Pride 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” 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.
A brief exploration of Jane Austen’s level of popularity with different members of the Royal family.
Jane came to Winchester from her Hampshire cottage at Chawton, accompanied by her beloved sister Cassandra, to seek medical help because of her failing health. Jane had already begun to become ill in 1816, yet still she continued to write, beginning her new novel The Brothers later published as Sanditon, in January 1817 which – poignantly – was to remain unfinished.
On her death, Jane was buried at Winchester Cathedral, although her original tombstone makes no express reference to the fact that she wrote.
Whilst this might initially surprise, it is important to remember that the works published by Jane in her lifetime appeared anonymously, something which the tombstone inscription continues to support. However, it is notable that a third memorial in Winchester Cathedral – a stained glass window erected in her memory in 1900 – was paid for by public subscription, something which alone speaks for how her literary recognition had grown since her death.
That Jane’s works were enjoyed in her lifetime however, meant that her readers admired the unidentified writing of “the author of Sense and Sensibility” – as she appeared listed in the three volumes of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility” listing the work as simply being written “By a Lady.”
Jane had not been without her royal readers, either. With the publication of Emma, the Prince Regent, later King George IV – who admired Jane Austen’s work – received his own copy, sent to him by the publisher John Murray. The Prince Regent’s only (legitimate) daughter, Princess Charlotte, died as the result of childbirth at Claremont in 1817, the same year of Jane’s death.
The Prince Regent’s librarian James Stanier Clarke, invited Jane to view the Library at the Prince’s lavish mansion residence of Carlton House, which she did on 13 November 1815. It seems to have been hinted as part of this visit that the Prince Regent wished her new book, Emma to be personally dedicated to him, something which – despite being personally unsympathetic to the Prince Regent – Jane could hardly ignore and which was more or less, after all, a royal command by way of a request, she being “at liberty to dedicate any future work to the Prince.”
The Prince Regent duly received his three-volume copy, and the one that was sent to him is today surviving in the Royal Library at Windsor. Jane tactfully dedicated the work to the Prince Regent by his permission and respectfully signed it as “THE AUTHOR.” Clarke’s suggestions on Jane’s authorial prerogative found later expression in her manuscript, Plan of a Novel, according to Hints from Various Quarters, which remained unpublished during her lifetime. Clearly, Jane’s unquestionable gifts were recognised and highly valued by the Prince Regent, who had engaged Clarke not only as his librarian but also his domestic chaplain.
The first royal purchase of a Jane Austen novel in the Royal Collection was discovered by chance during the programme of research for the Georgian Papers project in 2018. As part of this project, the researcher Nicholas Foretek of the University of Pennsylvania found recorded in the Royal Archives, the first documented purchase of a novel by Jane Austen, something unknown to academic Austen studies until 2018 and therefore, a remarkably significant discovery. I have drawn on Foretek’s report of his findings.
The documentary evidence suggests that Sense and Sensibility was bought by the Prince Regent, some two days before Jane’s maiden novel was first publicly announced in The Star. The Prince bought this copy for 15 shillings on 28 October 1811, the year of the Regency Bill. The purchase of Sense and Sensibility occurs first in this page of the ledger for the Prince’s booksellers Becket & Porter of Pall Mall, headed and underlined: ‘Books’.
The Georgian Papers show that the Prince Regent bought two copies of Pride and Prejudice in 1813, after which time his bookseller had changed to Budd & Calkins on the demise of Becket of Pall Mall. He additionally purchased a further copy of Sense and Sensibility, buying Mansfield Park in 1814 and Northanger Abbey in 1819, which he ordered to be bound. Pride and Predjudice was also bound for him in calfskin for the price of 13s. 6d “with gilt edges”, whilst the pages of Sense and Sensibility were gilded for 3s. 6d. Perhaps, there is something touching in this detail for the Prince Regent and King whose taste craved the gorgeous, as well as a sure proof of how he prized what he owned. In this case, it is fitting that Jane was invited to Carlton House, the opulent mansion of the Prince Regent who would have her own works gilded.
According to suggestions made in the Memoirs of Jane Austen (1869) by James Edward Austen-Leigh, the Prince Regent’s high regard for Jane’s work resulted in him keeping copies of her published works in each of his own residences.
The Prince Regent – later George IV – died in 1830. His niece, Princess and later Queen Victoria, was born two years after Jane Austen’s death in 1819. As Queen, Victoria particularly enjoyed Pride and Prejudice. Prince Albert read aloud to her from Pride and Prejudice. We know this because she recorded it in her journal in 1853, when the Royal Family was at Osborne. Again at Osborne, he read Northanger Abbey aloud to her in the summer of 1857. Curiously, Queen Victoria refers to ‘Miss Austin’ [sic] in her journal, although these admittedly are entries in the Queen’s edited journals, copied by her daughter, Princess Beatrice.
Various editions of Jane’s works are today kept in The Royal Collection, including a set of her novels and an edited collection of her letters to her sister Cassandra. There is also among these books, a four-volume set of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
George V and Queen Mary visited Winchester Cathedral on St Swithun’s Day in 1912, for a thanksgiving service; Jane Austen wrote her a poem from her sickbed for St Swithun’s Day in 1817, just three days before she died. George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Winchester in 1939 and were presented with the keys to the city at the Guildhall. They returned in 1945.
Queen Elizabeth II visited Winchester in 1955 for the 800th anniversary of the city’s charter. The Queen was welcomed in Winchester College’s quadrangle by the boys of the college and escorted by the School Master. There followed a traditional greeting in Latin, after which The Queen presented medals to outstanding pupils of the school. The Queen said during her visit: “We must be careful that the new does not obscure the old. That in times of change, traditions which have been tested by long experience, should not be discarded.”
Winchester College stands adjacent to the house on College Street where Jane Austen died in 1817. A celebration was held in Winchester’s Guildhall to mark the 90th birthday of The Queen – entitled “This Royal Throne; A Celebration to mark H.M The Queen’s 90th Birthday” – it was centred around words to describe the history of the Crown, through the words of English (and British) monarchs themselves but also, through the words of English writers to the present age – from William Shakespeare to William Makepeace Thackeray and from Horace Walpole to – Jane Austen.
Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian and writer, as well as a historical consultant and independent scholar. She writes for academic journals, magazines and newsletters as well as the web. She contributed to Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine (2013-2017).
A long dead 19th century author who wrote about the rather limited lives of women, in a time when success was defined by who you married, might seem a strange crush for the modern millennial, yet on Instagram the hashtag ‘#janeausten’ brings up over half a million hits and counting.
Part of this is surely down to her abilities as a writer – powerful observations, smart and witty dialogue, and the kind of independent and intelligent female leads that Hollywood still hasn’t quite caught up with. However, that only explains her general appeal, whereas on my own book website, she continuously tops the bestseller lists amongst 18-30 year olds in particular.
So what is it about her that appeals so much to young women today?
She was a Woman Ahead of her Time
“I was so intrigued and inspired by Jane’s life.” Sarah, 23
From many of the comments we receive it seems the attraction might well be Jane herself. As an author who generated her own income she was considered unconventional, to say the least, and simply outrageous to many. As was the fact she never married; in fact, Jane turned down a marriage proposal – an experience she drew on when writing Pride and Prejudice, where Lizzie Bennett turns down two of her own, even if she does end up marrying in the end.
Jane would have been a Social Media Influencer Today
“I find Jane Austen so inspiring as a young writer.” Vikki, 26
By becoming a writer, Jane gave herself a voice and the ability to express herself to women of her age and class – something that was especially powerful at a time when there were no female politicians, and few women in public life whatsoever, and conventional wisdom suggested that the only way to have any real power was to share a pillow with a successful man.
She was also a great letter writer, keen to share news, gossip and ideas on a daily basis, although tragically few survive as her sister burnt most of them at Jane’s request. Something else that might chime with a generation facing being worse off than their parent’s one, is that Jane’s life was far from secure. She struggled with money all her life, and often had to rely on her parents. Sound familiar?
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She Invented the Reality TV Genre
“She can make everyday life and situations sound so interesting. Also, her humour is perfect!” Emma, 30
Prior to Jane Austen, most published novels were either vast historical epics or moody, gothic affairs, which, had they been made into films, would surely have needed a cast of thousands and a special effects budget running into the millions. Jane’s novels, meanwhile, placed the reader as a fly on the wall in the fashionable drawing room of the day, meaning that Sense and Sensibility and Made in Chelsea actually have a surprising amount in common.
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A Drawing Room or a Coffee Shop – What’s the Difference?
“I just love her writing, it’s so eloquent.” Zara, 19
Considering that previous generations had a dependence on a well-oiled night in a night club for dating opportunities, it’s hardly surprising that millennials drink less, with nearly a quarter now abstaining completely. As such, they are far more likely to choose a digitally arranged and predominately sober meeting in a coffee shop – which if you think about it, is not that different from a pen-and-paper arranged meeting in a Regency drawing room. Plus, Jane’s characters, like Pride and Prejudice’s unstoppable Elizabeth Bennet, are independent, fun, witty, clever and usually two steps ahead of any man in the book, which makes for a pretty good dating model for us all.
We hope you enjoyed this article “Why do Millennials love Jane Austen?”. For more information and to browse the beautiful books at Country House Library visit www.countryhouselibrary.co.uk
Country House Library is a community of people who can’t get enough of reading, discussing and looking at books. They have hundreds of vintage books for sale (including a huge range of Jane Austen titles to choose from).
Don’t Insult Your Children, Give Them Jane Austen by Allison Burr
My kids saw that scoundrel Willoughby at Chic-Fil-A last night.
Or so they thought.
We had just finished our chicken sandwiches and waffle fries and were headed off to Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God concert, but all four kids stopped dead in their tracks when they saw the unsuspecting dark-haired, large-eyed teenage boy behind the counter. I could read their body language; if this was indeed Willoughby, as they frantically whispered in my ear, he would surely do something reprehensible at any moment. And they weren’t going to miss it.
Much to their chagrin, we ushered them out the door, and the Willoughby look-a-like was left to finish his work without further danger of besiegement.
In their overactive 10-, 8-, 7-, and 3-year-old minds, they had seen a villain behind the counter. The details of this poor boy’s true identity are of no consequence. The more important reality is that Jane Austen had captured their hearts and imaginations, and my children have not yet entered adolescence.
This surely qualifies as a parental milestone.
Now, I know the purists contend that the consumption of the screen portrayal should never precede the consumption of the written. I don’t hold to that particular standard (but undoubtedly have my own purist standards in other areas). As such, when we began the several-hour long 2008 BBC version of Sense and Sensibility, my kids were immediately enthralled and the questions came with great rapidity.
With my finger perpetually on the pause button in order to field the inquiries, I responded to these (and more) from both my daughters and my son:
How could John Dashwood be so weak? And Fanny beso evil?
Why don’t Elinor and Edward marry each other?
Why exactly is Marianne so foolish?
What does Elinor mean when she says she doesn’t disapprove of Marianne, but only her conduct?
Why doesn’t Willoughby act like a gentleman?
Colonel Brandon is the hero; right? Why can’t Marianne see that?
Why is Lucy Steele engaged to Edward when Edward is clearly meant for Elinor and Lucy seems so sneaky and unkind?
How can Mrs. Ferrars be so utterly vicious and yet everyone is falling down to worship her?
Can we please, please, live in a cottage by the seaside and string up seashells in the garden?
Other than the last one (which breaks my heart to say probably not), I delighted in pausing the visually stunning jewel to help my young children frame the story, discern wisdom from folly, and mourn over the broken hearts of Colonel Brandon and Elinor.
The sumptuous period dress, the breathtaking landscape, the awe-inspiring country manors, and the rapid-fire colloquy amongst some of Austen’s most remarkable characters were exactly the type of feast my kids deserved. Not a culinary feast, mind you; but a literary, moral, and visual one.
Why settle for one-dimensional twaddle that insults the Imago Dei status of your children, when you can bring them before the work of a master craftsman from another era?
No, my children did not understand every aspect of the witty repartee. Nor could they grasp the magnitude of the moral and social norms under Miss Austen’s microscope. But every morning, I read my children the Bible, and they also read it for themselves. We require this in our family, even while knowing that they cannot possibly understand the depth of the riches contained therein. But their current ages and developmental limitations should not preclude them from partaking in the banquet table in whatever ways they are able.
In the same way, when I first began reading Austen’s works 16 years ago, in a Brit Lit college course, I am quite certain I appreciated only a minuscule percentage of what Jane Austen was doing. Two years later, I spent a semester researching and writing an honors thesis on the French Revolution’s impact on Austen’s body of work. Clearly, I was smitten with her literature and desired to dig deeper. And yet, every time I revisit Emma or Pride and Prejudice, I surely continue to miss nuances and connections, all these years later. But I keep savoring the feast, both by book and by screen – and it is altogether better to do so alongside the inquiring, hungry minds of my children.
Parental disclaimer: Because my children are so young, I skipped the (brief) opening scene of the 2008 BBC version of Sense and Sensibility, and instead gave a brief synopsis to my children of an immoral man victimizing a young girl.
In an article published in The Telegraph, this week we were surprised to find out that in his youth, Greg Wise (aka John Willoughby from the 1995 film of Sense and Sensibility) came close to giving up acting, which would have meant that he would never have met the love of his life, Dame Emma Thompson (who played Elinor Dashwood in the 1995 film, as well as writing the screenplay for it)!
The work I’m paid to do as an actor is really play. An awful lot of people who work in any form of arts have to have a childlike quality. A lot of us are quite childish as well.
My parents wanted me to get a degree, so I studied architecture in Edinburgh for three years first. Although I never really wanted to be an architect, I’m thrilled I did it. I think everyone should do a year of architecture; it opens your eyes up to what is mainly really shoddy design.
Early in my final year I auditioned for drama school and ended up moving to Glasgow. I didn’t start earning until I was 25 – then after 18 months I decided to retire from acting. My closest friend, Simon, had drowned. I remember sitting opposite my agent, who was in tears, as I said I was giving up. I took myself off to Australia for six months and got my head together. I came back and I’ve loved working since.
I’ve never worked a great deal. It’s not been a career so much as a series of choices that you make for the best reasons at the time. Although if I don’t say Sense and Sensibility [written by and starring Emma Thompson, Wise’s wife] stands out in my career, I’ll get divorced. That was an amazing piece of work and I met the love of my life. I wasn’t paid very much, though.
We enjoyed reading a little bit more about Greg Wise and his changing relationship with acting, so we hope you did too.
In new research, Cornell University psychologists found that study participants were more than twice as likely on average to call male professionals – even fictional ones – by their last name only, compared to equivalent female professionals. This example of gender bias, the researchers said, may be contributing to gender inequality.
The eight studies, which included male and female participants, showed the difference which came from the first name distinction. When men were referred to by only their surname that were perceived as more famous and more important than the women who were referred to by their first and last names. Researchers say that the implications for political campaigns could be important as “it’s possible that referring to a candidate by their full name instead of just their surname could have implications for fame and eminence.”
It’s true that we usually say “Shakespeare” but “Virginia Woolf”, and “Hardy” but “Mary Shelley”, however, we like to think that Austen might be the exception to the two-name rule. Jane Austen is certainly the only really famous Austen who we think of when we hear the name Austen!
The UK charity The Reading Agency recently commissioned a poll to discover the nation’s reading habits, as one way of marking World Book Night which took place on Monday April 23rd. One of the things which the poll found out was that more than a fifth of British readers refuse to give up on a book, no matter how much they are struggling, while some will wait weeks or months before calling time on the unsatisfying book. In school the general message was to read on and get to the end of the book, but The Reading Agency is going against the trend and advising readers to give up on books they do not enjoy.
The poll, of 2,000 people, found that 15% would give up if struggling with a book after 1-3 weeks, 11% saying they’d stop after 4-6 days of struggles, 13% after 2-3 days, and 6% would stop the day after. On the other hand, 22% thought that readers should always finish books they’ve started.
However, Sue Wilkinson, chief executive of The Reading Agency, said that;
At a time when one in five of us will experience anxiety or depression, and world events can leave people feeling confused or scared, reading has never been more important.
At a time when so many brilliant books are being written and published, you should never force yourself to read something you’re not enjoying. World Book Night is the chance to find a book that works for you.
The Top Five Unfinished Books
1. Fifty Shades Of Grey by EL James
2. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring by JRR Tolkien
3. Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix by JK Rowling
4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Some of our readers might remember that the UK was treated to a touring, musical-adaptation of Persuasion last year. Well now, rather than one of her novels, Jane’s life has been adapted into a musical.
Jane Austen the Musical is receiving great reviews as it continues its UK tour, which runs until March this year.
The tour began in October last year and has visited the likes of York, Norwich, and Birmingham. It is currently playing in London and, as London is a theatre hub, the theatre critics have been going to see the show and making their verdicts.
Rob Winlow has fashioned a diverting, grown-up, pleasant (but not without its bite) chamber musical that captures some of the dilemmas faced by the quiet girl who scribbled immortal novels in a Hampshire rectory.
Rob Winlow’s songs are pleasing, especially when the cast sing in harmony, with more than a hint of Gilbert & Sullivan in the patter numbers.
The audience amongst whom I sat were mostly women, though (as both the male director and male writer prove) Austen’s work is universal in its appeal, as all great art must be. See it if you’re a fan and, if you’re not, see it anyway
The highlight of the production is Edith Kirkwood’s assured performance as Jane. She has a charming voice and vivacious presence. Jenni Lea-Jones is enjoyable as Mrs Austen and Thomas Hewitt and Adam Grayson provide game support as the suitors and Rev Austen.
Of course it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and some critics have said that it is too flimsy (“frustratingly thin portrait of an author”), but we thought that if you like musicals and you like Jane, this is a production you might like to know about.