Pride and Prejudice- First Impressions
The novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was originally titled First Impressions. This is significant because it reflects the values and attitudes of 19th century England, and portrays the main themes of the novel. It is set in England during the 1800's and Austen focuses on a society whose opinions are based on first impressions.
This is achieved through cultural context, characterisation, narratorial commentary, and methods/techniques.
During the 19th Century, first impressions were very important. The reader is presented with Meryton, a highly structured class society which judges people on superficial qualities, such as physical appearance, social status, clothes, possessions, behaviour, dialogue. The message Austen positions the reader to understand, is that a society which makes its judgements based on first impressions is immoral and unjust. (-She uses 'humour' to help convey this in a less-serious tone.)
For example, Mrs Bennett's first impressions of Mr Bingley were based upon his behaviour and physical appearance.
'Oh! My dear, I am quite delighted with him. He is so excessively handsome!' (Page 16)
Mrs Bennett has a driving force in her behaviour to marry her daughters to wealthy men, who were financially stable and socially accepted, so her liking to Mr Bingley is reinforced by his interest in her eldest daughter Jane.
'Mr Bingley thought her quite beautiful, and danced with her twice. Think of that my dear; he actually danced with her twice; and she was the only creature in the room that he asked a second time!' (Page 15)
In contrast, Mrs Bennett's first impression of Mr Darcy was that he is cold, abrupt, and proud. This is established because of his manner and behaviour. The narrator describes Darcy's behaviour in chapter 1;
'Mr Darcy danced only once with Mrs Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady and spent the rest of the evening walking about the room speaking occasionally to one of his own party. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again. Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs Bennett, whose dislike of his general behaviour, was sharpened into particular resentment, by his having slighted one of her daughters.' (Page 12)
Mr Darcy judges Elizabeth and the Bennett family on social status, and takes an immediate dislike to them, because of their financial situation and rank on the socio economic status. Although the Bennetts are 'upper/middle class', there are divisions between each class, so they are looked upon as at the 'lower' end of the scale. It is Darcy's pride that forces him to believe he is better than others, mainly because of the amount of money he has. Mr Darcy feels as if he can be rude to anyone he likes, because the society of Meryton is 'socially and financially lower' then himself.
After seeing Jane together with Mr Bingley at the dinner party, Darcy's first impressions (which allow him to think that he has the right to interfere in their relationship) force him into believing that Jane (coming from a family less wealthy then his own) is only after Mr Bingley for security, and financial stability. Instead of realising the love they have towards each other, Darcy allows his pride to blind him of the truth and foolishly assume that only a lady of equal status (as his) is worthy of Bingley\\'s love.
Mr Wickham is another example of first impressions based on superficial qualities. His first impressions are very favourable and he is 'socially accepted' into the Meryton circle.
'But the attention of every young lady was soon caught by a young man, whom they had never seen before, of most gentlemanlike appearance, walking with an officer, on the other side of the way.'
His charming personality, and impressive first impressions soon gathered the acceptance and approval of everyone ...
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