University of Wisconsin Oshkosh 

English 350: Literary Study Tour: Jane Austen

Spring Interim, 1998

Prof. Julie Shaffer

Important Background Information for understanding Pride and Prejudice,

and questions to make up part of your writing journal on this novel

(answer too those questions pertinent to all the novels)

Composition and Publication History:

Austen first wrote this in 1796-1797 as "First Impressions," the second novel-length work she wrote. Cadell rejected it, sight unseen. She revised it and sold it in 1812 to Egerton, a publishing house, for 10 pounds, and it was published in January, 1813. It was the second novel she saw published, following Sense and Sensibility, published in 1811.


Among the most important issues to understand for this novel are the passage and importance of property, the role of marriage in women's lives, and what alternatives were available for women. We will have addressed these issues to great extent in our discussion of Sense and Sensibility; see also the sheet I've given you on property and the social structure. I'd also like you to consider behaviors and attitudes treated as appropriate, especially for women, as we move from Sense and Sensibility to Pride and Prejudice, comparing them too to views we get elsewhere: not only in Dr. Gregory but also in a passage from Frances Burney's highly popular Cecilia, a novel Austen mentions in Northanger Abbey and which provided the title for Austen’s novel on its last page.

Related issues revolve around social class and behaviors thought to belong to various classes. In many of the characters' interactions and discussions of possible marriage, not just romance and finance but also class is an important issue. Part of Darcy's problem with Elizabeth stems from the difference in their class status, and this is a complex issues, parts of which may become clearer from the following discussion:

One's class depends most on birth: one is born into one's father's class; a woman might rise or fall in class status, depending on whom she married, an issue important in this and all of Austen's subsequent novels. A man, too, might rise by marrying well, but generally, a woman took her husband's class status. Class, in this schema, does not necessarily mean that one is rich; in many novels, those who are born into high social classes may have little income, in part because ancestors may have gambled or outspent the income the estate would bring in, its income coming through farming done on the land by tenant farmers. To some extent, however, one's income is an indicator of class. As we learn in ch 7, during Mr Bennet's lifetime, during which the family may remain in their home, their total income is 4000 pounds per year, by which husband, wife, and five daughters are to be supported. While this hardly leaves them in poverty, compare this to Darcy's situation, which we learn in ch 3: he has an estate that brings him 10,000 pounds per year. Money aside, the difference in what the estates bring in each year suggest the difference in their size and, hence, importance.

The size of an estate gives a good sense of slightly different classes from which Darcy and the Bennets come; they're both from landed gentry, but Darcy is clearly higher in it. In addition, however, his aunt, Lady Catherine de Burgh, is titled; that puts her in the aristocracy. Compare this to the Bennets' relatives, their professions, and their social classes.

The next indicator of class has to do with behavior. In a lot of novels from this period, behavior turns out to be the best sign of class: a female protagonist who is consistently polite, modest, upright, and moral generally turns out to be born in the landed classes - even the aristocracy - even if, for most of her story, she's thought to be well-born. Keep this in mind as you read Emma. This novel plays with this societal belief and literary convention. The belief and the convention might make sense if you consider the expression that someone is or is not "well-bred." To talk about someone as behaving or not behaving in a well-bred way responds to how they've been taught to behave, of course, but breeding, being well- or poorly-bred - if you think of animals, for instance - refers also to one's bloodline, one's genealogy. Keeping this information in mind, answer not only the questions given that pertain to all the novels but these too:



To what extent does birth overlap with behavior in this novel? Do we see certain behaviors as belonging to certain classes only? To what extent do behaviors cross class boundaries? To what extent do people in the same class have different behaviors? How might this novel then be addressing the class structure of England when it was written?

During Interim, we will have a discussion of politics during the period; you may at that point consider how this novel addresses political issues we'll learn about then. But address this question as the novel makes it possible to do so without that discussion.


What different model of femininity, acceptable feminine behavior, do we get here from what we get in Sense and Sensibility? (Does gendered behavior become a class issue? Is there a certain type of proper femininity that crosses class boundaries?)

How does female education fit into this? What are the different qualities women are supposed to have that get discussed in this novel? This comes most clearly in ch 8, but trace how it works as various women get portrayed in this novel.

With what questions does this leave you about women's education?


This novel, perhaps more than any other of Austen's, seems obsessed with marriage. How many marriages are discussed, portrayed, or occur during the course of the novel? Enumerate and characterize them, choosing scenes or passages that show them well, pointing out which elements of those scenes and passages make possible generalizations about each of the marriages.

If the novel celebrates marriage, perhaps as women's best goal [?], what do you make of the many negative marriages portrayed?

How are men's and women's roles in marriage defined differently in the various marriages imagined or delineated?

In what way is Elizabeth's marriage beneficial? To whom? What does this suggest about men's and women's roles in marriage? Are they different than in the other couples, both in this novel and in Austen's others?

Look at vol. II, ch. iv; there, Elizabeth understands Wickham's "prudence" in attaching himself to a woman with money and defecting from her. If we understand her views here, why aren't we likewise understanding of Bingley's defection from Jane?


What is the role in the novel of Collins' proposal to Elizabeth? Does it serve any function in the plot? If not, then why might it be there?


Discuss Charlotte's attitudes toward marriage. To what extent is she right? To what extent is her marriage acceptable, perhaps better than others we see in the novel? What might we learn or conclude from this? How do you feel about it personally, regardless of what the novel suggests about the success or failure of her marriage, and her satisfaction with the match?


Vol. II, ch I is very important; what do we learn here? What insights do we gain?


Vol. II, ch XI and XIII are very important. What do we learn from them? Not just in terms of fact, but in terms of something like theme? Trace what changes from here on.


Why don't we feel the urgency to marry off the Bennet girls that Mrs Bennet does, given the daughters' actually being as economically needy of marriage as she says they are?


What do you think of Elizabeth's thoughts when she sees Pemberley? Does she think she should've married Darcy for the estate? If so, why? What does the estate and his role there signify, symbolize?


Compare the housekeeper's assertions about Darcy to what else we've heard about him and how we've seen him. Identify where we get these different views. How can we square these contractions?


Compare the scene near the end of the novel in which Elizabeth stands up to Lady Catherine de Burgh to the scene I will provide for you from Frances Burney's Cecilia. What different qualities does each female protagonist evince? What different models of feminine propriety do we get from each of these? What are we to make of this?

And what does this novel lead us to think about female power? In any of the women to which we're exposed? Does it take the issue seriously? After you've thought about this issue, read the Claudia Johnson article, in the appendices (it's also listed below).


What communities or arrangements of people do we get by the end of the book that are different from those with which they start? What kind of values might that suggest? To what extent do these shifts challenge the class structure, and to what extent do they instead support it? How do they do so?


What film versions have you seen of this novel? What do you think they do well? Do they make anything clearer? What do they not do well? Have you read or seen anything else that addresses these same issues? What might those be, and how do they do so?

Some of the readings in the Norton edition are really good
and will help you think about and address some of these issues.
Those in particular which I recommend:
  • Nina Auerbach's "Waiting Together: Pride and Prejudice" (336-348)
  • Julia Prewitt Brown's "Marriage and Sexual Love in Jane Austen" (348-351)

    Why do women have to marry? Read also Newton's essay, listed below.

  • Alistair Duckworth's "Pride and Prejudice: The Reconstitution of Society" (312-334).

    This addresses the cultural significance of marriage and place in this novel, as Duckworth does in all his essays; his book, The Improvement of the Estate, will be on reserve.

  • Claudia Johnson's "Pride and Prejudice and the Pursuit of Happiness" (367-376).

    What's the political implication of the plot line and characterizations in this novel? See also the chapter on Pride and Prejudice in Newton, listed below, which addresses female means to power, which Johnson also addresses.

  • Susan Morgan's "Perception and Pride and Prejudice" (351-362)

    Helpful in thinking about what the characters must learn; don't read this until you've thought about the subject on your own!

  • Stuart Tave's "Limitations and Definitions" (324-328).

    Here, think about what constrains women and what they can do nonetheless; see also the Brown essay in this collection, for what women need, and also the chapter on Pride and Prejudice in Newton, listed below.

Other works useful on this novel:
  • Judith Lowder Newton, in her Women, Power, and Subversion: Social Strategies in British Fiction, 1778-1860. New York: Methuen, 1981.

Of course, the best work around (just kidding) is my own (but note that the title of contents spells my last name wrong, sigh):

  • "Not Subordinate: Empowering Women in the Marriage Plot - the Novels of Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen. Criticism 34 (1992): 51-73.

    Available in journals, 2nd floor Polk.

Questions to consider when we get to England:
How does seeing country houses - estates like Pemberley -
help you understand this novel and its treatment of class and responsibility?

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