Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, is set in the 19th century, taking place principally in Longbourn, located in Hertfordshire. Longbourn is a closed close-knit town that contains every social class from aristocracy to serventry. Everyone knows everyone’s situation, rumors, salary, inheritance and possessions. Meryton, London, Brighton, Netherfield, Derbyshire, and Pemberley are a few of the other places the characters travel to in this novel. Without this book being set in the 19th century, it would not have had the high social classes and tone that it has. It affects the way the characters speak and act in every way. The characters talk in proper English, and they act in very large and dramatic ways in that class and grandeur is constantly reinforced. In this time period, the setting played a huge role in the social stigmas. This essay is about how changes in the setting directly relates to the character’s behavior and actions.
Almost every part of the book takes place indoors, mainly in Mrs. Bennet’s home. Each time a journey happens, a huge shift is marked in the characters behavior and the plot. For example, Elizabeth’s first journey to Netherfield to her sick sister Jane inspired awe from Mr. Darcy at how Elizabeth seemed to pay no mind to her appearance and social taboos. It is here that he comments on her “fine eyes” (page 22) and his inner struggle begins. Her second journey was to visit Charlotte and Mr. Collins and Rosings Park, where Mr. Darcy proposed for the first time. He admired her further for the way she interacted with his family. Her rejection to his proposal forced Darcy to truly take a look at his behavior and faults. Her third journey was to Pemberley, which captured her heart and shifted her feelings toward Darcy to a more rapid growth in their relationship and affection. She saw that his behavior was quite different in his domain than when in public. Jane Austen wrote, “In front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned” (page 206). Darcy possesses a “natural importance” that is “swelled” by his arrogance, but that side of his personality coexists with a genuine honesty and lack of “artificial appearance” (page 206). Like the stream, he is neither “formal, nor falsely adorned” (page 206). Also at Pemberley, when Elizabeth runs into Darcy unexpectedly, she crosses a bridge. The water suggested a broad gulf of misjudgment and class prejudice that created a barrier between them; whereas the bridge is the love they will build to cross it. Pemberley allowed each to see each other without the deceiving masks of society and Elizabeth and Darcy truly fell for each other. Elizabeth’s admitted to herself her pride over her first impression of him was incorrect and her prejudice against the stereotype of proud, rich men was wiped away. Mr. Darcy’s pride over his high status was reinvented with a new humbleness forced to come about from his personal life to win her heart, and his prejudice against her lower class was broken by his falling in love with her. Here he even drops his prejudice against her family, the Gardiners. The fourth journey was the pursuit of finding Lydia and Wickham, which ends with Mr. Darcy paying his debts to Mr. Wickham and convincing him to save the Bennet’s honor by marrying Lydia. This journey further awed Elizabeth with his display of true character and benevolence.
Darcy’s first proposal, which was not at his home and was a rather rude proposal, symbolized his previous blindness in following what was socially “correct” in the social class ladder of 19th century England. The socially correct beliefs he followed included believing Elizabeth’s family to be lesser because of their lack of money and property. The proposal became completely about him and the struggle he had dealt with regarding his worries that her and her family’s lower class status may affect others’ perceptions of him. Likewise his first proposal focused his admiration on her outward self, her looks and behavior, much like what society looks at in dances and matchmaking. In his first proposal outside of his home he proposed in hopes of getting her hand in marriage. Whereas, when he proposed a second time at his home, where he and his home are symbolically synonymous in that they both have an air of “natural importance ... swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance,” (page 206) Elizabeth fell in love with his true self, not the socially accepted version of himself he portrayed earlier in the novel. His second proposal in his home was focused on winning her heart, her love, which is deeper than what society focuses on and what he had focused on in the first proposal. The second proposal he wanted to marry for love, not because he admired her socially accepted beauty and grace.
Similarly, two more characters from different social classes were put through pressure dependant on setting in this novel; though this time it came from outside influences and not internal misunderstandings/bad impressions. In the literal sense of setting affecting the plot, the rain Jane rode horseback through to Mr. Bingley’s house forced her to stay in his home sick, which allowed them to get to know each other fairly early on. Mr. Bingley and Jane’s relationship was put through trials and external pressure when Mr. Bingley’s sisters and Darcy early in the novel attempted to sway Mr. Bingley away from Jane by down talking her family, making him oblivious to her stay in London, and keeping him from Netherfield extended periods of time. In each occasion Jane and Bingley were together, the whole public saw their affections for each other. It was only when Bingley came to the Bennet’s house that he proposed to her, confirming his love for her away from the society as a whole and its pressures.
Depending on what house he/she is in, many of the characters act differently. In the third daughters’ marriage between Lydia and Mr. Wickham, it is clear throughout the book that Lydia is a scatterbrained girl who has no sense or logic whatsoever. She acts most carelessly when she is in settings far from those who know her. So when she is finally not surrounded by people she knows that keep her in line (her trip to Brighton), she flees. She ran away with Wickham the first chance she had to London and made poor choices without anyone there to tell her they were poor choices. She then, separated from her community, convinced herself to be well off and extremely happy in her predicament. Being outside of logical influence and consequence, she sees no flaw in her endangering her other sisters’ marriage eligibility. Wickham on the other hand, portrays himself as a well mannered and trustworthy man in public, when really he has a facade and elaborates full stories of lies to make him seem like a victim. Once behind closed doors he is a sexually inclined and deceptive man. The latter is demonstrated when he eloped with Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, and later with Lydia Bennet.
Similarly the behaviors of Mr. Collins and Charlotte also change depending on what house they are in, and before and after their marriage. Mr. Collins, when outside of his or Lady de Bourgh’s home is a social cacophony. He also makes himself a buffoon and a nuisance with his lack of knowhow on what proper behavior in social situations or general knowledge of dances. When in his home or in Lady de Bourgh’s he is exceptionally more bloated and comfortable with his braggings of his wealth/possessions and the generosity of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Charlotte on the other hand, is witty, sensible and social with Jane and Elizabeth especially. Being not particularly pretty, unmarried past the age of 25, and already coming from a wealthy family, she married for the practicality and social status. She was not particularly happy in the marriage; she avoided him and kept to herself in their home. She talked to Elizabeth less after the marriage and moving into Mr. Collins home.
Mrs. and Mr. Bennet are also affected by setting. When Mrs. Bennet is in her home she is primarily concerned with marriage and her “poor nerves” as she is often “vexed” (page 3) by Mr. Bennet and the big gossip of the town. When she is in public, she makes a buffoon of herself in her obnoxious behavior and inappropriate remarks. Mr. Bennet, when in his library, is usually giving wise advice or having intellectual conversations with “Lizzy.” When Mr. Bennet is throughout his home, he makes facetious remarks or leads on a conversation letting the other person believe one thing and then he flips the conversation to get a rise out of the other person, or he his passing judgment on his daughters, often to “vex” Mrs. Bennet.
Mary, Kitty, and Lydia Bennet, when in their home, worry themselves with arguments. Mary only butts in to say something intellectual, Kitty speaks up only to be sarcastic or to say something to the effect of “it’s not fair,” and Lydia speaks only to whine/complain or brag. When in public, all three try very hard to show their assets. Mary plays songs and demonstrates her talents in place of her lack of beauty. Kitty and Lydia make social butterflies, full-of-smiles and attention-grabbing, loud-mouth, giggly things of themselves. Lydia is by far the most exaggerated in comparison to Kitty. Whereas the Bennet girls take care to showcase who they truly are, the richer women of the novel do the opposite.
Miss Bingley, when in a setting where Elizabeth Bennet is not present, is very self-centered snob who puts out a false image of being amiable. She is two-faced towards many people. In some settings she can seem agreeable, but in all actuality she has other motives. Alternative motives such as when she was nice to Jane, while also disheartening her by telling her that Mr. Bingley liked Mr. Darcy’s sister instead of Jane. When Elizabeth was present, she was either very rude and trying to rile her up, or she was attempting to hog all of the attention of Mr. Darcy out of pure jealousy, who did not like Miss Bingley one bit. When she was in a vacation-like setting, such as when she went to London, she feels comfortable in manipulating the situations like when she kept her brother from being aware that Jane was there, seeing as that was a place socially unfamiliar with both parties, meaning that no one could intervene with Miss Bingleys deception.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh takes setting versus behavior/power to the extreme when in her home. It is there that she feels completely comfortable down talking and criticizing any and everyone knowing that no one will object to her superiority within her own domain. When she is in public she wars with people for her dominance. This is especially apparent when Elizabeth refuses to promise Lady de Bourgh that she would not refuse her nephew’s, Mr. Darcy’s, proposal. When she is outside of her bubble of superiority she is snappy, cranky, rude, and extremely frustrated knowing her power over people is limited. The significance of Lady de Bourgh’s failing to control Elizabeth in the end is that Lady de Bourgh is not in her home, and therefore holds no weight in her commanded wishes.
In conclusion, different settings give different characters different behaviors or strengths and weaknesses. Also, weather changes in setting affected the plot. Had it not rained as Jane rode to Netherfield, she would not have gotten sick and stayed with Mr. Bingley, which would have put a setback in their getting to know each other. As seen most extreme in Lady Catherine de Bourgh, even subtle changes in character behavior, such as Charlotte’s behavior weigh in on the plot. If Lady de Bourgh had been in her home with Elizabeth while commanding her to not accept her nephew’s proposal, Elizabeth may not have agreed, but the conversation would have been much more heated, which may have led to Lady de Bourgh trying very vigorously to prevent a marriage between the two. That action could have caused a number of hard feelings between the two families and possibly another attempt at keeping Jane and Mr. Bingley apart. Say if Charlotte did not talked with Elizabeth within Mr. Collins’ home and Lady de Bourgh’s lands, she may have been more honest with herself and Elizabeth in her motives for marrying Mr. Collins and may have thought twice on it. Even more drastic, if Elizabeth did not visit Pemberley and ran into Darcy, she would not have seen the real Darcy, unmasked and humble. She could have went on believing her initial impression of him and never accepted his second proposal. Similarly, had Lydia not gone on the trip to Brighton, she would not have ran away with Wickham and put her sisters’ marriageability into danger. Also to think if Jane did not try to visit Mr. Bingley while he and his sisters and Darcy were away, Miss Bingley would not have been able to manipulate the situation and made Jane believe Mr. Bingley was no longer interested. Any number of changes whether slight or drastic could have changed the entire book via the butterfly effect.
Source: Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Modern Library, 1995. Print.
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