Monday, November 30, 2015

Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre: a comparison and contrast of two classic novels

Among booklovers, Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte are beloved and revered. It is common knowledge that Charlotte Bronte was not fond of Jane Austen and didn’t understand why her books were so popular or praised. So I decided to read their most famous books, Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Jane Eyre (1847) again and compare them. Both books have many similarities. There were both written by a woman. The interest in both books is between a wealthy landowner and a woman who is socially beneath him with a woman of class vying for his attention. Both books take place in the English countryside. Both main characters refuse to consider a marriage of convenience. Even though about different eras, Austen’s Regency England and Bronte’s Victorian England, both display the restrictions under which women lived. Elizabeth Bennett and Jane Eyre were both more independent than the eras would suggest but that is true for their authors. Jane Austen never married and Charlotte Bronte eventually married a man she, at first, did not love. The contrast in these books which I will discuss are in the main characters, societal class and the mindset of women.

In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth is upper class, beautiful and outspoken. She is socially inappropriate, often speaking with a sharp tongue to those above her. She ends up with her man, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and all is well. The tone of Pride and Prejudice, is light and a witty comedy between men and women. In Jane Eyre, Jane is poor and orphaned. She’s plain and speaks her mind with decorum that is unusual for someone of her status. She’s socially awkward. She ends up with her man, Mr. Edward Rochester, but only after tragedy. The tone of Jane Eyre is dark with Gothic elements. Even contrasts are seen in the love interests of each woman. Mr. Darcy is dashing and portrayal of a wealthy man pride and a sense of obligation and consequence. Whereas Mr. Rochester behaves inappropriately with the governess, Jane, and holds nothing back. He crosses a line when he decides to marry his governess which leads them both heartbroken and lost. Rochester is tormented by a secret he must keep and yet he pursues Jane who seems to be a relief from the monotony of high society.

Both books features class, although in different manners. In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennett family is lower landed gentry who are on the edge of poverty if one of their 5 daughters doesn’t marry well. Mrs. Bennett’s whole goal in the book is to marry off her daughters to men who can handle their affairs as well as lift them up on the social ladder. While in Jane Eyre, Jane is orphaned and sent to a charity school at the age of ten. She is forced to find work as a governess. She later comes into an inheritance from a long lost uncle. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy is the only son, raised and groomed as the heir of the family fortunes as well as the family societal responsibilities. While in Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester is the second son, raised as the back-up and is only in his position because of the death of his older brother. Therefore the attitudes between the two men are extremely different. One of duty and the other blasé as to his social requirements.

 Both books display the mind set of women. In Pride and Prejudice, the overall attitude is that all women think about is marriage. The famous opening line says it all: “It is a truth universally acknowledge that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” While two of the Bennett sisters, Jane and Elizabeth, display cool and calm attitudes about marriage and men, the younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia, are young and too forward. Lydia is so desperate to be married that she runs off regardless of what it would do to her family. The middle daughter, Mary, views marriage in disgust. In Jane Eyre, Jane never gives marriage a thought. As an orphan with no family fortune, Jane is forced to work and marriage would be an afterthought and may be a conscious decision not to as it could interfere with her livelihood. When Rochester proposes, she is shocked and questions his sincerity. When she realizes that he sincere, only then does she give in to the idea of marriage and love.

In conclusion, I’ve always enjoyed Jane Eyre more than I have of Pride and Prejudice. While I enjoyed seeing Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy finally put aside their social restrictions and give in to their feelings for each other. However, Jane Eyre has a darker intensity to the atmosphere and the characters that Pride and Prejudice just doesn’t have. There are certain scenes in Jane Eyre, when I feel my heart race with the events. I feel Jane’s fear, her sadness and her attraction to Mr. Rochester. Also, I am also drawn to the wildness of Mr. Rochester. His “rules be damned” attitude and go after the woman he loves. He is tortured and flawed in ways that Mr. Darcy isn’t. To me, Mr. Darcy is the man your parents hope you bring home but it’s Mr. Rochester who captures your attention. Both books are classics and deserve the attention they received since their publications. In my opinion, Jane Eyre is the better and more exciting book.