Comparing Pride & Prejudice with North & South – Theme: Social Prejudice Part 2

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South have often been compared to each-other but within their very general similarities are also great colorings and shades, making them distinct novels written by two very admirable writers.

Click Here to Read Part 1, Gaskell’s North and South – Social Prejudice

Part 2, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – Social Prejudice

Prejudice: a. unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, esp. of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.
b. an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.

  • Exploring Darcy’s Prejudice

The prejudices between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy are of a different kind. Socially, they’re not equals but they are part of the same class. The Georgians, like their Victorian predecessors thought money earned rather than inherited as tainted by the stain of trade. Neither Mr. Darcy’s nor Eliza’s immediate family work; they are both of the genteel class. But their statuses within that class are very different.

“In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman ; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.”

“True. You are a gentleman’s daughter. But who was your mother ? Who are your uncles and aunts ? Do not not imagine me ignorant of their condition.”

Mr. Collins is prone to exaggeration, but when he describes Mr. Darcy as ‘one of the most illustrious personages in this land’ he is not too far off. Darcy has inherited aristocratic blood (his mother was the daughter of an Earl), enormous wealth, the grand estate of Pemberley, and is a man of education and intelligence.

Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?

Despite it’s arrogance, his remark, in a Georgian era mind-set, is justified. Most gentleman of comparable rank would think the same– they wouldn’t have said it but in the heat of his frustration and mixed emotions perhaps we can forgive him. The question is: do his actions prove he really thinks this? His friendships suggests otherwise.

Charles Bingley’s father accrued his wealth through trade and Charles is the first generation to live as a gentleman of leisure, with no profession. His income is half that of Darcy’s. When a young boy Darcy played with George Wickham, the son of his steward. Had Wickham not become dissipated they still would be friends. It’s Wickham’s change of behavior that makes Darcy break his friendship and it’s Bingley’s amiable manners that lead to their friendship.

The situation of your mother’s family, though objectionable, was nothing in comparison of that total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly betrayed by herself, by your three younger sisters, and occasionally even by your father.

It’s not the person’s rank or wealth that Darcy considers but their behavior; His disdain at the Meryton Assembly, his reserved and sometimes short remarks to Caroline Bingley, his cutting of Wickham, his attempt at disentangling Bingley from marrying into the Bennet’s– the reasons behind all these are behavior; irresponsible, bad manners, rudeness. He has exacting standards which explains his proud demeanor. Like Elizabeth he’s found:

The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it

Darcy may have been brought up within the rules of society, to think himself above others, but he’s not confined to them and uses his own judgment of people’s characters.

The next post will explore Mr. Thornton in further depth.

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