E212-R Jane Austen Questions

Assigned: Pride and Prejudice. (Separate edition; see below.) We will also watch the 2005 film by Joe Wright that stars Keira Knightley as Elizabeth and Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy.

Note: the questions below are for the most part general and allow wide latitude in choosing episodes for your response, so as an aid to recollection and choosing passages, you might find it useful to consult chapter summaries such as those at http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-prideprejudice/. The Republic of Pemberley, among other sites, offers a full electronic version of the novel.

Pride and Prejudice

1. Austen revels in crafting images of Regency patriarchs like Mr. Bennet – what do you think of this character's judgment: choose one or more from among these considerations: how well does he deal with his wife and with the "silliest" among his several daughters – Lydia in particular? What terms is he on with his wiser daughters Elizabeth and Jane? What does he apparently think about the significance of marriage?

2. The title of the novel might lead us to suppose that the term "pride" belongs solely to Mr. Darcy, while "prejudice" is Elizabeth's tendency. What's wrong with that assumption? Discuss one or two brief episodes in the novel where things turn out to be more complicated than we might have supposed in this regard – how do these episodes put pride and prejudice into a relationship rather than keeping them separate?

3. Austen isn't shy of criticizing her more flawed characters, but she seldom condemns even the worst or the most trivial among them. What advantage might she gain from avoiding harsh condemnations or dismissals? Consider the treatment accorded by Austen to the ignorant and sanctimonious Mr. Collins – how does her narrator (aided by some of the novel's characters) note the man's flaws without condemning him altogether?

4. An alternative to the above question – how does the narrator bring out the flaws of one or more of the following: Mr. Wickham, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Miss Bingley, or other minor characters without resorting to outright condemnation of them? As in the previous question, what does Austen gain, or what opportunities does she preserve, by exercising this kind of restraint in judgment?

5. The fancy term "epistolarity" critics sometimes use in reference to Austen's novels refers to the many letters that are written and read in them. Focus on one such letter in Pride and Prejudice, and discuss its significance in terms of the novel's plot movement and, more importantly, in terms of one or more of its major themes. What can a letter reveal that actual interpersonal contact sometimes can't? What other advantages might letter-writing or letter-reading have for the characters involved, and for the narrator who is telling the story?

6. Austen's novels are filled with deft irony – often, what a character says isn't what he or she means; similarly, sometimes an utterance later takes on a significance of which (due to changing circumstances or new information) its speaker couldn't have been aware at the time. Choose a brief passage or episode where the narrator treats a character, event, or idea ironically and explain how and to what end the irony functions.

7. Charlotte Lucas' acceptance of Mr. Collins's belated proposal shocks the sensibilities of her friend Elizabeth Bennet. But in terms of the various views of marriage set forth in this novel, how might Charlotte's notions about that institution be interpreted in a more or less positive, or at least neutral, way? Why is it rather odd that Elizabeth should be so surprised at her friend's decision – what does this reaction tell us about Elizabeth's powers of perception and judgment?

8. Jane Bennet (often called "Miss Bennet") is at first disappointed when Mr. Bingley fails to propose to her, but in the end things work out for them. What similarities and contrasts do you find in this pair's courtship and eventual union with those of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy?

9. How do Elizabeth's aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, serve almost as a second set of parents to her and her sisters? What deficiencies or limitations in the real parents – Mr. and Mrs. Bennet – do they partly make up for, and how do they (along with Darcy) preserve the respectability of the Bennets when Lydia elopes?

10. "Place" (in the sense of physical location, but not excluding "social rank") is an important concept in Jane Austen, whose novels deal with people whose present identity and future prospects are wrapped up with their estates. Discuss one episode in which you find this emphasis on physical location and detail significant in terms of the novel's action and themes. One prominent example would be Elizabeth's visit to Pemberly in the opening chapter of Volume 3.

11. Consider the novel's concluding chapters in terms of its balancing act between "romance" and "social satire." Which, if either, seems to predominate, and on what passages or episodes do you base your judgment? In the end, what does Jane Austen seem to be telling us about what makes a marriage appropriate?

12. Our film, directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy, is considerably shorter than the older BBC version. How well do you think the film captures or compares to the novel? What would it be unreasonable to expect the film to capture about the novel? Still, what does the film add to your understanding of the book?

Edition: Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Oxford: Oxford UP, repr. 2005. ISBN 0192802380.