Study Guide

Pride and Prejudice Language and Communication

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Language and Communication

Chapter 3
Elizabeth Bennet

On reaching the spacious lobby above they were shown into a very pretty sitting-room, lately fitted up with greater elegance and lightness than the apartments below; and were informed that it was but just done to give pleasure to Miss Darcy, who had taken a liking to the room when last at Pemberley.

"He is certainly a good brother," said Elizabeth, as she walked towards one of the windows. (3.1.43-44)

Here, Darcy's actions are finally doing some actual communicating. As Elizabeth thinks about the way he treats his sister —not what he says, but how he actually puts some effort into making her comfy in the big estate —she can see more of the man inside the stiff, socially awkward exterior.

But on returning to the drawing-room, when her letter was finished, she saw, to her infinite surprise, there was reason to fear that her mother had been too ingenious for her. On opening the door, she perceived her sister and Bingley standing together over the hearth, as if engaged in earnest conversation; and had this led to no suspicion, the faces of both, as they hastily turned round and moved away from each other, would have told it all. (3.8.21)

Hey, body language! Elizabeth has no trouble putting together the clues to see what Jane and Bingley are up to. But why do you think we don't get to hear any of the successful proposals? Why only Mr. Collins' ridiculous proposal and Mr. Darcy's major flop?

Chapter 5
Mrs. Bennet

"You began the evening well, Charlotte," said Mrs. Bennet with civil self-command to Miss Lucas. "You were Mr. Bingley's first choice."

"Yes; but he seemed to like his second better."

"Oh! you mean Jane, I suppose, because he danced with her twice. To be sure that did seem as if he admired her—indeed I rather believe he did—I heard something about it—but I hardly know what—something about Mr. Robinson." (5.4-6)

If Mrs. Bennet were fishing any harder for a compliment, she'd have to get a permit.

Chapter 11
Elizabeth Bennet

"And your defect is to hate everybody."

"And yours," he replied with a smile, "is willfully to misunderstand them." (11.30-32)

Lizzy thinks that Darcy hates everyone; Darcy thinks Lizzy purposefully doesn't understand them. Who's the worse communicator?

Mr. Darcy

[Mr. Darcy] was directly invited to join their party, but he declined it, observing that he could imagine but two motives for their choosing to walk up and down the room together, with either of which motives his joining them would interfere. […] [Miss Bingley] persevered therefore in requiring an explanation of his two motives.

"I have not the smallest objection to explaining them," said he, as soon as she allowed him to speak. "You either choose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other's confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; if the first, I would be completely in your way, and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire."

"Oh! shocking!" cried Miss Bingley. "I never heard anything so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?" (11.11-16)

Darcy can't actually tell Miss Bingley that she doesn't stand a chance, but he lets her know in the only way he can—by shutting down her flirtation through bluntness.

It doesn't work.

Chapter 14
Mrs. Bennet

"Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!"

"How so? How can it affect them?"

"My dear Mr. Bennet," replied his wife, "how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them."

"Is that his design in settling here?"

"Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes."

"I see no occasion for that. You and the girls may go, or you may send them by themselves, which perhaps will be still better, for as you are as handsome as any of them, Mr. Bingley may like you the best of the party." (14-19)

Mr. Bennet's style of communication is a kind of passive aggressive, teasing banter, most of which goes way, way over his wife's head. Why does he talk to her in this way (which presumably isn't the way he talks to, say, Bingley, when he goes to visit him)?

Chapter 20
Mr. Collins

"When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on the subject, I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer than you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of cruelty at present, because I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character."

"Really, Mr. Collins," cried Elizabeth with some warmth, "you puzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appear to you in the form of encouragement, I know not how to express my refusal in such a way as to convince you of its being one."

"You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course." (20.16-18)

Mr. Collins is basically totally taking away Elizabeth's ability to speak or form opinions, and trying to get her to accept this proposal just by sheer force of not accepting her refusals over and over again. Could he be any creepier?

Chapter 39
Jane Bennet

"I will answer for it, he never cared three straws about her—who could about such a nasty little freckled thing?"

Elizabeth was shocked to think that, however incapable of such coarseness of expression herself, the coarseness of the sentiment was little other than her own breast had harboured and fancied liberal! (39.13-15)

This is a really great moment, pointing out how that Lydia isn't some kind of totally alien outsider in her family. She's more like their irrepressible id, the side of all of them that's is interested in comfort, pleasure, food, and sex. It's not that Lydia thinks differently than others; it's just that she actually says what she's thinking. The girl just talks with no filter.

Chapter 41
Elizabeth Bennet

"Yes, very different. But I think Mr. Darcy improves upon acquaintance."

"Indeed!" cried Mr. Wickham with a look which did not escape her. "And pray, may I ask?—" But checking himself, he added, in a gayer tone, "Is it in address that he improves? Has he deigned to add aught of civility to his ordinary style?—for I dare not hope," he continued in a lower and more serious tone, "that he is improved in essentials."

"Oh, no!" said Elizabeth. "In essentials, I believe, he is very much what he ever was. […] When I said that he improved on acquaintance, I did not mean that his mind or his manners were in a state of improvement, but that, from knowing him better, his disposition was better understood."

Wickham's alarm now appeared in a heightened complexion and agitated look. (41.33-38)

We hear you. What about this totally innocent conversation could possibly make Wickham freak out? Well, with so many rules about how and what one person can say to another in public, just a slight shift away from the standard is enough to convey a whole bunch of extra meaning—like, "I know you're a liar and a cheat."

The rapture of Lydia on this occasion, her adoration of Mrs. Forster, the delight of Mrs. Bennet, and the mortification of Kitty, are scarcely to be described. Wholly inattentive to her sister's feelings, Lydia flew about the house in restless ecstasy, calling for everyone's congratulations, and laughing and talking with more violence than ever; whilst the luckless Kitty continued in the parlour repined at her fate in terms as unreasonable as her accent was peevish. (41.12)

In Pride and Prejudice, selfishness and self-importance are the opposite of empathy and fellow-feeling. Here, despite Kitty's histrionics, Lydia can't even see that she's upset. No wonder Lydia constantly misunderstand everything, ever.

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