In celebrating Jane Austen’s contribution to literature, the nineteenth century novelist Anthony Trollope said that “she places us in a circle of gentlemen and ladies, and charms us while she tells us with an unconscious accuracy how men should act to women, and women act to men. It is not that her people are all good; -- and, certainly, they are not all wise. The faults of some are the anvils on which the virtues of others are hammered till they are bright as steel. In the comedy of folly I know no novelist who has beaten her.”
The writer Helen Fielding, whose book Bridget Jones Diary is partly inspired by Austen’s books, noted that “Jane Austen was …writing about dating, but in her day the rules were very clear.”
Austen was writing at a time when women were expected to marry in order to secure their financial security and interestingly she herself never married.
Austen’s writing closely examines the idea and the reality of love as her protagonists often struggle to work out the best way to make a contented relationship. In Pride and Prejudice, the narrator describes Elizabeth’s thinking about what love is as she comes to understand that Mr. Darcy is the most suitable partner for her.
Pride and Prejudice, which was originally entitled First Impressions, tells the story of a young woman named Elizabeth Bennett, who lives with her parents and sisters in Hampshire. Elizabeth moves through a range of social encounters with soldiers, rich landowners and the clergy. Her parents feature significantly in Elizabeth’s life and she is a keen observer of those around her, watching friends and family move in and out of various romantic and social relationships. The central relationship of the novel is that which develops between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and as the novel progresses she comes to realize that, contrary to her first impressions, Darcy is the kind of man that she would wish to marry and build a life with.
Pride and Prejudice is one of many useful ways to develop an understanding about the social and intellectual situation of early nineteenth century in England.
The novel begins with a sentence that establishes its interest in romance and marriage, and the first few chapters make it clear how, in the early nineteenth century, it was considered essential that a parents’ daughters were married and financially stable.
In chapter three, Mrs Bennett says “If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield…and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for.”
Throughout the novel there are passages that communicate the importance of love and romance in peoples’ lives.
In chapter six, Jane Bennett says that “If a woman conceal her affection with the same skill from the object of it, 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 the latter part of chapter twenty four, Elizabeth and her father talk about love and marriage and in chapter twenty six, Elizabeth’s aunt talks with her about love. Throughout the novel, Elizabeth is trying to work out what makes for a strong and sincere romantic relationship. This is an aspect of life that occupied much attention two hundred years ago just as it does in the early twenty first century.