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Historical Context of Pride and Prejudice

During Austen's career, Romanticism reached its zenith of acceptance and influence, but
she rejected the tenets of that movement. The romantics extolled the power of feeling,
whereas Austen upheld the supremacy of the rational faculty. Romanticism advocated
the abandonment of restraint; Austen was a staunch exponent of the neo-classical belief
in order and discipline. The romantics saw in nature a transcendental power to stimulate
men to better the existing order of things, which they saw as essentially tragic in its
existing state. Austen supported traditional values and the established norms, and
viewed the human condition in the comic spirit. The romantics exuberantly celebrated
natural beauty, but Austen's dramatic technique decreed sparse description of setting.
The beauties of nature are seldom detailed in her work.

Just as Austen's works display little evidence of the Romantic movement, they also
reveal no awareness of the international upheavals and consequent turmoil in England
that took place during her lifetime. Keep in mind, however, that such forces were
remote from the restricted world that she depicts. Tumultuous affairs, such as the
Napoleonic wars, in her day did not significantly affect the daily lives of middle-class
provincial families. The ranks of the military were recruited from the lower orders of
the populace, leaving gentlemen to purchase a commission, the way Wickham does in
the novel, and thereby become officers.

Additionally, the advancement of technology had not yet disrupted the stately
eighteenth-century patterns of rural life. The effects of the industrial revolution, with its
economic and social repercussions, were still most sharply felt by the underprivileged
laboring classes. Unrest was widespread, but the great reforms that would launch a new
era of English political life did not come until later. Consequently, newer technology
that existed in England at the time of Pride and Prejudice's publication does not appear
in the work.


Historical Context

Jane Austen completed the original version of Pride and Prejudice in either 1796 or
1797, while the author was still in her early twenties. Publishers rejected the
manuscript, and Austen left it alone for several years. From 1809 to 1812 she revised
the work, and it was finally published in January 1813.
Austen and her family lived in Steventon, England while she wrote Pride and Prejudice.
English society in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was characterized
by sharp stratification. Wealth, family connections, and property ownership divided
groups from each other, while royalty and wealthy, titled landowners (often called
"landed gentry") comprised the highest ranks of society. Inheritance in most families
was bestowed on the eldest son, who generally lived off it. Younger sons and men
seeking to build fortunes were able to earn substantial salaries in trade, as do Bingley
and Sir William Lucas, law, as does Mr. Philips, the military, as do Colonels
Fitzwilliam and Forster, and even the church, as does Mr. Collins. Though men were
often able to leap societal boundaries by earning large fortunes, until they purchased a
large estate and were able to give up working to pursue lives of leisure, they could not
be considered "gentlemen," or men of the highest echelon.
Proper women, meanwhile, could not work for money, and, with the exception of their
dowries, their fathers' fortunes were inherited by the eldest son. In families without any
sons, such as the Bennets, the estate was often entailed to distant male relatives. For
these reasons, marriage became the chief means for women to achieve a place in
society. Finding a wealthy husband became of primary importance, which is why the
women of Austen's novels are so obsessed with making a good match. In order to attract
suitable husbands, women were expected to be "accomplished," which meant holding
several of the following talents: being able to sing, play the piano, draw, read, dance,
and speak French, among other things. They also had to be well-mannered and pretty,
and a large fortune always helped. In fact, many marriages were the direct result of two
families' desire to unite fortunes.
The lower ranks hardly appear in Austen's novels, which is a direct reflection of the
society. The landed class did not mix with the poor, with the exception of the maids
who served them and the occasional charity work. Mostly, the people of this time period
socialized in very small circles, concerned only with people of their own rank, while
always trying to improve their status and leapfrog to another level of society.

Historical Context

Jane Austen's England

Jane Austin's major novels, including Pride and Prejudice, were all composed within a
short period of about twenty years. Those twenty years (1795-1815) also mark a period
in history when England was at the height of its power. England stood as the bulwark
against French revolutionary extremism and against Napoleonic imperialism. The dates
Austen was writing almost exactly coincide with the great English military victories
over Napoleon and the French: the Battle of the Nile, in which Admiral Nelson crippled
the French Mediterranean fleet, and the battle of Waterloo, in which Lord Wellington
and his German allies defeated Napoleon decisively and sent him into exile. However,
so secure in their righteousness were the English middle and upper classes — the
"landed gentry" featured in Austen's works — that these historical events impact Pride
and Prejudice very little.

The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars

The period from 1789 to 1799 marks the time of the French Revolution, while the
period from 1799 to 1815 marks the ascendancy of Napoleon — periods of almost
constant social change and upheaval. In England, the same periods were times of
conservative reaction, in which society changed very little. The British government, led
by Prime Minister William Pitt, maintained a strict control over any ideas or opinions
that seemed to support the revolution in France. Pitt's government suspended the right
of habeas corpus, giving themselves the power to imprison people for an indefinite time
without trial. It also passed laws against public criticism of government policies, and
suppressed working-class trade unions. At the same time, the Industrial Revolution
permanently changed the British economy. It provided the money Pitt's government
needed to oppose Napoleon. At the same time, it also created a large wealthy class and
an even larger middle class. These are the people that Jane Austen depicts in Pride and
Prejudice, the "landed gentry" who have eamed their property, not by inheriting it from
their aristocratic ancestors, but by purchasing it with their new wealth. They have few
of the manners and graces of the aristocracy and, like the Collinses in Pride and
Prejudice, are primarily concemed with their own futures in their own little worlds.

Unlike other Romantic-era writers, such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor
Coleridge, Austen's works are very little impacted by the French Revolution and
revolutionary rhetoric. Members of Austen's own family served in the war against
Bonaparte and the French; two of her brothers became admirals in the Royal Navy. The
only hint of war and military behavior in Pride and Prejudice, however, lies in the
continued presence of the British soldiers in Meryton, near the Bennet estate at
Longbourn. The soldiers include George Wickham, who later elopes with Lydia Bennet,
disgracing the family. In the world of Pride and Prejudice, the soldiers are present only
to give the younger Bennet daughters men in uniforms to chase after. Their world is
limited to their own home, those of their friends and neighbors, a few major resort
towns, and, far off, the city of London. There is no hint of the revolutionary affairs
going on just across the English Channel in France.

English Regency Society

On the other hand, contemporary English society is a preoccupation of Pride and

Prejudice. At the time the novel was published, King George III had been struck down
by the periodic madness (now suspected to be caused by the metabolic disease
porphyria) that plagued his final years. The powers he was no longer capable of using
were placed in the hands of his son the Prince Regent, later George IV. The Prince
Regent was widely known as a man of dissolute morals, and his example was followed
by many of society's leading figures. Young men regularly went to universities not to
learn, but to see and be seen, to drink, gamble, race horses, and spend money. Perhaps
the greatest example of this type in Pride and Prejudice is the unprincipled George
Wickham, who seduces sixteen-year-old Lydia Bennet. Lydia for her part also
participates willingly in Regency culture; her thoughts are not for her family's disgrace,
but about the handsomeness of her husband and the jealousy of her sisters.

Most "respectable" middle- and upper-class figures, such as Elizabeth Bennet and
Fitzwilliam Darcy, strongly disapproved of the immorality of Regency culture. But they
did participate in the fashions of the time, influenced by French styles (even though
France was at war with England). During the period of the Directory and the Consulate
in France (from 1794-1804), styles were influenced by the costumes of the Roman
Republic. The elaborate hairstyles and dresses that had characterized the French
aristocracy before the Revolution were discarded for simpler costumes. Women,
including Elizabeth Bennet, would have worn a simple dress that resembled a modern
nightgown. Loose and flowing, it was secured by a ribbon tied just below the breasts.
Darcy for his part would have worn a civilian costume of tight breeches, a ruffled shirt
with a carefully folded neckcloth, and a high-collared jacket. Even though these
costumes were in part a reaction to the excesses of early eighteenth-century dress, they
became themselves quite elaborate as the century progressed, sparked by the Prince
Regent himself and his friend, the impeccable dresser Beau Brummel. Brummel's
mystique, known as "dandyism," expressed in clothing the same idleness and effortless
command of a situation that characterizes many of Austen's heroes and heroines.

Compare & Contrast

• 1810s: Europe is submerged in warfare throughout most of the decade by the
struggle against the ambitions of Napoleon Bonaparte to unite the continent
under French rule. Two of Austen's brothers, Frank and Charles, entered the
British Navy and fought in the Napoleonic Wars.

Today: For the first time since the Napoleonic Wars, Europe considers a single
multinational government in the European Union.

• 1810s: In the early nineteenth century, a woman's education differed greatly

from that of a man. While boys attended boarding schools and studied Latin,
mathematics, and science, girls were schooled at home by governesses, focusing
on the fine arts, writing, reading, and sewing.

Today: Over one hundred twenty-five million women graduated from high
school in 1994 alone, while around eight hundred thousand females were
enrolled in colleges and universities. Not limited to a specific gender, most
American high schools and universities are open to both sexes, and course
offerings are not exclusive to men or women.

• 1810s: Because of a lack of professions for women to enter and become self-
supporting, few women could afford to remain single in early 1800s. Most
women elected to marry rather than depend on other family members for
financial support.

Today: Many women in America have increasingly decided to remain single.

By 1994, only fifty-nine percent of women in America were married. In
addition, almost sixty percent of American women over the age of sixteen were
employed in the labor force, either part-time or full-time.

Pride and Prejudice: The Effects of ContextPride and

Prejudice: The Effects of ContextTime is an unchangeable force,
which alters every aspect of human life. All spheres of life are
affected by time and are changed forever. In the case of Literature
and Art, it is expected that a contemporary audience will tire of the
older texts. This is the result of changing contexts. With these
changed contexts comes changed values, changed knowledge,
changed attitudes, and subsequently, changed interest in texts. Over
time technology develops new ways of presenting and viewing a text;
new mediums. These new mediums are often adopted to represent an
older text in an attempt to appeal afresh to the changed audience.
These new mediums will obviously affect the subject matter,
construction and message of the text, because medium change is
alteration to the original text. The novel Pride and Prejudice has
endured the last two centuries with an ever-increasing popularity.
Originally composed by eighteenth century classic author Jane
Austen, the novel was more recently represented in a new
medium,the film medium. Simon Langton an acclaimed director was
employed by the BBC to appropriate the novel into a television
series.The original medium and the changed medium are significantly
impacted by the composer's context. Composer's and their texts are a
reflection of the society they are created in, even if they are critical of
that society. Jane Austen was certainly critical of her provincial
upper/middle class society and this is evident from the subtle
mocking of characters such as Catherine De Bough, a snobbish lady
without morals. It is important to recognise that every single word
that Jane Austen wrote was marked with her personal experiences
and knowledge (just as every single frame in the television series is
marked by Simon Langton's direction). Everything that she wrote
down is solely Jane Austen's. The contemporary audience gets an
insight into the author's mind, just as much as the author's main
characters. Elizabeth Bennet, the main character, is given an
omniscient wholesomeness which appeals to the audience, and
reveals faults in the subordinate characters. Elizabeth is essentially
Austen and they share the same position in life, the same contexts.
Therefore, it can be understood that her context is embedded in the
text. The similarities between Austen's novel and her own life provide
an in-depth insight into her world; socially, culturally, economically,
and geographically. In her novel, Jane Austen observes the social
habits, customs, beliefs, attitudes and practices of eighteenth century
upper class society in England. Her novel is predominantly concerned
with courtship and marriage and the importance of marrying for love.
She writes of families invarious circumstances struggling to maintain
or enhance their social position through marriage. Her characters,
Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, reflect Austen's personal belief that
marriage should only proceed if there is mutual affection between
both persons. Jane Austen was an eighteenth century feminist,
presenting her ideas to the world through prose.In contrast, Simon
Langton is a British male, who has been approached by the BBC to
direct a Pride and Prejudice television series. Langton is presenting
for a contemporary audience, his personal context. He is being paid
handsomely, and he is expecting the text to be viewed. Langton is
carrying 21st century judgemental baggage (his context), which is
inherent, if only through the medium change, in the television series.
Therefore it can be said that although only subtle, Langton's context,
socially, culturally, economically and geographically is embedded in
the film.One of the factors that influence Austen and Langton's texts
is their personal context. Austen was a feminist, a spinster; she was
young, and unmarried. Austen wrote from a personal context, as can
be understood from the similarities in her own life and her novel.
Langton's text has been developed in a historical context. His
contemporary context, of course has influence on the resultant
media, yet he is not representing his own personal context in quite
the same way as Austen did. Langton's production is an attempt at
representing a historical text to a contemporary audience. He is
appropriating an 18th century text for a 21st century audience.Pride
and Prejudice embodies Austen's social context, through the many
balls, parties, and lunches of which she would have been accustomed.
The connection between her social life and the Bennet daughters can
be supposed to be very similar. She is writing about what she knew,
and from this it can be seen she was familiar with upper class soirées
and social interactions. Austen probably attended balls and dinner
parties, similar to those illustrated in Pride and Prejudice. In the case
of Simon Langton, he is appropriating another person's social context
and time period. So, his personal context is not readily perceptible in
the production. It is mainly through the social questions that he
focuses on that his own social context is evident. For example, he
focuses more on aspects of love and romance, as opposed to Austen
who focused more on class and status.It was due to her educated
status that Austen chose, and had the ability to, compose a novel.
Austen's father, who educated the sons of the gentry, imparted his
literary knowledge to his daughter. The solitude of her life allowed
much of her time to be dedicated to writing. She composed
throughout her life many great novels and each one is more or less
concerned with courtship and marriage, as was she. Her education
gave her the ability to express herself through prose and the results
are her novels. It can be seen that her context, as a well-educated
spinster, brought to life her novels. Langton was employed due to his
status as a skilled director. It can be seen that his experiences, were
influential in his being chosen to direct the Pride and Prejudice series.
He was no doubt chosen, for his familiarity with Jane Austen's context,
because this was what he was representing. So it can be presumed he
was a learned individual. Langton's familiarity with the visual
audience, allowed him to create a text which was going to be
interesting and lucrative.Jane Austen's father died early on in her life
and she never married. Austen,her mother, and her sister lived the
remainder of their lives on the charity of her brother. She was never
wealthy, however due to her brother's status, she had friends and
acquaintances regarded as upper/middle class. Her knowledge of
these classes in her novels can only have been from her first hand
experiences. Throughout her novel, Austen's characters are often
worrying about money, especially Mrs Bennet. It is most probable Mrs
Bennet reflects Austen's own financial insecurities and the economic
pressures she felt. Austen's self imposed spinsterhood meant she
never married and therefore never elevated her economic situation.
The reason that she never married is probably due to her belief that
one should only marry for love. Her novel reinforces this belief and
maybe this is why she never married, because she never fell in love.
Austen probably wrote Pride and Prejudice without expecting its
publication, let alone its incredible popularity. The novel was not
published for approximately 15 years after she first wrote it. Also, the
book was published anonymously and she made very little profit from
its sale. Taking all this into account, it can be understood that she was
writing more or less for herself, and secondarily for an audience. This
is quite the opposite for Simon Langton, who logically adopted the
most popular and most financially lucrative medium to represent
Pride and Prejudice. He was approached to direct the series, and
probably only obliged in return for money. His economic position was
very different to Austen's, as he had made money from previous
films. Also, Langton would have had a large film budget at his
disposal to create the series. The result is the lavish costumes and
settings in the series. These economic factors of both composers'
contexts had influence on the resultant texts.Austen was reasonably
acquainted with the English countryside and cities; this is mainly
attributed to her father's decisions to relocate at various times during
her childhood. Her knowledge of cities such as London and places
such as Bath is evident in her novels, as they serve as settings for
some of her characters. Austen was living at a time when travel was
very expensive and limited. The only transportation was by horse and
cart and this was very expensive.Langton on the other hand, is living
in the age of technology, with planes and trains. The medium he is
using was not even imagined when Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice.
His geographical context is not as isolated, as Austen's was. The
construction of Langton's text is representative of this. Jane Austen
uses literary techniques to deliver her story and present her ideas,
whereas Simon Langton has employed the film medium. The reader's
interpretations are subsequently different to the viewer's
interpretation. Each medium has advantages and disadvantages with
the restrictions they impose. For example, it could be argued that
Langton's version of Pride and Prejudice is more coherent and
altogether much more entertaining. However, this opinion would be
from the perspective of the MTV minded generation, who are less
inclined to read the original text. The pretentious learned, would state
that Austen's remarkable social observation and her undeniable
literary skill is much more superior than any film depiction could hope
to be. It would be foolish to say one is better than the other. They are
each clearly developed for different audiences, different individual
experiences and therefore cannot easily be compared. Various
techniques are employed by both parties to achieve their purpose.
However, since their purposes were different, their techniques are
different.Austen has the power of letters, extensive dialogue and the
thoughts of her characters to develop the plot and ideas. She wrote
with an observant eye, delivering in detail the idiosyncrasies of her
characters. The following excerpt is Austen's description of Mr Collins
through the thoughts of her character Elizabeth."He was a tall, heavy-
looking young man of five and twenty. Hisair was grave and stately,
and his manners were very formal."Austen's authorial intrusion is a
technique which allows her to present her personal beliefs or
attitudes. Langton is unable to utilise this technique without seeming
boring or obvious, because he is using a different medium. For
example, the various letters in the film contain precious information
that has to be leaked to the audience, however Langton could not
have one of his characters read an entire letter, so he has to find a
way of revealing the important parts. Having a fellow character ask
what the letter speaks of does this. Even then, Langton can only
reveal the important parts, as he perceives them to be, of the letter
to reduce the time of the scene. Austen's prose is delightfully
descriptive, and although Langton has the power of real-life imagery,
sometimes this is not as beautiful or revealing as the literary imagery,
that Austen creates. For example a viewer may momentarily marvel
at an actor's costume, however with film, the opulence of a
character's costume, cannot be overtly referred to. Austen however,
could directly reference to a characters clothing and deliver a page of
description, forcing the reader to acknowledge the lavishness and
importance of the costume for a longer period of time. Langton's
costume and setting is painstakingly authentic and the film perfectly
represents the material aspects of Austen's society. Langton could
take advantage of body language and symbolism, which Austen could
rarely do. The score that Langton used had an incredible effect on the
mood and emotions of the viewer, which cannot be as poignantly
presented in prose. The visual techniques such as symbolism, camera
angles and carácter profile, are the major factors that helped Langton
communicate in a second, what might take Austen 4 or 5 pages to
achieve. However, both contexts are equally effective in what they
convey.The fundamental ideas explored in both mediums are
appropriately different for different audiences. Langton is more
concerned with love and romance than with class and status. His
context has influenced his direction. Although limited, Langton
includes the lower classes in his representation, if only as background
figures. This is done so as to broaden the audience. For example, the
inclusion of lower classes means that Marxists would be more
accepting of the series. He has chosen specifically to focus on love
and romance, to remove the audience from present day dilemmas,
and to avoid any negative connotations. The contemporary audience,
when thinking about Pride and Prejudice, pictures a classic tale of
pure love. Jane Austen, on the other hand, did not necessarily have an
audience in mind. Jane Austen's novel may have been quite
innocuous, however, at times the underlying message, i.e. women
rarely married for love, is not necessarily happy and light. This is why
each of the composers has chosen a different theme, or idea. This
theme or idea has been chosen appropriately for the different
audiences, the result of the composer's different contexts.All texts are
implicitly influenced and shaped by their social context and the
background of the composer. Keeping this in mind, it can be
understood that Jane Austen's context is embedded in her novel, and
Simon Langton's context is embedded in his appropriation of her
novel. Langton has attempted to convey visually what Austen
demonstrated through her writing. Each text represents the society of
which their creators knew and experienced. Austen, a marvellous
spinster has written a wondrous story of marriage and courtship, the
number one priority of her time. Langton has recreated Austen's
world for a changed society by adapting Pride and Prejudice to
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