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The Concept of Physical Absence in Pride and Prejudice

By midge Apr 11, 2010 2514 Words
“The Concept of Physical Absence in Pride and Prejudice”

Christine “Midge” Dugan
December 1, 2009
Prof. Sarah Singer
English Comp II
Research Paper
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 in Steventon, England. Her father, George Austen, was a clergyman of lower gentry. Austen's mother, “Cassandra Leigh, descended from a distinguished line” (Swisher 13) and was upper gentry. Austen was one of eight children, two being daughters and five being sons. When Austen was only 6, she was sent to Mrs. Cawley's school in Oxford because she couldn't stand to be away from her sister. After Mrs. Cawley's school, they were both sent to the Abbey School in Reading “until age eleven when she returned home to be taught by her father.” (Swisher 16) Austen was involved in the family social life and would help the family and neighbors put on plays by writing prologues and helping with production. She would often attend formal balls held in the Basingstoke town hall. Throughout Austen's life she had only a few romances One was with a cousin from Ireland who was sent back after the family disapproved of him. Another was with a man she had met while on vacation who had died in an accident. She was engaged to Harris Bigg-Withers for one night, but “during the night, she realized she could not marry a man she did not love[...] and in the morning, she broke the engagement.” (Swisher 25) She was again proposed to years later by a brother-in-law, but turned him down. After her father died, Austen, her mother, her sister, and a friend moved in together. In 1809 her brother Edward gave them a home in Chawton to live in. Throughout those following years Austen spent her days writing and playing her baby grand piano until she fell ill to a type of tuberculosis called Addison's disease. On July 18, 1817, Jane passed away from the illness with her head in her sister's lap. By the age of ten or eleven, Austen had begun writing. The Juvenalia is what critics have termed her works written between 1787 an 1795. In 1797, Austen completed a novel titled First Impressions which was followed in November by Sense and Sensibility. That same month, she had her father send her manuscript to a London Publisher called Cadell, but the publisher rejected it. “She finished the new version of Sense and Sensibility in the early 1798 and immediately began another novel, which she finished within a year.” (Swisher 21) This third novel, Susan, she sold to the publisher Crosby for ten pounds, but he never published it. After moving to Bath, Austen recast the bleak story Lady Susan, and began an “ironic study of a woman's place in society,”(Swisher 25) The Watson's which she later abandoned.in 1810, Austen revised Sense and Sensibility and the newly retitled First Impressions, Pride and Prejudice. She sent the manuscript for Sense and Sensibility to the publisher Whitehall who agreed to publish it as long as she would cover all loses. The book was a success and gave Austen one hundred and forty pounds. Egerton published Pride and Prejudice giving Austen one hundred and ten pounds. Austen finished Mansfield Park in December and Egerton published it in May of 1814. By her third publication her name was unknown to the public as the author until her brother leaked that it was her. Austen next published Emma on December 16, 1815, and was later followed by Persuasion. Austen then bought back her manuscript, Susan, revised it, then retitled it Northanger Abbey. These manuscripts were published posthumously. Jane Austen has written many novels about love and has done so skillfully. She has used the idea of absence throughout many of her novels, from Sense and Sensibility where there is the almost complete absence of dialogue, to the use of the concept of physical absence in Pride and Prejudice. Paradoxically, when the characters in Pride and Prejudice are close together, their reactions are volatile, self-destructive, and at times, destructive of the very relationships themselves. Ironically, throughout Pride and Prejudice, absence is used to bring people together. Through literal absence from one another, an absence of availability to another, or even an absence of wealth and property, the characters in Pride and Prejudice find their suitable matches, love, and marriage. The first, and main, concept of physical absence used, is literal absence and the best examples of this would be Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, and Lydia and Wickham, but it is used in a multitude of ways. Elizabeth and Darcy are the main love plot of the story, yet it is the most ironic. They “initially misperceive and dislike each other...” (Greenfield They are rude and passively aggressive to one another. The first time they meet Darcy says “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” (Austen 8) Here Austen sets up for the characters to misunderstand and dislike the other. Elizabeth vows to never forgive Darcy and hate him for the rest of her life, yet in the physical absence from between the ball to the arrival of Elizabeth at Netherfield, Darcy quickly changes his attitudes about her. “A few pages after Elizabeth hear him declare her “not handsome enough to tempt me,” Darcy discovers that her “uncommonly intellgent” eyes, her “light and pleasing” figure and her “easy playfulness” are indeed tempting”. (Greenfield) This is when Darcy first started falling for Elizabeth. Elizabeth first starts falling for Darcy after she rejects his first proposal and he disappears. In his presence, she would constantly think of what Wickham told her of his past, and this would cause her to be rude to him. But while he is gone, Elizabeth is “left with only signs – first of Darcy's letter, then [the visit to] his Pemberley Estate, and finally her aunt's […] account of his help with Lydia.” (Greenfield) She realizes in his absence, that Darcy is a caring man, not the rude, pompous man she thought he was. “The whole of their acquaintance, as she can now review it, has been full of contradictions and varieties.” (Tave 36) Finally, after the two randomly see each other in their daily life, and realize that they have been misunderstanding each other all along while in the company of one another, Elizabeth accepts a second proposal from Darcy. Jane and Bingley are another example of the way physical absence brings characters together in this book. They are the love subplot in this story. They loosely follow Elizabeth and Darcy's plot, but in the end, their separation brings them together. Austen depicts these two characters as very passive. Jane does not show emotion even to her closest sister, Elizabeth, so it is hard for her to show her emotions for Bingley. “Bingley's [amiability] is is a soft amiability that makes him […] which makes him susceptible to interference by others with his own happiness and therefore the with the feelings of the woman he loves.” (Tave 28) Darcy convinces Bingley that Jane does not love him and is only wanting to court him for his money and property. Bingley leaves and Jane is devastated by the news, showing Elizabeth just how much she really does care for Bingley. Later on Elizabeth tells Darcy just how strongly Jane really felt for Darcy. This absence between the two showed Jane how to show her emotions and gave Bingley the push he needed to propose to her. While Jane and Bingly, and Elizabeth and Darcy had a physical absence from one another, Lydia and Wickham had a physical absence from everyone else. Lydia was a uniform chaser and loved the officers in Meryton. She fell for Wickham on one of her many walks there, and while visiting friends, ran away to live with him. To Lydia and the family “the elopement is 'humiliation' and misery.” (Tave 77) if it was not fixed. Their absence from everyone else, while not married, lead them to being forced into marriage, getting Wickham the money that he was looking for the whole time. Another interesting concept of absence that Austen uses in her book to bring two people together is their absence of wealth and property. The very first line of the book reads, “It is a universally acknowledged truth that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Austen 1) Dorothy Van Ghent wrote, “the sentence ironically turns itself inside out, thus: a single woman must be in want of a man with a good fortune.” (25) What she is basically saying here is that a single woman, who has the physical absence of money and property, must find a husband at whatever cost. Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins, and Mrs. Bennet show this quality very well. The Bennet's entail is dependent on a male heir, which means after Mr. Bennet dies, the Bennet women will have nothing unless they are married. Mrs. Bennet is well aware of the absence of future money and property secured for the girls, so she becomes fanatical about finding her daughters rich, handsome husbands. She makes it the “business of her life to get her daughters married.” (Austen 1) Jane was most likely given the push to be pursue interest in Bingley through Mrs. Bennet's rants about how he was rich and needed a wife. However, sometimes Mrs. Bennet did nothing but hamper her own efforts with her and her family's behavior. Sometimes it appeared as if “the family made an agreement to expose themselves as much as possible.” (&&&&&& 74) “It is a universally acknowledged truth that a single man in possession of a god fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Austen 1) “For Charlotte it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman without a good fortune must acquire a husband, come what may!” (Gill & Gregory 133) Charlotte and Mr. Collins come together through the physical absence of wealth and property, but also because of the absence of status. Charlotte claims throughout the book that she is not romantic and that the only thing she is looking for is a comfortable home and that love means nothing and can be formed after marriage. “What ought Charlotte do rather than marry Mr. Collins? She is without much money, she is not handsome, she is no longer young, and to be an old maid without money or position will be an unfortunate life.” (Tave 32) Affection is only important to Charlotte if the appearance of it is useful in getting a husband. She is, in affect, marrying “for security, a man she does not love and to court, for advancement.” (Nardin 11) Ironically, “Charlotte proves the ideal wife for him […] they agree on their central mission: social climbing and material advancement.” (Gill & Gregory 153) In essence, their greed and the absence of what they wanted brought them together. Absence of availability is another subtle concept of physical absence Austen fits into this story. Mr. Collins only arrives at Longbourn on his “unprejudiced wife-hunting” (@@@@@ 138) because he is ordered to by Lady Catherine, not because he is looking for love, but because she ordered him to find a wife. Mr. Collins, at first discussion of the matter with Mrs. Bennet, is originally interested in Jane, but since she is not available, he turns his eye towards the next “available” daughter, Elizabeth. With the rejection from Elizabeth he moves on to the only other single lady that gave him some attention, Charlotte, which brought about his proposal to her. The concept of physical absence is one of the main themes and writing techniques that Austen uses to bring her characters together. Elizabeth and Darcy at first hated each other, but throught their physical absence from one another, they realized that their preconceptions and thoughts on one another were incorrect, and ended up together. Through their physical absence from one another, Jane learned to show emotion, and Bingley was given the push he needed in order to propose to Jane. The physical absence from everyone else brought Wickham and Lydia to marry one another. The concept of physical absence of availability, and the absence of wealth and property were the main factors that brought Mr. Collins and Charlotte together. Mr. Collins only wanted a wife, it did not matter who it was, as long as he went back to Lady Catherine with a wife. Charlotte only wanted to secure a future with a comfortable home and money of some sort. In the end, they make each other happy by giving the other what they materially wanted. “Jane Austen the dramatist, who thrives on conflict,” (Ruoff 51) has also mastered the concept of physical absence in her books. She wrote from what she knew. Having never been married, and having no money left to her from her father, she knew what the concept of physical absence was and wove it into her works. Just from “It is a universally acknowledged truth that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” (Austen 1) to the deeper interpretation, “a single woman must be in want of a man with a good fortune.” (Van Ghent 25) the reader can tell that the book will have a theme of absence.

Bibliographic Information
Austen, Jane. “Pride and Prejudice.” New York: Bantam Dell, 1981. Brower, Reuben Arthur. “Irony Reveals Character and Advances the Drama.” Readings on Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1999. 145-152 Greenfield, Susan C. “The Absent-Minded Heroine: or, Elizabeth Bennet Has a Thought.” Eighteenth – Century Studies. Spring 2006. Pg. 337-353. Literature Online Reference Edition. ProQuest LLC. http://lionreference.chadwyck.com.libdb.dccc.edu/searchFulltext.doid=R03822454&

divLevel=0&queryId=../session/1259816163_21726&trailId=124B8665063&area=abell
&forward=critref_ft
Mudrick, Marvin. “Irony as a Tool for Judging People.” Readings on Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press Inc., 1999. 137-143. Nardin, Jane. “Propriety as a Test of Character: Pride and Prejudice.” Modern Critical Interpretations Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York:Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. Pg. 7-19. Ruoff, Gene W. “The Dramatic Dilemma.”Modern Critical Interpretations Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. Pg. 49-52. Swisher, Clarice. “Jane Austen: A Biography.” Readings on Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press Inc., 1999. 12-31. Tave, Stuart M. “Affection and the Amiable Man.” Modern Critical Interpretations Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. Pg. 21-38. Tave, Stuart M. “Elizabeth's and Darcy's Mutual Mortification and Renewal.” Readings on Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press Inc., 1999. 69-78. Van Ghent, Dorothy. “On Pride and Prejudice.” Twentieth Century Interpretations of Pride and Prejudice. Ed. E. Rubenstein. New Jersery: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1969.19-30

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