When regarding the vice of pride, and possibly prejudice as well, it is not a question as to if so-and-so has any pride but rather how much pride does he carry around with him. And while we ruminate on the size of our neighbor’s head, an interesting thing is bred in us and that is the very thing with which we have been concerned at the start. Perhaps the funniest joke we encounter will be the one where an individual is upset over someone’s pride. For pride is that one vice that is best recognized by those who happen to own the most of it. And this, in taking the long way around an issue, is exactly what we find to be true in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Elizabeth Bennet demonstrates this argument to near perfection — the only thing being left out is her motive for condemning Darcy’s pride. Most prideful people are perplexed by other prideful people because there can only be so much praise to go around in any one single party, and if it is to be bestowed on one individual, than the other pretentious prig can only sit and fume. This is pride, and the opposite is humility. And humility is not a man walking around discussing how humble he is or even how arrogant other people are. The humble person is not thinking about himself at all, and his contemplation of others is only in admiration and wonder at their eccentricities and never in criticism.
The novel recently finished displayed beautifully how one character can be presented and drawn in such a way so as to be seen as nothing but pretentious. Mr. Darcy had little hope of redemption, and Elizabeth was only slightly short of angelic status, yet (spoiler alert) it was fascinating how Austen ever-so slowly turned everything around displaying Elizabeth as perhaps the more prideful and prejudiced of the two (though certainly up for debate). It is because of this technique that I found myself connecting very much so with Darcy at the beginning of the novel before feeling distanced from such an amiable character and instead sympathizing with Elizabeth’s mistakes due to her prejudice. This observation (i.e. the switching of roles) brings to the discussion the theme of awkwardness that I felt was highly apparent throughout.
It is first noted that Darcy is proud during the very first chapters, and a good part of this accusation is brought on him because of his introverted demeanor. With this I can definitely relate. Elizabeth first feels his pride at a ball where he has chosen to not only sit by her and not offer a dance but to not even talk to her. The conscious reader will have picked up on something of course: Elizabeth felt scorned because of her pride; for the humble individual does not expect that anyone would talk to them; the humble person knows his place. (And might I add, she did not fully comprehend the vexation within some males in beginning a discourse with the opposite sex.)
Of course, Darcy did have his own issue during the ball.
Darcy, on the contrary, had seen a collection of people in whom there was little beauty and no fashion, for none of whom he had felt the smallest interest, and from none received either attention or pleasure. Miss (Jane) Bennet he acknowledged to be pretty, but she smiled too much.
This, however, can only be known by Darcy, and such is always the case. We really have no idea how prideful or humble a person is at face value. And this Darcy rightly comments on when he says “nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes and indirect boast.”
But even a sensible person, by Elizabeth’s standards, concludes on the grievous task of figuring out a person. Mr. Gardiner, her uncle declares that Darcy is “perhaps… a little whimsical in his civilities. Your great men often are; and therefore, I shall not take him as his word.”
And so the novel then turns into a suspense story at the midway point as the readers are eager to figure out just who Darcy is. It is during the second half of the novel that Austen, perhaps with some sadistic glee, puts the two main characters in a prodigious amount of awkward positions. Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberley, Darcy’s home, is met with an unexpected appearance from the man himself — both are flustered and have no idea what to say. I may venture these scenes with awkward silences are somewhat underscored. The novel’s strength in my view is the dialogue, and, alas! there can be no dialogue when the two characters are not talking.
Nevertheless, she opens up at the end of the novel with two pieces of evidence which may explain the silence. Jane, in being silent during dinner, had her “mind… so busily engaged, that she did not always know when she was silent” (which is fascinating). Later, Darcy and Elizabeth both reveal their reasons:
Elizabeth: “What made you so shy of me, when you first called, and afterwards dined here? Why, especially, when you called, did you look as if you did not care about me?”
Darcy: “Because you were grave and silent, and gave me no encouragement.”
Elizabeth: “But I was embarrassed.”
Darcy: “And so was I.”
Elizabeth: “You might have talked to me more when you came to dinner.”
Darcy: “A man who had felt less, might.”
And with this it must be concluded that often silences — or awkward lulls, or introverts — are not conceived by pride but could very well display an affection. To which it must be concluded that casual observing of facial expressions and demeanor in hopes of discovering any evidence of affection without ascertaining to the veracity of the feeling through discourse is — though perhaps a noble undertaking — absolutely hopeless, and we shall all determine to throw our hands up and abdicate our task completely or settle in the prying open of our mouth in the commencing of a panegyric.