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New Masculinities, Old Conventions: Gender Divisions and Representations in Pride and Prejudice

Austen’s Pride and Prejudice presents a novel interpretation of family dynamics, using social realism to remodel the representation of masculinity.  The retention of Austen’s fiction, particularly Pride and Prejudice, in both academic curricula and popular circles, is a consequence of its manifestation of complex narrative conflicts within the domestic milieu of nineteenth-century England.  Her construction of ideal manliness in an increasingly industrialized nation reconfigures, according to Michael Kramp, orthodox notions of masculinity to materialize modern England (11).  This paper aims to evaluate the intersection of marginality and masculinity in gender roles and divisions in Pride and Prejudice.

Amid the social and political turmoil in the novel lies the epigrammatic story of the Bennet family, where cultural and economic circumstances of the characters are exposed through the prism of domestic life.  The backdrop of British imperialism and the wars with France recur in the text in the form of subtle references.  The officers, for instance, occupy a chief role in various secondary plots that affect the primary romantic conflict between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.  The arrival of the regiment of soldiers itself suggests the possibility of the need to prepare against the imminent threat of French invasion.  Tim Fulford cogently argues that the incorporation of the militia enables Austen to articulate her account of shifting roles of the gender and sexual mores of the Regency period (160). 

Unlike the subtle suggestions of political events, social codes and conventions explicitly manifest in the novel, thus displaying determinants such as gender and class more prominently.  While gender organizes the relationship between the sexes, it is defined by social norms instead of visible biological differences.  The need for creating hierarchy within the context of gender subjects women to systematic injustice that is marked by their lack of access to suitable opportunities unless the agenda serves the masculine authorities. 

Austen’s presentation of female characters conceptualizes the consequences of the creation of binary oppositions between the masculine and the feminine in contemporary society.  In fact, her narrative reflects her unwillingness to subscribe to socially approved gender norms:  she refuses to write sentimental fiction, utilizes irony in her novelistic discourse to ventriloquize popular views, and dismantles the myth that the works of women writers cannot be associated with thematic constructs with which masculine intellectual discourse engages. 

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Austen’s female characters ultimately succumb to a vast catalogue of social mandates.  Charlotte, an intelligent woman, is subjected to the injustice of a conjugal relationship with the foolish Mr. Collins, a consequence of the imposition of social pressures to secure financial stability.  Jane’s relationship with Mr. Bingley can similarly be viewed as a deliberate arrangement to establish romance.  Lydia becomes the victim of moral policing.  All three are victims of gender as well as class constrictions. 

Mrs. Bennet is one of the characters most affected by social mandates, becoming a target of her husband’s supposedly erudite remarks.  Mary A. Burgan argues that Mr. Bennet’s retreat to his library, a space of male intellectual rigor, might be a means to compensate for the absence of a son to inherit (539).  Mrs. Bennet’s anxiety about “her” failure to provide a son also manifests in her initial animosity toward Mr. Collins:  “‘Pray do not talk of that odious man.  I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it’” (PP 61–62).  The exasperated tone of her petition to Mr. Bennet underscores her consciousness of her non-fulfillment of social expectations.  She, of course, cannot do “something or other about it,” which explains why she so emphasizes her daughters’ marriages:  a legally sanctioned commitment to a wealthy man can make up for her failure to provide a male heir.  This consciousness also explains why she considers the prospect of Lydia’s marriage with Wickham, despite their elopement, “‘delightful indeed!’” (306).  To Mr. Bennet, however, Mrs. Bennet represents a walking womb that fatigues him with her “raptures” (8).  Considering the tension surrounding the absence of an heir and the likely transfer of the Bennet property to Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet’s sarcastic commentary seems aimed to rebuke the wife whom he “pronounce[s] . . . foolish” (127). 

Wealthy women like Lady Catherine de Bourgh can be read as the products of social interactions in the upper echelons of the society.  Lady Catherine is emblematic of class superiority that literally compels those from the lower economic strata to assuage her egotism.  Her emergence as the ultimate threat to the marriage of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy often leads to readers’ neglect of what can be read as her utter sense of loneliness and despair, particularly caused by her anxiety for her invalid daughter.  Lady Catherine’s resistance to the prospect of Elizabeth’s engagement to Mr. Darcy demonstrates, in some measure, the extent of her anxiety for her daughter.  Her confrontation with Elizabeth reveals her allegiance to conservative codes of “‘honour, decorum, prudence,’” yet her predicament is, in fact, a serious one (355).  Since Miss Bourgh is the only heir to Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s estate, a matrimonial alliance that obeys “the claims of duty, honour, and gratitude” is both imperative and urgent (358).  More importantly, the invalid Miss Bourgh cannot take part in balls and other social gatherings, further limiting her ability to find a suitable mate.  Lady Catherine’s passionate appeal, even though directed by class-conscious rhetoric, showcases her concern for her daughter’s marriage and her future. 

Further, in a novel that ends with the socio-legal confinement of Elizabeth, Charlotte, Jane, and Lydia in matrimony, Lady Catherine becomes an obvious scapegoat of Austen’s patriarchal society since she is the only woman whose power and financial status is not contingent on a man.  The textual condemnation of Lady Catherine is a measure of disciplining her on account of her economic independence.  Caroline Bingley, another obstacle in Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s love story and also financially independent, is disciplined and (as far as we know) dismissed to spinsterhood. 

Elizabeth herself yields to marriage within the framework of the acquisitive society the novel portrays.  Since Austen’s sympathy lies with Mr. Darcy, their union is displayed as the epitome of romance.  In a courtship narrative flooded with the miseries of unsuitable marriages, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are required to broadcast the triumph of love.  It is plausible, however, that Elizabeth’s upward mobility will necessitate a shift in her lively behavior so that she may become a typical version of socially sanctioned sophistication.  Earlier in the novel, her rebuttal to Charlotte’s “plan” is premised on her unwillingness to ground her conjugal relationship on the foundation of monetary wealth:  “‘Your plan is a good one . . . where nothing is in question but the desire of being well married; and if I were determined to get a rich husband, or any husband, I dare say I should adopt it’” (22).  But these feelings undergo a change when she inspects the material manifestation of Mr. Darcy’s wealth during her visit to Pemberley:  “They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” (245). 

Austen’s narrative indicates Elizabeth’s possible transformation following her admission to Darcy’s wealthier and more cultured world and suggests that her marriage might result in the loss of the autonomy that she currently enjoys in the Bennet household.  Charlotte considers that Elizabeth’s dislike of Mr. Darcy “would vanish, if she could suppose him to be in her power” (181).  After the announcement of Lydia’s marriage, Elizabeth regrets confiding Lydia’s elopement to Mr. Darcy, assuming that Mr. Darcy would not “connect himself with a family, where to every other objection would now be added, an alliance and relationship of the nearest kind” with Wickham (311).  That realization makes her “jealous of [Mr. Darcy’s] esteem, when she could no longer hope to be benefited by it” (311).  Her conviction of her happiness with Mr. Darcy can be traced back to her acquaintance with the “large, handsome, stone building” of the Pemberley estate (245). 

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Yet Austen’s novel, I argue, also eliminates the textual authority of male characters.  The society that forces women to hunt for eligible husbands also compels men to be cognizant of women’s outlook toward marriage as a means of ensuring their financial security.  That a chiefly patriarchal nexus, which links male supremacy with social assumptions of gender behavior, governs Pride and Prejudice is well-recognized.  But the association of the maintenance of the nexus of patriarchy with masculine domination within the novel conveniently ignores the impact of social conventions on men’s lives.  For instance, while Elizabeth’s shift of romantic yearning from Wickham to Mr. Darcy isn’t sharply criticized because of the normalcy of the impact of multiple variables on the development of feelings, Wickham’s relocation of interest from Elizabeth to Miss King enables Mrs. Gardiner to label him as “‘mercenary’” (153).  His elopement with Lydia transforms him into a rank villain.  The novel’s opening satire on the social obligations of “a single man in possession of a good fortune” (3) does suggest Austen’s awareness of men's commodification, yet the representation of the problematics of cultural codes and expectations does not extend beyond a subtle assertion. 

Pride and Prejudice recreates men as prized possessions for single women:  patriarchy, therefore, turns men into commodities valued only if they possess material wealth.  Both Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are introduced and defined by their wealth:  the former is a “‘single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year’” (3–4), and the latter is a young man with “ten thousand a year” (10).  This social identification of a man’s self with material wealth diminishes the value of his personality, behavior, and outlook.  Austen’s fiction blurs the perceptible boundary between the patriarchal center and its periphery since its configuration of both men and women as victims of social prejudices dismantles conventional depictions of marginality. 

Elizabeth challenges the rigid models of femininity endorsed by theorists like Dr. Fordyce, whose conduct book Mr. Collins begins reading to the Bennets.  She breaks free from traditionally submissive forms of femininity, maintaining her individuality and identity.  The romantic union of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy can only be made possible if the latter reviews the authority that he exercises as a wealthy man in a patriarchal society.  In the absence of Mr. Darcy’s reassessment of power within the context of gender and class, their union appears improbable. 

Austen transforms Mr. Darcy’s outlook following Elizabeth’s rejection of his first proposal to navigate her plot toward their engagement, the process depends on the construction of the readers’ antipathy toward Mr. Darcy.  That antipathy is at least partly based on Elizabeth’s unsubstantiated conclusions from unverified details. 

Initially, Mr. Darcy is deemed undesirable due to his apparent lack of interest in matrimony.  Since the assembly at Meryton is one of the opportunities that provide, in LeRoy W. Smith’s words, “showcases for eligible young women” (88), Darcy’s insulting refusal to dance indicates his lack of romantic interest in Elizabeth.  Smith adds that dance figures as “an emblem of the rules and rituals of social behavior” and emerges in Pride and Prejudice as a signifier of “the sexual component in courtship and marriage rituals” (193).  When Charlotte brings to the forefront Mr. Darcy’s refusal to ask Elizabeth to dance, Mrs. Bennet replies, “‘I beg you would not put it into Lizzy’s head to be vexed by his ill-treatment; for he is such a disagreeable man that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by him’” (PP 19).  When Mrs. Bennet ultimately rejoices in Elizabeth’s engagement to Mr. Darcy, her prolonged aversion is suddenly transformed by the prospect of her daughter’s upward socioeconomic mobility. 

Mr. Darcy’s indifference actually stems from his disinclination to participate in a game where the mechanics of the marriage market reduce him to an attainable commodity.  His pride is fueled by the attention that he gets from women like Caroline Bingley, and his awareness of his aunt’s dynastic ambitions further acts as a reminder of his desirability as a husband.  His unwillingness to participate in social rituals that might lead to courtship is rooted in his overestimation of his worth in the marriage market, for he informs Elizabeth in the concluding chapters that he had earlier been “‘without a doubt of [his] reception’” (369).  He later admits to Elizabeth that his parents 

“encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own.  Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth!”  (369) 

His pride reflects his assumption of class superiority and affects his participation in the society.  In spite of it, readers are made to believe in Elizabeth’s version of Mr. Darcy, and the truth about his actions is revealed only when it becomes necessary to ensure that their quasi-intimacy has metamorphosed into romantic bliss. 

Austen’s insistence on defining Mr. Darcy as a desirable partner for Elizabeth brutally affects her characterization of Wickham, who is the victim both of his upbringing and of Austen’s narration.  Among countless other instances, Marvin Mudrick asserts that Wickham’s seduction of Georgiana “makes him a villain” (22); Susan Morgan calls Wickham “a danger to the very innocent (Georgiana Darcy) and the very wild (Lydia Bennet)” (151).  Since Wickham’s (mis)characterization as a careless rake is integral for the plot’s—and the reader’s—exoneration of Mr. Darcy, Wickham must remain unredeemed.  G. Aparna rightly points out that Wickham’s constant hunt for women is perfectly normal since, unlike Mr. Darcy, he belongs to the unpropertied middle classes.  His pursuit of an eligible partner, in fact, resembles the romantic pursuits of the Bennet sisters.  While the Bennet sisters’ romantic liaisons are both encouraged and commended within the novel, Wickham’s attempts at securing financial security and happiness are viewed as contemptible, since masculine stereotypes dictate that men are expected to be responsible for their own financial stability.  While Elizabeth’s justification of Wickham’s pursuit of Miss King hints at her acknowledgement of her sisters’ participation in similar financially motivated pursuits, Mrs. Gardiner asserts the “‘indelicacy’” of his actions (153), thereby reinstating social expectations from men.1 

Further, Wickham’s seduction of Lydia is motivated by sexual promiscuity rather than a desire for marriage.  By defining his marriage with Lydia in opposition to the romantic ideal of the Regency period, the novel denies Wickham any opportunity to redeem himself.  Other characters, in critiquing his elopement and his reluctance to marry Lydia, cite his shrewdness and opportunism.  Elizabeth’s reflections upon the circumstances connect his attempt to seduce Georgiana with his seduction of Lydia:  “‘When I consider . . . that I might have prevented it!—I who knew what he was’” (277).  The assignment of the relative determiner “what” to Wickham articulates the novel’s endeavor to dehumanize him through objectification.  Even if Austen’s criticism of Wickham is justified, the explicit attempt to dehumanize him is exaggerated. 

Like Wickham, Mr. Collins becomes another unfortunate victim of the novel’s classism.  Mr. Collins’s upward financial and social mobility after he is “distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh” fuel his sense of self-importance, just as Mr. Darcy’s education and social position do his (62).  It is the verbalization of his orotund thoughts and observations that differentiates him from Mr. Darcy.  His upbringing under a tyrannical father magnifies his obsequious manner.  Mr. Collins’s sycophancy is almost inevitable since his patroness subjects almost everybody to her whims and fancies; because of his current financial dependence, he cannot afford to refuse her need for gratification. 

A major example of Mr. Collins’s humiliation by the novel is his marriage with Charlotte.  When the society forces intelligent women like Charlotte to become predators in the hunt for men, that pursuit also reduces men to the status of commodities.  While Austen focuses on the sacrifice of Charlotte’s intellect, it cannot be denied that Mr. Collins ends up being equally degraded since his wife lacks genuine affection and respect for him, as is evident to Elizabeth during her visit to Hunsford:  “When Mr. Collins said any thing of which his wife might reasonably be ashamed, which certainly was not unseldom, . . . in general Charlotte wisely did not hear” (156).  Their confinement in a mutually exploitative relationship is unfortunate yet inevitable in Austen’s society, since marriage is viewed as necessary. 

Despite her disciplining of Lady Catherine and Caroline Bingley, Austen’s regard for the wealthy leads to a prejudiced portrayal of the English society and directly affects the plot in Pride and Prejudice.  The references to men belonging to lower economic classes clearly exhibit this bias.  For instance, Lydia describes a waiter in demeaning and dismissive terms: 

“You thought the waiter must not hear, as if he cared!  I dare say he often hears worse things said than I am going to say.  But he is an ugly fellow!  I am glad he is gone.  I never saw such a long chin in my life.”  (220) 

Austen can conveniently escape responsibility here because the speaker is Lydia, a character who is deliberately portrayed as immature and inane.  But class plays a supremely important role in determining attitudes.  Wickham, for instance, gains interest in Miss King only when she gains possession of a large fortune, while Mr. Bingley appears an eligible single man to Mrs. Bennet because he is “‘a young man of large fortune’” (3).  In another instance, when Elizabeth and Jane return from Netherfield, Catherine and Lydia tell them about the officers’ dinner, a private’s flogging, and Colonel Forster’s possible marriage.  That a private has been flogged appears to be an unremarkable topic for Lydia and Catherine’s conversation.  The novel thus ends up normalizing this kind of discourse on the living conditions and circumstances of people who are economically deprived or socially inferior. 

Two other male characters, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Bennet, are also “deprived” in a certain sense.  Mr. Bingley’s tractable nature, which closely resembles Jane’s, is interpreted as vulnerable.  Elizabeth asserts that Mr. Bingley has been made the “slave of his designing friends,” who have “led him to sacrifice his own happiness to the caprice of their inclinations” (133).  While his amiability is approved in the initial chapters, he is made to appear inadequate in comparison to Mr. Darcy on account of his docility.  The reflection of Jane’s tenderness in Mr. Bingley’s persona is both dismissed and criticized because it is not an approved masculine trait.  Michael Kramp argues that neither Mr. Bingley nor Mr. Gardiner, despite their “embod[iment] of a spirit of progress and amelioration that drives the modernization of the English state,” can measure up to Mr. Darcy’s “standard of male perfection,” at least in a romantic sense (88). 

Austen also establishes Mr. Bennet’s inadequacy as a man and a patriarch.  While this characterization might have been problematic for nineteenth-century readers, why should twentieth- and twenty-first-century critics require Mr. Bennet’s adherence to the norms of patriarchy?  Why isn’t his departure from chauvinism or his inadequacy as a patriarch viewed as a positive retreat from patriarchal ideals?  For Reuben A. Brower, and others who have followed him, Mr. Bennet’s failure as a father implies his failure as a man.  This logic raises a pertinent question:  if we judge that he fails as a man, then under what parameters of masculinity are we measuring his failure? 

Besides Mr. Bennet’s importance in the context of the entail, he does not occupy a primary position in moving Austen’s plot.  The Bennets are introduced in terms of stark contrast.  Mr. Bennet’s wit underscores Mrs. Bennet’s stupidity and makes her a prototype of female foolishness.  His apparent reluctance to visit Mr. Bingley, defined by Mrs. Bennet as “‘a fine thing for our girls!’” (4), proves to be a ruse, and his revelation that he has already visited Mr. Bingley is succeeded by an interesting narrative remark:  “The astonishment of the ladies was just what he wished” (7).  Austen’s introduction of Mr. Bennet as an epigrammatist enjoying the astonishment of others lays the foundation for the gradual development of his character.  He is established as an inadequate patriarch through his withdrawal into cerebral irony. 

Despite the intellectual superiority that Mr. Bennet’s ironic detachment claims, Mrs. Bennet’s continual insistence on marriage is indeed a valid concern since, because of the injustices of the entail, her daughters lack the financial means to support themselves after Mr. Bennet’s death.  Mr. Bennet’s complete lack of interest in the matter, as well as his witty remarks on his wife’s excessive interest in matrimony, deflects attention from the significance of marriage to his daughters’ future.  What Mr. Bennet either fails to comprehend—or manages to conveniently ignore—is that his daughters might be subjected to the kind of socio-economic hardships faced by Elinor and Marianne in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.2

Though readers might mistake Mr. Bennet for a static character who functions to articulate ironic criticism of his family, Mr. Bennet’s occasional intervention in the plot highlights the social and political circumstances that govern the Bennet family and the characters of Pride and Prejudice more generally.  Austen’s characterization of Mr. Bennet is part of her subtle critique of the patriarchal hierarchy. 

Mr. Bennet is also charged (even by his favorite, Elizabeth) with “impropriety” in his “behaviour as a husband” (236).  His exposure of his wife’s silliness effectively deprives Mrs. Bennet of the respect that she deserves as a wife and a mother.  Austen’s characterization of Mr. Bennet underscores his paternal failure.3  Because of his emotional detachment, his presence rarely affects the everyday life of the Bennet family.  His renunciation of his patriarchal position and retreat from familial responsibility allows his daughters unusual freedom, which ultimately results in Lydia’s elopement; though the family is narrowly rescued from social humiliation, Mr. Bennet quickly returns to his habit of cynical inertia—“his former indolence”—following the marriage of Lydia and Wickham (309).  Brower calls Mr. Bennet “a most unnatural father” because he replaces affectionate behavior with analytical observations that reduce or limit his emotional paternal responsibility (171).  His satirical response to Jane’s betrothal reflects his inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to express his feelings. 

“I have great pleasure in thinking you will be so happily settled.  I have not a doubt of your doing very well together.  Your tempers are by no means unlike.  You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income.”  (348) 

His attempt at irony is especially misplaced, undercutting the importance of Jane’s financial stability and its subsequent role in enhancing the social mobility of her sisters as well as the importance of a romantic union that Jane has desired since the early chapters of the novel.  Even his relationship with his favorite daughter is somewhat strained:  Elizabeth’s emotional and practical need for a paternal guardian materializes in the character of Mr. Gardiner.  She is delighted to introduce her uncle to Mr. Darcy at Pemberley because of Mr. Gardiner’s intellect and wisdom. 

Austen relegates Mr. Bennet to narrative and thematic insignificance despite his obvious intellect because his intelligence is unavailable to his family.  He fulfills the role of a spectator whose irony defends against a straightforward acknowledgment of his own folly.  Mudrick argues that when Mr. Bennet calls Wickham his favorite son-in-law, he is not merely indulging in his “habitual paradox” but ironically acknowledging the contrast between Wickham’s awareness and his own self-delusion (24):  while Wickham is aware of Lydia’s inanity, Mr. Bennet, “captivated by youth and beauty” (PP 236), did not perceive the extent of Mrs. Bennet’s supposed folly prior to his marriage. 

Although readers savor Mr. Bennet’s minor satirical victories, the satisfaction lasts for only a short period of time as he forsakes his paternal obligations in his utter preoccupation with satire.  This delinquency cannot be forgiven within the ambit of Austen’s narrative.  If Mr. Bennet occupies an essential position in Pride and Prejudice, it is because his characterization enables the reader to identify the consequences of overindulgence in the pursuit of intellect and wit as well as of abandoning familial responsibility. 

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Pride and Prejudice ultimately redefines the concept of masculinity by presenting men as figures of instability and thus effectively altering the grammar of masculine domination.  Men no longer have claim to a social position superior to women.  By blocking conventional modes of patriarchal control, the novel challenges societal expectations.  This remodelling of masculinity, however, fails to translate into a feminist promise; rather, it exacerbates conventional expectations from men.  In other words, while Austen’s reconstitution of masculinity prevents men’s exploitation of patriarchal power, it fails to secure them from being subjected to rigid social and sexual mores themselves.  Judith Lowder Newton perfectly sums up the nature of male characters in the novel when she says, “We do not feel that men are powerful in this novel” (66).  By remodeling masculinity, Austen inhibits, in great magnitude, men’s access to the patriarchal exploitation of women. 

Austen’s reconstitution of masculinity shifts male characters to the periphery and complicates an understanding of marginality that relies on gender binaries.  The process of reconstitution, however, is not rooted in a feminist tradition.  Marilyn Butler treats Austen’s fiction as a social response to Jacobin ideas that thus delineates the tenets of Tory feminism (202).  Margaret Kirkham uses the backlash against Wollstonecraft as a pretext to justify the limited scope of Austen’s writing and situate her in the feminist tradition of the English novel (48–60).  Yet the portrayal of masculinity in Pride and Prejudice cannot be understood as part of a feminist vision of gender equality.  The novel merely grounds male characters in the existing patriarchy and compels their complex negotiation with conventional norms:  their confrontations with social standards are neither explicit nor deliberate.  Gender and class distinctions dissolve into insignificance since all the characters become victims of social norms.  Pride and Prejudice reviews our approach toward examining marginalized spaces and interrogates all critical attempts to quantify and compare the degree of discrimination faced by characters belonging to different class and gender constructs.  While the novel does provide respite from the genre of sentimental novels, it remains largely unsuccessful in advancing the feminist cause. 

Although, given the constraints on her as a woman writer in the nineteenth century, Austen cannot be condemned for her literary choices, Pride and Prejudice might have offered a better demonstration of advancing gender equality if Austen had not victimized all her characters.  We can either treat Austen’s literary product as an accurate reflection of a society in which men and women are similarly deprived or view it as an imperfect outcome of her attempt to remold both masculinity and femininity.  I argue that her reliance on social realism in her fiction hints at her attempt to capture in prose the reality that she observes in her social surroundings.



1Elizabeth’s judgment of Mr. Darcy for “‘ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister’” (190) is ironic, considering her own attempted intervention in the unconventional relationship of Wickham and Lydia. 

2James Sherry suggests that Mr. Bennet’s withdrawal from society does not simply imply a surrender of adherence to conventions or traditions; instead, he argues, since Austen’s use of the term “society” identifies the individuals with whom it is one’s duty to interact, his withdrawal from society signifies his resistance to fulfilling his social responsibility (611). 

3Aparna argues that Mr. Bennet’s bitterness about his marriage has “strait-jacketed [him] into feminine roles of obedience and submission” (311), but his defiance of the traditional expectations of fatherhood don’t necessarily indicate an embodiment of feminine identity.  Feminine values are centered in the social obligations of motherhood, demanding a woman’s commitment to her maternal role of nurturing.  Thus, Mr. Bennet’s deliberate departure from parenting and parental affection cannot be read as feminine submission.

Works Cited
  • Aparna, G.  “Much Maligned Men: A Reading of the Male Characters in Pride and Prejudice.”  Jane Eyre.  Ed. B. Mangalam.  Delhi: Worldview Critical Editions, 2016.  169–85.
  • Austen, Jane.  Pride and Prejudice.  Ed. R. W. Chapman.  3rd ed.  Oxford: OUP, 1932.
  • Brontë, Charlotte.  Jane Eyre.  Ed. B. Mangalam.  Delhi: Worldview Critical Editions, 2016.
  • Brower, Reuben A.  “Light and Bright and Sparkling: Irony and Fiction in Pride and Prejudice.”  1945.  Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park: A Casebook.  Ed. B. C. Southam.  London: Macmillan, 1976.  169–85.
  • Burgan, Mary A.  “Mr. Bennet and the Failures of Fatherhood in Jane Austen’s Novels.”  The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 74 (1975): 536–52.
  • Butler, Marilyn.  Jane Austen and the War of Ideas.  1975.  Oxford: OUP, 2006.
  • Fulford, Tim.  “Sighing for a Soldier: Jane Austen and Military Pride and Prejudice.”  Nineteenth-Century Literature 57 (2002): 153–78.
  • Kirkham, Margaret.  Jane Austen: Feminism and Fiction.  New York: Barnes & Noble, 1983.
  • Kramp, Michael.  Disciplining Love: Austen and the Modern Man.  Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2007.
  • Morgan, Susan.  “Intelligence in Pride and Prejudice.”  Modern Philology 73 (1975): 54–68.
  • Mudrick, Marvin.  Jane Austen: Irony as Defense and Discovery.  Princeton: PUP, 1952.
  • Newton, Judith L.  Women, Power and Subversion: Social Strategies in British Fiction 1778–1860.  New York: Methuen, 1984.
  • Sherry, James.  “Pride and Prejudice: The Limits of Society.”  Studies in English Literature 19 (1979): 609–22.
  • Smith, LeRoy W.  Jane Austen and the Drama of Woman.  New York: Macmillan, 1983.
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