Jane Austen's Pride



Study Guide for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

  Study Questions, Volume I (pp. 3-89)

  1. All the major families are introduced with explanation of the fortune they have and the place they live in.  What does this suggest about the importance of money and social status in this novel? 
  2. The novel moves between a variety of different settings: Longbourn House, Netherfield, Lucas Lodge, Meryton, and town. Who lives in each of these places? What are their economic situations? Describe and characterize each of those settings. 
  3. Describe the Bennet sisters. In what ways do Elizabeth and Jane contrast?  How would you describe Mary? Catherine (Kitty)?  Lydia?  What kind of relationship do the Bennet daughters have with their parents? 
  4. Who is Mr. Bingley? What is his financial status? How does this relate to his marriage prospects? Bingley is also accompanied by his friend Darcy. Just as Elizabeth and Jane contrast each other, Bingley and Darcy also contrast. Describe the differences in their personalities, bearing, and attitudes.  Describe Bingley's two sisters (Mrs. Hurst and Ms. Bingley).  What do they feel about the Bennets?  How does Ms. Bingley relate to Darcy?
  5. Keep in mind that the work that became Pride and Prejudice was initially called First Impressions. Examine first impressions in volume I. What is Jane's first impression of Bingley?  What is his impression of her?  What is Elizabeth's first impression of Darcy?  What does she overhear him say?  What is her opinion of him after that?  Is her opinion based only on appearance or other more substantial criteria? How about Mrs. Bennet's view of Darcy?  And Charlotte's?  How about the narrator's view?  What is Darcy's first impression of Elizabeth? What is it based on?  Why does Darcy start to change his view? 
  6. How well does Elizabeth understand herself?  How does she view herself?  How well does Darcy understand himself?  How does he view himself? How do you view both Elizabeth and Darcy at this point in the novel? 
  7. Why does Jane become sick at Netherfield?  Is Mrs. Bennet upset by her daughter’s sickness?  Is Elizabeth upset? What does she do? Was that proper behavior for a young lady? How do the residents of Netherfield respond to Elizabeth’s action?
  8. As Elizabeth and Jane stay at Netherfield, what more does Elizabeth learn about Bingley’s sisters?   How would you describe the relationship between Miss Bingley and Darcy? Does Elizabeth’s view of Darcy change? Does Darcy’s view of Elizabeth change? By the time that Elizabeth returns to Longbourn, Darcy has conflicting feelings about Elizabeth. What does he feel? What does he decide to do about it?
  9. The Bennet family, as you learned in earlier chapters, consists of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their five daughters. What will happen to the Bennet property after the death of Mr. Bennet?  Who will become the owner of this estate?   The expected loss of their property makes the hunting for husband necessary.  How does Mrs. Bennet do it improperly, say, in the episode of Jane's sickness and then at the Netherfield Park? 
  10. Why are we introduced to Mr. Collins? What is his occupation? What is his social position and financial status?  The narrator says that Collins has a mixture of "pride and obsequiousness."  Can you find examples of this description? Can you find out reasons for this peculiar mixture?
  11. How would you describe Mr. Collins' proposal of marriage to Elizabeth?  Is it romantic?  Passionate? What is his view of marriage? How does Elizabeth respond to him? Does he accept her reply? How does he interpret her response? How does Mrs. Bennet respond to Elizabeth's decision? How does Mr. Bennet respond?
  12. Within three days of proposing to Elizabeth, Mr. Collins' proposes to someone else. Who does he propose to? Does she accept? Why or why not? What is her view of marriage? How does this affect her relationship with Elizabeth? How does Mrs. Bennet respond to the news?
  13. What happens simultaneously in these chapters is Mr. Bingley's departure for London with no return date, which we get to know from Ms. Bingley's letter.  What does Jane learn from that letter?  How does Jane interpret the letter?  How does Elizabeth's understanding of the letter differ from Jane's?  What could be the possible reasons for Bingley's behavior?  We will not know the actual reasons until chapters later, but there are clues that prepare us for it.  What are they?
  14.  While Collins bumps into the "marriage market," switches his attention from Jane to Elizabeth, and then, being rejected by Elizabeth, to Charlotte, we see Elizabeth drawn closer to Wickham and further away from Darcy.  What do you think about Elizabeth's judgments of Darcy and of Wickham?  How does she get over her infatuation for Wickham? 
  15. What are Elizabeth's first impressions of Mr. Collins? What does she base her judgment of him on? Do you agree with her initial assessment of him? What does Mr. Bennet think of his visitor? After learning more about Mr. Collins in subsequent chapters, what is your opinion of him?
  16. Who is Lady Catherine de Bourgh? What does Mr. Collins think of her? Does Elizabeth agree with Mr. Collins’ views on Lady Catherine? Why or why not? What are your impressions of her? Mr. Collins talks a great deal about Rosings Park, Lady Catherine's home. What are his thoughts about Rosings? How does Rosings contrast with Longbourn?
  17. Who is George Wickham? What is his occupation and social position?  In this novel, which frequently draws attention to appearances and how appearances can be deceptive, how would you describe Mr. Wickham's appearance? The Bennet sisters, including Elizabeth, are initially attracted to him. What is it about Mr. Wickham that attracts them? 
  18. When Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy happen to meet in Meryton, how do the two men respond to each other? What is the relationship between the two men, according to Wickham? What does Wickham claim that Darcy has done to him? How does Elizabeth respond to Wickham's account of his past experiences with Darcy? Jane's response to Wickham’s account differs from Elizabeth's. How does Jane respond? 
  19. Elizabeth is eager to meet Wickham at the ball given by Mr. Bingley at Netherfield, but her high hopes are not actualized. Why not? Why does Elizabeth not dance with Wickham at the Netherfield ball? Who does she dance with? What happens between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth at the ball? How does Elizabeth feel about Darcy at the ball? How does Darcy feel about her? What happens between Jane and Mr. Bingley at the ball? 
  20. Elizabeth is embarrassed by the behavior of several members of her family at the ball. What do Mrs. Bennet, Mary, Mr. Bennet, and Mr. Collins do that cause Elizabeth to feel uncomfortable? How do the Bingley sisters and Mr. Darcy respond to the actions of the Bennet family? 

Study Questions, Volume II (pp, 89-158)

  1. We learn about another letter in this novel, which contains many letters. Jane receives a second letter from Miss Bingley.  What does Miss Bingley tell Jane?  How does Jane interpret this letter? How does Elizabeth interpret it? 
  2. Characterize Jane by examining her responses to the Darcy-Wickham controversies, to Bingley's absence, to Charlotte's marriage, and then Ms. Bingley's letter. 
  3. After Jane goes to London with her aunt and uncle, what contact does she have with the Bingley family? How does Jane respond to her first meeting with Miss Bingley?  How does she respond to their second meeting?
  4. On the way to see Charlotte and Mr. Collins Elizabeth, Sir William Lucas, and Maria Lucas stop briefly in London to see Jane and the Gardiner family.  Elizabeth is surprised to learn about Jane's present condition. Why?  How is Jane?  What is bothering her? 
  5. How are Mr. And Mrs. Gardiner related to Elizabeth?  How do they differ from Elizabeth's other relatives? What do the Gardiners offer to do for Jane?  Does Jane accept the offer?  Why?  What does Jane expect from her relationship with Miss Bingley?
  6. Before the Gardiners and Jane return to London, Mrs. Gardiner also has numerous opportunities to talk with Mr. Wickham. What do Mrs. Gardiner and Mr. Wickham have in common?  What do they talk about? What does she think of him? Mrs. Gardiner also makes it a point to talk to Elizabeth about Mr. Wickham. What words of advice does Mrs. Gardiner offer? Why does she offer this advice? How does Elizabeth respond to her aunt?
  7. Elizabeth's relationship with Mr. Wickham abruptly changes. Why does it change?  To whom does Mr. Wickham re-direct his attentions?  What are his motives?  How does Elizabeth react to this?  How would you describe the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham as she leaves for London and Hunsford?
  8. When Elizabeth tells her aunt about Mr. Wickham's relationship with Miss King, how does Mrs. Gardiner respond?  Is Elizabeth being consistent when she criticizes Charlotte for marrying Mr. Collins but accepts Mr. Wickham's relationship with Miss King? 
  9.  How does Elizabeth change her attitudes toward Charlotte during the revelation of the latter's marriage and afterwards?
  10. Before Charlotte Lucas marries Mr. Collins, she asks two favors of Elizabeth.  What does she ask?  How does Elizabeth respond to these two requests? How does Elizabeth respond to the first letters that she receives from Charlotte after her marriage?
  11. Before Elizabeth and the Lucas's leave for Hunsford, Mrs. Gardiner invites Elizabeth to travel in the future with the Gardiners. Where will they go? Which of Elizabeth's acquaintances lives there?
  12. When Elizabeth arrives at the Collins's house, what does she learn about the marriage between Charlotte and Mr. Collins?
  13. What are Elizabeth's first impressions of Mrs. Jenkinson and Lady Catherine's daughter? What does Elizabeth think of the park surrounding Rosings? How does Elizabeth's response to Lady Catherine and the first evening at Rosings differ from those of Sir William, Maria, and Mr. Collins? What does Elizabeth think of Lady Catherine? How would you describe and characterize Lady Catherine? How does Lady Catherine treat Elizabeth?
  14. Elizabeth is surprised by the arrival of Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam at Rosings. How is Lady Catherine related to the two men? What are Elizabeth's initial feelings about Fitzwilliam? How would you characterize the relationship between Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam as they get to know each other better?
  15.  How would you describe the first meeting of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy at Hunsford? How does Mr. Darcy feel about Elizabeth? As they spend more time together, does he completely understand her words and actions? How does Elizabeth feel about him? Does Elizabeth understand his feelings, thoughts, and actions? Can you give examples of Elizabeth and Darcy's misunderstandings of each other?
  16. In this novel about pride and prejudice, which characters do you think are proud?  Which are prejudiced? Do you think it is completely accurate to say, for example, that Darcy is proud and Elizabeth is prejudiced? Or are both characters a combination of pride and prejudice? Which other characters are also proud? Prejudiced? 
  17. As the novel develops till this point, what do you think about Darcy's pride and coldness, esp. in the Meryton assembly?  How do different people respond to his pride and stubbornness?  How does Darcy himself explain it? 
  18. During one of her regular walks in the park around Rosings, Elizabeth meets Fitzwilliam. While talking with him, Elizabeth learns more about Darcy's involvement in Mr. Bingley's estrangement from Jane. How does she respond to this in front of Fitzwilliam? When she is alone?    Does she show any lack of judgment in her defense of her own family?  Will you respond the same way as Elizabeth? 
  19. As Elizabeth considers the news she learned from Fitzwilliam, Darcy pays her a visit and, to Elizabeth's surprise, proposes marriage.   Are you surprised, too?  (In other words, are there clues to prepare us for it?)  How would you describe his proposal? Does he present an overwhelming passion for Elizabeth?  How does Elizabeth respond to his proposal? Why does she respond this way? What does she tell him?
  20. The next morning Darcy hands Elizabeth a letter he has written to her. What does this letter say?  How does Elizabeth initially respond to this letter? After she has had a chance to think about the letter, how does she respond to it?  Does she have a chance to talk with Darcy about this letter?  Why not?  How does Darcy's letter change Elizabeth's understanding of herself?
  21. When Elizabeth and Maria Lucas leave Mr. and Mrs. Collins and head toward London and their homes, the two women have different thoughts about their six-week stay in Hunsford. What are their different reactions? Why does Elizabeth feel that she must keep secret some of her experiences?
  22. As Elizabeth, Jane, and Maria travel from London to their homes, they are met by Lydia and Kitty. What more do you learn about Lydia?  Is she prudent in her purchase of a new bonnet? Why does she buy it?  How does she welcome her sisters and Maria back?  Who has to pay for this "treat"?  Is she very attentive to her sisters?  What news does Lydia have about the relationship between Mr. Wickham and Miss King?  What news does Lydia tell her sisters about the military men that have been stationed in Meryton?
  23. Elizabeth confides in Jane SOME of what happened between herself and Darcy. What does she tell Jane? What does she not tell her? How does Jane respond to the news? How does Elizabeth feel about Mr. Darcy at this point in the novel? 
  24.  Why do the two sisters decide not to make public what they know about Mr. Wickham?
  25. Why do Lydia and Mrs. Bennet want to spend the summer in Brighton? How does Mr. Bennet feel about this? How do Mr. and Mrs. Bennet respond when Colonel Forster and his wife ask Lydia to accompany them to Brighton?  What does Elizabeth think of this plan?  What does she tell her father?  How does Mr. Bennet respond to Elizabeth? What are his reasons for allowing Lydia to go? 
  26. Describe Elizabeth's relationship with Mr. Wickham before he leaves for Brighton.
  27. We are told more about the reasons why Mr. Bennet married his wife. What were his reasons? What is Elizabeth's opinion of her father as a husband? How does she think the relationship between her father and mother has influenced the children?

Study Questions, Volume III (pp. 158-254)

  1. Why does Elizabeth go to Pemberley? What does she think of Pemberley? How does it compare and contrast with Rosings Park?  After the first correction of Elizabeth's prejudice by Darcy's letter, how does she change her views of Darcy?
  2. What do Elizabeth and the Gardiners learn about Darcy from Mrs. Reynolds? Does Elizabeth's attitude toward Darcy change while at Pemberley and after talking with Mrs. Reynolds? What does she think about him now?
  3. When Elizabeth meets Darcy at the Pemberley estates, she is surprised by his behavior. How has he changed since she saw him last?  How does he treat her?  Her aunt and uncle?  What does Elizabeth think has caused this change in Darcy?  And how do Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner look at Darcy? 
  4. How does Elizabeth feel about Darcy's intention of introducing Miss Darcy?  Describe Elizabeth's meeting with Miss Darcy. Is Miss Darcy as proud as Wickham had described her? When Elizabeth meets Mr. Bingley, she detects some hints that he may still be thinking of Jane. What are those hints? Describe Elizabeth's meeting with Miss Bingley. 
  5. How does Elizabeth feel about Darcy after spending more time with him?  Can gratitude, esteem and respect be a good foundation of love? 
  6. Elizabeth receives two surprising letters from Jane. What shocking news about Lydia does Jane communicate?  This elopement, as you will see, brings together the Lydia-Wickham and Elizabeth-Darcy plots. At this point, how does Elizabeth think this news about Lydia will influence her relationship with Darcy?  What do the Gardiners and Elizabeth decide to do in response to the letter?
  7. When Elizabeth and the Gardiners arrive back in Longbourn, they find the Bennet family quite disturbed about Lydia.  What do they fear has happened between her and Wickham?  Where is Mr. Bennet?  Why has he gone there?  What is Mrs. Bennet's response to the news? What has Jane been doing? 
  8. In the letter that Lydia left for Mrs. Forster, what does she say that she and Wickham are about to do? How would you describe the tone of her letter? What does that tone suggest about Lydia? 
  9. Mr. Collins in a letter explains his view of Lydia's behavior. What is his opinion of her actions? What does he suggest Mr. Bennet do? 
  10. When Mr. Bennet returns from London, how does he feel about his own behavior as a father? 
  11. Mr. Bennet receives a letter from his brother-in-law, Mr. Gardiner informing the Bennets of the settlements for Lydia to be married to Wickham.  What is required of Mr. Bennet? Why does Mr. Bennet think so little has been asked of him? Who does he think has financially assisted in this matter? When Mr. Bennet receives a second letter from Mr. Gardiner, does it reconfirm his thoughts about his brother-in-law's generosity?  Why will it be difficult for Mr. Bennet to repay him? What is Wickham's motivation in eloping with Lydia?  
  12. What do events reveal about Mr. Bennet's handling of financial affairs?  What do they show about Mr. Bennet as a father?  
  13. How do Elizabeth and Jane respond to Lydia’s news?  How does Elizabeth respond to Lydia when she comes home for a visit?  What does she think to be the reasons for their marriage?  
  14. When Mrs. Bennet is informed of the developments, how does she respond?   In what ways is her response similar to Lydia's?  Describe Lydia's homecoming after her marriage. How does she understand and present her elopement and marriage? How does her view differ from those of Elizabeth, Jane, and Mr. Bennet?   
  15. Describe Elizabeth's relationship with Wickham while he stays at Longbourn.  And how does Wickham behave?  
  16. Now that the crisis surrounding Lydia is resolved, Elizabeth begins to think once again of Mr. Darcy. What are her thoughts and feelings for him now? How has Elizabeth’s view of herself changed?
  17. When Lydia describes her wedding day, she mentions, much to Elizabeth's surprise, that Mr. Darcy was at the wedding.  After Elizabeth asks her aunt about the reasons for Mr. Darcy's presence at the wedding and his involvement with Lydia and Wickham's wedding arrangement, her aunt sends a long, detailed letter. What information does this letter contain?  How did Darcy help to facilitate the wedding? Mrs. Gardner offers several explanations for why Darcy helped. What are her explanations? How does Elizabeth respond to this letter? How does this influence her views of Darcy?
  18. When Mr. Bingley comes to pay a visit at Longbourn, Darcy is with him? How does Darcy act while visiting? How does Elizabeth respond to him? Why is she disappointed?
  19. Shortly after Lady Catherine's visit Mr. Bennet receives a letter from Mr. Collins. What news and advice does Mr. Collins offer? How does Mr. Bennet respond to this letter? When he reads parts of that letter to Elizabeth, how does she respond?
  20. A week after Jane and Bingley's engagement, Lady Catherine stops at Longbourn. What is her reason for visiting? How would you describe her manners and behavior? What does she talk to Elizabeth about? How does Elizabeth respond to Lady Catherine's questions and demands? 
  21. After Lady Catherine talks to Elizabeth, Lady Catherine goes to London and meets with Darcy. What does she tell him? How does he respond to this news from his aunt? When he returns to Longbourn, he has a long walk and conversation with Elizabeth. What do they talk about? What do they decide to do? How have they both changed since he first proposed to her?
  22. The Bennet family is surprised by the new relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy. How does Jane respond? How does Mr. Bennet respond? Mrs. Bennet?
  23. After Lydia and Wickham leave Longbourn for the north of England, the Bennet family receives news that Bingley is returning to the neighborhood. How does Jane respond to this news? How does Mrs. Bennet respond?
  24. What does Mrs. Bennet do to foster the relationship between Jane and Bingley? Does it work? What do Jane and Bingley decide to do?
  25.  In the dialogue between Elizabeth and Darcy, how does Elizabeth explain the reason for his attraction to her?  After the account of Darcy's self-improvement, what do you think about their marriage? 
  26. After Jane's marriage to Bingley and Elizabeth's to Darcy, the Bennet family experiences some changes. How does Kitty benefit from the marriages? How does Mr. Bennet respond? Mrs. Bennet? Lydia and Wickham? Mary?

General Questions

  1. The original working title of Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions; contemplate the ways in which this alternative title illuminates central concerns and issues in the novel. Think too about the change from First Impressions to Pride and Prejudice: what different emphases are implied by this revision? What are the applications of the novel's final title?
  2. The relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy can be viewed in terms of an ancient and venerable tradition in imaginative literature, the "battle of the sexes." Indeed, there are many precedents in literature for the situation Austen sets up, precedents with which Austen would certainly have been familiar, just as the theme of gender relations has remained prominent in literature and art since 1813 (the year of the publication of Pride and Prejudice). Examine the relationship that Austen depicts between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. What are the dynamics of the relationship? What do the two principals believe about themselves, about one another, and about their relationship? Consider also the function of setting in the development of their relations: that is, are there particular real, imagistic, or symbolic reasons for Austen to locate particular scenes in the settings in which they occur?
  3. In what ways is Pride and Prejudice related to the tradition of the "comedy of manners"? What elements of that tradition appear in the novel? What elements appear, but in an altered form? What elements appear to be eliminated, either entirely or mostly so? Does thinking about the novel in terms of the comedy of manners alter the ways in which we evaluate it? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?
  4. Both Elizabeth and Darcy undergo transformations over the course of the book. How does each change and how is the transformation brought about? Could Elizabeth's transformation have happened without Darcy's? Or vice versa?
  5. Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh are famously comic characters. What makes them so funny? How does Elizabeth's perception of them affect your trust in Elizabeth's views of other people in the book, particularly of Wickham and Darcy?
  6. This novel, perhaps more than any other of Austen's, seems obsessed with marriage. How many marriages are discussed, portrayed, or occur during the course of the novel? Enumerate and characterize them, choosing scenes or passages that show them well, pointing out which elements of those scenes and passages make possible generalizations about each of the marriages.

If the novel celebrates marriage, perhaps as women's best goal [?], what do you make of the many negative marriages portrayed?

            How are men's and women's roles in marriage defined differently in the various marriages imagined or

In what way is Elizabeth's marriage beneficial? To whom? What does this suggest about men's and women's roles in marriage? Are they different than in the other couples?

Look at vol. II, ch. iv; there, Elizabeth understands Wickham's "prudence" in attaching himself to a woman with money and defecting from her. If we understand her views here, why aren't we likewise understanding of Bingley's defection from Jane?

What is the role in the novel of Collins' proposal to Elizabeth? Does it serve any function in the plot? If not, then why might it be there?

Discuss Charlotte's attitudes toward marriage. To what extent is she right? To what extent is her marriage acceptable, perhaps better than others we see in the novel? What might we learn or conclude from this? How do you feel about it personally, regardless of what the novel suggests about the success or failure of her marriage, and her satisfaction with the match?

What do you think of Elizabeth's thoughts when she sees Pemberley? Does she think she should have married Darcy for the estate? If so, why? What do the estate and his role there signify, symbolize?

7.      What communities or arrangements of people do we get by the end of the book that are different from those with which they start? What kind of values might that suggest? To what extent do these shifts challenge the class structure, and to what extent do they instead support it? How do they do so? 

8.      Vivien Jones compares the plot of Pride and Prejudice to that of a typical romance novel:

Darcy's arrogance only serves to enhance his desirability and confirm his status as hero: as every reader of romantic fiction knows, the heroine will learn to reinterpret the hero's bad manners, his 'shocking rudeness' . . . as a seductive sign of his repressed passion for her. She has the power to transform apparent hostility into lasting commitment and a happy-ever-after marriage. ("Introduction," Penguin edition)

Is Pride and Prejudice formula fiction--conforming to the romantic novels of Austen's day (and of ours)? Explain why you agree or disagree.

9.       Think very hard about the ending of the novel. Are you satisfied? Why or why not? Why does Austen end the novel this way (I am referring to the last three chapters, not just the last paragraph)? When you have considered the ending of the novel in broader terms, look at the concluding paragraph. Why do you supposed Austen chose to finish here? Finally, look back at the opening of the novel. Has your relationship to this opening sentence changed? Do you feel, now, that it is a suitable/unsuitable/informative/ironic/? introduction to the book?

10.  Is this novel really a "chick book," and if so, why? (I am not looking for the obviously sexist and dismissive answer, "because only chicks care about this stuff." IF that's the case, then why do you think it is the case? Is it simply that women are willing to identify with male narrators/protagonists, but not vice versa? Or is there more to it than that?) If not--that is, if you don't feel the novel's appeal is limited to female readers--why not?

Terms you should understand:

            Regency England
            three or four thousand a year
            ten thousand a year
            Assembly Ball
            risen to the knighthood
            Rt. Hon. Lady Catherine de Bourgh
            the season
            red coat
            Gretna Green

Do Jane Austen's novels simply cultivate a small and self-enclosed world?
One critic’s response to this most frequently voiced complaint about Austen:

The modeling of war is mostly male – almost everyone would agree on this and on the truth that war’s exactitude and damage may elude a conventional fictional transaction. But shouldn’t Jane Austen at least have mentioned one battle or general by name? Why is there not a word about the rapidly evolving mercantile class and the new democratization of Britain? What about changes in political structure, in the power and persuasion of the Church, in the areas of science and medicine? These questions are often challengingly presented, as though novels are compilations of ‘current events,” and Jane Austen a frivolous, countried person in intellectual drag, impervious to the noises of the historical universe in which she was placed.

In fact, Jane Austen covers all these matters, if not with the directness and particularity our Napoleon man might have liked. Her novels, each of them, can be seen as wide-ranging glances ... across the material of the world she inhabited, and that material includes an implied commentary on the political, economic and social forces of her day. These glances, like ubiquitous sunlight, sweep and suggest, excoriate and question. The soldiers who distract the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice are posted nearby in case of an invasion from France – why else would they be there? – and their presence threatens the stability of local society, a sociological certainty that was fully comprehended by the author of six novels written over a stretch of unsettled time and each of them offering its historical commentary.

By indirection, by assumption, by reading what is implicit, we can find behind Austen’s novels a steady, intelligent witness to a world that was rapidly reinventing itself. Every Austen conversation, every chance encounter on a muddy road, every evening of cards before the fire, every bold, disruptive militiaman, is backed by historical implication. For even the most casual reader, the period of Austen’s life, 1775-1817, becomes visible through her trenchant, knowing glance. ... Austen’s short life may have been lived in relative privacy, but her novels show her to be a citizen, and certainly a spectator, of a far wider world.

Carol Shields. Jane Austen. London: Phoenix, 2001

The dramatic power of her characters led some nineteenth-century writers, including Macaulay and George Lewes, to regard her as no less than a "prose Shakespeare' . . . . In the words of George Moore, Jane Austen turned the washtub into the vase; in effect, she transformed the eighteenth-century novel--which could be a clumsy and primitive performance--into a work of art . . . . .She invented her own special mode of fiction, the domestic comedy of middle-class manners, a dramatic, realistic account of the quiet backwaters of everyday life for the country families of Regency England from the late 1790s until 1815 . . . . The modesty of Jane Austen's fictional world is caught in her remark to a novel-writing niece that "3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work upon," and her famous comment to a novel-writing nephew about "the little bit (two inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush" which "produces little effect after much labour."

The novels communicate a profound sense of the movement in English history--when the old Georgian world of the eighteenth century was being carried uneasily and reluctantly into the new world of Regency England, the Augustan world into the romantic.

Further Notes