June 2012 Meeting : Secondary Sources of Pride and Prejudice

July 18, 2012

Prepared by member Cheng …

Secondary sources always stimulate lively discussions by our group and this June’s meeting, whilst with fewer members than usual due to winter ills and holidays, was a very interesting one.

Four members presented their selected sources and have kindly supplied the following notes :

1 : B.C. Southam in Jane Austen’s Literary Manuscripts (OUP, 1964) argues a case for Pride and Prejudice being originally an epistolary novel. He partly bases his argument on Mr Austen’s describing First Impressions to a prospective publisher as being of the same length as Miss Burney’s Evalina, whereas Pride and Prejudice is much shorter. Southam therefore asks, “Could it have been that the revisions of 1809-10, 1811 and 1812 were to reduce the bulk of a letter novel to the more economical method of direct narrative?” Southam believes that in the original letter form, Elizabeth would have been the principal correspondent writing to Charlotte Lucas and Mrs Gardiner. Tantalisingly he also argues that Darcy would have reported his side of events to his friends, including Bingley.

Among further evidence, are the 44 letters mentioned, quoted or given verbatim in Pride and Prejudice, including references to a “regular and frequent” correspondence between Elizabeth and Charlotte Lucas and between Elizabeth and Jane and Mrs Gardiner. To Southam this is “a very creditable system of letters to carry much of the story in an epistolary version”.

2 : Tony Tanner’s notes in the back of an edition of Price and Prejudice were the source of an interesting point on Jane Austen’s use of the 18th century idea of landscaping revealing character. The description of Pemberley is intended to be not merely of its material structure but also the ethical qualities its owner.

Darcy and Elizabeth at Charlotte Collins' house, Ch. 32, in Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice.

Darcy and Elizabeth at Charlotte Collins’ house, Ch. 32, in Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. London: George Allen, 1894. (Public domain via Wikipedia)

3 : Another member had read our own Sara Ailwood’s “’Such a man as Darcy’ – Masculinity in transition in Pride and Prejudice” (Sensibilities, December 2004) in which Sara discussed the changing codes of conduct for men during the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.

Sara described the earlier aristocratic code of honour requiring adherence above all else to family pride and external appearances and involving reputation, rivalry and aggression rather than internal integrity. It was most evident in Darcy’s general demeanour and particularly in his first insulting proposal to Elizabeth in which he so obviously felt he was demeaning his family honour by allying himself to her family despite his admiration and love for her.

Her rebuke to him on that occasion caused him to rethink his code along the lines of that of the newer middle class society’s code of politeness reflecting genuine good will to others, civility and elegance. These all contributed to an air of good breeding though unfortunately often becoming corrupted into being polite for one’s own advantage. However it did lead him to the late 18th and early 19th century culture of sensibility requiring inner virtue and a combination of reason and self-control.

He finally learned to allow his heart to rule his head, giving him the freedom to express his emotions more naturally and to be able to overlook the deficiencies of the Bennet family whilst genuinely respecting others worthy of respect, regardless of their social status being a little below his own, e.g. the Gardiners.

4 : The discussion rounded off with multiple sources from one enthusiastic member who provided impressively concise summaries :

In an introduction to Pride and Prejudice published by Everyman, Peter Conrad made the statement “Ironists get misunderstood & taken literally”.

Colin Firth’s ideas of Darcy being filled with emotions hidden under a cool exterior came from an interview for The Making of Pride and Prejudice by Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin, 1995.

Susan Morgan, in In the Meantime: Character & Perception in Jane Austen, was responsible for the quote about “Reality & truth can only be discovered over time”.

How to read a Jane Austen Novel by Vivien Jones gave “All criticisms speak from a particular cultural position and set of values”.

In an introduction to Emma, Fiona Stafford wrote about “Propriety forbidding the utterance of truth”.


The meeting ended after some testing quotes and a dozen extremely challenging quiz questions.

The subject for the Saturday 21st July 2012 meeting will be ‘Love and Freindship’.