Study Guide

Pride and Prejudice Principles


Chapter 5
Charlotte Lucas

"His pride," said Miss Lucas, "does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it.  One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favour, should think highly of himself.  If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud." (5.18)

Miss Lucas thinks that if you have everything going for you, you have a right to be proud. Do you agree with Charlotte?

Chapter 10
Elizabeth Bennet

"To yield readily—easily—to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you."

"To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either."

"You appear to me, Mr. Darcy, to allow nothing for the influence of friendship and affection. A regard for the requester would often make one readily yield to a request, without waiting for arguments to reason one into it." (10.35-37)

In this banter between Darcy and Elizabeth (which, incidentally, is one of the first times he gets a sense of the "lively mind" that he talks about falling in love with later), we get one of the several philosophical questions discussed in the novel: just how much should you listen to your friends? Should you listen or should you demand proof for their opinions?

Chapter 32
Mr. Darcy

"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."

"My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution."

Darcy smiled and said, "You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers." (32.24-26)

Here is another one of these philosophical conundrums. How much effort should a person make to be pleasant to strangers? Shouldn't it just be enough (like Darcy thinks) to do lots of good things and not worry too much about outward appearances and being a polite human?

Chapter 41
Elizabeth Bennet

"Lydia will never be easy until she has exposed herself in some public place or other, and we can never expect her to do it with so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the present circumstances."

"If you were aware," said Elizabeth, "of the very great disadvantage to us all which must arise from the public notice of Lydia's unguarded and imprudent manner—nay, which has already arisen from it, I am sure you would judge differently in the affair." (41.15-16)

Huh. So both Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet kind of know all along that Lydia's whole Brighton adventure is going to end in nothing but trouble. It's interesting that Mr. Bennet's approach to raising his daughter is one that is probably more often used for boys (since his theory is that Lydia needs to sow wild oats at some point in her teenage years). Elizabeth, on the other hand, has a little more perspective on the fact that, in their society, what would be water under the bridge for boys would mean social annihilation for girls.

Chapter 46

If gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection, Elizabeth's change of sentiment will be neither improbable nor faulty. But if otherwise—if regard springing from such sources is unreasonable or unnatural, in comparison of what is so often described as arising on a first interview with its object, and even before two words have been exchanged, nothing can be said in her defence, except that she had given somewhat of a trial to the latter method in her partiality for Wickham, and that its ill success might, perhaps, authorise her to seek the other less interesting mode of attachment. Be that as it may, she saw him go with regret. (46.24)

This is one of the few times that the narrator just comes right out and tells us what principle of life is being debunked.  Here, for example, it's the idea of love at first sight, which is clearly for Austen a far inferior idea than don't judge a book by its cover.

Chapter 47
Mary Bennet and Kitty Bennet

[Mary:] "Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable; that one false step involves her in endless ruin; that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful; and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex." (47.44)

Here, Mary is clearly echoing the sort of horrible, formal advice given to young ladies by the conduct books (books about how to behave and why) being published at the time. The awful humor here is that, of course, in the actual situation of the Bennets, with actual human beings, with real feelings involved, no one wants to hear this unsympathetic nonsense about the purity of women.

Chapter 51
Jane Bennet

"If it was to be secret," said Jane, "say not another word on the subject. You may depend upon my seeking no further." […] Jane's delicate sense of honour would not allow her to speak to Elizabeth privately of what Lydia had let fall; Elizabeth was glad of it;—till it appeared whether her inquiries would receive any satisfaction, she had rather be without a confidante. (51.28-35)

For a character who is often kind of dismissed for being overly nice and trusting of everyone, Jane actually has a fairly complicated moral code. First, the idea of never prejudging a situation and giving everyone as much benefit of the doubt as possible—and now this, the ability to repress curiosity entirely. Impressive!

Chapter 56
Lady Catherine de Bourgh

"You have no regard, then, for the honour and credit of my nephew! Unfeeling, selfish girl! Do you not consider that a connection with you must disgrace him in the eyes of everybody?[…] You are then resolved to have him?"

"I have said no such thing. I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to <em>you</em>, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me. […] Neither duty, nor honour, nor gratitude," replied Elizabeth, "have any possible claim on me, in the present instance. No principle of either would be violated by my marriage with Mr. Darcy. And with regard to the resentment of his family, or the indignation of the world, if the former <em>were</em> excited by his marrying me, it would not give me one moment's concern—and the world in general would have too much sense to join in the scorn." (56.64-69)

Here, in the totally ridiculous person of Lady de Bourgh, we actually get one of the main philosophical questions of the novel. How much should someone bow to the demands of the surrounding society? How much emphasis should be put on the happiness of the individual? Does the novel resolve this question? Or does the ending kind of sidestep this issue after raising it here and there?

Chapter 59
Mr. Bennet

"I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse anything, which he condescended to ask. I now give it to <em>you</em>, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing <em>you</em> unable to respect your partner in life." (59.36)

This is kind of interesting, as far as we can get a sense of Mr. Bennet's views on partnership as a necessary part of marriage. The idea itself is kind of confused, though—which should Elizabeth want, equality of intelligence, since she would be miserable in an "unequal marriage"? Or does Mr. Bennet still think that in a relationship the man must be smarter than the woman, so that she would think him "a superior"? If it's the latter, then shouldn't his own marriage be totally awesome?

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