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Pride and Prejudice depicts a society in which a woman’s reputation is of the utmost importance. Stepping outside the social norms makes her vulnerable to ostracism.
This theme appears in the novel, when Elizabeth walks to Netherfield and arrives with muddy skirts, to the shock of the reputation-conscious Miss Bingley and her friends.
Austen pokes gentle fun at the snobs in these examples, but later in the novel, when Lydia elopes with Wickham and lives with him out of wedlock, the author treats reputation as a very serious matter.
By becoming Wickham’s lover without benefit of marriage, Lydia clearly places herself outside the social pale, and her disgrace threatens the entire Bennet family.
Austen satirizes this kind of class-consciousness, particularly in the character of Mr.
Collins, who spends most of his time toadying to his upper-class patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Collins offers an extreme example, he is not the only one to hold such views.
Of course, this whole discussion of class must be made with the understanding that Austen herself is often criticized as being a classist: she doesn’t really represent anyone from the lower classes; those servants she does portray are generally happy with their lot.One can ask of Pride and Prejudice, to what extent does it critique social structures, and to what extent does it simply accept their inevitability?The theme of class is related to reputation, in that both reflect the strictly regimented nature of life for the middle and upper classes in Regency England. While the Bennets, who are middle class, may socialize with the upper-class Bingleys and Darcys, they are clearly their social inferiors and are treated as such.Pride and Prejudice is remarkably free of explicit symbolism, which perhaps has something to do with the novel’s reliance on dialogue over description.Nevertheless, Pemberley, Darcy’s estate, sits at the center of the novel, literally and figuratively, as a geographic symbol of the man who owns it.
Nevertheless, journeys—even short ones—function repeatedly as catalysts for change in the novel. Her second journey takes her to Derby and Pemberley, where she fans the growing flame of her affection for Darcy.