Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice (1813) is believed to originate from the manuscript called First Impressions that have been written between 1796 and 1797. The initial title indicates that characters’ behavior and evaluations are influenced by their first impressions. The second title stresses the importance of such psychological traits and mechanisms as pride and prejudice. In a course of the novel personages change a lot so far as they understand that perfunctory attitudes and assessments are false when being devoid of knowledge of the context and understanding of an individual’s character.
The present paper tackles upon analysis of Austen’s book as being researched through a lens of psychology. Contemporary science introduced the “social stereotypes” concept which significantly influences people’s interaction within a given social group. Among many other important contributions, the novel of interest teaches us to approach carefully decisions as related to our interpersonal acting and judgment of group members according to first impressions. The effects, dangers and consequences of premature evaluations as based on social stereotypes will be analysed with specific examples from the book.
The novel under review is believed to be an example of psychological writing or novel of human relationships. As Sherry has acknowledged, the writer is always aware of “the presence of other individuals with whom it is either a duty or a pleasure to mix” (611). The very title of the book consists of two psychological concepts. The one of “pride” denotes a trait of character associated with high self-esteem. Another one of “prejudice” refers to a situation when a person makes decisions regardless of the context and relevant features of a case or individual.
In regard to the issue of Austen’s psychologism, critic Bloom has cited Ian Watt, an important theorist of literature from Stanford University. The latter has claimed Austen to be “the commenting narrator” in the sense that her “analyses of … characters and their states of mind, and her ironical juxtaposition of motive and situation … do not seem to come from an intrusive author but rather from some august and impersonal spirit of social and psychological understanding” (39). In his turn, another literary critic, Ryan, has defined Austen’s psychologism as an “experiment in schematic psychology” (33).
The latter definition with its emphasis on the writer’s schematism in delineating people’s behavioral patterns and analyzing their internal and external drives seems to be really accurate, given the recent developments in psychological science. Just think of the plain statistics: in Austen’s text, there are 48 references to the phenomenon of “pride,” which is accessible through direct observation, but there are only 8 cases of mentioning the phenomenon of “prejudice,” which requires a deeper understanding of psychological mechanisms and social contexts.
It seems that the writer lacks instruments and concepts to analyze human behavior at a deeper level but this is not Austen’s fault. Being unaware of any of the recent theories of social sciences, she nevertheless hits the very essence of the process that would later be called “social stereotyping. ” Let us prove this hypothesis on the example of the “pride” concept. First time it is explained in Chapter 5 by Mary Bennet, the most earnest of the Bennets, who is interested in social theory.
Upon the ball at which the local society has got acquainted with Fitzwilliam Darcy, the rich and handsome gentleman from London, women start discussing the newcomer and label him as being “eat up with pride” (Austen 25). On occasion, Mary has demonstrated her education, saying: Pride is a very common failing… human nature is particularly prone to it, and … there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously.
A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us. (ibid. ) The validity of Mary’s (i. e. , Austen’s) remark has been acknowledged many decades afterwards by contemporary psychologists including Hunyady and Ryan. Whereas Mary Bennet operates the phrase “opinion of ourselves,” when referring to characteristics ascribed to the self by an individual, Ryan uses the term “self-ratings” (191), and Hunyady employs the term “self-image” (189). Both Mary (i. e. Austen) and modern scientists are aware of the complexity of perceptions as featured by the subject and members of the group. To proceed with comparison, whereas in the novel there is made a distinction between “pride” as a self-rating and “vanity” as the rating imposed by the community, Ryan speaks about the concept of “social stereotype. ” The psychologist has acknowledged that it consists of the two basic elements: “the perceived stereotypicality of a group (i. e. , the perceived extremity of the central tendency) and the perceived dispersion, or diversity, of group members” (191).
This point is not Ryan’s unique invention. On the same issue, another social scientist, Hunyady, has stressed the duality of social processes as occurring both within the specific group and outside it. Observing the complexity of relationships in dynamic social contexts, Hunyady has emphasized the following: … [T]he categories of persons and the related stereotypes do not stand on their own but rather are components of some kind of a system. … [S]tereotypes are the mosaic pieces of a picture formed of the whole society.
One not only gets to know his individual companions or groups of his companions but also tries to get a comprehensive view of the entire human world and of society, in which he and his fellows have a place and a more or less stable environment. (189) In other words, psychologists argue that in a process of exhibiting the new object to the social group, the behavior of group members in regard to this object is predicted by realistic group conflict theory and social cognition theories of social categorization. Every subject unit of the group obeys to a certain set of normative regulations.
An individual does not function on his/her own but clearly fits into this or that community. Subsequently and inevitably, a person evaluates oneself according to the degree of membership, or the extent to which his/her ratings of the self, the group and social processes conform to the summated ratings of other people belonging to that group. As Ryan has indicated, there is a “central tendency,” or the core perception of the phenomenon that is agreed upon by all group members as being guided by a set of shared norms, and there are also deviations from the mainstream.
The latter are allowed by those group subjects who are less inclined to stereotype the phenomena of life due to their intellect and character. Taking this conceptual framework into consideration, we should admit that the stages of the social stereotyping process are brilliantly revealed by Austen in Pride and Prejudice, albeit the narrator employs a simple, non-scientific language. There is a specific group in the countryside 19th century England whose members share the common regulations concerning people and events. The highest value is attributed to the upper class membership, wealth, and appearance.
There is “the aura of a small, enclosed community of talking, visiting, and company” (Sherry 611) that confines every person to the specific role and place. In this social atmosphere, first impressions, which are based on the abovementioned features of appearance and sweet manners (i. e. , those which do not deviate from the central tendency), become the long-lasting tags for an individual. It is extremely difficult to overcome the sustainability of these immediately formed stereotypes. Since the very moment of his entry to the ball room, Fitzwilliam Darcy drew the group’s attention.
He is a new person to the community, and at first sight he seems to be in accord with the shared set of norms so far as the man is high, good-looking and enjoys a substantial income of ten thousand a year. However, conforming to the stereotype of a “good man” in the sense of outlook and social position, Darcy becomes a breacher of discipline in terms of his relationships with other group members. Darcy is claimed “to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance” (Austen 14).
The reason for such a shift in attitudes is the man’s denial of the spirit of companionship that is somewhat more important to the community than the characteristics of its individual subjects, however handsome and wealthy they are. The clue to understanding the first impression of Darcy is provided in the scene where young women are discussing him after the ball. Charlotte Lucas, the best friend of the second Bennet’s daughters Elizabeth, who is the main female personage of the story, justifies Darcy by the fact that his high self-rating is understandable so far as he possesses every feature admired within the group:
His pride does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud. (Austen 25) In other words, this is not the man’s high self-esteem that hurts the senses of the locals. His drawback tackles upon not the pardonable attitude of pride but the regrettable vanity, or the overt negligence of the shared persuasion that the given social group is the best environment for any dignified individual.
Regarding the eagerness to enter the local community and borrow its toolkit of stereotypes, Darcy represents a sharp contrast to an amiable young officer, Mr. Wickham. The latter is as handsome as the former but is more eagerly accepted by the group so far as he gladly steps into social intercourses with every member of the circle. As the personage himself has confessed, “I have been a disappointed man, and my spirits will not bear solitude. I must have employment and society” (Austen 98).
This weakness and lack of the so to say inner rod is initially perceived as a virtue by group members. Austen’s mastery is made evident in the scenes documenting the usual intercourse between group members so that the reader can get impression of the relationships permeating the group atmosphere and learn the principles which back up the social stereotypes of that time. To make a clue to her heroes’ characters, the writer provides short explanations of the people’s psychological background.
People and events are evaluated by many people who exchange remarks on the issue of interest, although Austen takes a particular interest in the phenomena as perceived through the eyes of Elizabeth Bennet. This is a beautiful and intelligent young lady of 20 years old who displays “a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous” (Austen 16). She deserves the reader’s appreciation, demonstrating “more quickness of observation and less pliancy of temper than her sister, and … a judgement too unassailed by any attention to herself” (Austen 20).
Due to her intellect and sociable yet a bit absent-minded character, Elizabeth exhibits the perfect ability to deviate from the central tendency in her assessments and evaluations of life matters. The second of Bennet’s daughters is obviously the only group member who could have appreciated Darcy’s ability to let the world slide, if not for the case of personal injustice. She cannot forget the pain that has been caused to her own self-esteem. The thing is that Elizabeth has heard the handsome newcomer admitting that she is not enough beautiful to dance with.
The remark is enough for the young lady to start detesting the offender to her pride. As Elizabeth herself has stated, “I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine” (Austen 25). The first impression of Darcy’s rudeness at the ball is driven by the clash of self-esteems, and negative perceptions color the young lady’s further conceptualization of the hero up to the very moment when he reveals his love toward her in Chapter 34. The futility of first impressions is demonstrated through the description of Elizabeth’s relationships with Darcy and Wickham as well as her understanding of Bingley’s character.
As it has been stated earlier, all three men fit the shared group’s concept of “an appropriate gentleman” in terms of their looks and wealth, albeit Wickham is not as rich as the other two men and pretends to be a man who is unjustly insulted. He pretends to be modest and good-hearted when he says, “I have no right to give my opinion” or “I am not qualified to form one” (Austen 96) in regard to Darcy’s background, and immediately afterwards he does his best to ruin Fitzwilliam’s reputation.
All Wickham’s envy of Darcy is demonstrated in the following characterization: “The world is blinded by his fortune and consequence, or frightened by his high and imposing manners, and sees him only as he chooses to be seen” (Austen 97). The remark provides the reader with a hint concerning Darcy’s manner of functioning within the upper class social circle. Among this threesome with Bingley being superficial and Wickham being villainous, Darcy is the only person to be criticized for the lack of that “agreeable manner” that Wickham demonstrates speaking even about insignificant matters.
The intelligent and kind-hearted Lizzy cannot but “feel that the commonest, dullest, most threadbare topic might be rendered interesting by the skill of the speaker” (Austen 94) when she socialized with Wickham, whereas Darcy’s brisk and unwilling manner of speaking makes the young lady feel uncomfortable. This is true that being compared to his friend Bingley or his rivalry Wickham, Darcy is not the object to readily fall in love and admiration with. He dances only with the two selected ladies and neglects the rest.
This manner is regarded an offense to the aura of amiability, and he abstains from the social chit-chat. Besides this gentleman directly expresses his opinions of other people instead of camouflaging them under the veil of behind-the-back gossip. This personage makes it too clear that the local society is “a collection of people in whom there was little beauty and no fashion, for none of whom he had felt the smallest interest, and from none received either attention or pleasure” (Austen 22).
He reveals indignation, boredom, or sarcasm in the situations when other men pretend to be pleased and amused. Judging from first impressions, Charles Bingley is more favored by the locals since he treats them as the nicest people he has ever met. In his turn, Wickham’s reputation is based on the assumption that Darcy has devoid him of wealth, which puts the two men in the positions of a victim and an offender.
This is only throughout a course of the plot development that the narrator makes clear that Bingley’s sociality is explained by superficiality, and Wickham is a cheater who has attempted to seduce Darcy’s younger sister. Utilizing the theories of social categorization, one may say that Wickham has been admitted to the local group more easily than Darcy because the former has readily belittled his self-rating in public conversations and demonstrated the greater extent of willingness to share the pre-established social regulations of the given group.
Being compared to the sweet Mr. Bingley’s behavior, Darcy’s behavioral pattern is rooted in the wider cognitive scope and finer spiritual development. The latter is strong enough to disregard the central tendency as it exists in the given group. Being cleverer than his friend Mr. Bingley, who has managed to become the crowd puller, Darcy falls into the sin that is not pride per se but rather vanity. The local society would gladly accept him as the most important person if he had been willing to put himself on one leg so to say with other group members.
It is only in Chapter 10 when the narrator lets readers learn more about Darcy’s understanding of pride and related concepts. In public opinion, his high self-esteem is a manifestation of haughtiness, whereas Wickham’s seemingly low self-rating is a sign of appropriateness as shown through humility. In his turn, Darcy detests “the appearance of humility” that is genuinely the “carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast” (Austen 60).
Contemporary psychologists would call Darcy’s conceptualizations of “pride,” “humility,” and “boast” as being driven by functional utility of human behavior. According to this hero, this is inappropriate to put down one’s self-esteem just for the sake of being praised by other group members. Throughout the novel this personage remains the vivid example of a person who shares certain believes common to the central tendency of stereotypicality but reveals energy to display also diversity in his ratings of the self and other people.
The complexity and dynamism of social stereotypes is shown through Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s attitudes to each other. Whereas Lizzy’s stereotypes in regard to the man remain sort of frozen for a while under the man’s “satirical eye” (Austen 30), Darcy is being engaged into the fast proceeding process, in a course of which he changes the initial perception of the young lady. The narrator specifies Darcy’s turn toward re-evaluating Lizzy Bennet as follows:
But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.
Austen 29) In other words, Darcy’s first rejection of the second daughter of Bennets has been caused by the incongruity between Elizabeth’s outlook and his own classical perception of beauty as a reckless symmetry of forms and elements. It is clear that the gentleman has initially been blinded by both his personal and group set of stereotypes that required women to conform to certain standards. Elizabeth does not seem to be classically beautiful, and her gaiety during the first meeting has poked the man away as a manifestation of social inappropriateness.