“Prejudice” Is Not So Predominant in Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” as One Might Think

Most who have read Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” assume that Mr. Darcy is the l character and Elizabeth is the one displaying prejudice. However, from the examples below, you will see that is not completely true. 

pride-prejudice-22-copy1We encounter Austen’s first use of the word “prejudice” in Chapter 18 (did you think it was before then), Elizabeth accuses Mr. Darcy of being prejudiced. So, is Elizabeth projecting her prejudice upon the gentleman? I will leave it to you to decide. 

“Yes, always,” she replied, without knowing what she said, for her thoughts had wandered far from the subject, as soon afterwards appeared by her suddenly exclaiming, “I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that you resentment once created was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created.”

“I am,” said he, with a firm voice.

“And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?”

“I hope not.”

The word is not used again until Chapter 36, when Elizabeth reads Mr. Darcy’s letter of explanation with a bit of prejudice.

“If Elizabeth, when Mr. Darcy gave her the letter, did not expect it to contain a renewal of his offers, she had formed no expectation at all of its contents. But such as they were, it may well be supposed how eagerly she went through them, and what a contrariety of emotion they excited. Her feelings as she read were scarcely to be defined. With amazement did she first understand that he believed any apology to be in his power; and steadfastly was she persuaded, that he could have no explanation to give, which a just sense of shame would not conceal. With a strong prejudice against everything he might say, she began his account of what had happened at Netherfield.”

Also in Chapter 36, after reading Mr. Darcy’s letter multiple times, she realizes how poorly she has treated him. Her feelings are directed inward. 

“She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think without feeling she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.”

In Chapter 40, Elizabeth explains what she learned of Wickham to Jane. 

“Certainly. But the misfortune of speaking with bitterness is a most natural consequence of the prejudices I had been encouraging. There is one point on which I want your advice. I want to be told whether I ought, or ought not, to make our acquaintances in general understand Wickham’s character.”

Miss Bennet paused a little, and then replied, “Surely there can be no occasion for exposing him so dreadfully. What is your opinion?”

“That it ought not to be attempted. Mr. Darcy has not authorised me to make his communication public. On the contrary, every particular relative to his sister was meant to be kept as much as possible to myself; and if I endeavour to undeceive people as to the rest of his conduct, who will believe me? The general prejudice against Mr. Darcy is so violent, that it would be the death of half the good people in Meryton to attempt to place him in an amiable light. I am not equal to it. Wickham will soon be gone; and therefore it will not signify to anyone here what he really is. Some time hence it will be all found out, and then we may laugh at their stupidity in not knowing it before. At present I will say nothing about it.

images-2In Chapter 43, Elizabeth wishes to learn more of Darcy from Mrs. Reynolds. In this example, Mr. Gardiner believes Mrs. Reynolds displays prejudice in her accolades of Darcy.

“Elizabeth listened, wondered, doubted, and was impatient for more. Mrs. Reynolds could interest her on no other point. She related the subjects of the pictures, the dimensions of the rooms, and the price of the furniture, in vain, Mr. Gardiner, highly amused by the kind of family prejudice to which he attributed her excessive commendation of her master, soon led again to the subject; and she dwelt with energy on his many merits as they proceeded together up the great staircase.”

In Chapter 55, Bingley has proposed to Jane. Again, Elizabeth admits to a bit of prejudice, this time directed at Mr. Bingley, for the man was too easily swayed in his opinions. Bingley’s initial abandonment of Jane will have Elizabeth a long time in trusting him again.

“Would you believe it, Lizzy, that when he went to town last November, he really loved me, and nothing but a persuasion of my being indifferent would have prevented his coming down again!”

“He made a little mistake to be sure; but it is to the credit of his modesty.”

This naturally introduced a panegyric from Jane on his diffidence, and the little value he put on his own good qualities. Elizabeth was pleased to find that he had not betrayed the interference of his friend; for, though Jane had the most generous and forgiving heart in the world, she knew it was a circumstance which must prejudice her against him.

images-1In Chapter 58, Darcy has proposed to Elizabeth. They reflect on all that proceeded their happiness.

“Darcy mentioned his letter. ‘Did it,’ said he, ‘did it soon make you think better of me? Did you, on reading it, give any credit to its contents?’

She explained what its effect on her had been, and how gradually all her former prejudices had been removed.”

That is it. Only 8 times is the word “prejudice” used in the entire novel. Not many examples for a book entitled “Pride and Prejudice,” is it? Especially, when we consider that “pride” and “proud” and “prideful” are used 47 times. 

 

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
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6 Responses to “Prejudice” Is Not So Predominant in Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” as One Might Think

  1. suzanlauder says:

    Because of a group read a couple of years back, I was aware of the word count, but I’d never actually gone and looked at the context of each instance of “prejudice.” Well done! This article sheds a whole new light on the concept, and how Austen used it! She’s used prejudice in a similar manner to pride, not always purely negative, e.g., Mrs. R.’s praise. It becomes more like wearing blinders, or judging with tunnel vision. We can learn from this for our modern lives, and look at the whole picture before declaring ourselves clever at first impressions! Thanks, Regina!

    • I have similar posts on “love” and on “pride” and on “affection.” Looking at particular words have us reevaluating what we thought we knew of Austen’s work.
      I am pleased you found this valuable, Suzan. I appreciate your comments.

  2. S.Hines says:

    Pride is often more obvious than prejudice. The whole plot of the book rests on the prejudices that cause the actions. Just counting the number of uses of each word is not, I think, something Austen would want us to dwell on. She would want us to see the forest, not just get stuck behind a tree.

    • Although I appreciate your taking the time to comment on the post, Salli, I am of the persuasion that language choices, repetition, syntax, etc., are what create the the tight nucleus of Austen’s writing. I am far from “stuck behind a tree.”

  3. I have to differ on your article. Prejudice is inherent in the book from the very beginning when Darcy refers to the citizens of the country of Meryton to be savage. He walks about the Dance room refusing introduction to people he feels are beneath him for no better reason then their social class. This prejudice has been taught to him by his parents and their parents before them. Since the Prejudice between Social classes is so extensive throughout England. This is something that Austen constantly writes about especially when it comes to love. How this prejudice perverts happiness. Darcy must overcome his family and their prejudices. Even Lizzy and her class have their prejudices about the upper. Lizzy is quickly ready to dismiss him since he comes in looking like he is above his company. She is ready to enjoy the ridiculousness of Lady Catherines condescension. She destroys Caroline Bingley with a mean game of verbal ping pong with no regrets and ready to let Darcy know where he can put his well regulated pride. This prejudice makes it so easy to beleive anything bad she hears about Darcy (enter Wickham). They both must overcome personal as well as social prejudices before they can find their way to each other.

    I apologize for any grammar or punctuation mistakes

    • The idea in the post is that despite the title of “Pride” and “Prejudice” – the two are not equal in the story line. No one is arguing that both Darcy and Elizabeth display moments of displaced pride and more than a bit of prejudice.

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