raised, he retreats to his library, where none may enter without his permission. He knows that his youngest daughter, Lydia, is a silly flirt, so why did he let her go to Brighton – resort of all sinfulness – chaperoned only by a teenage friend? When disaster duly strikes, and Lydia runs off with a notable rake to live in sin somewhere in London, he is powerless. Such an intelligent man should have seen it coming. "It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it," he tells Elizabeth after his fruitless search for Lydia. Dead right.

John Mullan is the author of What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved (Bloomsbury)

Zoe Williams on Elizabeth Bennet

Jane Austen directs our sympathies like a Beijing traffic cop – balletic and graceful, she is also very firm and unambiguous, brooking no argument. There's really no room for Elizabeth Bennet to be anything other than a feminist heroine, having such a pert wit and lovely eyes, commanding our affections the way she does.

However, her relationship with Mr Bennet, so often seen as establishing and ratifying her status as the smartest and most interesting of the daughters, certainly complicates – if not pollutes – her standing as our narrator's ego ideal.

The marriage between the parents is just one union serving as a counterpoint to the love match that all the daughters so ardently, subversively desire. Mr and Mrs Bennet are ill‑suited, and Elizabeth operates as the father's ally in an essentially very uneven domestic civil war. Mrs Bennet has the ballast – the younger daughters and her own sheer energy for filling the air with noise – while Mr Bennet has the precision missiles: his sarcasm and the challenging aspect of Elizabeth, his dote. Their relationship is conspiratorial, playful in a sense, but allowing in no other players. Witness the arrival of Mr Collins: "His cousin was as absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure."

The truth is that his pleasure does require a partner – since it resides in his feelings of superiority over the rest of his family, its levity depends on an audience. Without his second daughter, he would be alienated. She internalises this filial duty so completely as to take on herself a duty of despising her mother, and, by extension, all the women around her. When this is noted – "'Eliza Bennet,' said Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, 'is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex, by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art'" - the direction of the narrative would have us take this as evidence that Miss Bingley is a bit of a bitch. But she's also right. Eliza Bennet, excepting a fondness for her older sister that seems mainly habitual and sentimental, can't stand women. The only allegiance she can forge is with Darcy's sister, Georgiana, who is incredibly shy, large and homely-looking. Elizabeth has built so much of her identity upon deriding other women that the spectrum of female companionship she can cope with is extremely narrow. To be in her confidence, women have to be incredibly quiet, in other words – this prejudice of hers is much more limiting than her prejudice against Mr Darcy.

To be so scornful, it would help if she had excellent judgment, but instead it is poor – she ridicules Jane for her easy assumptions of everyone's goodness, but her own adjudications (Wickham good, Darcy bad) are erratic and muddled. She affects an arch carelessness to shore up her already established paternal approval; and yet she does care, so the act of surrender is both cowardly and inauthentic. Her rejection of traits that she perceives as feminine – the reservation of judgment, which she casts as indecisiveness – interferes with her wisdom, rendering it less than it could be.

I would never argue that a feminist had to be sisterly, any more than sisterliness does anything for feminism. Nevertheless, it is a tough call to find a feminist icon in a woman who hates her sex to please her father.

Sebastian Faulks on Mr Darcy

Mr Darcy may not be the first depressive to feature in an English novel, but he is almost certainly the first to be a romantic lead. This is a man without shame, whose shamelessness is made worse by the fact that he has intermittent access to good judgment. When he is without it, however, he is a manipulative, hypocritical, self-centred depressive, aware of some of his faults but unapologetic for them – bound by arrogance to ignore them because they are his, and therefore, by his definition, not really faults at all.

In her response to his second proposal, Elizabeth says brightly: "You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure."

Darcy's reply makes clear who he is – a man suffering from chronic depression, dwelling on the past, but unable to take responsibility for his own actions: "Painful recollections will intrude, which cannot, which ought not be repelled," he says; and it is the most revealing thing he says in the whole novel. He goes on to correct the servant, Mrs Reynolds's, account of his character and to confirm the darker views of Bingley and Fitzwilliam; but alas, for all he has learned from Elizabeth, he still cannot take responsibility for himself.

He blames his dead parents for "spoiling" him; he will not see that his character and actions have been for some years his own to shape. He is unhappy about himself, critical even, but is locked in a spiral with thoughts that "cannot, ought not to be repelled". He has, furthermore, no interests; he doesn't do anything. He will lend his fishing rods to Mr Gardiner but doesn't contemplate joining in the sport. In modern therapeutic terms, he needs to understand his own emotions more deeply, get to know himself, take exercise to release endorphins, abandon the protective persona ("beneath me") he has adopted and forgive himself for what he is and has been. There is much to forgive, much "work" to be done, and it is the sadness of the book that we suspect he will never be able to do it. When Elizabeth asks him why he was so silent on his last visit, when all seemed set fair between them, he says he was "embarrassed". Even she, all of whose defences are down as she heads for the altar, cannot let this go: "But tell me, what did you come to Netherfield for?" she asks in exasperated fondness. "Was it merely to ride to Longbourn and be embarrassed?"

It will be hard for her to accept that in her husband the lack of vital energy that underlies depression will always dominate the intermittent bursts of activity, the little upswings that punctuate his melancholy. All that Darcy can do now is marry Elizabeth, his lifelong Prozac in an Empire-line dress: dear, busy, middle-class Lizzy with her wit and common sense, who will be good at sex, kind to his sister and will laugh at his aunt. It is more, really, than he deserves for his single outburst of politeness and his periodic financial largesse.

Sebastian Faulks is the author of Faulks on Fiction (BBC Books)

PD James on George Wickham

"Mr Wickham senior, the highly regarded steward of the late Mr Darcy, was fortunate in his son George, who throughout his life was a child of whom any father could be proud. George was brought up with Fitzwilliam, the heir of Mr Darcy of Pemberley, a spoilt and ill-tempered boy with little regard for the future responsibilities of his privileged life. It was George Wickham who, in Darcy's youth, by personal example and precept largely helped to keep him out of trouble. Wickham became ordained straight from Oxford, as was his ambition, and having inherited a rich country living from the late Mr Darcy, served faithfully for three years as a well-loved pastor to his parishioners, while Fitzwilliam Darcy sank into dissolution and disgrace by seducing the five daughters of a Mr and Mrs Bennet of Longbourn.

But the Reverend Mr George Wickham's abilities were soon recognised and eventually he rose to a bishopric and was revered as the very model of a Christian gentleman. He married the daughter of a wealthy churchman but money was never important to him. His old age was blessed with numerous grandchildren and he was buried in his own cathedral, where an impressive marble tomb bears witness to a long life lived always in the service of others …"

PD James is the author of Death Comes to Pemberley (Faber & Faber)

Paula Byrne on Lydia Bennet

Is Lydia Bennet Jane Austen's most misunderstood character? Seen through the eyes of her sister, Elizabeth, she appears to be a vulgar, lusty hoyden, whose outrageous antics put all her sisters' reputations at risk. Elizabeth complains: "Our importance, our respectability in the world, must be affected by the wild volatility, the assurance and disdain of all restraint which mark Lydia's character." Perhaps Elizabeth is rather jealous of her youngest sibling, who, after all, is her mother's favourite child. But is it really so bad that Lydia refuses to conform to the strict and suffocating conventions of female propriety?

Lydia is a colourful character, full of "good humour and good spirits". She provides a strong contrast to her sanctimonious, humourless sister Mary, who spouts empty platitudes about acceptable female conduct. Refreshingly honest, Lydia says what everyone else is thinking, but dare not say. Here is Lydia describing the heiress, Miss King, who has set her sights on Wickham: "I will answer for it, he never cared three straws about her – who could about such a nasty little freckled thing?"

Lydia is a very modern character, who refuses to bow to the conventions of polite society. She won't comply with the rules. Lydia is boy-mad, but what 15-year-old girl isn't? Stifled by the restrictions of her life in a small, provincial village, she longs for adventure and companionship. Her excitement at the thought of partying at that "gay bathing place, Brighton" places her as a very typical teenager. She dances with the soldiers, enjoys crossdressing a soldier in her aunt's gown, and gossips about a young private being flogged.

Lydia, unlike any other character in Pride and Prejudice, is fully in touch with her sexuality. She enjoys sex before marriage and has very little concern for the consequences. After their elopement, she and Wickham live together in lodgings in London. The long discussion between Elizabeth Bennet and her aunt is remarkably open: "But can you think that Lydia is so lost to everything but love of him, as to consent to live with him on any other terms than marriage?" asks Mrs Gardiner. Elizabeth, fully aware of her sister's "animal spirits", knows that she is very capable of living in sin. She has not been seduced or forced by Wickham. She gives herself to the rakish soldier with eyes wide open.

Austen allows Lydia to be free from repentance. Indeed, the moral torchlight is shone on the odious Mr Collins when he tells Mr Bennet to "throw off your unworthy child from your affection for ever, and leave her to repay the fruits of her own heinous offence". Lydia does not share the fate of another fallen woman, Eliza Williams in Sense and Sensibility, who is abandoned by Willoughby when she falls pregnant with his child. It is a bold move on Austen's part to allow Lydia to escape scot-free from her "infamy". She is not punished for her disgrace, as was typical in novels of the age, but is rewarded with marriage to the handsome, charming man she loves.

Lydia could be described as a proto-feminist, as she refuses to conform to the protocols of courtship behaviour. She is honest to a fault, and is no victim. Nor does she pretend to be a prude or indulge in false shame. There is nothing fake about her. Furthermore, unlike the odious Caroline Bingley, she is open and forthright about her romantic interest in men, rather than devious and catty.

Austen despised "pictures of perfection" – heroines who have no flaws. Lydia bounces off the page in all her glorious, noisy imperfection.

Paula Byrne is the author of The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things (HarperPress)

Janet Todd on Mary Bennet

Dear Miss Austen,

"You have delighted us long enough," you made Father say in front of the whole world. Everyone knows this putdown: it's nearly as famous as your witticism about everyone thinking rich men need wives. Typical malice. Yes, malice. How would you describe a person with an adoring sister and admiring father creating a child despised by father and siblings? If only characters could sue their creators, I'd have your £110 off you – and more!

So why did you do it? Clearly you can't stand aspiring girls, especially plain ones. I work "hard for knowledge and accomplishments". Yet you pick on me continually. But of course you're just being conventional – as usual! We all mock bluestockings, such easy targets. The wonderful Mary Wollstonecraft wanted girls to study and have careers. But you'll have none of it. All your pretty girls are untaught: sister Lizzie, of course; Emma with her reading lists; imbecilic Catherine Morland. If Father had fallen under a carriage before Lizzie married money, only I could have earned my living. But that carries no weight with you.

Father takes every chance to ridicule. "What say you, Mary? For you are a young lady of deep reflection, I know, and read great books and make extracts." According to you I wanted to "say something very sensible, but knew not how". At least you gave me the hide of a rhinoceros.

I have some pleasures, though always spoilt by sneering Father and his pet, Lizzie – I don't count those giggling idiots, Kitty and Lydia. I play well, and of course at Netherfield I perform. While I play, Lizzie squirms and rolls her eyes at Father, who, obedient to his favourite, barks at me. I do what I have to do: pretend not to hear. But you are there too, Miss Austen: everyone, you write, likes Lizzie's playing better, though she's less skilled. Nothing to do with the fine eyes, I suppose?

And what about cousin Collins? You're nasty to him too – though at least you made him funny. You know he'd have suited me. He'd come to marry one of us. But Father and Lizzie blow the whole scheme out of the water for the sake of a joke about Mama not speaking to Lizzie if she doesn't marry Mr Collins, and Father not speaking to her if she does. So complacent and rude are they that no one thinks to give me my chance. Yet I'd have liked playing music in church and writing my husband's sermons. If they'd thought for a moment, I'd have saved them all a deal of trouble, and Lizzie wouldn't have had to run after Darcy in Derbyshire in that shameless way she did.

We don't choose our creators or our parents. If I had a choice, I'd be very happy with Miss Brontë. I feel myself much suited for Jane Eyre.

Yours

MB

Disgruntled in Meryton

Janet Todd is the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Pride and Prejudice (Cambridge University Press)

Lucy Mangan on Charlotte Lucas

The older I get, the more I admire the pragmatist. Romance is fine in books – although even brilliant, bold, spiky Elizabeth is right at the edge of what my cankered soul can tolerate in a love‑blind, lovestruck heroine, and don't get me started on her demented descendant Bridget Jones. But I took, then and now, Jane Austen to be not so much a pleasant few hours' diversion but a manual for life, and looked beyond the dazzling protagonists for better guides through it.

Step forward, then, Charlotte Lucas, you magnificently clear-eyed, steel‑spined, iron-willed creature who, while everyone else is mooning over dance partners, parsing glances and bobbing curls hither and thither, is taking a cold, hard, dispassionate look at her situation and making a reckoning of the fates to come. Knowing that she is, at 27, on the very brink of spinsterhood and with no looks or fortune that will retard her progress towards it, she chooses to become the wife of Mr Collins, rather than live as an unwanted burden on whichever of her brothers ends up taking her in.

Personally I would take draining my brothers' resources or starving in a garret if familial bonds of duty and obligation failed (and yes, John Dashwood, I'm looking at you, you sod) or were abruptly severed by their untimely deaths and inadequate will provisions, over marriage to Mr Collins. I even suspect that if Charlotte had truly known what marriage to a man so teeth-gnashingly awful really meant – in a way that no woman without the experience of going out with, let alone sleeping with, someone inappropriate can – she would have made a different choice.

But she applies such knowledge of herself, of others, and of life as she has in a determinedly rational manner, and then sets out to manage the consequences as best she can for the rest of her life. She "did not seem to ask for compassion", as Elizabeth notes at the end of her first visit to the marital bower. Austen twists the knife in the more experienced reader's heart by adding: "Her home and her housekeeping, her parish and her poultry, and all their dependent concerns, had not yet lost their charms", leaving us to envisage the desolate inner landscape Charlotte will have to survey for the decades after they fade. But I have faith – I have to have faith – that the former Miss Lucas will find a way to rationalise her sufferings and draw comfort from the knowledge that this is at least the fate she chose, rather than drifted into.