Austen's View Of Ambition In Pride And Prejudice

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Austen's view of ambition in Pride and Prejudice

It is generally agreed that Pride and Prejudice deals with a variant of the "art-nature" theme with which Sense and Sensibility is concerned. Sense and Sensibility primarily treats the opposition between the head and the heart, between feeling and reason; in Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet's forceful and engaging individualism is pitted against Darcy's not indefensible respect for the social order and his class pride. Most critics agree that Pride and Prejudice does not suffer from the appearance of one-sidedness that makes Sense and Sensibility unattractive.

Obviously neither Elizabeth nor Darcy embodies the novel's moral norm. Each is admirable in his way, and each must have his pride and prejudice corrected by self-knowledge and come to a fuller appreciation of the other's temperament and beliefs.

Ultimately their conflicting points of view are adjusted, and each achieves a mean between "nature" and "art." Elizabeth gains some appreciation of Darcy's sound qualities and comes to see the validity of class relationships. Darcy, under Elizabeth's influence, gains in naturalness and learns to respect the innate dignity of the individual.

One of the few features of Pride and Prejudice to which exception has been taken is Jane Austen's treatment of the character of her Mr. Darcy. It is said that the transition between the arrogant young man of the early chapters of the novel and the polite gentleman whom Elizabeth Bennet marries is too great and too abrupt to be completely credible.

Reuben A. Brower and Howard S. Babb have vindicated Jane Austen to some extent, showing that much of Darcy's early conversation can be interpreted in various ways, and that our reactions to him are often conditioned by the fact that we see him largely through the eyes of the prejudiced Elizabeth.

Still there remain grounds for objection to Jane Austen's handling of Darcy. His remark about Elizabeth at the Meryton assembly is almost unbelievably boorish, and we have no reason to believe that Elizabeth has misunderstood it. We hear with our own ears his fears lest he should be encouraging Elizabeth to fall in love with him, and the objectionable language of his first proposal. Such things remain stumbling blocks to our acceptance of Darcy's speedy reformation.

This essay is concerned with Jane Austen's rather unusual treatment of a popular eighteenth-century character-type and situation.

Mr. Darcy bears a marked resemblance to what I shall call the "patrician hero," a character-type best known as represented in the novels of Richardson and Fanny Burney; and it is rewarding to investigate the relationship between Darcy and his love affair with Elizabeth Bennet and the heroes of Richardson's and Fanny Burney's novels and their relations with their heroines. Jane Austen's treatment of her patrician hero has a marked relevance to the theme of the reconciliation of opposites that plays such an important part in Pride and Prejudice. And a study of Darcy's possible origins helps to account for those flaws in his character for which Jane Austen has been criticized.

The superciliousness and conceit that ...