One of the most prominent themes in Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice is the contrast between the two main characters, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. While Elizabeth is lively, witty and independent, Darcy is reserved, proud and aloof. In this blog post, I will explore how Darcy’s pride affects his character development, his relationship with Elizabeth and his role in the plot.
Darcy’s pride is first introduced in the opening chapters of the novel, when he attends a ball at Meryton with his friend Charles Bingley. There, he snubs Elizabeth by refusing to dance with her, saying that she is “not handsome enough to tempt me” (Chapter 3). This remark not only offends Elizabeth, but also makes him unpopular with the other guests, who consider him arrogant and rude. Darcy’s pride also prevents him from acknowledging his attraction to Elizabeth, as he thinks that she is beneath him in social status and connections. He tries to dissuade Bingley from pursuing Elizabeth’s sister Jane, whom he likes, because he thinks that their family is too vulgar and lowly.
Darcy’s pride also causes him to clash with Elizabeth several times throughout the novel, as they have different views on manners, morality and love. For example, when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth at Hunsford, he does so in a way that insults her family and her pride, saying that he loves her “against his will, against his reason, and even against his character” (Chapter 34). He also reveals that he was the one who separated Bingley and Jane, which angers Elizabeth even more. She rejects his proposal and accuses him of being “the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry” (Chapter 34).
However, Darcy’s pride also undergoes a transformation as the novel progresses. After Elizabeth rejects him, he writes her a letter explaining his actions and apologizing for his mistakes. He admits that he was wrong about Jane’s feelings for Bingley and that he acted selfishly and unjustly. He also defends himself against Elizabeth’s accusations regarding his treatment of George Wickham, a former friend who turned out to be a liar and a scoundrel. He tells her the truth about Wickham’s attempt to elope with his sister Georgiana, whom he loves dearly and protects from harm. He also shows her that he is not as haughty and cold as he appears, but rather generous and kind to those who deserve his respect and friendship.
Darcy’s pride also softens when he meets Elizabeth again at Pemberley, his estate in Derbyshire. There, he treats her with courtesy and hospitality, and introduces her to his sister and his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He also helps her family when Lydia, her youngest sister, elopes with Wickham. He pays off Wickham’s debts and arranges their marriage, thus saving the Bennets from disgrace and ruin. He does all this without expecting anything in return from Elizabeth or her family. He also confesses to Bingley that he was wrong about Jane and encourages him to propose to her.
Darcy’s pride finally gives way to humility and love when he proposes to Elizabeth for the second time at Longbourn. He tells her that she has taught him “a lesson hard indeed at first, but most advantageous” (Chapter 58). He says that he loves her “for the liveliness of your mind” (Chapter 58) and that he admires her “for the feelings you are capable of” (Chapter 58). He also respects her opinion and asks for her consent before speaking to her father. He accepts her family as they are and treats them with kindness and generosity. He also wins over Elizabeth’s friends and relatives, who come to appreciate his true worth and character.
In conclusion, Darcy’s pride is a complex and dynamic trait that shapes his personality, actions and relationships in Pride and Prejudice. It is both a flaw and a virtue, as it makes him arrogant and prejudiced at first, but also noble and honorable later on. It is also a source of conflict and growth, as it leads him to clash with Elizabeth but also to learn from her. It is ultimately overcome by love, as it makes him realize his faults and change for the better.