The Title of the Novel Pride and Prejudice

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      The whole of this unfortunate business has been the result of Pride and Prejudice: these words from Fanny Burney’s Cecilia’ might have easily been as has been claimed the source of the title. Jane Austen had first named the novel ‘First Impressions’ — which was also a suggestive title, the implication being that first impressions are not usually lasting: but that they die hard: even if they are wrong, they last long. It was not at all an inappropriate title, but it is no way a ‘better title’ as Cornish says.

      The new title Pride and Prejudice represents two characters — Darcy represents family pride; Elizabeth is possessed by the prejudice that he is all pride, and this prejudice is also held by a number of other characters. The story is a story of the misunderstandings, involvements, catastrophes arising out of these two human failings — and of the sweet results of their softening or removal. It is because of his family pride that Darcy interferes with Jane and Bingley’s love-affair: through his pride, he is led to believe that his is the only right evaluation. His pride keeps him aloof, apart from society, full of self-love. But he finds himself more and more fascinated by Elizabeth. Their relation begins with antipathy and aversion. They misunderstand each other’s words, and during parties and discussions, they misinterpret each other’s behaviour. Beset by family pride, Darcy assumes a tone of offending superiority, blinded by her prejudice against him Elizabeth scorns him. It is her intelligence and beauty that involves him in a relationship of love in spite of himself, but it is a long time before it can wash away the pride in him.

      Pride and Prejudice are the corresponding faults of two respectable qualities — self-respect and intelligence. Their conflict is bound to have harmful results: Darcy’s pride offends Elizabeth’s pride, and feeling wounded by his pride in (i) dismissing her as ‘tolerable,’ (ii) ruining Wickham’s prospects, and (iii) interfering with Jane’s happiness, she finds her prejudice so far intensified as bluntly to reject him when he proposes to her in a tactless way. He does not expect a rebuff — once again because of his pride — but when he receives the shock, his love for her is too strong for him to allow her charges to remain unrefuted, and he writes the explanatory letter.

      From that moment onwards, there is a speedy movement in Darcy’s mind from pride to genuine awareness of values, and in Elizabeth’s mind from her own prejudicial judgement to a greater understanding of his real merits. Her refusal makes Darcy turn the searchlight inwards, and Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberley is important in that her prejudice is weakened by his letter and his efforts to ‘show to her, by every civility in his power, that he is not so mean as to resent the past.’ The result is that in all events that follow, Elizabeth and Darcy discover themselves and each other in their loss of pride and prejudice. This important metamorphosis in the hero and the heroine of the novel justifies the new title that Jane Austen gave it.

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