“It is a truth universally acknowledged that” ‘Pride and prejudice’ is the most influential romance novel of our time. Jane Austen opens literature to a whole new technique of writing and critique. A conventionally romantic novel usually focuses on the relationship between physically attractive man and woman. The hero and heroine usually meet early in the story and fall in love at first sight. The two lovers may, more often than not, have to overcome obstacles in order to be together, but in the end, love seems to conquer all. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ does fall into the romance genre; its often considered the most romantic novel of all time, however, there are elements of the novel that differ from convention. The couples throughout the novel Jane and Mr. Bingley’s relationship is very different to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and different again to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. The novel follows convention in regards to Jane and Mr. Bingley but differs from convention with nearly every other relationship.
Jane and Mr. Bingley are the voice of convention throughout the novel. Jane is the most “handsome” Bennet sister and “Mr Bingley was good-looking and gentleman like; he has a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners.” The pair first meet at the ball in Meryton and enjoy an immediate mutual attraction. In early stages of the book they are the main couple and Mrs Bennet makes it her key effort to make sure there is an engagement, Even denying Jane the carriage to go and see Mr Bingley “because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night.’ They are spoken of as a potential couple throughout the book, especially by Mrs Bennet, long before anyone imagines that Darcy and Elizabeth might marry. Despite their centrality to the narrative, they are vague characters, sketched by Austen rather than carefully drawn. Indeed, they are so similar in nature and behaviour that they can be described together: both are cheerful, friendly, and good-natured, always ready to think the best of others; they lack entirely the prickly egotism of Elizabeth and Darcy. Jane’s gentle spirit serves as a foil for her sister’s fiery, contentious nature, while Bingley’s eager friendliness contrasts with Darcy’s stiff pride. Their principal characteristics are goodwill and compatibility, and the contrast of their romance with that of Darcy and Elizabeth is remarkable. Jane and Bingley exhibit to the reader true love unhampered by either pride or prejudice, though in their simple goodness, they also demonstrate that such a love is mildly dull but conventional. They meet early on in the novel and have a keen attraction to one another, they have an issue they must over come in Charles return to London and Darcy’s persuasion against his friend marrying Jane. Despite reservation and misjudged situations the two find apparent happiness together.
Mr and Mrs Bennet are another noticeable couple in the novel, the couple sometimes conforms to convention but other time distain from conventionality. The parents that started it all for the Bennet family. Their marriage is a certainly a story of unequal minds, the marriage seems to be unbalanced and poorly matched and more a marriage of convenience than anything else. Through their marriage Austen addresses the importance of entering into a marriage based on more than just shallow attraction and the appeal of economic gain. Through the incompatibility of this couple, and their “total want of propriety” in regards to their public conduct, parenting, and lifestyle, Austen is certainly critiquing the institution of marriage. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship represents the follies of a hasty marriage built on a shallow and superficial connection, as well as the dangers of marrying for personal economic gain without seeking further knowledge of the other party’s estate and prospects. It is a connection built solely on first appearances and initial passions, without any thought as to their compatibility for each other, and clearly is not a beneficial marriage for either party. As this is the model for marriage that the Bennet sisters have to follow, it ends disastrously for the girls who take it to be the example of what they should do, such as Lydia, and is a warning to the older, more mature girls, such as Elizabeth and Jane, that perhaps their parents’ example should be taken as more of a warning of what not to do. The Bennet’s quick meeting and attraction ending in a rushed marriage is something that is not unfamiliar to the romance genre except in a case of happy ever after the couples ‘honeymoon’ phase would’ve lasted a life time. In the romance genre many couples fall victim to marriage being the end of their story or happy ending but quite the opposite happens with Mr and Mrs Bennett. The reader is only introduced to the couple some years after marriage demonstrating that marriage is not the end of a couples story. Mr and Mrs. Bennet are a couple that fall victim to social normalities of regency England.
Darcy and Elizabeth are the voice of the unorthodox throughout the novel and challenge every preconceived idea a reader may have of a romantic couple. Darcy and Elizabeth are the epitome of pride and prejudice and it is pride and their misconceptions that deter them from one another for such a long time. Darcy is the son of a wealth, well- established family and is the intelligent and reserved master to the beautiful Pemberley estate. His female counterpart Elizabeth is the second of the five Bennett daughters. She is intelligent and quick-witted making her one of the most well-known female characters in English literature. Her admirable qualities are plentiful —she is lovely, clever, and, in a novel defined by dialogue, she converses as brilliantly as anyone. Her honesty, virtue, and lively wit enable her to rise above the nonsense and bad behavior that pervade her class-bound and often spiteful society. Nevertheless, her sharp tongue and tendency to make hasty judgments often lead her astray; especially in regards to Darcy. Pride and prejudice is essential a novel about how Darcy and Elizabeth overcome misconceptions and endure personal growth to ensure that they are each other’s true love. Although some may call their relationship predictable and conventional I would argue the opposite. They don’t fall in love at first sight in fact Darcy finds Elizabeth to be “merely tolerable” and Elizabeth finds Darcy to be arrogant and snobbish, there relationship is certainly not one based on physically attraction. The nature of their relationship really doesn’t start to change until the latter half of the novel and even then they are both too proud to confess their feelings. Darcy’s initial proposal is a crucial moment in their story, until he asks her to marry him and confesses his Ardent love and admiration for Elizabeth, her main preoccupation with Darcy centers around dislike; after the proposal, the novel chronicles the slow, steady growth of her love. At the moment, however, Elizabeth’s attitude toward Darcy corresponds to the judgments she has already made about him. She refuses him because she thinks that he is too arrogant, part of her first impression of him at the Meryton ball, and because of the role she believes he played in disinheriting Wickham and his admitted role in disrupting the romance between Jane and Bingley and so she does not accept his proposal and instead lashes out at him telling him that “from the very beginning— from the first moment, I may almost say— of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” It is until Darcy’s letter of explanation in which he explains his part in Jane and Bingley undoing and tells Elizabeth his side of the story with the Wickham debacle. The purpose of the letter wasn’t for Darcy to renew his proposal or express his anger, it was to address Elizabeth’s accusations of him by putting aside his pride. After the letter of explanation all reservations seem to leave Elizabeth and she finds her peace with Darcy’s and her own development. Darcy re-proposes marriage and this time Elizabeth happily accepts and you can truly see the development of these characters in the way in which he asks her telling her that If your feelings are what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged. But one word from you will silence me on this subject forever. The couple doesn’t conform to normalcy in the early portion of their relationship, however, the latter half of their relationship does conform to a lot of romantic genre conventions, they overcome their issues and do ultimately get married but it is the way they got to that point that is unconventional. Elizabeth always valued happiness over security and she finds unconventional true love with a mind that provides her with both.
Some people are initially put off by Pride and Prejudice because they view it as a romance novel. And, it is a book primarily interested in human relationships, especially romantic ones. I’d challenge the idea that such novels can’t be great but the word “romance” is too often and too quickly dismissed. This may be a novel about relationships, but relationships are important, most of us aren’t going to get to decide the fate of a city-state or die in pursuit of a great white whale but many of us are going to have to decide whom to marry. Austen is suspicious of overwhelming emotion, she’s sceptical of feeling too much, of getting so carried away by emotion that it prevents you from thinking clearly. This is exemplified by Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s relationship, they don’t fall in love at first sight, its actually quite the opposite. Given that Elizabeth and Darcy are end up together, this is a novel that’s suspicious of romantic love, especially romantic love based on instant physical attraction. Although it does has a wish-fulfilling ending, but it’s a sly, and ironic and clear-eyed exploration of the individual vs. the collective, happiness vs. security and how and why people form romantic relationships. It’s about love, but rather than presuming that love is only a feeling, Pride and Prejudice explores how thinking and feeling and need and responsibility intersect to form the experience that we call love. One might even say that it’s a novel about romantic love that deconstructs our ideas of romantic love. Pride and Prejudice is not in any way a novel of convention. It is a novel that challenges the ideas of family, of society, of marriage and the way in which we value happiness and love. Its breaks down and deconstructs what a reader understands a romantic novel to be, with a new surprise around every turn of the page.