Study Guide - Modlin Center for the Arts
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
by Jane Austen
Executive Producer, Susan Albert Loewenberg
© 2011 L.A. Theatre Works. All rights reserved.
TEACHER’S STUDY GUIDE
by Michael Aspinwall, Elizabeth Bennett, and Vicki Pearlson
About L.A. Theatre Works
L.A. Theatre Works (LATW), a non-profit organization founded in 1974, is the foremost radio theatre
company in the nation. Our mission is to present, preserve and disseminate classic and contemporary
plays, using innovative technologies to make high-quality theatre widely accessible at little or no cost and
promoting theatre as an educational tool and a vehicle to examine issues of national and global importance.
The multi-award-winning company performs a successful live radio theatre series each season in Los
Angeles, CA. An LATW performance is immediate and spontaneous, featuring world class actors recorded
in state-of-the-art sound, complemented by intricate sound designs and on-stage effects. LATW transforms
works by playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, and Neil Simon into intimate, compelling and
sound-rich audio plays. LATW works with leading film and television stars, including Annette Benning, Paul
Giamatti, Alfred Molina, and Hilary Swank.
Our weekly radio show airs on National Public Radio stations, serving over 10 million annually and is
aired internationally on the BBC, CBC and others. On the road, LATW has presented live radio theatre
performances in over 200 cities nationwide as well as internationally, specializing in original docudramas
about the American experience. Our library of over 400 works is collected by over 9,000 libraries worldwide
in both digital and conventional formats.
To ensure further access, LATW annually distributes titles free of charge to more than 5,000 underserved
U.S. public schools and libraries each year. Visit LATW’s website at www.latw.org for more information
about us and our ALIVE & ALOUD program for middle and high schools. We welcome your comments and
inquiries regarding the ALIVE & ALOUD recordings and teachers guides.
To reach us or to request a free catalogue of LATW plays, docudramas and novels available on CD, contact:
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phone: (800) 708-8863
Thematic Overview and Cross-Curricular Opportunities
Each of the works at LATW has theatrical as well as literary merit. However, most teachers will
not be able to teach the play in its entirety. In this section of the study guide, we want to highlight
universal themes in the play, illustrate how the play dramatizes and deals with the themes, and offer
ways to associate those themes into various curriculums.
A canonized literary classic, Pride and Prejudice is steeped in theme and history. The study guide
highlights some of the themes and moral questions that drive the play. These themes include:
Social Conventions: Then and Now
Class and Gender Roles
Historical Time Period and Setting
One of the major ways LATW plays can be translated to the classroom is through association of time
period, and the setting of Pride and Prejudice is critical to a complete understanding of the work.
Set in rural England sometime during the Napoleonic wars, the characters’ behaviors, conflicts, and
issues arise from the social constructs of that time. Thus, students must have a connection to the
story’s overall setting in order to keep the play’s action in perspective.
Another fascinating element of L.A. Theatre Works’ production of Pride and Prejudice is its genre.
Different from a traditional play, this work is an adaptation. While close in nature, an adaptation
is a distillation and re-imagination of Austen’s original work. From a teaching perspective, the
adaptation allows students to not only appreciate the live performance, but also to experience
canonized literature in a new way.
Then and now
Students will have a further understanding of social conventions and the ways in which they have
changed over time. They will research and respond to social issues from both a contemporary point
of view as well as from the vantage point of someone who lived in Napoleonic England.
The facilitator can start by bringing in ‘Dear Abby’ or other advice column letters to share with the
students. Begin a discussion about the kinds of things people write to advice columnists and the
ways in which they respond. What do the kinds of questions readers send in and the columnists’
responses say about our social conventions today? Do you agree with the columnists’ ideas? Would
you take their advice?
Ask students to write a letter to ‘Abby’ about a social problem they may be experiencing. It can be
an actual issue for them or a fabricated situation, but ultimately the letter should be a ‘what would
you do’ dilemma.
Collect all of the letters from students. Pair students up and give each set of students two letters at
random. Within each pair, one of the students will be ‘Abby’ and give advice on what the author
should do to solve his or her problem. The other student will be ‘Abigail’ and give advice on the
same letter, but this advice will come from the social conventions of Napoleonic England. The
two students may decide to work together, but they must generate two responses to each letter.
The responses should reflect social conventions of the assigned time period and have historical /
The class will then host a talk show, with each pair of students rotating in as hosts. During each
pairs’ time as hosts, another classmate will read the letter to which the hosting pair responded. The
hosts will then give their responses to the social issue. The class, as studio audience, will debate
whether or not they agree with the advice and compare and contrast the differences based on time
Time and Materials:
• Dear Abby/advice columnists letters
• Internet and/or publications access
• One - Three class period(s)
Class and Gender Roles
Students will understand how class and gender roles influence ancient and contemporary societies.
Students will be able to apply what they have learned directly to the world around them.
Ask students, as a whole class, to make a visual representation of current social classes and gender
o How can we visually represent who has power over whom?
o How can we divide men and women?
o Can people move between classes or groups? How?
Using the class’s example, groups of students create a visual representation of class and gender
from another society or time period. For example, one group might choose to do a poster or largescale drawing of the class system of ancient Egypt. The facilitator might choose to let students
pick different points in history, or the facilitator can assign them. The facilitator should, however,
guarantee that at least one group looks at Napoleonic England to maintain relevance to Pride and
As the groups work and research their time periods, the facilitator can assist in the groups’
navigation and encourage them to include justifications for their design choices.
Once all of the posters are complete, the facilitator should display them together in front of the class.
Then, the facilitator can generate a class discussion about the similarities and differences between
o How have they changed over time?
o What things seem to be consistent?
o Do you agree with the justifications? Why?
Time and Materials:
• Internet / Printer Access
• One – Three class periods
Students look critically at simple objects and explore their own abilities or tendencies to make
judgments with little information or factual support. Students also examine the ways in which the
choices they make effect other people’s perceptions of them.
Generate a discussion with the whole class about the state of the school.
o Do you judge people? How? Why?
o Is judging a book by its cover ever a good thing? Why? When?
o On what criteria do you judge people? Are they ever on the basis of something small or
Prior to the class period, students should bring in a plain brown paper bag containing items that
belong to / represent something about them. When assigning this, the teacher or facilitator should
remind the students that they should not bring anything that is valuable, or that has their name or
their picture on it.
The facilitator collects the bags and redistributes them. The students should not know whose bag
they have in front of them. Students should then be given the attached directions sheet.
Evaluation / Rubric:
The facilitator asks the students to introduce the characters they have just created based on the items
in the bag. Once each student introduces his or her character, the person on whose bag the character
was based comes forward. The class can then discuss how much the real student has in common with
the made up character.
Time and Materials:
• This assignment requires students to bring materials from home prior to the lesson.
Look at the objects in the bag you were given. Remember, these items belong to one of your
classmates, and they will be returned to that person at the end of class.
Without trying to guess the owner of the bag, imagine a character to whom these items are extremely
important. Assume the reasons for each object’s importance, and let those reasons inform this
imaginary person’s personality.
On the sheet of paper provided:
1. Draw your character. Complete their ‘look’ according to the assumptions you have made
about who they are. Again, you are not trying to draw someone in class; you are making
up an imaginary person who is based strongly in reality.
2. In your drawing, include each of the objects that are in your bag. They can be worn,
held, or be part of the background.
3. Write a one-paragraph (5-8 sentences) introduction of your character. You will be
reading this out loud for the class.
4. Separate from your paragraph, write or draw five adjectives that describe this character.
These words should not be part of your paragraph; however, they should be visible on
At the end of the allotted work time, each student will be asked to stand up and show the class:
the items in the bag they were assigned;
the character they created;
the introductory paragraph; and
a justification of the relationship between the objects and the character
Students look at a piece of writing, analyze its key elements and use that analysis to adapt that work
into another genre. Students are able to identify elements of specific genres, how they operate, and
why they are essential.
As a class, brainstorm a list of different genres of writing. Write students’ ideas on the board as they
generate them. Then turn each suggestion into a bubble cluster, listing key elements of each genre and
identifying what about each makes it unique.
Then, pair students up and ask each set of students to find a newspaper or online article that interests
Once each pair of students has an article, they will adapt that article into another genre of writing.
Students may need an example that demonstrates what the before and after might look like and how
the new genre was chosen.
Stress to students the importance of highlighting the essential elements of the article by using the key
features of the genre they have chosen.
For advanced students, the facilitator might chose to assign the genres to each pair, ask students to
research the genre to which they have been assigned, and then adapt their article.
Evaluation / Rubric:
Student should present their adapted works to the class or a larger group of other students. The
facilitator may choose to have in-class presentations, team or grade-level presentations, or create a full
scale evening event.
Time and Materials:
• Newspaper articles / Internet access
• This assignment can take between one and seven days depending on how the teacher chooses
to publish or present student work.
Discussion Questions and Quick Write Ideas
Do you think class systems still exist today? Support your answer.
The old idiom tells us that opposites attract in love. Do you agree or disagree? What person
experience can you reference either as a witness or participant?
How are men treated differently from women? Do you think its fair? Identify some gender roles or
issues you think should be reformed. Identify some gender roles or issues that you think should be
kept as they are.
Describe your own personal reputation. What factors contribute to it? What about would you change?
Do you think a person can believe in equality and still mistreat people? Can you think of a real-life
In Pride and Prejudice, describe the relationship between dialogue and characterization. Use specific
The original title of Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions. How important are first impressions in
Compare and contrast two relationships in the story. What does the nature of each relationship say
about the people involved in it?
Jane Austen’s classic 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice presents the story of love between the wealthy,
proud aristocratic Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, the witty, attractive second daughter of
the much-badgered gentleman, Mr. Bennet of Longbourn. In telling the tale of the unlikely lovers,
Austen depicts the concerns of her day: marriage, class, virtue, wealth and poverty, and the war
between the sexes.
An announcement that the nearby manor of Netherfield has been rented to a wealthy, unmarried
gentleman causes a great stir in the village of Longbourn. Mrs. Bennet – conscious that not having
a male heir puts the fate of herself and her five daughters in a relative’s hands when her husband
dies – is eager to see her daughters married off to men with good fortunes. Everyone meets their
new neighbors the Bingleys at a local ball. Charles Bingley spends most of the evening dancing with
the Bennet’s eldest daughter Jane. Bingley’s aristocratic friend, Mr. Darcy, views the Longbourn
residents as inferior to him and refuses to dance or converse with anyone outside his own group of
friends. His rude behavior is particularly noted by clever Elizabeth Bennett. She herself has been
insulted by comments she has overheard him make.
Charles Bingley’s affection for Jane grows. His haughty sisters, Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst,
invite Jane to dine with them so that they can know her better. Mrs. Bennet insists that Jane travel
on foot despite oncoming rainstorms. Jane falls ill at Netherfield and is forced to convalesce there
until well enough to return home. Concerned for her sister and conscious that the Bingley sisters
might treat Jane unkindly, Elizabeth walks on her own to Netherfield. She serves as Jane’s nurse and
endures evenings in the company of the snobbish Bingley sisters and Mr. Darcy. Caroline Bingley
jealously takes note of the increased attention Darcy pays to Elizabeth Bennet.
Their cousin, Mr. Collins, visits the Bennets. It is he who will inherit Mr. Bennet’s estate, since there
isn’t a male heir. Though a clergyman, Mr. Collins is a pompous fool who preens, talks incessantly,
and makes constant references to his wealthy patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It becomes
clear that his visit is made in part because he has decided to seek a wife. Learning that Jane will
likely become engaged to Bingley, Mr. Collins focuses on Elizabeth and he proposes to her within
a few days. She turns him down to Mrs. Bennet’s dismay and Mr. Bennet’s approval. Within a short
time, Elizabeth’s friend, Charlotte Lucas accepts Mr. Collins. At age 27, and without family money,
Charlotte has resigned herself to making a convenient alliance that will at least provide for her needs.
The Bennets are surprised to learn that the Bingleys and Mr. Darcy are leaving Netherfield
unexpectedly and returning to London for the winter. This disappointment is also embarrassing
because Mrs. Bennet had talked loudly of expecting an engagement between Jane and Bingley.
Jane’s despondency prompts her kind aunt and uncle -- the Gardiners -- to invite her to London for a
visit. She goes, hoping to see Bingley there. But she is only tolerated by Caroline Bingley for a brief
afternoon visit and she never hears from or sees Bingley himself.
Back at Longbourn, younger sisters Lydia and Kitty amuse themselves with a troop of military
officers stationed in town. Serious bookworm sister Mary frowns on their behavior, particularly when
Lydia acts outrageously flirtatious. A handsome officer named Wickham befriends Elizabeth, who is
sympathetic when Wickham tells her that Mr. Darcy cheated him out of an inheritance that he would
have used to become a minister.
In springtime, Elizabeth travels to visit Charlotte Lucas, now married to Mr. Collins and living at the
parsonage near Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s estate, Rosings. Elizabeth encounters Mr. Darcy again
as Lady Catherine is his aunt. From another of Lady Catherine’s nephews, Elizabeth learns that it
was Darcy who cautioned Bingley against Jane. This increases Elizabeth’s dislike of Darcy. She is
shocked when he proposes marriage to her, particularly because his proposal is full of comments
about how unwilling he had been to fall in love with her. Elizabeth refuses Darcy, telling him that
she finds him arrogant and unpleasant. She upbraids him for alienating Bingley’s affections from her
sister and for disinheriting Wickham. Darcy is devastated but responds by letter to defend himself.
He explains that he thought Jane did not show deep affection for his friend and wasn’t serious about
him. He also tells Elizabeth the truth of Wickham’s character: he accepted a cash settlement in lieu
of an inheritance and then attempted to elope with Darcy’s wealthy and innocent younger sister,
Georgiana. Darcy’s letter forces Elizabeth to re-evaluate her perceptions of him. When she returns
home, she doesn’t reveal what she has learned, even though she is frequently in the company of
As summer arrives, the Bennet sisters are off to different locations. Lydia is granted permission to
stay in seaside Brighton as the guest of an army colonel and his wife, where she will be reunited
with many of the soldiers who had delighted her during the winter. Elizabeth journeys to Derbyshire
with the Gardiners. At her aunt’s insistence, they tour Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate, but only after
ensuring that Mr. Darcy is not at home. The housekeeper’s tales of her master’s kindness cause the
Gardiners to ask Elizabeth if she might have been mistaken in her perceptions of Mr. Darcy. These
questions are raised again in Elizabeth’s mind when Mr. Darcy unexpectedly returns to Pemberley
while she is still on the grounds. He acts as a solicitous host, inviting them to events at his estate and
asking Elizabeth to meet his sister Georgiana.
Elizabeth’s happiness is cut short when news comes from Longbourn that Lydia has run off with
Wickham out of wedlock. Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner search London for them, with no luck.
Finally, Mr. Gardiner announces that the couple has been found and details the financial terms on
which Wickham will marry Lydia, which includes paying his creditors and providing an annual
income. Mr. Bennet doesn’t know how he will repay his brother-in-law. Elizabeth learns that it was
actually Mr. Darcy who found Wickham and Lydia, paid off Wickham, and forced the marriage. As
Mrs. Wickham, Lydia blithely brings her new husband to visit Longbourn, unaware of the chaos and
impropriety of her actions.
Having been informed by Darcy of Jane’s true feelings, Bingley returns to Netherfield and begins
to court her again. The announcement of their engagement is happy news for the nearly disgraced
Bennet family. Darcy accompanies his friend and Elizabeth longs to thank him for helping her
family. Before she can, she is surprised by a visit from Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who demands to
know if Elizabeth is engaged to Darcy. Darcy has long been intended for Lady Catherine’s sickly
daughter, Anne, but Lady Catherine also protests because Elizabeth’s inferior family is not a suitable
match for Darcy’s aristocratic line. Elizabeth will not promise Lady Catherine that she will refuse
Darcy if he proposes. Shortly after, Darcy tells Elizabeth that his feelings for her have not changed
since he proposed last spring; she accepts his marriage proposal. Jane marries Bingley and Elizabeth
If you make a “Top Ten” list of literature’s most famous and beloved couples, Elizabeth Bennet
and Mr. Darcy always rank near the top. The story of their mutual antipathy and how they
overcame their individual pride and prejudices has endured for almost 200 years. It is one of the
greatest love stories ever written.
Jane Austen’s charting of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s changing feelings and viewpoints is done
with skill. By placing the two main characters in opposition to each other at the start of the novel,
there’s no place to go but up until they come together. Throughout the novel, Austen covers a
lot of ground with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth: their first impressions of each other, a myriad of
offenses that slight the lovers, their unexpected and unsettling thoughts, their class differences
that – in that day and age – would have prevented would-be lovers from a happy ending, the
gradual unmasking of Darcy’s outwardly haughty façade, expressions of deep emotion, and the
gradual knowledge that the lovers are more alike – and in love – than their first impressions
would have had them believe.
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s love story is not the only one explored in the novel. The demure Jane
Bennet’s love for Charles Bingley is presented as something of a fairytale. Though this couple
also has to get past class differences and the disapproval of Mr. Bingley’s sisters, their obstacles
are not as hard to overcome because their temperaments are well-matched and because Jane is,
frankly, better behaved than her younger sister Elizabeth. Although their relationship is broken
off because of the interferences of other people, they are reunited and married at the end. Austen
also shows us the long-lasting and well-tested marriage of the talkative Mrs. Bennet and her
quieter husband, who declares that his wife’s nerves have been his “constant companion these 20
years.” There is the “love” between the youngest Bennet daughter (Lydia) and the soldier with
whom she runs off (Wickham) without the blessing of marriage. Wickham’s real feelings are not
revealed, and Lydia’s history as a flirt is notorious: Austen leaves open the possibility that this
is a couple brought together by lust rather than love. An opposite fate befalls that of Elizabeth’s
friend, Charlotte Lucas, who marries the minister Mr. Collins after Elizabeth rejects his proposal.
Charlotte tells Elizabeth, “I am not romantic you know, I never was, I ask only a comfortable
home, and considering Mr. Collin’ character, connections and situation in life, I am convinced
that my chance of happiness with him is as fair, as most people can boast on entering the
marriage state.” Her approach to marriage is practical. What we in the 21st century might view as
cynicism was probably a common viewpoint held by many women in Austen’s circles – whether
they would admit it aloud or not.
It’s difficult for us to imagine a time when people entered into marriage without love as a
foundation and to picture relationships based on alliances rather than mutual attraction, curiosity
and regard. Think of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s comment that she planned the marriage of her
daughter Anne to Mr. Darcy when the children were still “in their cradles.” And, can you imagine
agreeing to marry someone after a courtship conducted under the supervision of a parent or family
member, having known them for only a short time, and rarely – if ever! – having been alone with
them? This is the world in which Austen operated. The value she places on love is an important
one because her writing reflects a shift in social attitudes. Austen explores what is possible when
individuals open their minds to the possibilities of fully realizing one’s emotional life.
Social and financial class in contemporary America has more fluidity than in the stratified circles of
the early 19th century depicted in Austen’s novel. The American Dream is based on the idea that an
individual can start with nothing and create a fortune. Money can buy nearly anything, including a
place in society, politics and education.
But this wasn’t the case in Austen’s England. Though new wealth could occasionally penetrate
the echelons of the upper classes, social standing was largely predetermined by family history and
wealth, where you lived, and even where you vacationed. Considerations about class are found
everywhere in Pride and Prejudice. It divides the characters into different social circles, nearly
prevents two marriages, causes insecurities, and inflates egos. Mr. Bennet is a gentleman – which
in Austen’s day meant that he owned a property that provided him with enough income to support
a family and servants. A gentleman did not have to work. But Mr. Bennet’s financial position is
nothing compared to the upper class position held by the wealthy Bingleys and Darcys, and even less
compared to the aristocrat Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Consider Lady Catherine’s frequent comments
about her superior position and her concerns about sullying her family bloodlines.
Austen satirizes class-consciousness and criticizes the importance society places on class divisions.
Her message is that goodness can penetrate or even overcome class divisions. Through action and
dialogue, she shows that aristocrats with good breeding can have the worst manners and natures.
Consider the actions of the Gardiners (Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle), who host unhappy, lovesick Jane
in London; squire Elizabeth through Derbyshire; and pursue Wickham and Lydia in the back alleys
of London. Their kindheartedness contrasts with the mean-spirited and shallow comments made by
Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst as well as Lady Catherine’s solipsistic insistence that attention and
deference be paid to her. Looking at Pride and Prejudice’s cast of characters, we see that the virtuous
characters are also the happiest -- proving that money can’t buy everything.
Has the importance of reputation changed at all since the early 19th century? Think of the damage
done by rumors whispered in high school hallways, on Facebook pages, or in the tabloids. How
many people have been made unhappy, or forced to be outcasts socially and/or professionally,
because of a hint of scandal or being different? Unlike Austen’s characters, most of us have
opportunities to correct the damage done to our reputations. This wasn’t the case for the closed
societies and tighter social circles in which Austen’s characters operated. Damage could be longlasting and affect how a person lived out the rest of a lifetime.
Austen depicts a society in which reputation is everything and expectations for virtuous living were
high. Society placed particularly high expectations on standards of conduct for women. The rules
were numerous and any transgression raised questions about a woman’s moral character. Modern
readers might think nothing of Elizabeth’s walk to Netherfield to visit her sister Jane during an
illness. But the Bingley sisters fuss about Elizabeth having walked rather than taken a carriage, and
they comment on Elizabeth’s muddy clothes. Such conduct is unbecoming for a lady, and they think
less of Elizabeth because of it. Nowhere in their dialogue do the Bingley sisters praise Elizabeth’s
kind-hearted care and concern for Jane’s well-being.
Maintaining a “good name” pertained not just to an individual but also to a family unit and to
ancestors. This is one of the reasons why Lydia Bennet’s scandalous behavior throws into jeopardy
not just her own reputation but also the reputations of her sisters and parents. Her actions reflected
on the characters of her family members and the members of her closest social circle. Were Lydia
not “saved” by Mr. Darcy, it’s unlikely that the other four Bennet daughters would have been able to
marry because the family’s reputation would be disgraced.
At the heart of Pride and Prejudice is the love story of Elizabeth and Darcy. But before the two
can find love, they must undertake a journey to gain better understanding of themselves and of one
another. Once they are able to admit to their own faults and overcome preconceived notions or first
impressions, they come to love each other.
When we first encounter Elizabeth, she is pretty, cheerful, and known for her intellect and sense of
humor. But she often conveys her humor by mocking those around her. Darcy’s rude, aloof behavior
and airs make him an easy target for Elizabeth’s mockery. Elizabeth chooses not to question the
causes of his behavior and Wickham’s tales of Darcy’s cruelty and miserliness only serve to fortify
her impressions. Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth shocks her not just because of the unexpectedness
of his sentiments but also because of his awkward approach to expressing his feelings about his
life. By the time Darcy proposes again, Elizabeth has changed. She has had to endure public insults
and embarrassment caused by her family’s behavior. But even more significantly she has come to
know and understand Darcy better. She has confronted her own shortcomings in misjudging Darcy.
Elizabeth’s psychological growth process makes it possible for her to love and marry Darcy.
Darcy, too, undergoes a process of introspection. Elizabeth’s rebukes – expressed most directly when
she refuses his first proposal – cause him to examine his attitudes and behavior and to acknowledge
his own deficiencies. By the time Elizabeth and the Gardiners tour Pemberley, he is a changed man
whose attitude is that of a hospitable host and potential husband.
It is important to keep in mind that the middle class, upper class and aristocratic women of Austen’s
day didn’t work. A young woman’s “job” was to make a good marriage for herself. In some circles,
a marriage might be viewed more as an alliance. At the time, marriage based on love was rarely an
option and women and men both considered the income of a potential mate in sizing up one’s marital
prospects. Once married, a woman’s job was to be a good wife and mother, reflecting credit on her
husband and family. This emphasis on behavior and reputation shaped what was viewed as feminine
– and desirable – at the time.
Beauty was, of course, important, and a beautiful young woman would be highly sought after.
(Consider the novel’s conversations between Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy about whether or not
Elizabeth is a beauty.) Regency fashion was simpler than in previous periods, moving away from
heavy ornamentation and embroidery. Gone were the heavily rouged cheeks, elaborate hairstyles, and
uncomfortable undergarment dress frames of earlier eras. Instead, simplified dress lines were modest
and constructed in cotton and silk. Corsets were a must and forced stiff posture but were the most
elaborate part of female dress. These changes in fashion emphasized a woman’s natural beauty.
But beauty could take a marriage only so far. Men looked for women whose “accomplishments”
would entertain and credit him as well as keep her occupied. What we consider accomplishments
were unheard of at the time; feminine “accomplishment” in Regency England could be found in
what we think of now as hobbies. Bingley remarks that it is amazing how young ladies can all be “so
very accomplished” – and he and his sister Caroline goes on to describe accomplishment as painting
tables, covering screens, speaking languages, being musical, drawing, and dancing. In addition, Miss
Bingley notes, “She must posses a certain something in her air and the tone of her voice.”
Femininity also depended on a woman’s virtue. Modesty and propriety were highly valued. Women
were expected to be demure yet charming. They should speak of light topics and leave subjects such
as war and money to men. Over all, women were expected to conduct themselves according to the
standards of society. This necessitated keeping emotions under wrap. Consider Elizabeth’s comments
about her disgraced sister, Lydia: “Lydia was Lydia still, untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and
fearless.” On the other hand, it’s partly Jane’s inability to reveal her love for Bingley that leads Darcy
to think her indifferent to his friend.
Perhaps Miss Georgiana Darcy best embodies the Regency ideal of femininity. At 16, she is sweet,
shy, and has led a sheltered life. Her “accomplishments” fall within what was expected of ladies –
particularly since she has passion and talent for music. Miss Bingley exclaims enthusiasm for Miss
Darcy’s “countenance” and manners, and Mrs. Reynolds, the Pemberley housekeeper, describes her
as “the handsomest young lady that ever was seen.” Sweetening the deal is the fact that Miss Darcy
has inherited a level of wealth that would make her attractive to any Regency-era gentleman. No
wonder the wicked Wickham tries to steal her away.
We are all encouraged to develop pride: school pride, pride in our accomplishments, cultural pride…
all positive feelings that reflect a strong sense of self. But when possessed in excess, pride causes an
inflated feeling of status and superiority – whether warranted or not.
Pride is a constant presence in Elizabeth and Darcy’s attitudes and treatment of each other, coloring
their judgments and leading them to make rash mistakes. It prevents the characters from seeing the
truth about each other and those around them.
Pride is one of the main obstacles to Elizabeth and Darcy’s love and marriage. Although pride is
most often associated with Darcy, both characters are guilty of it. Darcy’s pride in his wealth and
societal position lead him to scorn those below his social circle. Elizabeth and Charlotte Lucas
debate whether or not Darcy’s pride is warranted. Charlotte comments, “His pride does not offend
me so much as pride often does because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine
a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may
so express it, he has a right to be proud.” But Elizabeth thinks otherwise. Elizabeth’s vanity clouds
her judgment: she thinks well of Wickham and scorns Darcy. Darcy’s post-proposal letter causes
Elizabeth to realize that her judgments were wrong and based on vanity, not on reason. Darcy’s
inordinate pride is based on his extreme class-consciousness.
Pride and Prejudice implies that no one is ever completely free of pride, but it makes clear that pride
can be overcome.
Today, we most commonly think about prejudice in terms of racial prejudice. Making judgments
about a person or group of people without having familiarity or knowledge contributes to the
development of stereotypes, anger, resentment, and divisions among people. These judgments are
usually unwarranted and unnecessary. But we develop them based on what we’ve been told to think
-- by parents, friends, the media and a barrage of other sources.
When Jane Austen writes about prejudice, she is writing about the everyday thoughts that cloud our
ability to see clearly the people around us. Elizabeth’s initial prejudice against Darcy is rooted in her
pride at being perceptive about other people’s characters. Eventually, though, Elizabeth faces the
realization that her perceptions about Darcy were wrong. Darcy, having been brought up to scorn
those outside his social class, has developed his own set of prejudices. His prejudices against a lower
class’s behavior prevent him from seeing that Elizabeth would be a good match for him.
A best-selling advice book from the mid-1990s titled The Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing
the Heart of Mr. Right laid out advice for women looking to “capture the heart of Mr. Right.” The
authors advised women to play hard-to-get in order to be pursued by men. Rules included “If you’re
in a long-distance relationship, he must visit you three times before you visit him,” “Be a creature
unlike any other,” and one that many women had problems with: “If he does not call, he is not that
interested. Period.” It was a controversial book, considered outdated, unromantic, and anti-feminist
by many. But for others, it was treated as a Bible for social conduct between the sexes. And, for
some, it worked.
Can you imagine trying to conduct your love life against instincts? Not being able to follow through
on how you felt? Playing by The Rules means living by constraints. But that’s nothing compared
to the rules of courtship during early 19th century England. Jane Austen’s characters practice
characteristic behavior for that time. If it seems to you that most of the Bennet sisters sit around
waiting for husbands, keep in mind that marriage to a gentleman was a young woman’s overarching
goal. Women didn’t go to school or college. They didn’t have careers. All of their energies were
put into finding a husband. And, for those who lived in the English countryside, it wasn’t easy! The
opportunities to interact with other people – much less to meet a potential mate – were limited. No
wonder Mrs. Bennet makes a huge fuss when Bingley comes to Longbourn.
Courtship was a complicated business for many reasons. Marriages were often made not for love
but for money, alliances between families, or the practical needs for companionship or an heir to an
estate. Men were attracted to exemplary moral behavior, ladylike accomplishments and – of course
– beauty. Having a private fortune helped make a woman more attractive, though the tendency of the
time was for women to marry “up” in class since it was a societal taboo for men to marry “down.”
Marriage based on love was coming into vogue at the time that Austen wrote. Even men and women
who loved each other or were at least attracted to each other probably didn’t know each other well.
The process of getting to know each other was conducted in public: under the eye of a watchful
mother or family member, at a ball or country dance, or at card games in a drawing room. When in
public, the goal was to display how desirable and attractive you were – but to do so while staying
within the confines of good taste. It seems odd to us now but the few times women could speak
privately to men would be while dancing in pairs or walking in the countryside or in parks. Think of
that the next time your parents walk in on you while a love interest is visiting you.
The public behavior of a young lady of marriageable age was observed closely, regardless of whether
or not she seemed to be conducting a courtship. A wife should reflect credit on her husband, so
a man had to choose wisely to make sure his family name wouldn’t be tarnished by his wife’s
conduct. A girl’s behavior was watched at social occasions by those seeking to tamp down any
vulgar behavior. (Double standards of the time allowed that men could behave as roguish as they
liked.) A girl’s reputation could be lost by one careless mistake. Well-born young ladies were
not supposed to act flirtatiously before marriage (or after it, for that matter). Even gestures such
as pressing a man’s hand too tightly or allowing her waist to be grasped could be taken as a sign
of loose morals. Given those rules of the time, you can better understand why Lydia Bennet’s
behavior is so scandalous – even before she runs off with Mr. Wickham.
The courtship rules of Regency England were full of “dos” and “don’ts” that particularly put
women on guard and always conscious of their behavior. You might feel the same way in the
hallways of your school, when you’re at the mall with friends or with a date, or at an event full
of people where you just might meet someone special. Think about the freedoms and choices that
you have today – and compare them to what Austen’s characters went through. You’ll probably
find yourself feeling lucky.
Mind Your Manners
When was the last time someone told you to mind your manners or behave, or silenced you with a
harsh look? What was it you were doing when that happened? Did you tell the other person to keep it to
himself or herself?
When did you last feel you had to behave? Was it with your parents, at school, at an event, or maybe
on a date? And did you behave? Chances are that at some point recently, you had to follow a code of
conduct that you thought was pointless. But you had to do it either because someone imposed a set of
rules on you or because you didn’t want to risk embarrassment by not following the rules.
Stop to pause for a minute and think how lucky we are to live in an age where we can get away with bad
behavior. That wasn’t the case in the early 19th century when Jane Austen was writing. Manners in the
21st century are nothing like the strict codes of behavior that Austen and her characters had to observe
in every day life. The rules on how to conduct oneself were set in stone. Violating the rules resulted in
being shunned from good society. The code of conduct had to be followed at all times. Here are a few
examples of the rules that dictated how people were to behave in polite society:
• Conversation must be appropriate to gender, age and class. It’s not polite to discuss money.
• Don’t introduce yourself: wait to be formally introduced by another person, especially when the
other person is of a higher rank. A lady always waits to be introduced to a gentleman; she never
• Always use the correct forms of address when speaking to someone of a higher social class.
• Always give advance warning when you plan to visit someone. (Imagine how hard that was in an
era before telephones! Notice had to be sent by mail or by a servant traveling ahead to warn the
person you were to visit!)
• Bow to a lady before leaving; don’t just walk away.
• Only shake the hand of someone equal to you in class.
• A man at a ball is expected to dance with any ladies not dancing. (This is why Darcy is
considered rude when he doesn’t dance with Elizabeth at the first dance.)
• Always walk on the outside of a woman on the street, so that she is protected.
• Never smoke in the presence of women.
• Never engage in debate.
• Never be alone when visiting a man.
• Never dance more than two dances (about 30 minutes) with the same partner.
• Move in a smooth and graceful manner.
• Never lift your skirt above the ankles.
• Do not sit with your legs crossed.
• Never wear pearls or diamonds in the morning.
“A Lady,” that’s how the frontispiece in Jane Austen’s novels credited her.
Today, her name is immediately recognizable to readers in the Western
hemisphere, but that wasn’t the case in the early 19th century. This daughter of
a Church of England minister wasn’t recognized by her own name while alive.
Perhaps because she wasn’t yet famous, few of Austen’s biographical details
were recorded during her lifetime. What we know today of her life is
primarily through her letters and an 1869 memoir published by one of her
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 to the Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra
Austen. Jane grew up primarily at the rectory at Steventon, which was her father’s parish base.
Typical for her time and like many families depicted in her novels, the Austen family was a large
one. Jane was the seventh of eight children and one of two girls. The Austens had a respectable
lineage but no family fortune to spread out among the children. Reverend Austen belonged to the
class of the landed gentry, which gave him social access but little actual money. He supplemented
his income through farming and tutoring. Both Jane and her sister Cassandra were educated privately
and at boarding school for a time but when Reverend Austen could no longer afford the cost, the girls
were brought home. At Steventon, Jane had access to her father’s library and she read extensively.
Jane began writing while in her teens. She completed Love and Friendship, her first novel, at age 14.
Over the course of her life, she experimented with different literary forms (poems, epistolary novels
and others). She found fulfillment in writing realistic novels full of humor, romance and commentary.
In particular, she highlighted the dependence of women on marriage to secure social and economic
security. This was a particularly personal problem for Jane. Although she enjoyed social events and
dancing, Austen never married. It is rumored that she fell in love and was brokenhearted when her
beau died unexpectedly. She also became engaged to the brother of some longtime friends. Despite
the financial security that the marriage would have brought her and her family, Jane broke off the
engagement the morning after it was made.
Austen kept her writing secret from all but her immediate family. Legend has it that while living with
relatives after her father’s death, she asked that a squeaky hinge on her room’s door not be oiled. This
way, she would have enough time to hide her manuscripts before someone entered the room. But her
writing was well supported by her parents and siblings. Her father tried unsuccessfully to interest a
publisher in looking at her novel First Impressions in 1797. (The publisher may have regretted
that decision down the line when it was published in 1813 as Pride and Prejudice.) Her brother,
Henry, was key to selling Sense and Sensibility to a publisher in 1811.
In 1801, Reverend Austen retired and moved his family to Bath. When he died in 1805, Jane’s
family faced serious financial problems. Jane, Cassandra and their mother became dependent
on the Austen brothers for money and on their extended family for housing. The three women
moved among the homes of each of the brothers; they spent a good deal of time in Southampton
and then settled at Chawton in 1809. Jane lived the rest of her life at Chawton Cottage.
In this settled environment, she wrote every day. By 1816, four of her novels
had been published: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813),
Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816).
Beginning in 1816, Austen suffered bad health. At first, doctors thought that
she had consumption (later called tuberculosis) but it’s possible that she
suffered from Addison’s disease, an adrenal disorder. She received treatment
in Winchester and died there on July 18, 1817 at age 41. She is buried at the
landmark Winchester Cathedral.
Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published posthumously in
December 1817. A “Biographical Notice” written by her brother Henry identified Jane Austen
as the author, the first time for any of her novels. Although her novels went out of print for
some time after her death, they have been continuously published since 1833. In a 2002 vote
to determine whom the public of the United Kingdom considered the greatest British people in
history, Austen was ranked number 70 of the “100 Greatest Britons.”
Interview with Christina Calvit, Playwright
Playwright, Christina Calvit, adapted Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s nearly
300-page novel, as a two-hour-long, 22-character stage play. This sounds
daunting to those of us who revere the classic novel. But Calvit has written over
a dozen adaptations of other well-known classic novels, as well as original plays
of her own. Calvit lives in Chicago, where she is an ensemble member at
Lifeline Theatre. She recently spoke with dramaturg, Elizabeth Bennett, about
her process of adaptation and her history with Pride and Prejudice.
You work as an actress, playwright and adaptor. How do you think the three experiences relate
to and/or feed each other?
I’m not an actor anymore, but I do think my past experience and watching an actor process during
rehearsals has informed how I work as a writer. When you create a new work, there’s a lot of writer/
actor interaction during rehearsal, so it’s helped to speak the actor language. You understand what to
talk about (character history, beats, etc.) and what not to talk about. (Line readings! No one wants to
hear those!) As far as having skills for playwriting and adapting, they are intertwined. I lean on my
playwriting skills a lot when creating new dialogue. But translating life, whether it’s on the page or in
the mind, into theatricality requires the same kind of thinking.
Your adaptations of great works such as Jane Eyre, A Room with a View, and, of course, Pride
and Prejudice, have been performed all over the United States and Canada. Can you tell us a
little about why you began adapting these classics?
I always start with a book I love. You’re going to live with it a long time. Its characters and arc need
to capture and hold you. These are all big stories about women with big themes and I like that too.
What interests me is not just telling the story, but theatricalizing why it’s important to us today.
Does the process of adapting literature for the stage change or do you take a set approach with
Part of it’s the same and part of it’s always different. I usually start by capturing scenes with dialogue
that I like. Then I just live with that for a while and think about the story I want to tell. Books
especially tell so many stories and there are so many lenses to shoot those stories through. Then I
think about how that story is best told in the theatre space and start to imagine the kind of theatrical
language that will best suit what’s in my head. I’ve told stories in very small spaces with puppets.
I’ve used dance as a theatrical device. I’ve put stories to music. I’ve imagined some as Brechtian.
Every story’s need is different.
What was the evolution of the Pride and Prejudice adaptation?
This adaptation goes back to 1986. It was my first adaptation. We did it on a bare bones budget at my
home theatre, Lifeline Theatre in Chicago. It received lots of critical attention and audience response.
It was our first big splash. It was a very simple production because of the inclusion of such a strong
narrative presence. It was produced as a chamber theatre piece. We remounted it around 1991 with a
whole new concept. Then it went to the Stratford Festival in Canada for a big production in 1999. I
again rewrote it for that space in part because the theatre at Stratford is a 1,500-seat theatre, and the
play had never been performed on that scale before. For that production, I eliminated the narrator
character, though not the narration. At Stratford it was a fantasy fairy tale epic retelling, because they
have all the money in the world. We are doing Pride and Prejudice again at Lifeline in April of 2012
and I have changed it again to focus on Lizzy’s relationship with the audience. So it’s constantly
evolving. I feel like I learn more each time I do it and see new ways to spin it. It makes it more
interesting for me.
You have tried various structures (single narrator, shared narration) for Pride and Prejudice.
It’s a story you have come back to a couple of times. Do you find freshness in it each time?
Yes, it’s always different because of the production concept and the actors. In the second Lifeline
production, the actors doubled with their diametrically opposed character. Their costumes were
rigged so they could make the character changes on stage. So you’d see Miss Bingley pull a few
cords and button up a few buttons and change her posture and she would transform in front of your
eyes into Mary Bennet. Mr. Collins doubled with Lady Catherine. That was a very amusing change
What do you think makes Pride and Prejudice so enduring? What do you think is relevant to an
The story is irresistible, of course. And, there is something very balanced and human about the way
Austen teaches us what is means to be a good person. It celebrates self-knowledge above all things.
That’s a pretty good idea to push in today’s world.
Jane Austen Quotes
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in
possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
– Opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice, 1813
“A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a
moment.” – Pride and Prejudice, 1813
“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
– Pride and Prejudice, 1813
Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously....Pride relates
more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.
– Pride and Prejudice, 1813
“Nobody who has not been in the interior of a family can say what the difficulties of any individual
of that family may be.” – Emma, 1816
“It is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man
always imagines a woman to be ready for anybody who asks her.” – Emma, 1816
“I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.”
– From a letter to her sister Cassandra, December 24, 1798
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably
stupid.” – Northanger Abbey, 1817
“Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.”
– Northanger Abbey, 1817
Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection.”
– From a letter to her niece, 1814
Here are some helpful resources for further exploration about Jane Austen, her writing and Regency
A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen. Susannah
Dickson, Rebecca. Jane Austen: An Illustrated Treasury.
Hughes, Kristine. The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England: From
Jane Austen, Harold Bloom, editor.
Pool, Daniel: What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew.
Regency Etiquette: The Mirror of Graces by Lady of Distinction. (A guide published in 1811 that
offers advice for the well bred.)
Sullivan, Margaret. The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World.
Tomalin, Claire. Jane Austen: A Life.
Two very thorough websites dedicated to information about Austen and her world can be found at:
http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/ and www.pemberley.com
The website run by the Jane Austen Society of North America is also useful: http://www.jasna.org
Two museums in English towns where Austen lived have websites with resources in addition to
The Jane Austen Centre in Bath publishes an online magazine and has an extensive gift shop at http://
The Education Department at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, UK has a helpful resource
guide about period codes of conduct. It can be found at:
An overview of Regency fashions can be found at: http://www.fashion-era.com/regency_taste.htm
DVD and Video
The website for A&E’s show Biography has some Jane Austen resources. They can be found at:
A 2002 travel video titled Austen Country takes viewers to various Austen sites in the United
Many adaptations of Austen’s novels are available on film, video and DVD. They include:
Emma (Miramax, 1996)
Mansfield Park (Miramax, 1999)
Persuasion (BBC/PBS, 2007)
Pride and Prejudice (BBC, 1995)
Pride and Prejudice (MGM, 1940)
Pride & Prejudice (Focus Features/Universal Studios, 2005)
Sense and Sensibility (Columbia Pictures, 1995)
Films using Austen’s work as starting points include:
Clueless (Paramount Pictures, 1995)
The Jane Austen Book Club (Mockingbird Pictures, 2007)
Burghley House, located in Lincolnshire, England,
was used as the setting for Rosings Park in the
2005 film version.
Lyme Park, located in Cheshire, England, served as Darcy’s estate Pemberley in the 1995 BBC television adaptation of the novel.
Exterior of Royal Pavilion in Brighton
John Nash’s 1826 painting of The Banquet Room at the Royal
Pavilion in Brighton, commissioned by the Prince Regent
Hertfordshire countryside. Elizabeth and her family
would have walked through landscapes like this one.
David Cox’s painting of The Royal Crescent at Bath in 1820, close to the
time that Lydia Bennet might have seen it.
The five “Positions
of Dancing”, from
“Analysis of Country
“Marcia Fox” by William Beechley
A watercolor of country dancing, by Diana Sperling
Edmund Blair Leighton’s
“On the Threshold of a
Steventon Rectory, Jane Austen’s home for many years