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The “Quickness” of Elizabeth and the Question of Being the “Better” Woman In Pride and Prejudice

Being the better woman in Pride and Prejudice

“…Being the “Higher” Lady In Delight and Prejudice”  is a visitor essay by Seth Snow

In Satisfaction and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet says

[my daughters] are all foolish and ignorant like different women; however Lizzie has one thing extra of quickness than her sisters.

The above passage raises a number of points pertaining to Mr. Bennet’s character, however the challenge regarding this essay is his view in the direction of females, notably his daughters, and the way that view units the stage for a critical dialogue on a feminine’s thoughts within the novel.

“Foolish” and “ignorant”[1] each describe what Mr. Bennet believes is the situation of the typical feminine thoughts (“like different women”).  “Foolish” usually means weak-minded, and “ignorant” refers to somebody whose thoughts is uninformed.  Consequently, following Mr. Bennet’s logic, “foolish” women are incapable of mental seriousness; subsequently, “ignorance” would naturally comply with.  Nevertheless, Mr. Bennet then goes out of his option to exclude Elizabeth from the feminine populace as a result of her “quickness,” which emphasizes her thoughts is totally different from different women and is able to true mental energy.  That angle in the direction of the feminine thoughts would then push again towards Mr. Bennet’s preliminary premise that each one women appear susceptible to be “foolish” and “ignorant” as a result of Elizabeth is clearly a woman, but she has a “fast” thoughts.  Why, then, would Mr. Bennet single out Elizabeth from her sisters and “different women” right here solely based mostly on the capabilities of her thoughts somewhat than on different elements?

Initially, Mr. Bennet’s motivation might merely be his effort to separate Elizabeth from her sisters to clarify to his spouse that Elizabeth is his favorite daughter.  In doing that, he’s, as he typically does all through the novel, punishing his spouse, for she needs him to provide choice to all her single daughters since an eligible Charles Bingley is taking over residence close by.  In any case, the narrator says within the novel’s opening strains

a single man in possession of a luck have to be in need of a spouse.

Mrs. Bennet would maintain strongly to that view, and Mr. Bennet would clearly not be unaware of a “fact” that’s “common” to these residing in his neighbourhood.  Meaning he would perceive his position as a father when it comes to introducing “all” his daughters to a single, rich man.

Being the better woman in Pride and PrejudiceNevertheless, Mr. Bennet’s emphasis on Elizabeth’s “quickness” is an uncommon tactic to torment his spouse.  When broaching the subject of daughter-future husband, discussing the feminine thoughts just isn’t usually related nor does it transfer occasions ahead when it comes to his daughters’ marital prospects.  So, Mr. Bennet’s effort to get at his spouse has bigger significance: he’s distinguishing Elizabeth from the widespread social normal for ladies by emphasizing her “quickness.”

Why may he consider Elizabeth from a unique commonplace?  Mrs. Bennet had beforehand famous of their dialog that Elizabeth just isn’t “higher” than her different daughters, which clearly bothers Mr. Bennet (which can be one more reason for his sarcastic tone).  Whereas Mrs. Bennet just isn’t making an unreasonable declare, for a mum or dad often wouldn’t need to promote one youngster as “higher” than one other, her standards for assessing “higher” is predicated primarily on look and/or restricted character, which society values:

[Elizabeth] isn’t half as good-looking as Jane, nor half so good humoured as Lydia.

Clearly, having attractiveness and humour usually are not faults; even Elizabeth is a lovely lady who enjoys laughing; nevertheless, for Mrs. Bennet to base “higher” completely on these qualities leaves out the thoughts of a woman, which then makes Mr. Bennet’s reward of Elizabeth’s “quickness” stand out with much more significance and creates a problem for the novel.  This problem signifies that the novel asks a reader to re-think what constitutes “higher” when it comes to assessing a feminine: is having a “fast” thoughts “higher” than the standard normal for assessing what’s “higher” for ladies?  Does the novel consider that “higher” pertains solely to the female-marriage sphere, as an ethical normal for ladies, or each?

To deal with the above questions, we should always keep in mind that the context of our primary passage is daughters and marriage, so starting with female-marriage and “higher” is a logical start line.  Furthermore, as a result of Mr. Bennet can also be the primary character to emphasise the precedence of a feminine’s thoughts, his marriage might make clear why a lady’s thoughts ought to have precedence over what society prioritizes, for he married a “foolish” lady.  Because of this his sarcastic tone and push for Elizabeth’s “fast” thoughts is addressing a deeper inner want: he might want Charles Bingley to keep away from a destiny that he himself didn’t keep away from however might have had he been wiser.  Particularly, Elizabeth, later within the novel, notes that her father married her mom solely for her magnificence and appeal, not for her thoughts.  Upon realizing his mistake of preferring magnificence over thoughts and true character, Mr. Bennet, in line with Elizabeth, developed a life philosophy to chuckle at his spouse’s expense, which is clearly problematic although comprehensible.  Whereas a lot could be stated about Mr. Bennet’s life ‘philosophy,’ what now considerations this essay is that he acknowledges the issue of a lady whose thoughts has not been developed.  As his philosophy largely derived from his marrying a “foolish” lady, his emphasis on Elizabeth’s “fast” thoughts now units the desk for a number of passages coping with the query of what makes a lady really “higher.”

One of many key passages, following Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s above dialog, is a discourse about what really makes a lady “completed.”  Charles Bingley says that “all” ladies are “completed” as a result of they

paint tables, cowl skreens, and internet purses.

He additional emphasizes that he has by no means

heard a younger woman spoken of for the primary time, with out being knowledgeable that she was very completed.

Whereas a lot may be stated about this passage, one situation is that Charles holds a standard view of feminine “accomplishments”; these “accomplishments” are primary expertise that ladies purchase to satisfy home duties, presumably in the future as a spouse.  These “accomplishments,” nevertheless, say nothing concerning the thoughts of a lady and even her character; furthermore, Charles liberally praises “all” ladies, basing his view on what he “hear[s]” about them moderately than judging them based mostly on particular person benefit.  His mind-set would forestall him from distinguishing Elizabeth from “different women” as Mr. Bennet does.

Mr. Darcy’s remarks on an “completed lady,” nevertheless, problem Charles’ typical views since he, like Mr. Bennet although with out the negativity, makes a person judgment about ladies:

I can’t boast of figuring out greater than half a dozen [women]in the entire vary of my acquaintance, which are actually completed.

Whereas some might say that Mr. Darcy is narrow-minded since Charles says “all” ladies are “completed,” which is clearly a broad evaluation, Mr. Darcy does know “half a dozen” “completed” ladies personally.  Mr. Darcy’s hesitancy to guage ladies, solely based mostly on what he “hears” about them, suggests that every lady within the novel is to be evaluated individually, not as a collective “all,” and that “completed” means one thing deeper than merely finishing family duties.  Mr. Darcy’s evaluation then would promote Mr. Bennet’s earlier endorsement of Elizabeth whereas resisting Charles and Mrs. Bennet’s respective views on females.

Caroline Bingley quickly, as she typically does, interjects herself into the above dialog, and whereas there are a number of motives behind her doing so, we’ll look solely at one situation regarding her definition of an “completed” lady.  She considerably surpasses Charles’ definition of “completed” and says a lady should have

thorough information of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the fashionable languages, to deserve the phrase; and, in addition to all this, she should possess a sure one thing in her air and method of strolling, the tone of her voice, her handle and expressions, or the phrase can be however half deserved.

In context, Caroline, at a primary degree, appears to consider that a gentleman corresponding to Mr. Darcy can be interested in her “accomplishments,” that are per normal for her schooling, so it isn’t unreasonable to assume that she is displaying off her resume, so to talk.  If her definition of “completed” is the usual bearer, then Elizabeth would appear inferior to Caroline, which is what the latter needs.

Nevertheless, Mr. Darcy says that the extra “substantial” factor to a lady is

within the enchancment of her thoughts by in depth studying.

Whereas Mr. Darcy has quite a few motives for saying this, I’ll say solely that his view of schooling is essential for the novel since he believes within the improvement of a lady’s thoughts.  That’s, a lady’s thoughts is lively, not passive, in the course of the instructional course of in order that it could possibly “enhance” itself. (Caroline’s schooling includes, kind of, a familiarity with topics however not essentially a deeper understanding of them; furthermore, her thoughts shouldn’t be lively.  Consequently, her thoughts by no means really “improves,” which is what considerations Mr. Darcy; as an alternative, she can be one other model of “foolish and ignorant.”).

Darcy’s view of feminine schooling definitely would have its opponents.  Whereas feminine schooling was on the rise, a lady whose thoughts spent an excessive amount of time studying books would typically be described as unkempt and one who has uncared for different typical, extra applicable feminine pursuits, or “accomplishments.”  Nonetheless, Mr. Darcy doesn’t heed to that stigma of well-read females.  He additionally doesn’t base his evaluation of a “higher” lady on restricted character and look alone as Mrs. Bennet does (although he’s interested in Elizabeth’s eyes, so magnificence is related however not all that there’s because the narrator later identifies the “hazard” of Mr. Darcy’s paying Elizabeth an excessive amount of consideration).

Nonetheless, if a lady with an lively thoughts is one which the novel might want, then taking a look at Mr. Collins’ sermon and Mary’s didactic tendencies might be of some worth.  In chapter 14, Mr. Collins reads three pages from Fordyce’s sermons; these sermons have been spiritual in content material and addressed subjects related to ladies that included the best way to date, methods to behave, easy methods to develop into educated, and so forth.  Briefly, these sermons have been meant to maintain females in line; moreover, Collins’ robust disapproval of novels, which featured characters often relatable to most readers, have been seen as a degradation to the thoughts of a lady and would presumably arouse her to extreme emotion.

Whereas one can’t overlook the apparent double-standard within the above paragraph, conduct books, in a theoretical sense, can produce constructive outcomes, however, in actuality, they don’t strengthen a lady’s thoughts; they merely inform her what to assume and find out how to behave.  This failure to “enhance” the lady may be seen in Lydia’s amusing interruption of Collins’ studying of the Fordyce sermon.  Her outburst, on one hand, is unpleasant to Elizabeth and Jane who “bid” Lydia to “maintain her tongue.” Such outburst seemingly would reinforce, in Collins’ thoughts, the necessity for feminine conduct books.  Nevertheless, on the similar time, Lydia’s lack of propriety and style may be seen as a logical consequence of an untrained thoughts as a result of “difficult guidelines to regulate behaviour are weak substitutes for rules.”[2]  Lydia, then, can solely be however “foolish” and “ignorant,” missing the suitable conduct and “enchancment” that Fordyce prefers.

As an excessive distinction to Lydia, Mary is one whose didactic tendency presents a special take a look at the phrase “foolish.”  That’s, when she learns of the Lydia-Wickham debacle, she says

Sad because the occasion have to be for Lydia, we might draw from it this handy lesson; that lack of advantage in a feminine is irretrievable—that one false step includes her in countless wreck—that her popularity is not any much less brittle than it’s lovely—and that she can’t be an excessive amount of guarded in her behaviour in the direction of the undeserving of the opposite intercourse.

The narrator means that Elizabeth might solely take a look at Lydia in “amazement,” and Mary continues to “console” herself with ethical extractions from the evil earlier than them.

An issue with Mary’s thoughts right here is that her ideas have been pre-determined previous to listening to the information itself about Lydia.  That’s, ethical extracts have clearly formed her considering to the place she doesn’t have a considered her personal on Lydia’s plight.  Moreover, her anti-female morality doesn’t see the bigger drawback, which is Wickham’s apparent dangerous doings; she additionally has no compassion for Lydia’s well-being, which is an extra indictment towards Mary’s moralism.  Whereas an individual’s holding to morality is just not dangerous, it turns into an issue when Lydia turns into an object research for the fallen lady slightly than a human who wants her household’s help as a result of an apparent flawed dedicated towards her.  A thoughts, free of such prejudiced considering, can solely take a look at Mary’s evaluation in “amazement” as Elizabeth does.

To conclude, Mr. Bennet’s preliminary evaluation of Elizabeth’s “quickness” might be most popular to the opposite requirements of femininity on this novel.  Definitely, as we all know, Elizabeth’s ideas do create issues for herself and for others at occasions, however no less than her misjudgement of Mr. Darcy, for example, was prejudiced considering that arose from her lack of ability to guage appropriately, not from being advised what to assume.  Minds free of dogma and strict morality (e.g., Mary’s ethical extracts and Fordyce’s sermons) will nonetheless be susceptible to error, for to error is to be human, however Elizabeth’s errors solely make her extra human, which I might assume is “higher” than being “foolish and ignorant,” lovely however missing genuine grace.  Subsequently, Delight and Prejudice might maintain the view that a feminine’s unbiased thoughts is “higher,” each in an ethical sense (how one treats one other individual and the way one lives one’s life) and in a marital sense (husband and spouse are equal to at least one one other in the best way, for instance, that Darcy and Elizabeth enhance, not change or indoctrinate, the opposite individual).  Therefore, Elizabeth would be the new standard-bearer for ladies within the guide.


[1] All through this essay, once I discuss with particular phrases from Delight and Prejudice¸ I’ll put these phrases in citation marks.

[2] From Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Lady



Concerning the writer

Seth Snow has a grasp’s diploma in English Literature from The College of Akron and teaches a course referred to as Jane Austen, the place he and his college students learn and talk about Emma and Persuasion. He additionally teaches Satisfaction and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility in British Literature and Ladies’s Literature, respectively.

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