Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Volume I

This was due for discussion yesterday, but I got wrapped up in Easter activities. I hope you’ll accept my apologies for my tardiness. We’ll still have plenty of time to discuss the novel throughout April. Here’s a stab at some areas to consider from Volume I, to page 89:

1. What does the opening line set us up for?

The opening line of Pride and Prejudice is one of the most famous in literature. In fact, you could read the first two sentences and get a pretty fair idea of what the entire book’s about. So, what does the opening sentence set us up for? Marriage, obviously, will play a major role. p. 3.

2. How long does it take to truly know someone?

The discussion on p. 5 near the end of the page relates to how long you must be acquainted with someone before you really know anything about them. A fortnight is mentioned. Do you think you can truly know someone in 2 weeks?

3. Is a daughter’s marriage a valid goal for a parent?

Who doesn’t want their daughter to marry well? But what does Mrs. Bennet mean when she says she wants her daughters to marry well? Is marrying well related to happiness or wealth? Is Mrs. Bennet well-intentioned with her wish? Do you find her wish for her daughters endearing or do you find that her wish limits her daughters? Would a similar wish in our society be tolerated? p. 7.

4.  What is pride?

The first discussion of pride takes place on p. 14. How do you define pride? Is pride a bad thing? Does your definition of pride differ from Mary’s?

5. How is one’s social status defined in the novel?

For certain characters, having an occupation other than that of estate Lord is viewed as a negative in terms of one’s social status. Look for other ways the characters determine social status. Wealth? Occupation? Marriage? p. 25.

6. Are first impressions ever fair?

First impressions and one’s judgment of people play an important role in the novel. One view is that first impressions are rarely fair because people change so much over time. p. 30. Another view is that first impressions are an important part of the social “game.” Can you understand someone the first time you meet them? Is it a fault to establish a first impression of someone and then rigidly adhere to it? Do you find yourself making early impressions of people and then refusing to move away from that initial impression despite evidence to the contrary? Is that a kind of prejudice? See also p. 64.

7. Is it fair to feign interest in a particular activity so as to make yourself more appealing to the opposite sex?

On p. 37 we see Miss Bingley reading, but more than reading, she’s watching Mr. Darcy read. It seems she is pretending to enjoy the activity so as to make herself more attractive to Mr. Darcy. Is that a fair way to behave? Is there any danger in acting that way? On one hand it’s endearing to care enough about someone to want to please them by engaging in activities they enjoy. On the other, I worry whether Miss Bingley is prepared to keep that up for the rest of her life. p. 37. What’s the danger in acting like someone you’re not to obtain a marriage proposal?

8. Are there certain types of pride that are more acceptable than others?

On p. 57 certain types of pride are defined. We’ve already considered whether pride is a bad thing, but do you think there are certain types of pride that are more acceptable than others? What is the most endearing form of pride you can imagine?

9. What are the “right” reasons to marry?

Reading Pride and Prejudice has us consider what the proper or “right” motivation is when it comes to marriage. Cultural differences explain why certain societies might prefer one motivation over another. Do you believe there is a universally “right” motivation to marry? p. 72. What is the goal of the institution of marriage?

10. What does the entail stand for?

The entail is defined on p. 19. What is it? What does it stand for the novel?

For next time: Let’s read to  p. 158, the end of Volume II.

If you care to share, I’d love to hear what you found interesting about Volume I.

Photo: Some rights reserved by simononly.

6 Replies to “Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Volume I”

  1. I like your discussion points about ‘how long it takes to know someone’ and ‘forming opinions’ so I am going to have a go at those.

    The one thing I do like about Austen’s approach is the realism behind it. We all form judgements of people and it isn’t something we can necessarily really avoid. I remember once reading a chapter for my psychology class ages ago about how our brain absolutely has to be able to form judgements. Even if sometimes those judgements are wrong and that is because our brain has to differentiate people, so that we don’t just see different people as the same person. I always found that aspect of human behavior fascinating.

    However, that is not to say we can’t work past those original judgements. In fact, the entire experience of knowing someone is really the experience of never knowing them. A lot of life is constantly learning and re-learning who someone is, whether that is a lover or even a friend. People’s identities are fluid, I believe. You have to stick with them and see what happens.

    That said, no, I don’t think you can easily form an opinion of someone. Of course, a lot of the book is ‘keeping up appearances,’ something Austen was very familiar with in the British class system. And people who are ‘keeping up appearances’ are usually mere actors in a play. They act based on money, societal influences, and class structure. There are other ways to truly know someone and we will, of course, see that later, through writing – especially the writing of letters.

    Anyway, great beginning discussion questions. Hopefully, a few more people turn out. Pride and Prejudice is a great novel that no one should miss out on!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Amarie. I think the danger with first impressions is when you’re not willing to let them go when you get evidence to the contrary. You hit on that.

      I found myself thinking about the difference between introverts and extroverts and how introverts typically take a while to come out of their shell and reveal themselves. So, even between different personality types you may need more time to get to know someone. Is there a place for an introvert in the British class system? It seems like you’re hinting they may find a way in letters so I’ll keep reading before I make a judgment about that. I would expect Austen to identify more with that type of social interaction, but I could be wrong.

      You mention money, class structure, and societal influences and I think they are a powerful basis for some characters’ “first impressions.” That’s scary to me, when I read it, but when I think about my own reality I’d be lying if I said I didn’t let those things inform my first impressions of people on some level. We have different values today, but are we really that different when it comes to making judgments about people? Maybe, like you say, the key is just to be prepared to be fluid.

      I know you’ve got a lot more experience with Pride and Prejudice than I do, so if you think of anything else that I’m missing feel free to chime in.

  2. Don’t think your efforts are in vain. The questions, responses, and book stimulated my inner voice and have influenced family conversations this week. However, since I was late to the proverbial party, I prefer to spend my time reading than writing… this week.

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