Pride and Prejudice

By Jane Austen

Sample Question

1. 'I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.' (Charlotte Brontë). How is confinement explored in "Pride and Prejudice"?

The observance of class boundaries confines the characters within realms of custom and behaviour deemed appropriate to their rank. Austen distinguishes between the gentry and trade: Consider the character of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Her arrogance and cultural ignorance show how ridiculous it is to give someone respect simply because of their rank. Miss Bingley is disdainful towards Jane Bennett when she finds out that part of her family lives in Cheapside; when first proposing to Elizabeth, Darcy cannot avoid mentioning Elizabeth's perceived inferiority. But the apparent inflexibility of class barriers is undercut by the fact that the Bingleys fortune derives from trade. And class distinctions are blurred towards the novel's end when the Gardiners and Darcy convene to marry Lydia and Wickham.

Look at the confinement imposed on women through gender roles. Elizabeth's statement - 'He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter; so far we are equal' - is an expression of how Austen uses the character of Lizzie to challenge the confinement imposed by both class and gender restrictions. Elizabeth is not prepared to indulge in the small talk expected of her sex, and her wit and vivacity show that intelligence is not merely confined to men. That this attracts the prejudiced Darcy challenges the wisdom of these edicts.

Also examine how psychological confinement is reflected topographically. Elizabeth's home and its surroundings are suffocating - she continually goes out for walks to escape. And she only sees Darcy's good nature when away from Longbourn, within the grounds of Pemberley. Is narrowness of mind a consequence of physical restriction? Think of limited social circles and how encountering different sets of people leads to an open mind. Also consider how Austen has been berated for 'only' depicting confined domestic worlds. Why would she choose to depict the 'larger' issues covertly? And how does her treatment of physical and psychological confinement fit into this?

2. 'In "Pride and Prejudice" the plot is secondary, both in importance and interest, to character and dialogue.' Discuss.

Whether you agree with this statement or not, consider how such a view might be qualified. Consider the small domestic society Austen depicts - does this restricted world-view result in a greater emphasis on character? However, is this a valid statement in line when a plot development such as Lydia's elopement is vital to the novel's purpose?

Secondly, extend this to a discussion of whether it is possible to separate 'plot' from 'character and dialogue'. The relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth is the main plot of Pride and Prejudice - yet this depends on their characters and is conducted mainly through dialogue. Does question the very usefulness of the statement?

3. 'The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade, it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense... ' Discuss Austen's own assessment of "Pride and Prejudice".

Suggests superficiality - why? This remark could be seen as defensive, anticipating those who criticized Austen for failing to write about 'larger' issues.

Consider the comedic element to the novel and how this both supports and undermines Austen's statement. Are there episodes in the book that are funny only from the reader's perspective? Think about the portrayal of Mr Collins, how other characters find him more offensive and annoying than amusing. Does Austen use comedy as a mask to criticize others then? And does this make her own statement ironic?