PERSUASIONS ON-LINE V.22, NO.1 (Winter 2001)

Jane Austen meets Carl Jung: Pride, Prejudice, and Personality Theory

Jenny Rebecca Rytting


Jenny Rebecca Rytting (email: studied Jane Austen for her Honors B.A. at Brigham Young University and children’s fantasy for her M.A. at Acadia University (Wolfville, Nova Scotia).  She is now working on a Ph.D. in medieval literature at Arizona State University.


Although Jane Austen and the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung have little in common in terms of time, place, or subject matter, they do share one thing:  they are both, like Elizabeth Bennet, “‘studier[s] of character’” (Pride and Prejudice 42).  Jung’s theory of psychological type (which has been expanded and explained by Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers, authors of the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) can provide insight into why fictional characters think, feel, and act as they do.  Jungian personality theory is particularly useful in explaining why Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy initially misunderstand one another, what they have to learn from one another, and why they are, after all, a perfect match.


Jung’s theory suggests that there are different but equally valid ways of interacting with the world, taking in information, and making decisions.  Extraversion, an outward focus of energy, and introversion, an inward focus, are two ways of interacting with the world. Sensing, which concerns itself with facts and details, and intuition, which notices patterns and possibilities, are two ways of gathering information.  The two methods of decision-making are thinking, which uses criteria based on logic, and feeling, which uses criteria based on personal values.  Finally, perceiving and judging are two ways of dealing with the interplay between taking in information and making decisions.  Perceiving involves putting off decision-making in order to gather more information; judging involves suspending information-gathering in order to come to a conclusion.  Every person uses all eight of these processes on a regular basis, but most people seem to prefer—that is, to be more comfortable with—one or the other of the processes in each pair, much as some people are right-handed and others left-handed.  The combination of these preferences makes up what we call one’s psychological type.1


Although a large part of Pride and Prejudice revolves around the differences between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, in terms of psychological type they are really quite similar.  They share three out of four preferences—introversion, intuition, and judgment—differing only on the thinking-feeling dimension.


Mr. Darcy’s introversion is quite clear.  After the Meryton ball, where his reserve is evident, Jane reports, “‘Miss Bingley told me . . . that he never speaks much unless among his intimate acquaintance. With them he is remarkably agreeable’” (19).  Introverts tend to communicate best—and with most pleasure—with a small circle of close friends.2  Elizabeth’s introversion is not as obvious because she enjoys and feels comfortable in society, but a closer look finds her frequently in moments of internal reflection.  She often escapes to a copse or lane to think things over, as when she reads the letters from Mr. Darcy and Mrs. Gardiner.  In addition, her “love for solitary walks” (182), her friendly banter that often hides her true feelings, and her intimate conversations with Jane, to whom alone she reveals her deepest feelings, all bespeak a preference for introversion.


Elizabeth and Darcy also demonstrate a preference for intuition.  Elizabeth’s character-studying itself is an intuitive activity, for it involves fitting bits of conversation and behavior into a general pattern.  Intuitive types also tend to enjoy hypothetical discussions, such as the consideration of whether it is better to follow a friend’s advice or to be guided by one’s own convictions that engages Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy during their stay at Netherfield.  Mr. Bingley, a sensing type, quickly becomes impatient with the discussion and interrupts it.


In addition, Elizabeth and Darcy both prefer judging to perception.  They soon know what they think of a given situation and, having thus determined, are not easily convinced otherwise.  When Darcy determines to observe and interfere in Jane and Bingley’s relationship, he spends just one evening watching for signs of Jane’s affection before arriving at his verdict.  Similarly, while at Netherfield Elizabeth finds “what passed between Darcy and his companion [Miss Bingley]” to be “exactly in unison with her opinion of each” (47).  That her observations accord with her ideas presupposes that she has made a judgment.  Although both she and Mr. Darcy use their judging functions regularly, their preferred methods of judging differ.


The best demonstration of Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s contrasting styles of judgment comes with their analysis of Mr. Bingley’s hypothetical behavior, should he decide to quit Netherfield but be asked by a friend to postpone his departure.  Elizabeth asks Mr. Darcy whether he would consider “‘obstinacy in adhering to [his plan]’” a virtue (49), and the following conversation ensues:


“[Y]ou must remember, Miss Bennet, that the friend who is supposed to desire his return to the house, and the delay of the plan, has merely desired it, asked it without offering one argument in favour of its propriety.”

“To yield readily—easily—to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you.”

“To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either.”

“You appear to me, Mr. Darcy, to allow nothing for the influence of friendship and affection.  A regard for the requester would often make one readily yield to a request, without waiting for arguments to reason one into it.”  (50)


This is a classic dialogue between a thinking type and a feeling type, each defending his or her method of judging.  It does not mean that Elizabeth always acts according to the wishes of her friends, without conviction, or that Darcy always acts according to his convictions, without regard to his friends, but it is clear that they each have one way of making decisions—Elizabeth through feeling and Darcy through thinking—that they prefer, defend, and best understand.3


An actual incident where their differences in judgment come into play concerns their reactions towards the relationship between Mr. Bingley and Jane, and in particular, Mr. Darcy’s role in separating them.  Elizabeth judges what he has done according to Jane’s feelings, and rebukes him for “‘ruining, perhaps forever, the happiness of a most beloved sister’” (190).  Darcy is unmoved, still convinced of the better value of the logic that has guided his decisions.  In his letter to Elizabeth he further explains that he truly believed Jane to be indifferent “‘on impartial conviction’” (198)—a hallmark of a thinking type.


The methods of judgment, feeling and thinking, not only reflect the personalities of Elizabeth and Darcy, but they also showcase one of the main themes of the book, as capsulated in its title.  Excessive reliance on logical analysis, especially one’s own analysis, can be considered a form of pride.  Likewise, decisions based on the gut reactions of feeling, especially when stubbornly adhered to, bear a marked resemblance to prejudice.  (Actually, Mr. Darcy’s “pride” and Elizabeth’s “prejudice” are very much akin to one another, and Isabel Myers’s definition of prejudice, “a pre-judgment impervious to perception” [70], could apply equally well to thinking types and feeling types.)


Elizabeth’s over-reliance on her feeling-judgment, her prejudice, leads her to evaluate Darcy before she really knows him.  She dislikes him initially because she has overheard him criticize her.  Having judged him, she stops using her perceptive function to learn more about him.  When, at the Netherfield ball, Mr. Darcy asks Elizabeth to suspend her judgment of him, she replies, “‘if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity’” (94).  She also rejects the information Jane has gathered—Mr. Bingley’s defense of his friend—and says, “‘[Y]ou must excuse my not being convinced by assurances only. . . . I shall venture still to think . . . as I did before’” (96).  After reading Darcy’s letter, however, Elizabeth finally opens herself up to her intuitive perceptions.  She remembers that he is “esteemed and valued” by his friends, that he speaks affectionately of his sister, and that she had never “seen any thing that spoke him to be unprincipled or unjust” (207) and cannot think of Darcy “without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd” (208).  “Blind” is precisely the word Isabel Myers uses to describe “judgment with no perception” (182).


Similarly, Darcy’s logical thinking-function originally argues against his love for Elizabeth.  When he proposes the first time, he forthrightly details “his sense of her inferiority—of its being a degradation—of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination” (189).  At this point, he is not really ready to love Elizabeth, for he does not consider her to be his equal.  Before this relationship can work, his judgment, as well as his perception, must agree that Elizabeth is his choice—because of her worthiness, not despite her lack of it.  That his thinking-judgment does change is evident in his eventual acknowledgement that Elizabeth has taught him “‘a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous’” (369).  In the course of this lesson, he has learned the true value of Elizabeth and the inconsequence of the other concerns that previously caused him such struggles.  To marry Elizabeth is now both the intuitive and the logical wish of his heart.


Although psychologically speaking Mr. Darcy is not ready to marry Elizabeth when he first proposes, her refusal and his subsequent letter mark the turning point in the novel because these events open the way for their further type development and show each a glimpse of the other’s point of view.  As the novel progresses, Darcy and Elizabeth begin to find a balance between their perceptive and judging functions.  In addition, they learn from each other about “the other way” to judge and come to appreciate the other’s strengths in type.  Elizabeth, when reading Mr. Darcy’s letter, is especially distressed by his accusation of Wickham, “the more so, as she could bring no proof of its injustice” (205).  Looking for proof implies logical thinking, and justice is something that thinking-types generally value highly.  As Elizabeth comes to love Mr. Darcy, she gains a “respect created by the conviction of his valuable qualities” (265), qualities that undoubtedly include the “strength, presence of mind in crisis, steadiness” (Myers 131) that Isabel Myers attributes to thinkers.  These qualities are especially evident in Darcy’s involvement with Lydia and Wickham, for which Elizabeth is particularly grateful.


Elizabeth’s feeling-oriented assessment of Darcy’s behavior and manners (clearly delineated in her refusal of his first proposal) at the same time leads him to re-evaluate himself, using more of her judging process.  Once he and Elizabeth understand one another, he says, “‘you showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased’” (369).  He has learned that looking at something by how it affects and pleases or displeases others can be a valuable indication of its worth.  He also comes to appreciate Elizabeth for her feeling judgment.  When she asks him to account for his love of her, he cites her “‘affectionate behaviour to Jane, while she was ill’” (380) as evidence of her goodness.  Elizabeth’s decision to walk the three miles to Netherfield in the mud in order to


Elizabeth recognizes how much she and Darcy have yet to learn from each other:  “by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved, and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance” (312).  They will not suddenly change places on the personality chart, however.  As Richard McKeon says in his article “Pride and Prejudice: Thought, Character, Argument, and Plot,” “Elizabeth underwent a change of feeling as she freed herself of prejudices.  Darcy underwent a change in his view of the spirit in which the letter was written” (515, italics mine).  Feeling is still natural to Elizabeth, and thinking to Mr. Darcy, but each has come to appreciate the other’s way of judging as valid and valuable and has learned that a balance of perception and judgment guards against falling into either pride or prejudice.  Elizabeth and Darcy, having “‘settled between [them] already, that [they] are to be the happiest couple in the world’” (373), are well on their way.





1. The eight preferences are often abbreviated with the following letters: introversion (I), extraversion (E), sensing (S), intuition (N), thinking (T), feeling (F), perception (P), and judgment (J).  Jungian psychological types are often written as combinations of these letters.  Thus Mr. Bingley is an ESFP, Mr. Darcy an INTJ, and Elizabeth an INFJ.


2. The effects of Darcy’s introversion are heightened because he is also shy, as demonstrated by Jocelyn Creigh Cass in her article, “An Amusing Study: Family Likenesses in Pride and Prejudice.”  She notes the family resemblance between Mr. Darcy and his sister Georgiana, whom Elizabeth finds “exceedingly shy” (261), and cites Mr. Darcy’s discomfort and silence in social situations and his self-acknowledged role of spectator.  Much of the evidence Cass uses to demonstrate Darcy’s shyness also indicates introversion, although they are not the same thing.  (Introversion denotes a preference for an internal orientation of energy; shyness is a difficulty in social situations.)


3. I should note here that Stephen Montgomery, in his Pygmalion Project series, identifies Elizabeth as having a preference for thinking, rather than feeling, which would make her psychological type identical to Darcy’s.  However, I believe that what he identifies as Elizabeth’s “rationality” comes from her intelligence and her intuition, and that every instance that seems to suggest a thinking preference can be attributed to one or both of these things.



Works Cited


Austen, Jane.  Pride and Prejudice.  Ed. R.W. Chapman.  3rd ed.  Oxford: OUP, 1932.

Cass, Jocelyn Creigh.  “An Amusing Study: Family Likenesses in Pride and Prejudice.”  Persuasions 9 (1987): 49-50.

McKeon, Richard.  “Pride and Prejudice: Thought, Character, Argument, and Plot.”  Critical Inquiry 5 (Spr. 1979): 511-27.

Montgomery, Stephen.  The Pygmalion Project: Love and Coercion Among the Types.  Vol. 2, The Guardian.  Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, 1990.

Myers, Isabel Briggs.  Gifts Differing.  1980.  Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists, 1986.


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