Written by Ida Siow, 1A01A, 1997.
"To achieve lasting happiness, characters in Pride and Prejudice must learn to temper their inclinations with prudent judgement." With this comment in mind, discuss Austen's portrayal in the novel of any two of the following relationships:
Elizabeth and Darcy Jane and Bingley
In the novel, Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth and Jane both achieve lasting happiness with their respective partners -- Darcy and Bingley, after a series of misjudgements, misunderstandings and obstacles. Indeed the heroine's (Elizabeth's) tumultuous relationship with Darcy forms the bulk of the novel, and the focal point of interest for the reader while Jane's relationship with Bingley adds variety and interest to the novel.
Elizabeth's and Darcy's relationship is filled with trials and tribulations, misjudgements and prejudice, eventually culminating in a blissful union of two complementary souls. Their relationship begins at an inauspicious starting point when they first meet at the Meryton assembly, with both receiving unfavourable first impressions. Elizabeth thinks Darcy a proud, cold man as a result of his reserve and his slighting her ("tolerable, not handsome enough to tempt me"), and this "remained with no very cordial feelings towards him." Her assessment of his character, given her limited exposure to him, in those unfortunate circumstances is most natural and understandable.
Darcy, on the other hand, is to be blamed for his lack of prudence and his pride, which leads him to criticize Elizabeth most unfairly in that first encounter. This indeed, jeopardizes his prospects of a "lasting happiness" with Elizabeth, as he leaves an indelible first impression which colours Elizabeth's later judgements of his character.
However, as the novel progresses, Darcy shows enough flexibility and good sense to change his opinion of Elizabeth. Thus, his first inclination of scorning her is erased as he becomes enamoured of Elizabeth as a result of her witty intelligence and spirit, such that he began to find that "her eyes were" rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression." After repeated meetings and verbal parries with Elizabeth, Darcy's first impression of her is completely replaced by ardent affection, as he sees in her a comrade [kindred] spirit. It is his prudent judgement and flexibility which temper his inclination to corn and criticize, such that he is able to recognize in Elizabeth a worthy wife and companion, despite her social standing [never so much of an obstacle as the family's behaviour] and Lydia's elopment. Therefore, we must credit his prudent judgement for his remarkable change in opinion, which paves the way for his future happiness with Elizabeth.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth displays little of her prudent judgement and astute assessment with regard to Darcy. It is for this singular reason that her relationship with Darcy is fraught with difficulty. After her first meeting with Darcy, Elizabeth determinedly preserves her prejudice against Darcy, even after repeated incidents which attest to his credibility of character, displaying uncharacteristic lack of intelligent and careful judgement.
When Elizabeth meets Wickham, she is immediately won over by his appearance and suave charm, and is whole-heartedly inclined to believe his every word, simply because his "very countenance may vouch for [his] being amiable", and "there was truth in his looks". This rash inclination results in her being even more convinced of Darcy's unworthiness of character. In spite of the fact that Wickham sullies Darcy's family in front of a comparative stranger, after declaring himself "determined to honour the late Mr. Darcy's reputation, and that he purposely avoids Darcy at the Netherfield ball, after stating staunchly that he is not afraid of meeting Darcy, and would fear no confrontation with him, Elizabeth sees no reason to doubt him. Her brash inclinations to Wickham justify his merrcenary pursuit of Mary King, even as she condemns Bingley for abandoning Jane for the socially advantageous Georgina Darcy. She discredits Bingley's opinion of Darcy and Miss Bingley's warning against Wickham, and refuses to temper her first impressions with any objectivity, even after Jane, who sees only good in everyone, has confessed, "I am sorry to say Mr. Wickham is by no means a respectable young man. I am afraid he has been very imprudent, and has deserved to lose Mr. Darcy's regard." Her lack of discernment precipitates her harsh refusal of Darcy's initial proposal, jeopardising unwisely her possible happiness with him. It is only when Elizabeth reads Darcy's letter that she is forced to face the truth, to acknowledge that she has been utterly wrong, and has completely misjudged Darcy. It is then that she admits, "And yet, I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him, without any reason." [good.]
After his monumental unveiling of the truth, Elizabeth's former dislike of Darcy is reversed, and after a few more obstacles (Lydia's engagement), [ironically brings them together] they reveal their mutual affection for each other, and are joined in a joyful union.
Austen's portrayal of the heroine of this novel with her fallibilities and flawed judgement, do not simply add to the intrigues of the plot, but also reveal, ironically, that even the most astute studier of character can be mistaken and that inclinations must always be tempered with prudent judgement, for lasting happiness to ensue. Elizabeth's ill-founded accusation, "formed on mistaken premises" towards Darcy, and his initial brash criticism are testament to the necessity of prudent judgement and flexibility for a happy union. [but define "prudent": in reflecting in one's feelings and prejudices, not in considering one's mercenary interest]
In contrast, Jane and Bingley's relationship proves that too much of prudent judgement can damage, most severely, the possibility of lasting happiness. The two characters are immediately charmed by each other at the Meryton assembly. Jane's prudence is revealed as she "who had been cautious in her praise of Mr. Bingley before, expressed to her sister how very much she admired him." Jane's prudent judgement and utmost caution are apparent from the beginning of their relationship, and it is this factor which proves most damaging to any blissful future prospects, whilst Elizabeth is pleased that Jane displays caution and "united with great strength of feeling, a composure of temper ... which would guard her from the suspicious or the impertinent.", Charlotte Lucas is surprising accurate in her declaration that less prudent judgement is required and that "he (Bingley) may never do more than like her (Jane), if she does not help him on."
It is Jane's guardedness which is the sole reason for Bingley and the Netherfield party leaving the country, as he is so "modest" that her apparent lack of affection had led him to trust in Darcy's advice and to leave. [Caroline & Darcy share the blame, at least] Jane has completely hidden her inclinations of affection for Bingley beneath her prudent judgement and distance, such that his affection is not encouraged, but is crushed, and any prospect of marriage seems an impossibility. It is only after Elizabeth has revealed to Darcy her sister's feelings that Jane realizes her own fault in his leaving her: "he really loved me, and nothing but a persuasion of my being indifferent, would have prevented his coming down again." Thus, Jane's excessive prudence and caution would have ruined her lasting happiness had not Elizabeth revealed her affection.
Bingley, on the other hand, is not hampered by excessive prudent judgement in his following his inclinations and courting Jane, and it is his active approach in wooing Jane which eventually precipitates a joyous marriage.
In her portrayal of Jane and Bingley's relationship, Austen provides a counterpoint to Elizabeth and Darcy's relationship by showing that an excessive amount of prudent judgement and caution can so much temper inclinations, such that with so little encouragement offered, prospects of lasting happiness can be endangered and lost.
Through these two contrasting relationships, Jane Austen has skilfully drawn the fine line between too much of prudent judgement, because a rash, prejudiced approach towards inclinations, showing that a delicate balance of objective neutrality and strength of feeling under the appropriate circumstances must be demonstrated, in order to nurture any relationship, and to ensure its success.
A- - -
Well argued -- well done. Needing only some investigation of the moral ambiguity of "prudent".
Lizzy the Superwoman (Mona's),
Lizzy the Superwoman (Yi-Sheng's),
Inversion & Criticism of the Romantic Novel (Tsin Yen's),
Inversion & Criticism of the Romantic Novel (Cheryl's),
Prudence vs. Inclinations Narrative Method (Yi-Sheng's),
Narrative Method (Cheryl's)
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