Accomplishment & Human Development
in Pride & Prejudice

 

Contents

I.     Introduction 
II.    Social evolution

1.            Evolution vs. Revolution

2.            Social hierarchy in the story

3.            Social evolution in the story

4.            Individual expressions of social change 

5.            Role of Gossip 

III.     Character 

1.            Values of 19th Century England 

2.            Types and intensities of character 

3.            Development of character 

4.            Bennet Family 

5.            Mr. Bennet

6.            Mrs. Bennet

7.            Jane

8.            Eliza

9.            Mary 

10.          Lydia 

11.          Bingley 

12.          Darcy 

13.          Lady Catherine 

14.          Wickham  

15.          Collins 

16.          Charlotte Lucas

17.          Caroline Bingley

18.          Interactions between the characters 

 
IV.   Character of Life & Life Response
V.    Accomplishment -- Process of Creation
VI.   Spiritual Evolution

 


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I.      Introduction

This document illustrates a new approach to literary criticism based on the premise that great literature represents in story form truths of human action, individual character, social character, the character of life and spiritual evolution. The author draws on the vast reservoir of universal life to fashion stories, characters, action and consequences. Regardless of the author’s conscious intention, what is portrayed is true in character if not in fact to the fundamental realities of human nature, the life of society and life as a universal plane.

This is a story of individual accomplishment. That accomplishment takes the form of four marriages: Darcy and Elizabeth, Bingley and Jane, Wickham and Lydia, Collins and Charlotte. In addition, the story leads to some unexpected outcomes. Bingley, whom Darcy hoped to make his brother-in-law by marrying to his sister Georgiana, becomes his brother-in-law instead through their marriages to two sisters, Elizabeth and Jane. More surprising to our sense of justice, Wickham, who attempted to become Darcy’s brother-in-law by elopement with Georgiana, does become his brother-in-law by marrying Elizabeth’s sister Lydia. Most remarkable of all, Collins, whose highest aspiration in life was not marriage, but rather close association with his distinguished benefactor, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, actually becomes the lady’s distant relative through the marriage of his cousin Elizabeth to the lady’s nephew Darcy. Taken as clever story telling, we may be surprised or amused. Taken as profound reflections on truths of human life and action, we can only marvel at the conscious or subconscious knowledge of a twenty-year-old English author.

This is also a story of the accomplishment of English society, a society that chose an evolutionary path to social progress in preference to a destructive revolutionary movement like that which wracked France at the time. The society accomplished this evolution by opening up previously inaccessible levels of higher society to those with lesser status and wealth and by a conscious descent of those higher levels to embrace the life-renewing vitality of the bourgeois class. This evolutionary process is reflected in every thought, sentiment and action in the story and is a key to understanding the forces that lead to individual accomplishment. These two movements are inextricably bound together. They are two aspects of a single movement. The thoughts, attitudes, and actions of the individual characters express and contribute to the wider movement of the society in which they occur. The process of social accomplishment and its reflections in the story are examined in Chapter 2.

All great literature reveals truths of human character and human nature that exceed, both above and below, the standards and norms of social character and behavior. The quality, intensity, attitudes, values and motives of the individuals involved in the action, particularly the relationship of their individual characters to the specific action, are powerful determinants that very often overshadow in importance the determining characteristics of the act itself. This story brings out the crucial distinction between those whose character is simply a product of the society, the times and the class in which they live and those rare few who develop formed individual characters with the knowledge and will for psychological growth. The accomplishments of the main characters are more a result of their psychological growth than of the external initiatives they take. These individuals take a wide range of initiatives, most of which fail or lead to consequences very different than they had intended. Yet, the movement of events leads invariably toward accomplishment, propelled by a progression of apparently extraneous forces and circumstances. A true understanding of the forces leading to accomplishment requires an understanding of the psychological changes that the main characters undergo. The role of social and individual character in determining the outcome of the story is discussed in Chapter 3.

The results of action in the story are an expression not only of human initiative, individual and social character, but also of the character of life itself. Life is a universal field in which forces and forms act and interact with each other. Like the individual and society, it too has what may be called a character of its own. That character can be described in terms of the distinctive ways in which life events occur, repeat and reverse, and the factors that determine the results and consequences of human action. Chapter 4 presents a brief discussion of the character of life and illustrates many of its principles from events and consequences in the story.

Human action, individual character, social character and the character of life combining and interacting generate a set of results. When those results are what the characters themselves would view as positive, as they largely are in the story, we can refer them as examples of accomplishment. When they are negative, we term them failures. In Chapter 5 the contribution of these multiple levels of causality are examined from the perspective of the whole story and its results to shed light on the principles and process of human accomplishment.

Human achievements are one expression of the universal process that governs all creative activity and accomplishment at the physical, vital, mental and spiritual level. The outcome of every event is the product of these several different levels of determinants and this creative process. These levels interact with each other, reinforcing and negating each other according to their direction. The process that leads to human accomplishment in any series of events depends on the relative strength of each factor and specific circumstance of the action. Chapter 6 examines how these several factors interact to determine outcomes in the story.

An analysis of action, individual character, social character and the character of life may provide great insight into the course and outcome of the story, it leaves unexplored the far greater field of spiritual determinants that express in and through individuals, societies and life itself. While a story of this type is not the ideal medium for an exploration of this type, we have attempted to illustrate the process of spiritual evolution described by Sri Aurobindo as it is illustrated by actions and events in the story. In Life Divine, he describes the process of creation or self-conception by which the Absolute or Divine Being manifests the universe by becoming the universe that it creates. This is the process by which the spiritual reality involves itself in material form and life and evolves to rediscover its consciousness, power and being. Chapter 6 examines how the process of spiritual evolution is reflected in the story.

Much can be learned of human character, society and life from a study of Pride & Prejudice and much can be learned about the novel by viewing it from the perspective of these factors. However, in literature as in life, we are constrained by limited information. In life, our knowledge of past and future events, the thoughts, attitudes and intentions of other people, and even much of our own deeper motivations lie beyond the bounds of conscious knowledge. The discovery of the deeper truths of life requires, first, the development of greater self-consciousness and consciousness of others, keen observation of human behavior, deep insight into human motivation. In addition, we are constrained by the arbitrary beginning and end placed on any story. Every action and circumstance can be traced back to antecedents far in the past, both the personal and historical past. They can also be traced forward far into the future. A story gives us a record of a finite segment in a line of causality that extends infinitely backward and forward. Therefore, any observations we make or conclusions we draw are limited by the lack of information and insight both into the distant past and future that has yet to unfold.

In one sense, these constraints are even greater in a novel than in life, because we have only the limited information provided by the author on which to base our insights and conclusions. But in another sense, literature provides an easier and more revealing medium, for it represents a detailed, often minutely detailed, record of a particular set of events. While in life, we can at best have access to our own inner workings and perhaps those of our closest confidants; in literature, we are often privy to the inner feelings, attitudes and opinions of several characters. In a story, the action usually spans an interval from the beginning to the end of a set of important events ending in accomplishment or failure, though we may not have access to all relevant information about antecedent conditions in the lives of the characters or the society. Because this record is written, we have the opportunity to review it over and over again, weighing each word and event, looking for correspondences and interrelationships that occur very frequently in life but are often overlooked in the whirl of the moment and soon buried in subsequent events. For these reasons, literature provides a very powerful medium for reflecting and discovering truths of life.

In this analysis we often draw conclusions about the motives of characters, intentions of life and outcome of events as if they exist independent of the mind of the writer who has portrayed them. We have argued the validity of this approach by stating that the writer, even the writer of fiction, is portraying realities of life that possess a truth of their own, independent of the ideas and intentions of the writer. This approach is vulnerable to criticism because of the many obvious instances in which writers impose purely conscious, personal motives on the action or employ dramatic device to heighten the appeal of a story. We can only respond by saying that the caliber of the literature, its capacity to outlive a particular place and time, is in proportion to the ‘truthfulness’ with which the author depicts the character of life as it really is. In stating our conclusions, we are not taking any position regarding the conscious intentions of the author regarding the motives of characters, the connections between events, or the truths of life that we find reflected in the story. In some instances, the author’s own observations or intentions may coincide closely with our interpretation. In others, they may be opposite.

II.    Social evolution

Every society has a character that places a unique stamp on the values, attitudes, opinions, customs and conventions of its members, activities and institutions. That character undergoes a process of continuous development or evolution. Events occur in a social context and reflect the character of the society and the character of the times in which they take place. Often the event can be seen as a specific individual expression of the general direction and process of social development. Knowledge of the process of social development reveals the determining character of society on the outcome of action.

Society is not just the sum total of the individuals who participate in it. The characteristics of a society are not merely a sum, average or other mathematical function of the values, opinions, and attitudes of those individuals. A society is a living organism with a life of its own, a living collective which consists of many living individual human beings, just as our physical bodies are living collectives made up of many living individual cells. Both the body and the cell have their own distinct individuality, though obviously the two are related.

Although we commonly think of society as the sum of its individual members, historically the consciousness of the collective evolved before the emergence and development of individuality, which is a much more recent phenomenon. Groups developed collective activities, beliefs, attitudes, habits, customs and values that they imposed on their members, demanding unstinting conformity, often on pain of exile or death.

Every society is undergoing a continuous process of adaptation and adjustment to survive and maintain the status quo or to grow, develop and evolve. Different levels, segments and aspects of the society move simultaneously in different directions, some to resist change and others to foster it. Often an event can be seen as a representative individual expression of the general direction and process of social development. Knowledge of the process of social development reveals the determining character of society on the outcome of action. Therefore, to understand the process of change that English society was undergoing at the turn of the 19th Century is essential to a full comprehension of the story.

We commonly think of development as a desirable set of outcomes such as greater material prosperity, education, productivity, technology and freedom. But these outcomes are the result of a process and that process is occurring all the time.[1] In essence, society evolves when the collective accumulates surplus energy that is not required for its survival and growth at the current level and when a subconscious collective will forms for development in a particular direction. That will expresses through the conscious initiatives of individuals who depart from conformity to the status quo and pioneer new forms of behavior, which are then imitated by other individuals and eventually accepted by the social collective and organized in the society by new political, legal, social, economic or cultural activities, institutions, customs and values. 

Over the past five hundred years the entire Western world and more recently the world as a whole have been moving along a course of development that has several identifiable characteristics.

(1)  Societies in the past promoted the development of the collective by constraining the development of their individual members within narrow fixed boundaries. They now seek to actively develop their individual members and to release their energy and initiative as a means to foster the progress of the collective.

(2)  Societies in the past developed by a concentration of benefits of development (knowledge, power, privilege and wealth) among a very small portion or an elite class of its members. They are now distributing more of the achievements of the elite to wider sections of the population out of recognition that this makes the society as whole stronger and more stable. Democratization, universal education, human rights, social security and economic opportunity are expressions of this movement.

(3)  Societies in the past suppressed, exploited or ignored the lower or weaker sections of the population. They are now striving consciously to protect, support and develop those sections through equal rights and equal opportunities for less fortunate individuals and weaker nations.

1.     Evolution vs. Revolution

The development process can occur in one of two ways – through violent revolution or slow gradual evolution. Society is structured in a manner similar to the earth’s crust, which consists of layers of tectonic plates that rest on, interlock and shift constantly in relation to each other. Geological processes build pressure for movement of the plates in different directions. When the pressure mounts, either the plates slide past each other defusing the pressure or the pressure continues to mount until a sudden violent adjustment takes place that we perceive as an earthquake.

Like the earth, society can respond to the mounting pressure either by revolutionary or evolutionary change. Pride & Prejudice was written at a time of violent social revolution in France, where the stiff resistance of the old aristocracy refused to acknowledge or accommodate the growing aspirations and power of an emerging bourgeois middle class. Historian Will Durant characterized pre-revolutionary French society by the true story of a very wealthy, middle class woman who was invited to a meeting of aristocratic woman in recognition of her great wealth, but when it came time to serve luncheon, was asked to eat in the kitchen. Because of the stiff resistance to change, the pressure exploded as a revolution that physically destroyed the old French aristocracy.

While France resorted to violent revolution, English society at the time chose the evolutionary path. England had evolved beyond the static stage of feudal privilege. Society was becoming dynamic. It required men of energy and bold initiative, which were not being generated in sufficient numbers by the landed aristocracy. The evolution involved the necessary destruction of old structures and values, particularly the institutions based on physical values of heredity and land, which gradually gave way to vital values of money, merit and individual initiative. The economy was shifting from agriculture to trade and industry. In an agricultural country, power can reside with large landholders. In a mercantile and industrial country, power goes where the money is, to those in banking, trade and manufacturing. The land can only support so much wealth for a few, but trade can support wealth for the many. The business community, the emerging middle class, became increasingly important and influential. Social power and status shifted from aristocracy to money. This evolutionary movement was reflected in subtle changes affecting the way people think, feel and act as well as how the collective responds to their individual actions.

Revolutions in society become stable when the social organizations, customs, usage, and culture absorb the spirit of the revolution and restructure themselves. In an evolving society, the whole society is in constant motion, shifting like tectonic plates in micro increments, some people breaking barriers above them and moving up, some people falling through the safety rails that protect them at their level and tumbling down. Through it all, the entire society remakes and reshapes itself, evolving through the force of individual aspirations and subconscious collective will in a direction set by the evolving self-conception of the whole.

2.     Social hierarchy in the story

The characters and events in Pride & Prejudice depict this evolutionary process in English society. Let us begin by examining the society as it exists at the commencement of the story. Lady Catherine is at the top. She symbolizes the old aristocracy that has lost its vitality and is dying. The fact that she wants only flatterers around her who constantly acknowledge her greatness reflects her declining status. If Lady Catherine depends on the fawning admiration of a Collins to be a great lady, then her position is certainly insecure. Next, there is Darcy, the very wealthy master of Pemberley, son of an untitled father and titled mother. Then we have Bingley, whose money was earned in trade by his father. He has bought his way into aristocracy and his sister wants him to purchase an estate, but he is satisfied with being the son of a man who earned a 100,000 and being a friend of Darcy. He has no motivation for anything but to have a good time and be pleasant to everybody. Bingley’s sister, Caroline, is herself worth 20,000 and aspires to rise higher by marrying Darcy.

Then there is Mr. Bennet, a landed aristocrat and gentleman farmer married to a local lawyer’s daughter. When Lady Catherine abuses Elizabeth saying, “You would allow my nephew to ruin himself by marrying into your family,” Eliza replies, “Let me remind you that I am also the daughter of the gentleman.” Lady Catherine does not dispute that. She says, “Yes, but what about your mother?”  Mrs. Bennet’s middle class origins and relations cast a shadow on the respectability of the whole family.

The Lucases are close friends of the Bennets and at a roughly comparable level. Sir William Lucas is a former mayor and businessman who quit business after being knighted to live the life of an aristocrat. He is more than satisfied with his title, even though he does not have much money. His only desire is to socialize as much as he can and please everybody. When he meets Caroline at a dance, he displays his status by offering to introduce her at St. James’ Court, but she is only offended by the arrogance of his offer.

At a slightly lower level is Mr. Collins, the son of Bennet’s younger brother. Collins acquired some education but no money, though he will one day inherit Bennet’s estate. Until then he has to work for a living. He represents the lowest level of aristocracy in the story. Below him are Mrs. Bennet’s middle class relatives, the Gardiners and Philips. The Gardiners are polished, educated and cultured Londoners. Mr. Gardiner is in a respectable business. Mrs. Bennet’s sister, Mrs. Philips, has married the lawyer’s clerk who used to work for her father. Finally, there is Wickham, the son of Pemberley’s former steward.

3.     Social evolution in the story

The story depicts a society in the process of a dramatic social transition. The power, wealth and privilege of the old aristocracy is gradually giving way to the rising social status and power of the business class. Untitled, unpropertied aristocrats are going into business and bourgeois men of ambition such as Lucas are acquiring titles. The old aristocracy symbolized by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, which has been resting on its oars, lacks the fresh vitality and initiative needed for social progress.

The central theme of the story reflects all the major the attributes of evolutionary social development described as they express through the institution of marriage. Marriage is an instrument for social evolution in this society because the society is still physical. It still defines privilege and power primarily based on land, birth, and blood relation. In the coming era, money becomes the dominant instrument in a society that is dynamically vital. Today education and technology eradicate social barriers and reward individual capacity in a society that is increasingly mental in character.

Each of the four marriages that occurs in the story involves a social elevation that is characteristic of the evolutionary process. Elizabeth, the daughter of an aristocratic gentleman and middle class woman, rises by marriage into one of the wealthiest aristocratic families in England. Her sister Jane marries a man whose wealth is twenty-times greater than her own. Even the scoundrel Wickham, the steward’s son, who would have been outcaste or murdered for his effrontery in a previous age, not only marries a gentleman’s daughter but also becomes brother-in-law to his father’s former master. Moreover, by a strange course of events, the servile Mr. Collins becomes related through marriage to his august patroness, Lady Catherine.

These events symbolize not just movement between the classes but a profound shift in social values as well. The collective is becoming individualized. Social conformity is giving way to formed individuality. Elizabeth rises in spite of her mother’s family background because she is a developed individual personality who values character more than wealth or status. It is this trait that surprises and attracts Darcy, and makes him fall in love with the light in her eyes. Society nurtures and applauds Eliza’s individual development rather than frowning on or preventing it.

Society is shown in the process of redistributing the fruits of social status by a new set of criteria to a wider class of its members. Mrs. Bennet and her relations have already acquired aristocratic status through her marriage to Mr. Bennet and that status is about to rise enormously through the marriages of her two elder daughters. By Eliza’s marriage, the lower level of the aristocracy, which has strong links with the business community, unites with the highest level of the aristocracy. In France, this intermixture of the classes did not happen, so the only way the society could develop was to eradicate the aristocracy, cut off their heads, chase them out of the country, and distribute their land, money and titles to the new class that rose to power. The French aristocracy was too rigid and orthodox; too unwilling to compromise and share its power, so it lost it.

In the story, Darcy subconsciously recognizes the need for change. His aunt is old fashioned and offensive, and her daughter is sickly. His employees no longer exhibit the traits of loyalty and unquestioning submission. Wickham, who was raised on the estate as Darcy’s childhood companion, has already conspired with the governess to elope with Georgiana. Darcy needs to take steps to ensure the survival and future viability of his family and estate. His actions in the story may be motivated by a conscious attraction to Elizabeth, but they serve the deeper need of fortifying his family and class with fresh vitality.

Even the lowest members of society depicted in the story are not excluded from the upward social movement. Wickham’s elopement with Lydia is rewarded by money and respectability rather than bankruptcy and disgrace. He has an extravagant aspiration to become Darcy’s brother-in-law, which he achieves. We may say that Wickham is a scoundrel and what he wants is outrageous, but life sanctioned it up to a point. Of course, there is a big difference in being Lydia’s husband and Georgiana’s husband. However, even if Wickham can never visit as a guest Pemberley, everywhere else he does goes he will introduce himself as Darcy’s brother-in-law and his status will be greatly enhanced. For him it is an unbelievable accomplishment. During this period of upward mobility, even the scoundrel can rise to great heights.

Lydia, who by character and behavior in an earlier age would have ended up on the street forgotten and forbidden by her family, is also redeemed by marriage. Lydia is a revolutionary force. She does not respect social status. She does not care for Darcy, money, or rules. She is a revolutionary energy wanting to express itself. In an earlier stage, she would have been cast out of the society. In this period, the subconscious social will as expressed through Darcy’s conscious initiative acts to save her, to elevate her to respectability, not so much for her sake but for its own sake, to preserve the institution of family. Society elevates the people at the bottom because it understands that it is good for itself, not just for them.

4.     Individual expressions of social change

These broad shifts in values affect the attitudes and behavior of every person and determine the course and outcome of every action in the story from the most important to the least significant. The social context at the beginning of the story is illustrated by the fact that Darcy did not want to dance with anyone at the Meryton Ball. His later invitation to dance with Elizabeth is an expression of the evolutionary movement. By the end of the story he has made friends with the middle class Gardiners and welcomed them to his home. In the beginning, Darcy wants to preserve his exalted status and uses pride as a defensive weapon to protect him from pollution by lower class society. He insistence on his own self-importance, which expresses as aloofness and disdain for dancing, is not supported by life. His attraction to a person of character is the force for social integration bringing him down from his lofty height. What appeals most to Darcy about Elizabeth is that she does not recognize any social distance between them. She does not respond to his money or behave deferentially because of his status. Darcy falls in love with her because she feels his equal. What he feels is a social emotion, not a deeper, psychic emotion.

Elizabeth rises and accomplishes because she is a formed personality. Mentally, Eliza comes to admire Darcy very much. What she feels is not passionate, romantic love. In an earlier period, Elizabeth would not dare to fall in love with Darcy. She could become his concubine, but never his wife. Mrs. Bennet would have compelled Elizabeth to marry Collins. Although we may think that the primary determinant in the story is individual character and action, it is really the society that has made up its mind to evolve. It changes its attitudes and permitted behaviors, and it rewards those who adopt the new behaviors that help it evolve.

When Collins said he would introduce himself to Darcy at the Netherfield ball, he is reflecting his own perception of the change taking place in society. Elizabeth feels it would be terrible for Collins to do that, even though Darcy is proud, arrogant and despicable. Darcy feels it is wrong too. But the usually servile Collins thinks it is his prerogative as a member of the church. A hundred years earlier, Collins would never do it. A hundred years later Darcy would not rudely walk away from him. 

Lady Catherine’s trip to Longbourn to speak with Eliza is an expression of the social change. A few decades earlier, she would have summoned Eliza to Rosings Park. The very fact that she had to go to Eliza shows she has lost much of her social authority. Eliza acknowledges no debt of gratitude and no social obligation, so Lady Catherine bluffs, bullies and threatens that higher society will look down on Eliza. Had the society been less progressive, Lady Catherine’s boorish domineering behavior may have succeeded. But Eliza says she cares only about her own happiness. The social climate has evolved to such an extent.

Even when so much has changed, until the very end of the story it is nearly impossible for Eliza to think of marrying Darcy because of the great social distance between their families. It is equally difficult for Darcy to think of marrying her. Gradually, through the story, they come to consider their respective positions and accept the feasibility of bridging the distance between them. It is an act of social evolution. What occurs twice in the Bennet family is able to happen because it is a reflection of what is happening in the society-at-large. We perceive that it is Darcy’s individual attraction to Eliza that compels him to act, but it is not. It is the changing opinion of the aristocracy that sanctions what previously was unthinkable. We think it is Elizabeth’s individual decision to accept his offer, but it is not. It is the changing view of society that permits her to entertain what was till recently an impossible dream. Fifty or a hundred years earlier, it would have been inconceivable.

When Wickham elopes with Lydia, Darcy goes personally to London to negotiate with Wickham. Fifty years earlier he would not have gone personally. He would have sent someone. Now he feels and wants to prove to himself and to Elizabeth that he has gotten over the sense of social superiority and he is willing to fully accept her and her family as they are. He wants to prove that he has overcome his previous arrogance by doing what would have earlier been unthinkable for him. In an earlier period, Bennet or Darcy would have had Wickham kidnapped for eloping with Lydia, beaten him and forced him to marry her. There would be no question of paying him money. It is the pressure of society that forces him to marry her and become respectable. It forces him to develop, to evolve. In a similar manner, Lydia would not have dared to elope with Wickham.  Had she run away, she would have ended up in the street. The society that evolves does not eradicate its lower part, it forces that lower part to develop and become part of itself, as modern society imposes education on its citizens.

These events sum up the changes occurring in English society at the time. They depict a society striving to avoid revolutionary upheaval by evolving peacefully. The primary determinant of events is the social determinant, which is at once the underlying spiritual evolutionary determinant.

5.     Role of Gossip

Gossip plays a central role in this society and in the story. It functions as an informal communication system, much the way computerized news services function today. People are socially conscious and extremely alert to any event that threatens to alter the fabric of social relations. They are constantly watching what everyone else is doing. Mrs. Philips is watching how Bingley is looking at Jane. Mrs. Long tracks the movements of every household in the community. Word spreads like wildfire. Lady Catherine learns about Darcy’s intention to marry Eliza before Eliza does. At a time when it takes a full day for physical travel from one place to another and there are no telephones, the social system is so alert.  Gossip is a sophisticated communication system.

The social consciousness is by nature jealous, spiteful and vengeful. It normally exerts itself only to find fault with others. It is resentful of anyone who is too far above its own rank and out of reach and of anyone who succeeds in rising too fast or too high. Therefore, most of what it reports is negative. The gossip that Darcy is a bad man was false, but it spread like wildfire. Then when Wickham’s sins became known, what spread readily was that Wickham is a bad man.  The society does not take equal efforts to say that Darcy is, after all, a good man. Society’s primary drive is to maintain itself. Therefore, in a traditional society, when someone starts to rise, the society talks about it and tries to pull the person down. In a modern society, we call gossip information. It tells people about other people’s accomplishments and flames their aspiration to rise. It educates the mind, which tries to understand how it can do the same thing. But in traditional society that wants to keep everyone where they are, gossip primarily serves negative purposes.


III.   Character

Character consists of the fixed and recurring pattern of traits associated with each person. Character determines the quality, intensity, attitudes, values and motives of the individual as expressed in relationship to other people and in action. Underlying the individual variations of human character, are common tendencies and characteristics of the entire human race that govern all human behavior.       

1.     Values of 19th Century England

Character is an expression of what people value. Social character expresses the values of the current society. The story occurs at a time when traditional ideas about status and class distinctions are beginning to give way to money as the dominant value in society. Status is still valued higher than achievement. That is why all the moneyed people renounce work in favor of leisure activity. After being knighted, Sir Lucas gives up business for a life of socializing. Bingley prides himself on his lack of exertion. Mr. Bennet’s favorite occupation is reading in his library.

Truthfulness is one of the high values of the upper classes in this society. Wickham is the only person who boldly lies with abandon. Darcy feels culpable for concealing Jane’s presence in London from Bingley. Eliza takes for granted that Fitzwilliam would not lie just for the sake of his cousin Darcy. A person’s word is to be honored at all costs. Therefore, Eliza and Jane refuse to press even shameless Lydia to break her promise of secrecy about Darcy’s presence at her wedding. Frankness in speech is respected, as both Darcy and Lady Catherine proclaim; but true sincerity in the sense of speaking and behaving as one really feels is not expected or appreciated. Behavior should conform to social expectations, not the dictates of conscience or personal preference.

Education was valued by this society only as a cultural endowment, not as a qualification for practical accomplishment. Thus, Darcy says an accomplished woman should not only be able to sing, play and sew, but also be well read. Hard work, individual capacity, accomplishment and intelligence were not at all regarded with the esteem accorded them by present day society. There is also no evidence that goodness, generosity or self-giving were revered as social ideals, except to the extent that a wealthy landowner such as Darcy should be generous and benevolent to the lower classes economically dependent on his estate.

Money was an increasingly important value in the English society of the time. But like other social values, its importance depended on the character of the individual. Money was all-important for Wickham. For him, money represented a passport to social status and the better things in life. Money alone determined in that end that he would marry Lydia. Wickham was raised near wealth and aspired for it. He wanted to fill the gap between his present position and his aspiration by marrying for money. He lacked the character, willingness for work and achievement needed to acquire it. Money was also an important value for Charlotte. In her case, money represented security, which was her primary drive. Marrying a man of property and wealth was an ideal she aspired for. Social status rather than money was the primary value for Darcy. Money value made Bingley acceptable to Darcy as a friend, even though Bingley’s father earned his wealth in trade. But lack of money did not deter Darcy from proposing to Eliza. It was primarily the low behavior of her family, partially their business connections (class status) that deterred him. Darcy chose Eliza for her character, not her money or status.

2.     Types and intensities of character

We can readily distinguish several major types of character in the story, each type identified by a pronounced group of traits.

Jane – Pollyanna, excessive optimism

Darcy – proud, self-important, selfish

Charlotte – good, sensible, clear-headed, modest

Collins – obsequious, expansive fool

Wickham – ambitious, unscrupulous womanizer

We can also compare individuals in terms of the strength of character, the amount of psychological energy they can release and apply to achieve their goals.

(1)  Lydia demonstrates much greater energy and strength of character than Kitty. Lydia acts with determination, whereas Kitty follows and imitates the strongest influence at each moment.

(2)  Eliza exhibits an overflowing energy of mental alertness, quickness and humorous mirth. She has great personal strength, which increases in adversity. Jane has little energy. She is mild, meek and easily depressed by disappointment.

(3)  Darcy is strong, opinionated and acts with determination. Bingley is mild and somewhat meek like Jane, with no strong opinions or convictions of his own.

(4)  Lady Catherine is a strong, powerful personality, whereas her daughter Anne and niece Georgiana both appear weak and submissive.

3.     Development of character

Manners and behavior are purely external. Character is the formed structure of personality based on internalized values. Society progresses by acquiring values and standards of conduct and imposing those values and standards to its members. Development of social character involves the internalization of those external social standards by the individual, the development of an inner center of reference to replace the authority of the external authority and to subject all one’s behavior to those inner standards. Development of individual character occurs when the internalized social standards are replaces by personal standards and values of a higher order. Acts of idealism, courage, originality and fortitude are founded on that inner center of reference. The heights to which a person can rise in life depend on those personal values and the degree to which they are accepted or respected by the society. Society’s highest standards constitute the social maximum. Actions of a standard beyond that level are not supported or rewarded by the collective. For a spiritual seeker, the social maximum is no limit. Basing one’s action on inner faith or higher truth, one can rise rapidly above the level sanctioned by the social maximum.

A.     Social characters in the story

Persons with social character are those whose lives are determined and directed by the prevailing habits, fashions, beliefs, attitudes, opinions and values of the society in which they live. People of this type with well-formed and developed traits of their own have social character, as opposed to individual character. Their conduct is determined by the expectations of society. They act and live within its norms, refusing to fall below the required social minimum, refusing to rise above the maximum expected of a normal member of the group.

Jane and Bingley are pre-eminent examples of social character. They maintain the required external behavior but do not rise even a little above that level. Bingley thinks of courting Jane only after getting the approval of his sisters. Even when he is assured of Jane’s affection and eager to propose, he first seeks Darcy’s permission. Social approval is that important to him.

Both Caroline Bingley and Lady Catherine display the self-important behavior permitted by their wealth and social status. They thrive on arrogance, extravagance and haughtiness. They never exhibit any human quality above the basic requirements or roles allotted to them.

Collins is a pure social character. He plays out the social role to such an extreme in thought, feeling and action that his conduct appears foolish and odious to those with any discrimination.

Mrs. Bennet fulfills her rightful role as the mother of five daughters but her vulgar behavior condemns her in the eyes of the upper class, including her own husband and daughters. Her aspirations, beliefs, opinions and behaviors are fully determined by the society of which she is a part. Her sister Mrs. Phillips is of the same type but with less energy. Mary expresses another version of social character, with different values and attitudes but equally determined by stale social custom. Sir Lucas, Fitzwilliam and Georgiana also strive to fulfill their allotted social roles as perfectly as possible.

B.     Individual characters in the story

Those whose beliefs, attitudes and values are determined internally by the strength of their own convictions may be said to possess individual character. These are individuals with developed minds and formed characters of their own stamp. Individual character is that which elevates a person’s conduct above the minimum level demanded by present social norms and social opportunities. The capacity not to lie, dissipate or follow silly fashions, just because society permits and even honors them, are expressions of individual character. Only three or four characters in the story exhibit traits of true individual character that exceeds the minimum required by society. Individual character expresses mind and values, not just manners and acceptable behaviors.

Eliza has a well-formed, positive individual character. She finds Collins’ offer of marriage in exchange for money and status impossible to entertain. It is unthinkable to her that she should marry for respectability or security rather than love as Charlotte does. Eliza finds Darcy’s proposal equally objectionable as long as she perceives him as a man of mean, arrogant character. She cannot settle for the minimum standard. She wants a man of good character. Eliza exhibits strength when intimidated by Lady Catherine or scrutinized by Darcy. She has a formed mind, which is able to immediately recognize the ‘oddity’ in Collins’ letter. She exhibits the self-restraint of true character in not demanding from Lydia an explanation of why Darcy attended her marriage. It is difficult to imagine greater self-restraint in a person at a point of such vital interest.

Darcy too has well-formed character, though of a lesser mold. When he first proposes to Eliza, he does so on the strength of his wealth and social position and cannot imagine that she might refuse. Darcy seeks to win a woman of individual character on the strength of his social character and fails. Later he shifts his reliance or identification from his outward position to his inner character— accepts the truth of her scorn, transforms his arrogant pride into humility, and acts magnificently to save Lydia and redeem Wickham. He displays signs of true character in his insistence on paying for Wickham’s wedding and in his self-restraint in not are allowing disclosure of his role in Lydia’s marriage.

Charlotte has a formed character that is steady, strong, sensible and good. We hesitate to term it individual character because her values are primarily the social values of security and status, with no signs of higher aspiration other than her goodwill for Elizabeth.

There are also people that do not even conform to the minimum standards, who fail to acquire the socially required behaviors, attitudes and values. They are unformed individuals, lacking even a formed social character. Wickham cannot resist gambling, borrowing, conniving to steal Georgiana’s hand by deceit, lying, etc.—all of which are vigorously condemned once they are made known. He has a pleasant appearance, but not even physical energy. Lydia is a pure biological type without social conditioning even at the level of behavior. Kitty is even less formed.

4.     Bennet Family

The Bennets are a representative family spearheading the social evolution of English society. Formed by the marriage of a gentleman farmer and the beautiful, financially well-endowed lawyer’s daughter, the family embodies within itself the forces and tendencies that are bringing the upper and moneyed middle classes of England into closer association.

The foundation of the family is stable, secure positive energy. No child of the family exhibits an active meanness of ambitious physicality, either against other family members or outside society. No child of the family gives inordinate importance to money as a determining criterion for marriage. They all value personal happiness above money. After Darcy proposed to Eliza, both Jane and Mr. Bennet expressed serious concern about her marrying a man she could not love and respect, regardless of his wealth. Neither Mr. Bennet nor any of the five girls expressed the slightest interest in Collins, even though he held the entail on Longbourn. It is true that Mrs. Bennet was delighted with Jane’s prospects of marrying Bingley and frequently reminded everyone who would listen about Bingley’s great wealth. But it is equally true that she was delighted with Lydia’s marriage to Wickham, although he was a handsome officer with no property or wealth at all. Jane herself did not express any signs of interest in Bingley’s wealth.

5.     Mr. Bennet

Mr. Bennet has made an imprudent marriage with a silly, ill-mannered woman, but has decided to honor his commitment and bear with in as dignified manner as possible. The marriage has produced five daughters, a mixture of foolish, lively, ugly, dynamic dispositions. Mr. Bennet has given up hope of shaping the children in a sensible manner, except perhaps Elizabeth who is his favorite. He finds his wife too active, strong and intent, to be denied control of their upbringing. Bennet confines his responsibility to preserving the property and status of the family, leaving the character formation of the girls to his wife. He expresses his abhorrence for his wife’s behavior in the form of sarcasm and dry, caustic humor. His open contempt for his wife sows seeds of irresponsible behavior in his daughters. He protests the foolishness of his daughters with a combination of indifference and wit, but is unwilling to exert himself to restrain the wild behavior of the younger daughters. Despite his protests, he proves eager to oblige his wife. He calls on Netherfield as she requested, allows Lydia to go to Brighton against his better judgment and permits Lydia and Wickham to visit Longbourn after marriage, despite his anger at their elopement.

Mr. Bennet has not tried to save money during the early years of his marriage out of expectation that he would bear a son who would inherit Longbourn. After birthing five daughters, he resigns himself to not having a son, but feels by this time that it is too late for him to start saving. The loss of the entail to his brother’s son leaves the family financially weak and vulnerable. His primary objective must to be to marry off the girls. He pursues it quietly from behind, allowing his wife to take initiative but lending her his emotional support. He plays his appropriate role quietly and discharges his responsibility to his daughters. Bennet acts through the power of self-restraint, poise, patience and inaction. Eliza’s refusal to worry or dwell on circumstances that are beyond her control is an expression of her father’s poise in the face of adverse circumstances.

6.     Mrs. Bennet

Mrs. Bennet is a great success for her station in life and constantly gloats over what she is and has. She is physically expansive, spends generously, has determined opinions, unhesitatingly puts her ideas into action within the social limits of her authority, energetically pursues shameless goals with gusto and vehemence, is entirely insensible to the shameful and dangerous behavior of her younger daughters and actually encouraged them. When thwarted she breaks into lamentations and jumps into vivacious action the moment the situation changes.

Her behavior is vulgar and offensive to sensitive natures. She speaks badly of Collins and Charlotte, whom she believes are conspiring to take away the estate. She encourages Lydia’s misadventures without thinking anything wrong. But her basic motive is the marriage of her daughters in which she is genuinely interested and that motive is fulfilled.

7.     Jane

Jane is the eldest and most beautiful daughter. She gets her beauty from her mother, who being the dominant partner in the marriage places her physical imprint on the first child. Jane lacks energy, strength or depth. She neither has the benefit of her father’s training nor the physical urges of an idiot mother. Her mother’s beauty makes her popular, especially as she had no pronounced mental attitudes that can offend.

Jane is an unformed character who lives on the mere surface of society, expending all her energy to maintain a pleasant external behavior and positive disposition. Her behavior is a reaction to the embarrassing vulgarity of her mother, but at the same level. Her father’s influence appears in her determination to behave exactly opposite to her mother’s middle class vulgarity in every respect, being quite, genteel and pleasing at all times. She exercises whatever strength she has not to be bad, evil or shamelessly dynamic. Mrs. Bennet’s weak nerves and uncontrollable behavior express in Jane as timidity.

She has developed no mental energies that come from an idealistic mind.  Her undynamic ethics prevent her from ambition. She initiates no acts and attracts no luck or karma, as there is no energy of personality. She behaves as a kind of observer of the world and her own future and allows life to take initiative on her behalf. Jane is unintelligent and incapable of forming strong opinions. She casts all her opinions in a non-controversial, social mould. She is powerfully attracted by men who equally unintelligent, incapable of action, or even strong opinions.

Jane has genuine goodwill for Eliza. Her first words after Bingley’s proposal to her were “why is not every body as happy?”[2] Again to Eliza, “If I could but see you as happy!”[3] Eliza understands that Jane’s happiness issues not from her good fortune but from her goodness. “Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness.”[4] Jane is always guided silently by Eliza. Eliza takes full interest in her and brings luck to her, sharing a portion of her own luck with Jane.

8.     Eliza

Eliza has the most developed character of the five sisters and she rises the highest. She is intelligent, attractive, frank, and outspoken. Her strength and courage rise in proportion to the challenge.[5] She is cheerful, able to laugh at herself, unable to sustain sadness, and feels inferior to no one.[6] She receives through the love of her father a wider view of life resulting in vivacious, strong opinions of irrepressible, playful, flowing sweetness that sometimes becomes archness. She is truly a great character.

Eliza is her father’s favorite, and inherits his wit and mental acumen. Her mental energy is a product of Mr. Bennet’s developed mind combined with Mrs. Bennet’s physical energies. As a second child, Eliza has less of the mother—less of her beauty, less of her physical urges—and more of her father’s tendencies. She inherits from her mother the strong physicality that attracts her to Wickham. She has overcome the timidity of Jane but does not degenerate into the uncontrolled physical expressiveness of Lydia and Kitty. Eliza models herself as the opposite to Jane, priding on her frankness and insightful opinions of others, while Jane adopts always a perfect social formality devoid of deeper understanding.

Eliza becomes the spearhead of social evolution. In an age in which social status is waning and individual character is rare, Eliza is rewarded for her higher endowment by elevation to a high position in life. Had she lived in an earlier period when aristocratic lineage still reigned supreme or in a later age when individual character was more common, her reward might have been marriage to a man of character at her own social level. A century or so earlier, her elevation would have been checked by a society that was intent on keeping everybody in place. She would not have been allowed to rise. And at a later age, when society was starting to lose its hold on people’s minds and Eliza’s endowment was becoming more common, she would not been rewarded so greatly.

Eliza is fully aware of the limited prospects of her family, deferential to the accepted customs and behaviors of the day, and respectful of the social hierarchy, but not limited by these constraints in her thoughts, feelings, values or behavior. Socially her highest prospect is to marry a reasonably handsome, financially comfortable gentleman’s son for whom she can feel some measure of respect, attraction and affection. Money also had little importance for Eliza as an incentive for marriage.[7]  She rejected Collins in spite of his property because he was personally unsuitable. She would have accepted Wickham in spite of his poverty for his physical and social attractiveness, had he been able to afford to marry her. She rejected Wickham only when she found out that he was a rogue. Character was more important to her than physical attraction. She rejected Darcy when she thought that his money was accompanied by an arrogant, offensive, mean character. Only when she discovered that Darcy’s character was good did his wealth become attractive.

Eliza is offended by Darcy’s pride, because it is at the expense of her own pride. It makes her conscious of the low social behavior and status of her family. She becomes irate when Darcy takes it for granted that she will accept his proposal. Eliza lacks the shrewdness of perception that Mrs. Gardiner and Charlotte have. She sees arrogance in Darcy where the Gardiners discover poise and stateliness. Pleased by Wickham’s attention and offended by Darcy’s aloofness, she was prejudiced in favor of one and against the other.[8] She can be attracted to Wickham’s charms but is rational enough to understand it is a poor match for him.

Her honesty and frankness of character are powerfully displayed in her response to Darcy’s letter.[9] She recognizes the vanity, folly and absurdity of her own behavior and feels total ashamed. She has the mental sincerity to be shocked when she discovers the coarseness of Lydia’s speech about Mary King reflects her own unspoken sentiments.[10] She expresses genuine, unselfish affection for Jane throughout the story. Her admiration of Jane’s sweetness and generous temperament are among the very few instances in the story where goodness of character is valued for its own sake. She is indignant at Darcy for interfering in Bingley’s relationship with Jane.

Eliza’s relationship with Wickham is vital[11]. Her relationship with Darcy is mental. Eliza is willing to justify Wickham’s pursuit of Mary King for her wealth as necessary for a man in his position. The vital can see only one side of a person, either positive or negative. Only the mind can see that there are two sides. Her vital sees the positive in Wickham, the negative in Darcy. Eliza’s response to Wickham is pure vital liking. It is not based on or colored by the mind’s regard. Once the vital finds an object of attraction, the attraction remains. It is the kind of liking that, once extended to close friends and family members, is unchanged by any disclosure or event. Eliza has extended that liking to a false, flattering rogue.

Darcy’s artless frank behavior is offensive to Eliza, whereas Wickham’s artful flattery is beguiling. Both men and women love to be flattered by the opposite sex. Real flattery requires a streak of falsehood. The greater the falsehood, the more pleasing the experience. Mr. Bennet can see through Wickham’s charm to some degree (‘he makes love to us all’), not Eliza. Despite her formed character, Eliza is attracted to Wickham as the other ladies are and equally taken in by his false words and behavior. She persists in believing Wickham even after receiving contrary information about him from Caroline, Bingley and Fitzwilliam. She believes in him because she wants to believe. The capacity of the mind to believe what the vital wants is a capacity for falsehood. Even after Wickham’s lies and outrageous behavior toward Darcy are exposed, she is unable to convert her liking into true anger or scorn. Eliza cannot bring herself to expose his character to the public of Meryton.[12] Wickham’s continued self-justification, which she knows to be false, is not revolting to her. Even after Wickham’s elopement and marriage to Lydia, when he interrupts her reading of Mrs. Gardiner’s letter in the garden, she is unable to refrain an initial pleasant response to him. This is the response of the biological female human being.[13]

Eliza never feels or expresses an intense heart-felt emotion for Darcy. Her mind comes to recognize, respect and esteem his noble character. Her heart feels grateful for the deep and constant affection he feels for her, but her emotions never flow to him the way they naturally flowed to Wickham. Her emotions naturally flow to one at her own level or below, not above. As a person, Darcy is not fully real to her feelings because of his high status. What is real and tangible to Eliza about Darcy is Pemberley. Her physical delight in visiting it rivals the sense of charm she felt in meeting Wickham for the first time. As a developed person, she values character not money. Her motives are not mercenary in any normal sense of the word. However, her physical consciousness is that of her mother, which feels uncomfortable in the lofty atmosphere of Darcy’s family. What it can relate to is only the most physical aspect of Darcy’s life, the magnificent beauty and splendor of the estate and house at Pemberley. Conversely, Darcy is unable to relate either to Eliza’s lowly physical or social context. What he comes to admire and cherish is the highest point of her formed individual character, the light in her eyes. That enlivening light is what Darcy most needs to revitalize his family and his class. Once accepted, Eliza comes not as a submissive or conforming inferior, but as a breath of fresh air to energize and elevate the family. This is a story of two planes of social life drawing toward each other and forging an intimate relationship. It reflects the nature of the relationship between people separated by great distance in a social hierarchy. The one above feels drawn to the highest point in the one below. The one below feels drawn to the lowest point in the one above.

Eliza is disappointed and angry with herself when Darcy returns after Lydia’s marriage but does not say anything to her.[14] She hopes Darcy will speak out his feelings at a time when life requires her to take the initiative to withdraw the offense she gave him at Rosings. It is the trait of bargaining. Even when everything she wants is coming to her, she wants to it come fully on her own terms without her initiative, unconditionally in the most desirable form. That is the capacity of the human ego to assert even after it being humbled and when it has greatest cause to be grateful and submissive. Finally, on Darcy’s second visit after Bingley’s proposal, Eliza does speak out and then he proposes again.

9.     Mary

Mary is the third child, caught in between the two elder and two younger, like an object that falls between two stools. She has neither her mother’s beauty and energy nor her father’s intelligence and good breeding. She is ugly, unenergetic, un-idealistic, unwanted; one who will perhaps live to be an old maid. Her education is undigested reading. Her opinions are trite and not even strong. Her music is physical exercise without feeling or charm. Her manners are uninviting. She takes to reading, an inoffensive pastime that secures her from lack of attention. She is as opinionated and pushy as her mother in expressing her views and displaying her musical ability, but no one appreciates either the one or the other.

10.  Lydia

Lydia is the emerging type of bold, dynamic energy in a society in transition. Bereft of the top dressing of the old and unadorned by the apparel of the new, she is the nascent energy, nakedly forging ahead. Had she not settled as a wife, she might not have degenerated merely into a girl on the street. She might even have spearheaded a revolution of the street girls for their right to live as they choose. Her endowment is shamelessness and an ever-increasing energy. She is irrepressibly cheerful in pursuit of her desires and proud of everything she is.

Wickham and Lydia are characters ever happy in marriage or outside. They live in the ever-present. The wide world is their society. Their elopement is an opening for social evolution. Through it Eliza rises. Their marriage is a social cover-up, but a biological success. Even if Lydia were not to marry, she would have been blissfully buoyant and free of regret. In the changed social context, Lydia benefits monetarily and escapes the fate of being abandoned or scandalized or left to become an old maid, which would have been her likely destiny in an earlier period. From her point of view, money spent to restore her to respectability is a fool’s errand, or at best meets some meaningless social requirement. Lydia’s elopement is a social shame but a creative act of freshness in life that brings unexpected consequences. Her shame is life’s door to luck for the family.

11.  Bingley

Jane succeeds in winning a husband whose character is of the same depth and intensity as her own. Charles Bingley is equally mild, unformed and guided by external standards of social propriety. He exhibits a fair amount of intelligence in his exchanges with Darcy and Eliza, but prides himself on being casual, careless and carefree. He is of the nouveau riche with lesser wealth than Darcy but good character, which make him eligible to be Darcy’s friend and possible brother-in-law. His 100,000 inheritance over-fulfills all his aspirations in life. There is no accomplishment that remains for him but a beautiful wife and pleasant entertainment.

Apart from these, Bingley is a man of few and very mild convictions, whose easiness of temper and want of proper resolution impair his worth in Eliza’s eyes. Bingley lacks Darcy’s pride or self-importance. He values Jane’s beauty and her good nature, which matches his own temperament. He feels free to pursue his interest in Jane only after his two sisters have given their approval, but his ultimate standard of reference is Darcy. He submits to Darcy’s objections about the marriage. It is Darcy’s authority that ultimately determine Bingley’s choice in life, supported by Jane’s physical appearance and pleasant temperament. Even after learning that Darcy had concealed from him the truth about Jane’s presence in London and after Darcy encourages him to revive the relationship with her, Bingley still wants Darcy’s active approval before proposing to Jane. His emotions are completely social. Contrast that with Eliza’s indifference to Lady Catherine’s active disapproval of her marriage to Darcy. It is difficult to imagine Eliza seeking anyone’s approval for what she passionately wants and believes right for her.

12.  Darcy

Darcy is from one of the wealthiest aristocratic families in England. He is the sole son and heir to a huge fortune and a magnificent estate at Pemberley. Although possessing a large estate, Mr. Darcy lacked the keen discrimination to comprehend Wickham’s character and forged a sentimental attachment for his steward’s son, which almost disgraced the family through Georgiana’s elopement.

Darcy too lacks sharpness of mind. Darcy admires Elizabeth’s capacity to analyze character, a power with which she skillfully subjugates both Bingley and Darcy in conversation. Although taught to believe in goodness and generosity, he was raised in such an indulgent manner as to make him selfish and arrogant. Residing already in the highest rung of the society, there is little opportunity for upward social movement. His responsibility is to marry respectably in order to preserve the family’s lofty position and provide heirs for its continuity. His personal aspiration is not only to maintain that social position but also to so excel in acts of character that he will be regarded by his friends and dependents as kind, fair and generous. He is quite, reserved and careful in choosing friends. He looks down with pride and arrogance on the vulgarity of modern behavior and the inroads made by the rising commercial class on the status previously reserved for aristocracy.

Darcy is of the old order, but not its shining jewel. He is selfish, dull, and unequal to the management of Pemberley as a young man. He enjoys the company of submissive friends. He is traditional and undynamic. A clever Wickham is a danger to him and his establishment. His sister Georgiana is the chink in his armor.  He is unable to choose a loyal servant as governess. The old order has started giving way. He needs a woman such as Eliza from the lower layer of aristocracy endowed with the energy of her newly acquired status to preserve his establishment. He struggles in the name of love and passion with the higher demands of the changing social situation, readily humiliates himself, apologizes to Eliza, reverses with Bingley, compromises with Wickham, and even subjects himself to the effusions of Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Philips. He stoops to conquer.

His attraction to Eliza and Caroline Bingley’s opposition are symbolic. A rich, handsome, haughty Miss Bingley is unattractive to Darcy, while a less handsome, poor, unassuming Eliza is attractive. His choice expresses the need of the time, but goes by the name of romance. There is no real romance in the entire story. Eliza’s attraction to Wickham is infatuation falling a prey to a handsome face, a common phenomenon. No man or woman in the story exhibits the elevating passion of love that ennobles personality. The critical demands of the evolving social context admit no scope for romance.

Darcy was raised to feel his superior importance and look down on other than his own world. Eliza confronted him with the arrogant shamefulness of his manners and behavior. He confesses to her that he has been a selfish being all his life in practice, though not in principle.[15] His pride is a fortress to protect his money and status. But above his money and status, he values good character character, which he recognizes in Eliza. For one who cherishes character, it is particularly challenging to find his own character questioned and distorted by Eliza’s view of him. That makes her all the more attractive.

Out of pride of position, Darcy was fully confident of succeeding in his proposal to Eliza. Her refusal wakes him to his arrogance and he loves her for it. Darcy takes himself seriously and has not yet learned to be laughed at himself with grace as Eliza laughed at herself.[16] After Eliza rudely rejects his marriage proposal, Darcy withdraws after offering his best wishes for her health and happiness. It is a moment when any man could feel bitter and humility and act meanly. Because he acts magnanimously, he keeps open the door of opportunity for Eliza eventually to accept him. Whereas when Eliza refuses Collins, Mrs. Bennet and Collins both react, permanently canceling any prospect.

13.  Lady Catherine

Lady Catherine cherishes the values and behavior of the previous century, living out the role she learned in early childhood. As the daughter of an Earl, she had authority over all around her. In changing times, she insists on the old ways and chooses those who will submit and thrive under such conditions. Collins’ sycophancy and Charlotte’s mercenary values suit her very well. She is gratified by excessive admiration.[17] As Collins’ remarked, “one cannot regard her with too much deference.”[18] In telling Eliza to dress as she can, Collins says, “She likes having the distinction of rank preserved.”[19] She is as boorish in her own way as Mrs. Bennet, so Darcy has no call for pride in family. Darcy was greatly embarrassed by her boorish behavior.[20]

Her daughter Anne is physically weak and frail. She lacks the biological strength to attract Darcy or represent a suitable partner for a man of character. Anne is crushed under the physical weight of the family’s wealth, which her vital could not support. Unable to bear the burden of responsibility, she becomes sickly, thus preventing decent men of the aristocracy from aspiring to her hand. Lady Catherine seeks to preserve her wealth and status by marrying her daughter to Darcy. Anne has only vanity and arrogance, not strength. When Darcy rejects her, Lady Catherine’s strength is greatly diminished. Because the old status is breaking down, she tries to assert her waning authority in boorish behavior.

14.  Wickham

Wickham’s father was in the legal profession, most probably as a lawyer’s clerk like Mr. Philips, before he became steward to Darcy’s father at Pemberley and took responsibility for management of the estate, a position of considerable power and influence. Yet, his father did not earn sufficient money to support the lavish spending habits of his wife. Wickham grew up at Pemberley as Darcy’s boyhood friend and acquired all the manners of the aristocracy. This close association generated in him an aspiration to rise to Darcy’s level, either by merit or by deceit. He was cleverer and more handsome than his friend, and unencumbered by Darcy’s scruples.

Apart from a pleasant face, charming manners, good address and a basket of ever-fresh lies, Wickham has nothing to distinguish him by way of character or action. His attractiveness is biological and every woman adores it regardless of his behavior. It is a basic instinctive response in nature. He has little energy. Even the elopement with Lydia was initiated by her. Because Wickham is handsome, no lady is able to be angry with him. He is constantly in debt, a reflection of his mother’s inability to limit her expenditures within the family’s income.

15.  Collins

Collins is a great character. He is the son of an illiterate, miserly father, who was Bennet’s younger brother. As the only male in the family, Longbourn is entailed to him. He has exuberant and irrepressible physical energy that has acquired only a crude top-dressing of behavior through a formal education that did little to improve his mind. He has the expansive, exuberant enthusiasm of an undeveloped mind that is no longer in control of its own thoughts. His physical impulses, rather his physical energies, decide the course of his mental volition. Having just recently attained a living as parson at Rosings Park, Collins is overwhelmed by his own accomplishments and his association with Lady Catherine. His visit to Herefordshire appears to be his first appearance in high society. Mrs. Philips modest gesture of inviting him to dinner marks a new highpoint in his life.

To Collins, his future inheritance, present living and his patroness are great assets, which made him bold enough to propose to Eliza and confident that she would accept. When all his strengths are summarily rebuffed by one who possesses none of them, his confidence is momentarily shaken and he dares not propose to another member of the family. Seeking the security of more modest aspirations, he proposes Charlotte instead. Mrs. Bennet is all approval for Collins, particularly because both are physical. She may even admire his mental equipment, which others despise, as it is something she would wish to acquire. Elizabeth sums up Collins’ character with economy and precision when she describes him as “a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man.”[21]

16.  Charlotte Lucas

Charlotte is strong, steady, and good. She genuinely cares for Eliza and takes joy in the prospect of Eliza’s high advancement through marriage with Darcy. Charlotte is a mental character with maturity, poise, penetrating observation and superior understanding. Her father’s life in trade, politics and high society has provided her a wide exposure that amplifies her understanding. Her younger sister Maria and her father are empty headed.

Charlotte understands her social position and prospects objectively and accepts Collins as the best she can expect. Because of her plain appearance and quiet manners, she is least taken note of by others. She can be attracted to a man who is universally despised, simply because she is one who is universally neglected. In this regard, Charlotte can be fully confident of her husband’s loyalty.

Charlotte has the intelligence and insight to perceive the danger that Bingley will fail to perceive Jane’s attraction to him due to her lack of expressiveness. She perceives Darcy’s glances at Eliza are expressions of interest in her. After marrying Collins, she becomes instrumental in bringing Eliza and Darcy together at Hunsford, which expresses her affection and goodwill for Eliza. Charlotte’s solicitude for Eliza is at least partially explained by her very ordinary and mercenary social values. She has no faith in romantic love or emotional relationship in marriage. Personally she aspires only for security through marriage and looks up to all those with money and status. She finds Lady Catherine “a very respectable, sensible woman.”[22] Charlotte’s close friendship with Eliza was socially elevating and pleasing to her. Aid to Eliza’s social advancement is service to the social values she cherishes.

17.  Caroline Bingley

Caroline is an attractive, unmarried woman with a very handsome 20,000 inheritance from her father. Being both very conscious and anxious to forget that their money was earned in trade, she aspires to the higher levels of aristocracy through marriage to Darcy and looks down upon those still associated with business! Her behavior, as well as that of her married sister Louisa, is arrogant, offensive, mean, jealous, cunning and false. She has money and position but no formed character.

In contract to Eliza who always speaks her mind frankly without respect to social status, Caroline adopts a very servile behavior with Darcy in her effort to please and endear herself to him. She views Elizabeth as threatening competition and takes every possible occasion to point out her failings to Darcy. Yet for all her meanness and jealousy, Caroline becomes an active agent for bringing Darcy and Elizabeth together. It is her invitation to Jane that brings Eliza to Netherfield and places her in close contact with Darcy for several days. It is she warns Eliza about Wickham’s false character. It is her constant criticism of Elizabeth than compels Darcy to openly admit, perhaps even to himself, his admiration for Eliza’s beauty. It is her reference to the militia in the presence of Eliza, Darcy and Georgiana during their meeting at Pemberley that increases the sympathy between all three. At the Lucas’ party, it is she who facetiously offers to congratulate Darcy on his upcoming marriage to Eliza. It is the constant contrast between Eliza’s genuine, intelligent behavior and Caroline’s false meanness that places Eliza’s personality in full and praise-worthy relief. What could possible compel Caroline to play this role? Subconsciously, her desire to please Darcy is so strong that she is even willing to please him by furthering his interest in Eliza.

18.  Interactions between the characters

The outcome of the story is the result of interactions between these characters, their actions and reactions to each other. Each exists in a social context peopled by the others. They all evoke responses to their thoughts, feelings and act from those around them. Each exists in complementarity and opposition to the others.

There is a complex relationship and interaction between their various strengths and weaknesses. The interaction between the weaknesses of the different characters is particularly striking. Darcy’s pride attracts Caroline because of her arrogance and evokes prejudice in Eliza. Lady Catherine’s ill breeding is offensive to Eliza and Darcy, but attractive and pleasing to Collins, who’s obsequious, servility is a perfect complement to his patroness’ arrogance. Wickham’s capacity for deceit is flattering to Eliza and appears as sincerity to Georgiana, but is despicable to Darcy. Mrs. Bennet’s nervous excitement is painfully annoying to her husband and embarrassing to Eliza and Jane, but a source of inspiration to Lydia, who models herself after her mother. Mr. Bennet’s aloofness gives Mrs. Bennet freedom for action, but removes all meaningful constraints on the wild impulsiveness of Lydia. Jane’s ignorance and naivety make her a victim of Caroline’s false manners, but perfectly attractive to Bingley, whose own pliability makes him a willing subordinate to Darcy’s desire to dominate.


Continue to Part II


[1] We have described that process in detail other papers available on the Society’s website, www.motherservice.org, under the topic Theory of Development.

[2] P&P,p.307.

[3] P&P,p.310.

[4] P&P,p.310.

[5] “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me.” (P&P,p.155)

[6] “It was not in her nature to increase her vexations by dwelling on them.”P&P, p.206.

[7] P&P, p.143.

[8] P&P, p. 185.

[9] "How despicably I have 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 candor of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blamable mistrust! 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 folly.  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." P&P,p.185.   

[10] P&P, p.195.

[11] See the section on Planes of Consciousness & Human Choice for details on the three planes, physical, vital and mental, that describe the human range  of consciousness.

[12] P&P, p.206.

[13] P&P, p.208.

[14] P&P, p.297, 300.

[15] P&P, p.328.

[16] P&P, p.330.

[17] P&P, p.145.

[18] P&P, p.141.

[19] P&P, p.143.

[20] P&P, p.154.

[21] P&P, p.121.

[22] P&P, p.141.


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