Apr. 3 Supplemental Readings for Pride and Prejudice Richard Whatley, pp. 289-291;
Alistair Duckworth, pp. 206-314; Claudia L. Johnson, p. 348-356
Post #11 (Group A)
Historical Annotation: Rena Gardena and Guido Maniscalco's
- To discuss the historical reception of the novel (Whatley)
- To analyze how the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth offers a reconstitution
of society (Duckworth)
- To analyze whether the conclusion of the novel offers a conservative
endorsement of traditional social hierarchy or a radical evaluation of it (Johnson)
Notes and Discussion Questions:
This excerpt from an important review of all of Austen's novels by Richard Whatley (1821)
continues our exploration of contemporary responses to the novel form. What does Whatley
value about the form and technique of Austen's novels? What does his praise suggest about
a reader's expectations for novels in 1821? How is this different from responses to Tom
Jones or Evelina?
Respond to Whatley's claim that "Miss Austin [sic] has the merit (in our judgment
most essential) of being evidently a Christian writer" (290). In what sense are her novels
moral? Why is it best to convey morals without forcing them upon the reader? To what extent
would you agree with these assessments? What morals, if any, are implied?
Alistair Duckworth's argument begins with the observation that the Bennet family itself is
a fragmented society, and that the social connections of our hero and heroine present themselves
to be a "gulf impassable." What brings about the union that closes the novel and what is its significance?
"This, the crucial question underlying Pride and Prejudice, is answered primarily
through the education of the hero and heroine, whose union is not only to their mutual
advantage, but brings together widely separate outlooks and social positions.... If
Elizabeth's private vision is shown to be insufficient, then so, too, is Darcy's arrogant
assumptions that status is value-laden. Only when Elizabeth recognizes that individualism
must find its social limits, and Darcy concedes that tradition without individual energy is
empty form, can the novel reach its eminently satisfactory conclusion" (308).
In what sense can we say that Elizabeth recognizes that individualism must find its social limits?
In what sense can we say that Darcy concedes that tradition without individual energy is empty form?
What role does Austen's depiction of the model estate of Pemberley play in this reconciliation?
In many ways Johnson's argument, like Duckworth's, assesses the meaning of Darcy as the object
of Elizabeth's love and as her legal lord and master.
Explore the implications of Johnson's claim: "For it is Darcy himself who secures the
happiness the novel celebrates. As an authority figure, "a brother, a landlord, a master"
who holds, as Elizabeth remarks, 'many people's happiness . . . in his guardianship'" (348).
Compare the figure of patriarchal authority here with the presence or absence of male
authorities in Evelina, Tom Jones and Roxana.
"Pride and Prejudice is thus a profoundly conciliatory work, and of all Austen's novels
it most affirms established social arrangements without damaging their prestige or
fundamentally challenging their wisdom or equity. Whereas Sense and Sensibility
excoriates the traditional family and Mansfield Park subjects characters of Darcy's
stature to disabling satire, on the surface at least, Pride and Prejudice corroborates
conservative myths which had argued that established forms cherished rather than
prohibited true liberty, sustained rather than disrupted real happiness, and
safeguarded rather than repressed individual merit" (348). On the other hand, Johnson argues,
Austen's uniquely argumentative leading couple, may actually be working out a step toward
constructive political commentary. If so, what do their arguments tell us?
Johnson offers an alternative reading of Darcy as the aristocrat in need of lessons
in proper manners, consistent with his political authority. He needs to learn to please
others and to be pleased by others in return -- sociability and civility.
"Austen's concern with good manners, then, has decidedly political underpinnings:
to be guilty of hauteur is to deprive people of a pleasing sense of self-esteem that
it is legitimate for them to have" (353).
Assess. How is Elizabeth's power to decide what or who is wise or good demonstrated?
How is it a criticism of social organization?
Johnson claims that "Pride and Prejudice thus alternatively verges on and recoils
from radical criticism" (354). To your mind, does the novel challenge the social system
or ultimately avoid the issue?
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