A conventionally romantic novel usually focuses on the relationship between a physically attractive man and woman.
The hero and heroine usually meet early in the story and fall in love at first sight. The two lovers may, more often than not, have to overcome obstacles in order to be together, but in the end, it seems that love conquers all. Pride and Prejudice does fall into this ‘romance’ category; it’s often considered the most romantic novel of all time.
But there are certainly elements of this novel that drive completely against the cliches of a conventional romance novel, and this essay will attempt to pinpoint those ‘elements’, and argue whether or not Pride and Prejudice follows the conventions of a romantic novel. Elizabeth, in herself, is not a particularly conventionally romantic character. She is ‘not half so handsome as Jane’, although she ‘has something more of quickness than her sisters’.
She is, however, the heroine of the story, and has the rational view of men and relationships that are inverted from the conventional stereotypes found in typical romantic novels.When holidaying with her aunt and uncle, she says ‘Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains? ‘, using the words ‘disappointment’ and ‘spleen’ in the same sentence as she is describing men. This is not ‘romantic’ language, and does not describe men or love in a particularly positive way. Elizabeth Bennet is also used as a literary device to represent Austen’s values and attitudes on the importance of marrying for love enables us to see this world through Elizabeth’s eyes and we are positioned to empathize with her opinion on the absurdity of marrying for reasons other than love.Elizabeth is a free-spirited individual who differs substantially from the other female characters of the novel, and she refuses to be wed to a man to whom she does not love. Her differentiation from the other characters means that readers can empathise with her, as she isn’t the pretty, popular, favourite child.
Elizabeth, although often guilty of prejudiced attitudes, always acknowledges and learns from her mistakes. Her clear thinking and resolution lead her to make the only truly happy marriage in the novel.Elizabeth really doesn’t think she, for want of a better word, deserves Darcy; she ‘hardly knew how to suppose that she could be an object of admiration to so great a man (Darcy)’, which adds to the lovability of Elizabeth, and makes her an interesting character to follow. Darcy, on the other hand, is dark, handsome and wealthy- a conventionally romantic character. However, I think Austen thought this to be too boring, and gave Darcy rather undesirable characteristics.He is described as a ‘most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing’, however, towards the end of the book, it turns out that actually, he is a rather nice person, and helped out with the Lydia and Wickham situation. This is also fairly conventional; though the journey it takes to get there is far from it, Elizabeth’s final realisation of Darcy is romantic. Together, Elizabeth and Darcy are the most unconventionally romantic couple in the novel – this is what makes them interesting to follow throughout the book.
However, the marriage between Darcy and Elizabeth portrays the characteristics which Austen constitutes a successful marriage. One of these characteristics is how love cannot be brought on by appearances, and must gradually develop between the two people as they get to know one another. Darcy’s immediate opinion of Elizabeth is that she is ‘tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me’. But, the two finally realise their love for one another, and Darcy shows his softer side, and says that Elizabeth ‘must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you’.To a certain extent, I think Jane Austen satirises conventional romantic expectations with Elizabeth and Darcy, by inverting the stereotypes; for example, Darcy and Elizabeth’s mutual disliking on first sight and how Elizabeth isn’t conventionally attractive. She also uses the fact that Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, but this is turned down. However, I think that the reader takes a particular interest in this couple, due to their slightly quirky traits, and the realistic characterisation that Austen has given them. Their unpredictable nature makes their story much more interesting and fun.
Of course, there are small traces of romantic conventionalism with this couple; they fall in love in the end, after over coming many obstacles and all ends happily . I think Austen felt that this course for the two was the tried and tested, and could add variety to the story by changing and inverting other details of their romance. Another striking examples of Austen’s satire is her emphasis on the lack of reason, which is often found in a bulk of romantic novels. Lydia and Wickham’s marriage is seen as a triumph of their passions’ over their ‘virtue’, and Austen is certain that ‘little permanent happiness’ could come from such a union; not particularly romantic language, certainly not that of a romance novel. This is exemplified by Wickham’s continuance of his extravagant habits, and the degeneracy of any feelings between them. Pride and Prejudice was written before any real law was introduced on marriage; before roughly the 1880s, girls as young as 12 could be ‘contracted’ into marriage, with fathers treating it as more of a business deal than a romantic gesture.
Marriages like that between Lydia and Wickham were not unheard of, which is probably why Austen included it in the book. Of course, in complete contrast to this is Elizabeth, the sensible and rational sister. According to Mrs Bennet, ‘one does not often see anybody better-looking’ than Jane. She is far prettier than Elizabeth, and the oldest of the Bennet sisters, and therefore falls quite nicely into the ‘romantic’ category.
Wickham is ‘quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, good looking and gentlemanlike’, so a complete contrast to Darcy, at first glance.Jane and Bingley’s relationship follows many elements of a romantic novel. They fall in love almost immediately, and the development of their relationship follows a conventional romantic novel course; obstacles in the form of Darcy, typical disapproval of the two families, and the attraction between the handsome rich young man and the girl from the lower class. The sheer predictableness of this couple’s individual plot line highlights just how unconventional Elizabeth and Darcy are, and makes the differences between the two much more pronounced.Mrs Bennet provides the comedy element of the book, as she’s loud and opinionated, and completely oblivious to the embarrassment she causes the rest of her family. Mr Bennet is driven to exhaustion by his daughters and wife, and so reacts by withdrawing himself somewhat from the family, and assuming a detached attitude punctuated by bursts of sarcastic humor. Initially, he appears a sympathetic figure, but, though he remains likable throughout, the reader gradually loses respect for him as it becomes clear that this detachment from his family will have a lasting affect on him and his family.Because he is so detached from his family, he is a weak father and, at critical moments, fails his family.
In particular, his indulgence of Lydia’s immature behavior nearly leads to disgrace when she elopes with Wickham. Further, upon her disappearance, he proves largely ineffective. It is left to Mr. Gardiner and Darcy to track Lydia down and rectify the situation. Ultimately, Mr. Bennet would rather withdraw from the world than cope with it. Their characters are neither conventionally romantic or unromantic; their relationship is sad, and unconventional.
The story behind the relationship of Mr ; Mrs Bennet is somewhat sad; Mr Bennet, ‘captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give’ had married Mrs Bennet, whose ‘weak understanding and illiberal mind’ had, towards the beginning of the marriage, put ‘an end to all real affection for her’. Respect, esteem, and confidence had ‘vanished for ever’; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.However, Mrs Bennet’s ‘ignorance and folly’ had contributed to Mr Bennet’s amusement. Another unromantic couple in this story is Mr Collins and Charlotte Lucas. Mr Collins ‘was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society’, and is one of the most unromantic characters in this book.
He is the threat to the Bennet household; as Mr Bennet’s cousin, he is the heir to the estate if one of the sisters doesn’t marry.Upon arrival, Mr Collins takes a liking to Jane, but after discovering that Jane is otherwise taken by Mr Bingley, he ‘had only to move from Jane to Elizabeth and it was soon done’, which is very unromantic and unconventional in itself. Then, when Elizabeth turns down his proposal, he moves on to Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth’s friend.
Again, very unromantic. The proposal(s) in themselves are not unromantic, of course, far from it, but the nature of them (purely for the financial benefit) is of course unromantic, but the norm in the early 1800s.Charlotte is introduced as a ‘sensible, intelligent young woman, about twenty-seven’. ‘Sensibile’ and ‘intelligent’ are not traits usually associated with romantic characters, and so Charlotte is immediately disassociates with any romantic connotations. In the 1800s, if you were past the age of thirty and unmarried, you would be called an ‘old maid’, and bordering on ‘spinster’.
So, for Charlotte, time is running out, and she is desperate, which is possibly why she settles for Mr Collins. This is of course, not conventionally romantic.Charlotte believes that ‘In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better show more affection than she feels’. This gives us some insight into what Charlotte thinks about men; that if you don’t act fast, then you may lose them, again unromantic ideas. She also says she’s ‘not romantic, you know. I never was.
I ask only for a comfortable home’. Of course, this language is unromantic, as she is describing herself as not romantic. But also, there are the ideas within this quote that are unromantic too. In conclusion, Pride and Prejudice doesn’t follow the conventions of a romantic novel.It’s certainly got elements of romantic tradition, but Austen twisted the cliches, and in places, satirises conventions by inverting the stereotypes, ‘poking fun’ at the somewhat ridiculous norm of a large proportion of romantic novels. However, I think, arguably, it is still a romance novel; yes, much of the book is focusing on marriage to ensure a future rather than for reasons of love, but Elizabeth and Darcy, and arguably Jane and Bingley, all fall in love rather than seek it, which is rather romantic.