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Social Conflicts Of 19th Century England

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2555 words Published: 8th May 2017

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A woman without her man is nothing. A woman, without her, man is nothing. The first statement implies that a woman needs a man to be valued. In the second statement, the roles are switched and suggest that man needs a woman to be something. Both statements praise the identical concept of needing the opposite sex to be something. “When something is missing in your life, it usually turns out to be someone” – Robert Brault. Can obtaining the opposite sex as a mate be morally justified to make something of yourself? Or is acquiring a companion just a means of selfish lusts and desires? People marry for many different reasons, sometimes for love and sometimes for other selfish reasons such as increased wealth and reputation. In the 19th century, a controversy arose over what the true foundation and purpose for marriage should be. The basis of this conflict was whether one should let reason or emotion be the guide of their love life and if a balance between the two could be maintained. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen creates her protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, to be a strikingly unconventional female with respect to her time. Mr. Darcy is described to be the archetype of an aloof romantic hero, an aristocrat, a comparable Prince Charming. Austen’s influential novel “Pride and Prejudice”, written in 1813 portrays the underlying satirized themes of women and femininity, love and class, as this narrative effectively illustrates the different social conflicts of 19th century England.

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In Pride and Prejudice, Austen paints the different issues involving women, femininity and the stereotypical depiction of women being housewives during the 19th century. The novel demonstrates how people such as the character Charlotte need to marry men they may not love, simply to gain financial security. The novel offers a startlingly complete continuum of women characters, such as Lydia and Mrs. Bennet on one side as the least responsible and capable, and with Lady de Bourgh on the other as the most powerful and controlling. Elizabeth is viewed as an alternative role model for females. By providing a female character who is bold, independent, honest, and forthright, Jane Austen is making a radical critique of the social construction of female identity in early nineteenth-century England. Austen creates the character of Elizabeth to demonstrate another way of personifying the female perspective and to lead a way to change the female stereotype.

“And we mean to treat you all,” added Lydia, “but you must lend us the money, for we have just spent hours at the shop out there.” Then, showing her purchases-“Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better.” And when her sisters abused it as ugly, she added, with perfect unconcern, “Oh! but there were two or three much uglier in the shop; and when I have bought some prettier-coloured satin to trim it with fresh, I think it will be very tolerable. Besides, it will not much signify what one wears this summer, after the –shire have left Meryton, and they are going in a fortnight.”- (Austen, 332)

Lydia is the collection of all the worst stereotypes of women, somewhat unintelligent, not financially educated, fixated on men, and fashion. Austen satirizes this and emphasizes that women should be taught something other than how to be visibly appealing to find a husband of profound wealth and great fortune. The entailment of Mr. Bennet’s estate leaves his daughters in a poor financial situation which requires them to marry someone for financial foundation. Clearly, Austen believes that women are as intelligent and capable as men, and considers their inferior status in society to be unjust. She herself went against tradition by remaining single and earning a living through her novels. In her personal letters Austen advises friends only to marry for love. Through the plot of the novel it is clear that Austen wants to show how Elizabeth is able to be happy by refusing to marry for financial support and only marrying a man whom she truly loves and esteems. Austen creates the character of Elizabeth for woman in the 19th century to eulogize.

“Pemberley was now Georgiana’s home; and the attachment of the sisters was exactly what Darcy had hoped to see. They were able to love each other even as well as they intended. Georgiana had the highest opinion in the world of Elizabeth; though at first she often listened with an astonishment bordering on alarm at her lively, sportive, manner of talking to her brother. He, who had always inspired in herself a respect which almost overcame her affection, she now saw the object of open pleasantry. Her mind received knowledge which had never before fallen in her way. By Elizabeth’s instructions, she began to comprehend that a woman may take liberties with her husband which a brother will not always allow in a sister more than ten years younger than himself.”(Austen, 592)

Austen uses this to convey the deeper meaning of this novel, and create the perfect embodiment that women must strive to become; women do not need to be housewives, and are capable of being independent.

Austen uses the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth to reveal the only couple that elopes in love, rather than over sheer lust that quickly fades, or marriage upon economic necessity. The novel depicts romantic love as a privilege that most people have to do without and something most people do not expect to find. At the same time, because love is a union between empathetic minds, it is shown to be a completely special emotion that is available only for intelligent, mature adults. It’s the crowning achievement in the building of character. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in good fortune must be in want of a wife” (Austen, 2). Mr. Darcy is a wealthy gentleman, of the highest class, and upon meeting Elizabeth Bennet, at his first impression he automatically places prejudice upon her because of the class difference. First impressions cause these characters’ preconceived notions, based on wealth and class to activate more pride and prejudice against each other. Elizabeth Bennet’s first impression of Mr. Darcy is that he is “proud, above his company, and above being please” (Austen,12 ) while Mr. Darcy’s first impression of Elizabeth is that she is “not handsome enough to tempt him” (Austen, 14). The fact that her family is not wealthy and her mother is a bit overwhelming and pushy also has an impact on Mr. Darcy’s pride and prejudice toward Elizabeth. However, we find Darcy falling blindly in love with Elizabeth, and she does the same. Darcy and Elizabeth’s realization of a mutual and tender love seems to imply that Austen views love as something independent of these social forces, as something that can be captured if only an individual is able to escape the warping effects of hierarchical society. It was said that Austen was actually writing about herself and her love life when writing Pride and Prejudice (pemberley.com). Austen had a suitor Tom Lefroy, the heir to a wealthy great-uncle. (IBID) However, Lefroy’s family objected to the elopement of Austen and Lefroy and sent him far away. (IBID2) Austen also writes in saved excerpts of letters she had sent to her sister Cassandra Austen in 1776, “I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this, it will be over – my tears flow as I write this, at this melancholy idea”- Jane Austen (localhistories.com). “A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, love to matrimony in a moment” (Austen, 38). If Elizabeth were to marry Darcy, the classes would intertwine, and the reason for love, is only for self indulgences. Elizabeth may define this as ‘love’ however this is not the case. She is merely blinded by sheer spontaneous lust. Her true love for him does not occur at one instant, but gradually grows and changes her opinion on him. First, Darcy’s letter begins to make her wonder if she has misjudged him. Eventually, Elizabeth discovers that Darcy is the one who paid all of Wickham’s debts and caused him to marry Lydia. All of these things reshape Elizabeth’s knowledge of Darcy’s character and cause her to gradually fall in love with him. Austen praises the idea of love overcoming class-consciousness and uses Elizabeth and Darcy to convey this idea.

Austen uses Pride and Prejudice to delineate and criticize the different conservative views on the upper and lower class and wealth during the 19th century, and she illustrates the different social problems this created. Pride and Prejudice upholds reasonably conservative views on class. Considerations of class are omnipresent in the novel. Darcy’s character arc is to become the ultimate gentleman – he starts out a wealthy, aristocrat, and good-hearted. “Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien” (Austen, 12). Darcy is found to be vain and prideful. His insensitivity, inordinate pride and class-consciousness blinds him, and his vanity causes Elizabeth to reject his marriage proposal at first.

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“He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority–of its being a degradation–of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.”(Austen, 287)

Austen emphasizes the extent at which societal norms have been ingrained into Darcy. She exposes the men during this time that have been blinded and uphold themselves to the highest regard. She uses Darcy as a symbol for the 19th century modern English aristocrat, wealthy, arrogant, and prideful. It is the same with the female characters, whose behavior and decorum immediately mark them as either upper or lower class.

“Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about your apparel. Lady Catherine is far from requiring that elegance of dress in us which becomes herself and her daughter. I could advise you merely to put on whatever of your clothes is superior to the rest–there is no occasion for anything more. Lady Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply dressed. She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved.”(Austen, 94)

Austen makes it clear that people like Lady Catherine, who are overly invested in their social position, are guilty of mistreating other people. Other characters, like the cajoling Mr. Collins and the scheming Caroline, are depicted as thoroughly empty. Their opinions and motivations are completely defined by the dictates of the class system. The comic formality of Mr. Collins and his obsequious relationship with Lady Catherine serve as a satire class consciousness and social formalities. (englishliteraturenotes.com) To contrast them, Austen offers more positive examples in Mr. Bingley and the Gardiners. Mr. Bingley is someone from the upper class who wears his position lightly and gallantly. The Gardiners represent the honest, generous, and industrious middle class and are examples of how to be wealthy without being pretentious. Austen praises and respect aspects of the class system, when it operates not as a dividing power in society, but as a force for virtue and decency. Darcy is the primary example of Austen’s ideal high-class gentleman. Originally he seems to be an arrogant and selfish snob, however, as the novel progresses it becomes clear that he is capable of change. Eventually, Elizabeth’s influence and criticism, causes him to combine his natural generosity with the integrity that he considers a crucial attribute of all upper-class people. He befriends the Gardiners and plays a key role in helping the ungrateful Lydia out of her crisis. The marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth shows that class restrictions, while rigid, do not determine one’s character, and that love can overcome all obstacles, including class. In the end, the verdict on class differences is moderate. (localhistories.org) The conclusion of the novel makes it clear that Elizabeth accepts class relationships as valid. (IBID) It becomes equally clear that Darcy, through Elizabeth’s genius for treating all people with respect for their natural dignity, is reminded that institutions are not an end in themselves but are intended to serve the end of human happiness. (IBID 2)

Through the analysis of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice she conveys the themes of women and femininity, love, and class-consciousness, in a manner that addresses the social conflicts of 19th century England. She uses the character of Lydia to represent the stereotype that people had on women during this time: a dim-witted, unintelligent, financially incompetent, and mind always fixated on men and fashion. In contrast, she creates Elizabeth, who is bold, independent, and forthright, characteristics that wouldn’t normally be found in women during this time. Austen creates a radical critique of the social construction of the female identity. Austen’s portrays love as lust that subsequently fades away, or upon economic necessity. She uses the courtship of Darcy and Elizabeth to convey that marriage should be of something that is of a mutual, tender love and this can only be achieved if the individual is able to escape the warping effects of a hierarchical society. Society was organized according to where you fell on the social ladder. When Darcy meets Elizabeth, he is repulsed by his feelings for a young woman whose family is not only rather common, but not wealthy. They have no impressive family connections either. According to societal norms, Elizabeth is not eligible to be a possible wife for Darcy who is far above her on the social ladder. When Darcy and Elizabeth do get together, it is a triumph for love over social class and class structure. That is what Jane Austen celebrates this because, she herself, was a victim of social class prejudice in her own love life. Although this novel was published in the 19th century it is still relevant in our present day society. This is still renowned as a classic novel because of what it conveys. Her idea was to create a change and remove the stereotype that was placed upon women. She also wanted to remove the class consciousness of different wealthy and arrogant aristocrats of her time. Austen exhibited the desire of change, and through her literature, she conveys this extremely effectively. Nonetheless, whether one can make a change through literature, or in some sort of media, the novel helps the reader gain a perspective on controversial issues existing in present day society.


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