P&P: The Perfect Romance

via Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a classic. The story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy has captivated hearts across generations. I myself, part of Gen Z, was introduced to the book by my grandma who is part of The Silent Generation. Its movie and show adaptations are also famous in their own right, standing as a testament to the story’s timelessness. The love story of the main characters involves many twists and turns, like the letter, and the infamous proposal. The reader watches the antics between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth and gets to see them change their opinions of each other throughout the book. This change in character is what makes the story of Pride and Prejudice so alluring. Both of the characters change their minds and their ways because of the other, becoming better in the process. These evolutions in character make the story interesting to pursue and gives the reader an optimistic outlook on the power of love. 

Love changes both Mr. Darcy, and Elizabeth, but in different ways. Both of the characters have flaws that dictate their relationship with each other and cause many of the predicaments that arise in the book. Elizabeth harshly misjudges people based on her pride. When Elizabeth first meets Mr. Darcy, she first judges him based on his looks, assuming that he is good-natured because he’s handsome. However, her opinion of him changes when his withdrawn attitude comes off as rude and proud. Later on in the party, Elizabeth’s opinion of Mr. Darcy worsens when she overhears him say that she isn’t beautiful enough to tempt him. Her aversion is motivated by her wounded pride. Her adverse reaction is understandable, but personal feelings should not affect an objective examination of character. Because of her initial judgments, every action Mr. Darcy takes rubs her the wrong way causing her opinion of him to become more and more negative. While Mr. Darcy is struggling with his infatuation with Elizabeth, she believes that he observes her to silently judge everything she does. Elizabeth completely misreads his coolness as feelings of superiority, but in actuality, Mr. Darcy just can’t socialize to save his life.

Elizabeth isn’t the only one who misreads someone’s character completely; Mr. Darcy misses the mark as well. While observing Elizabeth, he believes that she understands he is enchanted by her and wishes to marry him. Mr. Darcy was raised to be a rich owner of a grand estate, and assumes that everyone is interested in his money and the power they can attain by being associated with him. And although he never says it in the book, his thinking is influenced by a hefty superiority complex, which would only make sense considering the privilege he was born into. His superiority complex also affected his perception of Elizabeth. You could say that he was blinded by love, but I think he was just used to people wanting things from him. He didn’t want to see Elizabeth’s disinterest and hostility towards him, because that would go against the little part of him that believed he was owed someone’s good favor. 

Both of these equally wrong perceptions of each other lead to one of the most dramatic scenes in the book. Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, believing her knowledgeable of his feelings and eager to accept. This outburst from Darcy baffles Elizabeth, who was unaware of his feelings towards her. During his proposal, Mr. Darcy insults Elizabeth and her family. He makes it clear that her inferior social class and family antics have caused him to repress his love for her. Mr. Darcy puts his aversion to marrying someone of a lower social class first, and his love for Elizabeth second. Elizabeth, who is now confused and mad, tells Mr. Darcy off. This moment in the story is the vertex of the character’s misunderstandings and misjudgments. Elizabeth’s opinion of Mr. Darcy hasn’t changed, but she realizes that she was blind to his infatuation with her. And Mr. Darcy, who believed Elizabeth would accept the proposal, is confounded by Elizabeth’s dislike of him.

The proposal scene was probably the most memorable part of the book for me the first time I read it. I loved Elizabeth’s rage-inspired comebacks, and Mr. Darcy’s confusion and flowery sentiments about his love. But as I read the book more, I realized that it wasn’t the amazing setup for their love story that made their romance so impactful. It was the character’s evolution you follow after the proposal scene. Both Mr. Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s hearts were wounded during the proposal, but through the rest of the book their misjudgments are set right and they see each other for who they truly are. This process from misconceptions to love happens in multiple steps, which can be noted in multiple scenes in the book. The first real push towards love is Mr. Darcy’s letter. The letter Mr. Darcy sends Elizabeth the morning after the proposal explains his side of stories that fed Elizabeth’s dislike of him. This is the first time Elizabeth realizes Mr. Darcy’s character is different from what she had thought it to be. She also comes to realize that she made strong judgments towards him based on biases and one-sided perceptions. These revelations motivate the change in her opinion of Mr. Darcy. At first, she ponders over his actions while separated from his influence. But later on in the book, she visits Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate. This is another moment where her opinion of him changes. First, she hears of how he is kind and amiable to his servants and the people living on his land from his housekeeper. This baffles Elizabeth because it is so different from the way her whole town thought him to be earlier in the story. This new information strikes Elizabeth, but it doesn’t convince her he has changed. Later, in one of my all-time favorite scenes, Elizabeth witnesses his change in behavior herself. Mr. Darcy (who was supposed to be out of town) surprises Elizabeth by showing up at his estate. Because they both had no knowledge of the other being there, what follows is the most secondhand embarrassment-inducing scene I’ve ever read. But after recovering from the awkwardness of the situation, Elizabeth notices Mr. Darcy’s behavior towards her lower-status aunt and uncle. If they had met him before Elizabeth’s heated refusal, he would have been offended that they would dare talk to him. But Mr. Darcy is kind and inviting during their unplanned meeting. After that, Elizabeth continues to notice the improvements in Darcy’s behavior. In particular, when Elizabeth’s family is thrown into distress, Mr. Darcy uses his privilege and money to help resolve the problem. He does it anonymously, but Elizabeth happens to learn of his actions. The change in Mr. Darcy’s character is clear, and her gratitude towards him destroys any enduring hard feelings. Elizabeth’s respect for Mr. Darcy quietly becomes love after that point, and so when he proposes again, she says yes. 

Although Mr. Darcy’s evolution can’t be tracked in particular moments like Elizabeth’s, the change in his behavior throughout the book is bountiful evidence of the impact of his love for Elizabeth. During the proposal, Elizabeth tells Mr. Darcy that he is ungentlemanly and proud. Later in the book, Darcy tells Elizabeth that her words haunted him, and so he decided to change. It was his respect for Elizabeth, not only his love, that pushed him to change. I think that the most beautiful part of his transformation is the fact that Mr. Darcy changed not to win Elizabeth over, but because he valued her opinion of him. After her blunt refusal of his proposal, Darcy believed that love was off the table. But he still changed. He wanted to be a better person, even if they would never meet again. 

The ways that Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s change during the book are representations of the impact love can have on behavior. Elizabeth changes her mind, and Mr. Darcy changes his ways. In many ways, Pride and Prejudice differs greatly from tales of princesses and princes in shining armor, but the evolutions expressed in the book make the story a fairytale romance of sorts. The ways the characters changed are no small feat. To change someone’s mind is to change a person’s beliefs. Humans cling to their beliefs like they are more important than their own lives. The fact that Elizabeth was able to accept that she was wrong is a magnificent transformation in human character, inspired by love. But I think Mr. Darcy’s change is even more fantastical. He completely changes his behavior. For someone who has been raised to think they are better than everyone else, to break out of the belief of superiority is incredible. And he does it out of his love and respect for Elizabeth. 

Pride and Prejudice is such a captivating romance because it gives us the hope that love can change people- that we can change people. Call me cynical, but that sounds like a fantasy to me. The saying “people never change” is hyperbolic, but there is some truth in it. So it’s amazing when you read a book that makes you feel that love can change people for the better. Many people believe that they can fix their significant other with their love. They may even believe that their fixer-upper can only be changed by them. But in Mr. In Darcy’s case, it was not Elizabeth’s desire for him to change that brought about his transformation, it was his own desire to change. In a real relationship, a significant other’s love may be a catalyst for change, but true change comes from the inside. 

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