Austen's Use of Environment in Pride and Prejudice

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Jane Austen's use of Environment in Pride and Prejudice
In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen places characters in environments that reveal important details about the characters. It would have been easy to communicate Elizabeth's prejudice or Darcy's pride using the voice of a narrator, but Austen chooses a more subtle and interesting method of enlightening her readers. Whether using physical surroundings or social contexts, Austen repeatedly coordinates both time and place together to create situations in which her characters can conveniently show off the assets and/or flaws of their personalities. Once placed in Austen's well-chosen environments, her characters go into action. This action is more convincing than a narrator telling us in a few sentences that Darcy is proud and Elizabeth unfairly judges others. One important social context is the Meryton ball. Then, a key scene that exemplifies Austen's use of physical surroundings is when Lizzy travels by foot to Netherfield. Later, we see Austen using the Bennets' home to reveal things about characters. Austen also uses the Bennet's home to enlighten the reader about Mr. Bennet. Then when Lizzy visits Pemberly, Austen combines social context with physical surroundings to reveal things about Lizzy and Darcy. One obvious issue Austen addresses is self-importance, arrogance, conceit, or simply, pride. Within the first few pages we see Darcy in a social context where he easily convinces Lizzy that he is "the proudest most disagreeable man in the world" (Austen 8). Austen places Lizzy and Darcy at the Meryton ball for their first meeting place for several reasons. One reason is so that Darcy can establish a faulty reputation with Lizzy's friends and family—mainly, Mrs. Bennet. What more suitable an event than a ball? When Bingley suggests that Darcy ask Lizzy to dance, Darcy replies, "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me" (9). In this refusal, Darcy shows his arrogance not only by refusing Elizabeth, but by doing it indirectly. He is too proud even to look at and speak to Lizzy. Instead, he speaks seemingly to Bingley, but loud enough that Lizzy can hear. In this crowded environment, Lizzy is not the only one to hear Darcy's rejection of Lizzy. Mrs. Bennet hears it too, and she is the one family member who is sure to spread news (especially news involving the romantic lives of her daughters). Although much of what Mrs. Bennet says is to be taken lightly, her presence does serve an important purpose in many scenes. For example, Austen places Mrs. Bennet at the ball perhaps to exaggerate and emphasize the underlying feelings of resentment that Lizzy holds for Darcy. Elizabeth tries to downplay this resentment by recounting the story to her friends with a playful attitude (9), but Mrs. Bennet fuels our resentment for Darcy by later labeling him "so high and conceited that there was no enduring him" (10). Being at the ball also allows Jane to observe Lizzy and Darcy. Jane, unlike Mrs. Bennet, gives Darcy the benefit of the doubt during a conversation about him a few days later. During this conversation, the Bennet women and the Lucas women are reflecting on different things that happened at the ball. Attempting to prove that Darcy is proud and rude, Mrs. Bennet says that he sat beside a lady for half an hour without once trying to make conversation with her. Jane, in Darcy's defense, says that she herself saw the two of them talking, and that Miss Bingley had told her that Darcy is "remarkably agreeable" among his most intimate acquaintances (13). Charlotte and Mary too, have opinions to offer to Lizzy on Darcy. Charlotte argues that with such a family and with such wealth, Darcy has "a right to be proud" (14). Mary contributes to the conversation by defining pride and in a round about way, defends Darcy. She says that pride is common to all human beings because "human nature is particularly prone to it" (14). Had Austen not...
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