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Pride and Prejudice and the Problem of Elizabeth, Jane, and Mr. Bennet

Pride and Prejudice and the Problem of Elizabeth, Jane, and Mr. Bennet

 

Pride and Prejudice and the Problem of Elizabeth, Jane, and Mr. BennetPride and Prejudice and the Problem of Elizabeth, Jane, and Mr. Bennet

Several relationships in Pride and Prejudice deserve primary attention.  Elizabeth and Charlotte concern themselves with marriage and whether a romantic view of marriage (esteem, love, and so on) is relevant in a pragmatic world where women marry predominantly to “secure”[1] a husband, as Charlotte often reminds Elizabeth and does so herself when she marries Collins.  Elizabeth and Jane each view and treat people differently; Jane tends to look for the good in others, often to the point of naiveté, whereas Elizabeth’s criticism is usually sarcastic and cynical.  Then there is Elizabeth and her father, Mr. Bennet.  She tends to defend her father’s doings and shares his sarcasm and cynicism.  In what follows below, we will look more closely at Elizabeth’s tendency to be like her father; Jane will be assessed to provide an opposite view.   A problem for the novel, then, is whether Elizabeth and her father’s sarcastic, cynical approach to life is better than Jane’s benevolence.

Mr. Bennet, in conversation with his wife in chapter one, unreservedly favors Elizabeth over his other four daughters.  He says

[my daughters] are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but [Elizabeth] has something more of quickness than her sisters.

Mr. Bennet’s mean, cynical attitude towards his daughters is evident as he holds human intellect highly.  “Silly” and “ignorant” both describe what Mr. Bennet believes is the weak, ignorant condition of the average female mind (“like other girls”).  His excluding Elizabeth from the female populace—particularly his other daughters, due to her mind’s “quickness”—is a first step to understand why he prefers Elizabeth and how human intellect unites them.

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The Complex Mind of Elizabeth Bennet

by Seth Snow

We have learned, and continue to learn, that a person seems to have both conscious and subconscious thoughts.  Conscious thoughts are those thoughts that influence our behavior with our knowing it, whereas subconscious thoughts are those thoughts that influence our behavior without our knowing it.  I will propose that the characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice have both conscious and subconscious thoughts, by examining Elizabeth’s conversation with Charlotte Lucas, which occurs early in the novel. While there are other passages in Pride and Prejudice dealing with conscious and subconscious thoughts of characters, I will narrow this discussion to one passage.

Charlotte Lucas, in an early conversation with Elizabeth Bennet about Jane Bennet’s plan to marry Mr. Bingley, suggests that Jane should be more honest and straightforward with her feelings towards Bingley to ensure that she can “secure” him to marry her.  Elizabeth then says to Charlotte, “Your plan is a good one…where nothing is in question but the desire of being well married; and if I were determined to get a rich husband, or any husband, I dare say I should adopt it.  But these are not Jane’s feelings; she is not acting by design”.  Elizabeth, through the word “determined,” is, in her conscious mind, trying to express at least three ideas to Charlotte: Jane’s feelings, her own feelings, and her view of marriage relative to Charlotte’s view of marriage.

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