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Representation of Women in Classical English Literature: Pride and Prejudice



Pride and Prejudice classifies as one of the most popular works in English literature. This piece of art by Jane Austin is not only a defining element of the Georgian era but is also acclaimed for embodying romance and 19th century England in an exceptional way.


The protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet is one of five daughters of an English gentleman Mr. Bennet. The daughters are, as the society at that time would and some even today call, “of age”. The book starts off with this very theme, a worried Mrs. Bennet exited that a rich eligible bachelor (Mr. Bingley) will be moving in next door. She instantly, right from page 2 of the book, starts mentally prepping her eldest (Jane) to “catch his eye” at the next social event/gathering. Jane starts daydreaming about her encounter. The author depicts the scene in a way which tells the reader that Jane is bursting with excitement, and just can’t wait to see her or attend the next big social gathering. The reader feels as if Jane has waited for this all her life, working hard to prepare for her “big opportunity” as if that was her sole purpose in life: to catch someone’s eye, someone of good standing and significant wealth. All Jane was ever raised for, prepared for, educated for, was to get married.


Elizabeth is portrayed as the complete opposite. She has zero regard for what society demands of her as a “lady” or that she must get married as early as possible. She finds comfort in books and finds the entire idea of an English “lady in waiting” to be utterly degrading. She refuses to be defined by what rich gentleman’s eye she can catch; she is shown to have ambition. This role, on multiple occasions throughout the story, questions the norms of society, and the advice Jane gets from the other female characters who want to see Jane married as soon as possible.


I produce here an excerpt from the initial chapters of the book:


Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley’s attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was her- self becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criti- cise. 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.


What one can observe while judging the undertone of the above cited excerpt is that the dependance of a female on a man in 19th century England has been embedded so deeply into the fabrics of society and the unconscious intuition off the people that Elizabeth had to be “allowed” to be pretty. All the 19th century English female is reduced to is how proper her accent is, how she dresses, carries herself, converses, and most importantly whether some man of fortune considers her “acceptable”.


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An originalist perspective is that the the world was created in a gendered way as that is how it was intended by God. However, Pride and Prejudice, questions this very notion of the gender construct. Through the portrayal of Elizabeth, quite an admirable female protagonist, a different view of how a woman could be is propelled. It is because of such portrayal that this novel is so ahead of its times.

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Abdul Rehman Mirza
Abdul Rehman Mirza
Aug 07, 2022
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Yes, I agree with your point of view. It is indeed praise-worthy as to how Austen has been able to write powerful, independent, female characters in the 19th century England, where patriarchy prevailed to an extent that the sole purpose of a woman's existence was to marry rich and settle. Austen has not only made a strong feminist statement but has also pointed towards the flaws in the power structure of 19th century England where woman had no real participation outside the domain of their homes.

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Thankyou Abdul Rehman for writing this!

I thought Elizabeth has pride in the strength of her character and in her willingness, even eagerness to know truth. She has pride in being a full participant in the world.

Darcy, it turns out, has within himself the same pride.

They embrace this open-eyed pride rather than the close-eyed pride of prejudice and illusion. They take pleasure in being themselves their real selves, not illusions in the real world. That, to my mind, is why this novel is so rich and has been read and enjoyed so much over years.

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Abdul Rehman Mirza
Abdul Rehman Mirza
Aug 07, 2022
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Hi, very interesting theme you have identified. Apart from the gender roles the novel has a variety to offer its reader. Jane Austen is one of my go to authors. Definitely recommend it !

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Good blog, Abdul Rehman!


Throughout the book, we see Elizabeth's efforts to correct and alter her abysmal impression of the man, who is madly in love with her, by letting go of her preconceived notions that mainly arose from his countenance and mannerism, and attempts to see him for what he really is and what he really does. But whether a union can be woven of the 2 is still a mystery as , family expectations, rank and circumstance still lie in the way. But the mystery and inability to draw a sensible conclusion is what makes this book enthralling to the reader.


When Lizzie and Darcy finally accept each other in "Pride & Prejudice," I felt an almost unreasonable…

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Abdul Rehman Mirza
Abdul Rehman Mirza
Aug 07, 2022
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Hello, very fascinating observation, especially in regards to how the audience/reader of this piece of media is affected. I think the enjoyment you experienced could have resulted from your investment. What I'm trying to imply is that if you read 450+ pages and something you've been looking forward to finally happens, you'll probably experience some form of satisfaction or contentment. Again, I greatly appreciate your feedback.

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Rafay Abdul Razzaq
Rafay Abdul Razzaq
Aug 03, 2022

Hello Abdul Rehman,

Great blog you've written here. Some of the things you have brought up here about 19th century gender dynamics in Britain are very interesting. I haven't had the chance of reading this book, however it makes me think of the hypocrisy of orientalism as we were discussing in class today. Not even 100 years ahead of us, and the British and Americans think they have always been way more progressive than us - in turn, justifying their colonialism. They perpetuate stereotypes about contemporary muslim women and show them oppressed while they themselves don't show their own mentality in historical fiction movies and TV shows. There is definitely a huge power associated with who is allowed to represent…

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Abdul Rehman Mirza
Abdul Rehman Mirza
Aug 07, 2022
Replying to

Hey Rafay! I appreciate your insightful response. I agree, thus what I always try to do when critically analyzing any work of media or literature is evaluate and read about what academics refer to as the genealogy of knowledge. I have found this to be illuminating and eye-opening. This could refer to anything, such as the author's political opinions or his upbringing, etc.

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