“Very Different Friends:” Propriety and Happiness in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice | Teen Ink

“Very Different Friends:” Propriety and Happiness in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

April 2, 2022
By maygong SILVER, Wellesley, Massachusetts
maygong SILVER, Wellesley, Massachusetts
8 articles 2 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
Every dream has a tomorrow, and every tomorrow has a dream.

There are multiple fascinating juxtapositions of characters in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. There are Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham, both of whom Elizabeth considered marrying; Charlotte and Elizabeth, whose friendship was unspokenly broken by the difference in beliefs about marriage; Jane and Elizabeth, the two eldest sisters and the only two decent ladies in the Bennet family, who were also the closest friends. Amongst all the couples, the last one is the most worth pondering. Elizabeth who spoke her mind openly, often ignoring propriety, was happier than Jane who hid her feelings because Elizabeth made herself more understood to people and was able to see the truth in them. This character foil suggests that ignoring propriety may be necessary when it comes to the possibility of sacrificing happiness.

Jane usually saved her feelings and opinions for when she was only with Elizabeth, whereas Elizabeth spoke her mind. Consequently, Mr. Bingley mistaked Jane for being indifferent and he almost gave up loving her, whereas the misunderstanding between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth were settled gradually and they became closer after Elizabeth’s furious burst of emotions at Mr. Darcy’s first proposal. Nonetheless, the difference in personality between the two sisters was never a barrier in their friendship because they loved each other so much and were both understanding and sensitive to each others’ emotions. After the first ball where Bingley danced with Jane twice, “Jane was as much gratified by this as her mother could be, though in a quieter way. Elizabeth felt Jane's pleasure” (Austen, 23). Jane’s feelings were quiet and never exaggerated, but they were felt by Elizabeth even when they were unspoken; that’s the reason why when Jane was alone with Elizabeth, she was able to let down her guard and be completely herself – she had someone who understood her and heard her without requiring her to mind all the decorum and appropriateness before phrasing and expressing her thoughts. After the ball in Netherfield, Jane fell in love with the amiable, polite, and wealthy gentleman Mr. Bingley at first sight. However, it was only “when Jane and Elizabeth were alone, the former, who had been cautious in her praise of Mr. Bingley before, expressed to her sister just how very much she admired him” (28), and when she received the letter that Mr. Bingley’s group was leaving for London, even though Jane was deeply grieved, she “recollected herself soon” and pretends to be cheerful (266). She put all her personal feelings aside when she was before people because she was the eldest sister of the Bennet family who was known to be elegant and decorous, and demonstrating love to a man who was almost a stranger to her was considered inappropriate. She coped with everything herself and remained put-together even when she was with her family because she was aware of her mother’s nerves. Subsequently, while Mr. Darcy “perceive that his partiality for Miss Bennet was beyond what I had ever witnessed in him” (439), he believed Jane acted “without any symptom of peculiar regard” (439), and “she did not invite them by any participation of sentiment” (439), so he eventually acknowledged to Elizabeth that “I have no wish of denying that I did everything in my power to separate my friend from your sister” (426).  On the other hand, Elizabeth’s feelings were bold and straightforward. During Mr. Darcy’s first proposal, Elizabeth lost her temper and exclaimed to Mr. Darcy that “you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry” (431) after accusing him of being arrogant and conceited. Having known the truth, Mr. Darcy wrote a lengthy letter to justify his conduct; having realized her prejudice, Elizabeth began to look at Mr. Darcy through a more objective lens, and finally fell in love with him, perceiving what a gentleman Mr. Darcy was. Elizabeth expressed herself without minding what others might think of her and her family, therefore, misunderstandings were unlikely to be kept secret and turned into hate, and instead, they were usually easily resolved.

    Jane was easily fooled by others’ superficial kindness but Elizabeth was not, because her judging personality doubted everyone’s behavior and wouldn’t always think the best of them. Even if sometimes her prejudice caused her troubles, like her initial admiration for Mr. Wickham, it helped her see things and identify people clearer and wiser. This is exemplified in Jane and Elizabeth’s different opinion towards Miss Bingley. When The Bingley sisters first tried to befriend the Bennet family, “by Jane, this attention was received with the greatest pleasure, but Elizabeth still saw superciliousness in their treatment of everybody, hardly excepting even her sister, and could not like them; though their kindness to Jane, such as it was, had a value as arising in all probability from the influence of their brother's admiration” (43). Jane was naive and kind which made it easy for her to believe that everyone acted with sincerity and spoke their genuine feelings. However, the reality was way more complicated, and Elizabeth was the one who understood because she saw everything with an attitude of questioning, so it was unlikely for her to believe in the superficial way people behaved. The difference between Jane and Elizabeth is intensified again when Mr. Darcy’s group left Netherfield. Miss Bingley attempted to convince Jane that Mr. Bingley didn’t love her and Miss Darcy was the one he was going to marry, and upon receiving this devastating news, Jane was awfully frustrated. Elizabeth, however, explained to her that “Miss Bingley sees that her brother is in love with you, and wants him to marry Miss Darcy. She follows him to town in hope of keeping him there, and tries to persuade you that he does not care about you" (271). Elizabeth put her reason and logic together to explain to Jane that “Miss Bingley, I am sure, cannot, she is not such a simpleton” (272) and that she had always considered Jane too mediocre for her brother. Unfortunately, Jane stubbornly refused to agree with Elizabeth’s speculation and believed that her “friend” Miss Bingley must be heartily telling her the truth. Her only responses to Elizabeth in the conversation were “Jane shook her head” (272), “why will you think so” (269), “how can you talk so” (274). In the end, respecting her sister’s decision, Elizabeth concluded her explanation with “You must decide for yourself” (274), leaving Jane the freedom to follow her own desire and decide for herself.

    The reason that Jane Austen was able to establish the friendship between Jane and Elizabeth to be so natural and inspiring is because the power of love, respect, and tolerance far outweighed the distinction between introversion and extroversion. The advantages of the two made them individually outstanding, and the contrast between them made them complementarily wise and well-rounded while in certain situations or facing significant decisions. Jane maintained a decent image for herself and her family in front of people, and Elizabeth spoke up for her and helped her achieve what she wanted when Jane was too reserved and decorous to do so. Therefore, what Jane Austen was trying to convey through this character foil is that forgetting about propriety and the complicated societal norms is often necessary when it comes to people’s own desire and happiness.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Pearson Education, 2008.

The author's comments:

Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, being the best sisters and friends in the book, have very different personalities. I explored the reason that they are still best friends despite their differences and the reason why Jane Austen decided to juxtapose these two sister together.

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