January 2012 meeting: Pride and prejudice, Vol. 1

Book covers for Pride and prejudice

Some editions of P&P owned by JASACT members

Prepared by member Marilyn


The first meeting of the year was a discussion of Volume One of Pride and prejudice. Our rereading disclosed again diverse and exciting new insights into our author and this major novel.

  • It is understandable that first-time readers with expectations of Georgian manners may be floored by the outcome of the relationship of Lydia and Wickham.
  • Every rereading of the novel emphasises the clever detail of plotting especially revealed in the emergence of Darcy and Bingley’s characters. Details at first overlooked add complexity and acuteness to the text. For example, the wisdom expressed by Charlotte and Jane that perhaps it was best that prospective couples did not know each other very well is explored in the relationships of Charlotte and Mr Collins, Bingley and Jane, Lydia and Wickham, while Elizabeth takes a long time to get to know Darcy.
  • Conversation drives the plot and establishes character, reflecting the dramatic model that was an influence on Austen’s writing.
  • Austen’s humour is established from the beginning. For example, Elizabeth is introduced trimming a hat, but when we know Elizabeth better, we realise that this is a pastime that she hates. To introduce Elizabeth in the act of trimming a hat is the author’s ironic joke. Mary Wollstonecraft in A vindication of the rights of women (1792) describes trimming hats as a frivolous activity …

“so insipid as that of English women whose time is spent in making caps, bonnets, and the whole mischief of trimmings, not to mention shopping, bargain-hunting … and it is the decent, prudent women, who are most degraded by these practices, for their motive is simply vanity.” (Chap 4)

  • Elizabeth’s perspective is trusted by the reader and so Darcy appears darker than he really is. Our perception of him changes alongside Elizabeth’s.
  • The relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennet still arouses interest. Mrs Bennet was a conscientious woman of the time running an efficient household, keeping a cook and other staff. She clearly establishes her goal in Chapter 3

“If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield,” said Mrs. Bennet to her husband, “and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for.”

  • At the end of the novel Elizabeth realises that her father did not take his responsibilities seriously enough. We are told of his delighted anticipation of the arrival of Mr Collins, whom he perceives to be silly from his letter. Mr Bennet’s attitude to his wife is disrespectful and sarcastic. Did he show self-pity, or contempt for his wife? Elizabeth shares his enjoyment of laughing at the ridiculous and this sets her apart from other women in P&P.
  • The family is not cohesive. There are subgroups within it: Jane and Elizabeth, Lydia and Mrs Bennet, Kitty, and Mary. Should Mary have married Mr Collins to save the household? Should Jane and Elizabeth have had a stronger influence over the younger girls, given their father’s negligence?
  • Education of women is of interest to Jane Austen despite her scant formal education, but she does not make clear who educated Elizabeth and Jane .We cannot assume that Mrs Bennet was mother and governess. Did the Gardiners and her father play a significant role? Also it is not explained why Jane and Elizabeth were more refined than the younger girls.
  • The likelihood that the relationship between Elizabeth and Jane Bennet mirrors the relationship between Jane and Cassandra was again raised.
  • Decorum and class were discussed. Using the statement by Patrick Colquhoun, who constructed a table referring to the division of classes in Britain at the time in his Treatise on the wealth, power, and resources of the British Empire, 1815, pp 106-107, we established that the Bennets were members of the fourth class. They were lesser gentry along with lesser clergy, doctors, lawyers and teachers. Darcy would have been a member of the second class which contained baronets, knights, country gentlemen and others with a large income.
  • Austen also explores the differences between city and town manners. Clara Reeve, 1792, commented on the changing value of the merchants in society. It was noted that:

Although by this time large fortunes were being made in trade, and members of the nobility intermarried with the newly rich, it was still true that inherited wealth, like Darcy’s based on the possession of land, implied higher social standing than earned wealth.

  • Finally, discussion also focused on the difference between appearance and reality such as Caroline Bingley’s perception of decorum and Elizabeth’s frequent indifference to it, or the appearance of Darcy as cold and proud versus the reality of his character.

Business etc

  • Thanks were expressed to Anna Steele and Marilyn Steven for hosting the December 10th anniversary and Jane’s birthday function, and particularly to Anna for her musical performance of piano pieces composed by a descendent of Jane Austen
  • Speaker options offered by JASA for 2012 were discussed. Members were particularly interested in hearing Pamela Whalan address “In defence of Mrs Bennett” (because of our focus this year) and Adriana Bradley Smith to speak. However, Anna noted that there is a course on Jane Austen, History and Fiction being offered at the ANU by Dr Kate Mitchell. We agreed that Anna would try to contact Dr Mitchell with a view to asking her to be a guest speaker for us this year – and look at the JASA offer again next year.
  • Jessie presented a quiz to test our knowledge of food in the time of Jane Austen.
  • The Feb 18 meeting will discuss Volume 2 of Pride and prejudice

2 Responses to January 2012 meeting: Pride and prejudice, Vol. 1

  1. Bridget Godwin says:

    18 Feb: Thanks for the stimulating report. I hope to get to today’s meeting but I cannot find the start time and JASACT/Sarah’s contact no. is out of action until September!

    Thanks, Bridget

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