notes on jane austen's pride & prejudice



~10 min read


1863 words

I’ve been on a bit of a Jane Austen kick recently. After finishing Emma, I immediately picked up Pride & Prejudice. I don’t know which one I enjoyed more. They’re both wonderful and I’m sad it took me until now to read her novels.

Below are some of the passages I highlighted and attached to some, some thoughts about them.

Opening line

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Pg. 1

This opening line immediately intrigued me. It also was reminiscent of Tolstoy’s opening for Anna Karenina,

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Both openings are a single sentence and yet accomplish so much. In their assertiveness, they say so much. They describe what the book will be about, but in a way that leaves so much to be discovered. It seems like the epitome of a great story.

Mixture of character / character sketches

Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news. Pg. 3

The juxtaposition between the two characters is just one of Austen’s brilliant flourishes.

Mr. Bennet’s expectations were fully answered. His cousin was as absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure. Pg. 47

A wonderful illustration of Mr. Bennet’s mixture described earlier!

On love

We can all begin freely—a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. Pg. 14

To begin to love is easy. To develop that emotion, however, Austen (via Charlotte) suggests that encouragement is not only helpful, but frequently necessary.

On principles and integrity

To oblige you, I would try to believe almost any thing,, but no one else could be benefited by such a belief as this; for were I persuaded that Charlotte had any regard for him, I should only think worse of her understanding, than I now do of her heart. My dear Jane, Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man; you know he is, as well as I do; and you must feel, as well as I do, that the woman who marries him, cannot have a proper way of thinking. You shall not, for the sake of one individual, change the meaning of principle and integrity, nor endeavour to persuade yourself or me, that selfishness is prudence, and insensibility of danger, security for happiness. Pg 94

Emphasis here is mine - but what I found so interesting about this conversation between sisters was how Elizabeth points out, in her way, that principles only matter if they’re not compromised. She’s implying that Jane would be willing to compromise hers for the sake of her friend (which Jane refuses to do by the way). All of which is to say, Elizabeth’s appeal was (perhaps) unnecessary, but still a genuinely interesting observation.

On misunderstandings

More than once did Elizabeth in her ramble within the Park, unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy.—She felt all the perverseness of the mischance that should bring him where no one else was brought; and to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform him at first, that it was a favourite haunt of hers.—How it could occur a second time therefore was very odd!—Yet it did, and even a third. It seemed like wilful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance, for on these occasions it was not merely a few formal enquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her. Pg. 126

On identifying mistakes

“How despicably have I acted!” she cried.—“I, who have prided myself on my discernment!—I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust.—How humiliating is this discovery!—Yet, how just a humiliation!—Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my foll.—Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”

From herself to Jane—from Jane to Bingley, her thoughts were in a line which soon brought to her recollection that Mr. Darcy’s explanation there, had appeared very insufficient; and she read it again.Widely different was the effect of a second perusal.—How could she deny that credit to his assertions, in one instance, which she had been obliged to give in the other?—He declared himself to have been totally unsuspicious of her sister’s attachment;—and she could not help remembering what Charlotte’s opinion had always been. Pg. 143

More than anything, I loved how this passage revealed an individual’s evolving understanding of themselves. The use of dashes, which Austen uses better than almost anyone, so elegantly show the flitting between topics!

On Seeing Thoughts Enacted

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 formerly harboured anf fancied liberal!

Again, realizing that her understanding of the world is evolving, Elizabeth seems others acting how she would have felt and it’s jarring. Not just because of the actions themselves, but because she’s realizing she used to feel similarly (even if she might never have acted on the feelings).

On Education - Real & Perceived

“There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.” Pg. 155

On Living In The Present

With this answer Elizabeth was forced to be content; but her own opinion continued the same, and she left him disappointed and sorry. It was not in her nature, however, to increase her vexations, by dwelling on them. She was confident of having performed her duty, and to fret over unavoidable evils, or augment them by anxiety, was no part of her disposition. Pg. 160

On Unmet Expectations

Upon the whole, therefore, she found, what has been sometimes found before, that an event to which she had looked forward with impatient desire, did not in taking place, bring all the satisfaction she had promised herself. Pg. 163

On The Source Of Praise

There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth’s mind, a more gentle sensation towards the original, than she had ever felt in the height of their acquaintance. The commendation bestowed on him by Mrs. Reynolds was of no trifling nature . What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant? Pg. 170

On Acting Against Self-Interest

Persuaded as Miss Bingley was that DArcy admired Elizabeth this was not the best method of recommending herself; but angry people are not always wise; and in seeing him at last look somewhat nettled, she had all the success she expected. He was resolutely silent however; and, from a determination of making him speak, she continued… Pg. 185

I love this sentence and it’s observation that those who are frustrated and angry may not always act in a way that advances their own interests.

On Avoiding Topics

Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth talked of all that had occurred, during their visit, as they returned, except what had particularly interested them both. The looks and behavior of every body they had seen were discussed, except of the person who had mostly engaged their attention. They talked of his sister, his friends, his house, his fruit, of every thing but himself; yet Elizabeth was longing to know what Mrs. Gardiner thought of him, and Mrs. Gardiner would have been highly gratified by her niece’s beginning the subject. Pg. 185

Sometimes two people really want to talk about something, but they can’t figure out how to broach the topic. Austen perfectly encapsulates that situation in this passage and I adore it.

On A Person’s Evolving Character

“Perhaps it would have been better [to tell others about Wickham];” replied her sister. “But to expose the former faults of any person, without knowing what their present feelings were, seemed unjustifiable. We acted with the best intentions.” Pg. 199

This plot point - that the sisters consciously decided not to warn others of Wickham’s character because he was soon to leave the community, a decision which would come back to haunt them as he became entangled with their youngest sister - is particularly interesting in the context of today where past mistakes are so frequently carried forward into any future endeavor.

In many ways, Wickham benefitted from the ability to reinvent himself. His is a story demonstrating why that may not be such a good thing - as he never actually changed, he just left debts and destruction in his wake. Yet, Jane’s point that people do change, and unless you know for certain that someone hasn’t, it’s prudent to give them the benefit of the doubt — a policy I agree wholeheartedly with.

On Blessings Of Character

“I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!” cried Jane. “Oh! Lizzy, why am I thus singled from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you as happy! If there were but such another man for you!”

“If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never cna have your happiness. No, no, let me shift for myself; and , perhaps, if I have very good luck, I may meet with another Mr. Collins in time.” Pg. 241

“We will not quarrel for the greater share of blame annexed to that evening,” said Elizabeth. “The conduct of neither, if strictly examined, will be irreproachable; but since then, we have both, I hope, improved in civility.” Pg. 253

This was interesting mostly in the parallels I detected between it and passages in Emma. Unlike in Emma, however, where the contest between Emma and Mr. Knightly was over who was the more fortunate, here, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are competing to see who deserved the greater share of blame for how their relationship started.

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