Weak Links in the Plot of Pride and Prejudice

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      Even though Pride and Prejudice praised for its simple and convincing plot, its detractors have been quick enough to point out certain weaknesses in the mechanism and some improbabilities. Most of these objections can be refuted without any great difficulty but some difficulties are insurmountable.

      (1) Mrs. Reynolds tells Elizabeth that Darcy “was always the sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted boy in the world”, “the best land-lord and the best master”. This was ‘most opposite to her (Elizabeth’s) ideas’ and surely it is opposite to ours as well. Because, in the Netherfield ball, even though ‘he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening,’ ‘his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity’; for ‘he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased.’ At the end of the novel, again, Elizabeth tells her father that ‘he has no improper pride’. ‘He is perfectly amiable’. Darcy’s manners at Netherfield appear to be altogether irreconcilable with the description of the ‘amiable’ manners he is described to have. — For one thing, it can be said that the novel shows his development in that his pride loses all its ungovernable and repellent angularities. Again, Darcy, like his sister Georgiana, is shy of company, and it is this shyness and the consequent reserve that is interpreted as pride. In their meeting at Rosings, he explains to her that he has not the talent which some people possess, of conversing easily with those ‘I have never seen before...I am ill-qualified to recommend myself to strangers’

      (2) Some critics have said that Mrs. Bennet appears to be too silly a woman for a mother of five grown-up daughters. This objection is not very strong, because we find from our experiences in life that she is not alone: others of her type are not rare to find.

      (3) It has been stated that we hear quite a lot about Wickham’s charms, but they are not much exhibited in the novel. The fact is that, that Wickham is a foil to Darcy, just as Charlotte is a foil to Elizabeth. Wickham and Charlotte have a great deal of cleverness of the two main characters, but their qualities have been a great deal undermined because of their craving for worldly success, Wickham’s main purpose in the novel is to bring to light Elizabeth’s wilfulness and blindness, Lydia’s silly flirtishness and finally, Darcy’s generosity. Only so much of his character is brought out strongly as would fulfil this role.

      (4) Mary and Catherine are not quite necessary characters in the novel. — They do nothing important in the development of the plot; but they are necessary parts in the social circle Jane Austen has depicted. The parallelism and contrast between any two of the sisters will make this clear. Jane and Elizabeth offer an interesting pair: they are both intelligent, good-natured, sweet-tempered — but whereas in Jane, a natural good feeling always triumphs over judgment, Elizabeth has the quickness to evaluate a person’s qualities. Mary is a moralising pedant, and bookish morality has too much sway over her youthful exuberance, whereas Lydia’s youthful exuberance has entirely eclipsed her maidenly reserve. Kitty is a selfish girl, another specimen of Lydia’s type, but fretful. They are given no more importance in the novel than they deserve.

      (5) Lydia’s elopement with Wickham is an unnecessary digression. — This it certainly is not. From the beginning Lydia is known to us as a flirt, and the picture that she paints before her mind of ‘herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once’ shows what she is. It is her elopement and the consequent efforts that Darcy puts in, to bring about a marriage between her and Wickham that removes practically all the distance between Elizabeth and Darcy, and such a catastrophe was absolutely necessary for the proper development of the plot.

      (6) That Elizabeth should go to stay with Charlotte appears improbable. — It is true that Charlotte was the wife of the man who had pompously proposed to her and was bluntly rejected, but Charlotte was her old friend, and as Jane Austen tells us, ‘Absence had increased her desire of seeing Charlotte again and weakened her disgust of Mr. Collins.’ All her uncertainty and doubt about the propriety of the visit was, in fact, removed when she met, Charlotte: “Mrs. Collins welcomed her friend with the liveliest pleasure and Elizabeth was more and more satisfied with coming, when she found herself so affectionately received.”

      (7) Elizabeth’s meeting with Darcy at Hunsford has been described a strange accident. — There is nothing impossible in this: he was Lady Catherine’s nephew, and Col. Fitzwilliam and he visited Rosings often. It was natural that they should meet there again and again: and his proposal to her was perhaps hastened by Col. Fitzwilliam’s attentions to her. (Mrs. Collins’ pretty friend had....caught his fancy very much.)

      (8) Darcy’s letter to her was inconsistent with his high position. — He was in love with her; and if this proposal was not inconsistent, nor was the letter. He was hurt by the two charges she had laid at his door, and wanted to exonerate himself.

      (9) Their meeting at Pemberley was improbable. — He was to arrive at Pemberley the next day, anyway; and what improbability can possibly exist in the host, suddenly deciding to go to his estate in order to properly welcome his friends who were to arrive a little later? This is not only a dramatic necessity, it is quite a logical possibility.

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