Liberals, Conservatives, and Pride and Prejudice Part 2: Crash Course Literature 412


This is it! The final episode of CC Literature season 4 is a deeper look at Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Today we’ll explore the novel’s take on materialism, and we’ll talk about whether the novel has a liberal or conservative message. Which matters because people have interpreted the book in various ways. Oh, and we’ll explore the balance between making choices based on personal happiness or what’s best for one’s family. And oh yeah, we’ll talk more about terrible Lydia and her disgusting bonnet.


Transcript Provided by YouTube:

00:00
Hi I’m John Green, this is Crash Course Literature.
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And today we’ll continue our discussion of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a
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book that reads like it was written by your funny and mean best friend, who also happens
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to be a brilliant novelist and a pretty interesting moral philosopher.
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/ I mean, I love my best friend, but I REALLY
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wish Jane Austen was my best friend.
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But let’s face it, she wouldn’t have been that into me.
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Last time we talked about the political context of the novel, and how to choose between your
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personal fulfillment and the good of your family.
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Today we’ll look at whether it’s an endorsement of materialism or a rejection of it.
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We’ll also consider the novel’s politics–whether it’s liberal or conservative in its outlook.
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And we’ll enjoy some sexy, sexy landscape description.
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But first let’s consider the epistemological problems of the novel.
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Because here at Crash Course we know how to party.
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And also we just learned the meaning of the word epistemological.
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Let’s go.
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INTRO So, epistomology is the study of knowledge–it’s
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knowing how we know, and what it means to know.
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And knowledge is a real problem in Pride and Prejudice–much of the plot hinges on what
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people know and when they know it, and how they can be sure of knowledge.
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Remember this is Regency England.
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If you like someone you can’t immediately Google them or snapchat them or, I don’t
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know.
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Compared to today’s young people, I basically grew up in Regency England.
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At the beginning of the novel, Jane and Mr. Bingley meet, but Jane has no way to let him
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know that she likes him.
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She can’t just swipe right, or left–I really, I don’t know.
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I don’t know any of this stuff..
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I’m trying to sound young, and hip, and relatable, and I should just give up because
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I’m one year younger than Jane Austen was when she DIED.
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I’m sorry, what were we talking about?
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Right.
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Jane has no way of discovering just how available he is.
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/ Characters have to rely on gossip, subtle
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inquiries sometimes in the form of letters, and what they can see with their own eyes.
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But Austen is skeptical about whether or not you can trust the evidence of your own eyes.
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When Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy see each other they hate each other.
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/ And months go by before they learn enough
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about each other to readjust those initial impressions.
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Mr. Darcy’s pride flourishes because he doesn’t know or understand the people around
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him.
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The same goes for Elizabeth’s prejudice.
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In addition to constantly reminding us how little we know about other people, Austen
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also questions how little we know of ourselves.
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Elizabeth is the character that most of us will identify with.
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Austen wrote in a letter, “I think her as delightful a character as ever appeared in
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print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not
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know.”
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/ Well, she was good, and she knew it.
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But even clever Elizabeth has to admit that she has been mistaken in most of her beliefs,
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particularly ones about herself.
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/ Once she learns the truth of the bad feelings
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between Darcy and Wickham, she has to acknowledge her own prejudices and even says, “Till
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this moment, I never knew myself.”
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One of the most fascinating things Austen does in this book is to put the reader into
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the place of not knowing.
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Take the scene in which Elizabeth watches Wickham, whom she likes, and Mr. Darcy, whom
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she hates, run into each other.
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/ At this point, she believes that Mr. Darcy
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has cheated Wickham of his inheritance, but when she sees them, she doesn’t know what
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to believe: “Elizabeth happening to see the countenance
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of both as they looked at each other, was all astonishment at the effect of the meeting.
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Both changed colour, one looked white, the other red.
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Mr. Wickham after a few moments, touched his hat — a salutation which Mr. Darcy just deigned
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to return.
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What could be the meaning of it?”
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Not only do we not know why one turned white and one turned red, we don’t even know who
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turned which color.
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Elizabeth presumably knows that, of course, but by calling attention to what we as readers
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don’t know, Austen is also reminding us of all that Elizabeth doesn’t know–just
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how often she has to wonder, What could be the meaning of it?.
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Speaking of meaning, Pride and Prejudice spends a lot of time examining the meaning of money.
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Austen lets us know how much everyone has, where it comes from, how much they stand to
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inherit, and so on.
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Let’s check everyone’s accounts in the Thoughtbubble.
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Mr. Bennet has 2,000 pounds per year, which just about puts him into the upper middle
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class.
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But because his estate is entailed and will be inherited by the nearest male relative
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when he and his wife die, his daughters will only have a share of what their mother brought
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into the marriage.
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/ Each daughter will get about forty pounds
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a year.
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It’s hard to estimate how much this is in today’s money; it could mean as little as
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a few thousand dollars though, so definitely not enough to live comfortably.
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Mr. Bingley has at least 5,000 pounds per year, which is very nice.
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But Darcy has at least double that every year from rents on his land.
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He might make even more on the interest from his investments, so it’s safe to think of
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him as kind of a multimillionaire.
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His sister Georgiana has an inheritance of 30,000, so even assuming a conservative investment,
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she’ll be fine.
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Wickham inherited 1,000 pounds from Mr. Darcy’s father and then Mr. Darcy gave him 3,000 more
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when Wickham decided to quit the clergy.
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But he spent it all, so he’ll need to marry rich.
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Obviously Lydia isn’t rich, but between paying his debts and buying his commission,
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Mr. Darcy gives Wickham another 1,500 pounds.
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Plus, he may even have given him 10,000 more in order to convince him to marry Lydia and
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avoid scandal.
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Thanks, Thoughtbubble.
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So how much money everyone has is obviously very important and indicates moral worth,
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right?
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Maybe.
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Darcy is certainly richer than Wickham, and morally superior.
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But in a couple of places the novel seems to make the point that money isn’t everything.
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Mr. Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine has plenty of money, but that doesn’t stop her from
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being portrayed as a killjoy and a snob.
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Austen satirizes her materialism, like the way Lady Catherine pays attention to how nice
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people’s carriages are or how Mr. Collins fawns over Lady Catherine and her daughter
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just because they’re rich.
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/ But Austen satirizes materialism in people
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who have less money, too, like Wickham with his debts.
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The book is also pretty hard on Lydia who can’t afford to buy lunch for her sisters
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because she’s spent all her money on a disgusting hat, saying, “Look here, I have bought this
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bonnet.
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I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not.”
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/ Here, Austen seems to be suggesting that how
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you spend money probably matters as much or more than how much of it you have.
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/ / / Quick side note: The growing industrialization
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of England meant that more artifacts were available to the average person.
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And when I say artifacts, I mean everything from, you know, pots and pans to clothing.
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Even a generation or two before, the middle class had been vastly smaller, and there weren’t
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as many, like, materials to be materialistic about.
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So almost all people, almost all of the time would have been buying lunch, rather than
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buying bonnets.
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Maybe, then money can actually chip away at personal happiness and moral character?
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Again, not exactly.
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Austen doesn’t come out and say that you should marry for money, but the novel does
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seem to endorse the idea that the characters who acquire the most money will be the happiest.
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Clearly Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy will live happily ever after and so will Jane and Mr.
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Bingley.
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Charlotte and Mr. Collins are only a little happy, because Mr. Collins is almost as horrible
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as Mary, but they’ll probably be happier once Mr. Collins inherits.
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And it doesn’t seem like Lydia and Wickham, who have the least, won’t be happy at all.
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They don’t even like each other by the time the book ends.
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And it’s only Mr. Darcy’s money that saved Lydia from total disgrace.
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And also, we need to remember how and why Elizabeth falls in love with Mr. Darcy.
07:32
Part of it is the letter he sends and part of it has to do with how he rescues her sister,
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but a lot of it has to do with his estate, Pemberley.
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When Elizabeth first sees Pemberley, we get a rare passage of description in the book:
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“It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed
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by a ridge of high woody hills;—and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled
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into greater, but without any artificial appearance… and at that moment she felt that to be mistress
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of Pemberley might be something!”
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Now, obviously this is a stand-in for Mr. Darcy himself, who is also large and handsome
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and not artificial.
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But it’s the revelation of his beautiful estate that really wins Elizabeth’s heart,
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which suggests that even Pemberley isn’t just a metaphor for Darcy; Darcy is also a
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metaphor for Pemberley.
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Now, it’s easy to argue that this is a conservative book.
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Everyone gets married in the end.
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Elizabeth gets to be both happy and rich.
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Mr. Darcy, an authoritarian figure who holds power over a lot of people, turns out to be
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the hero.
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And Wickham, the upstart who comes from the servant class, is the villain.
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So the established social hierarchy gets reaffirmed in terms of class, and also in terms of gender.
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Elizabeth seemed so free-thinking and independent-minded, but her reward is to subjugate herself to
08:46
the wealthy aristocrat who said that her looks were tolerable.
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So much for the rights of women.
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On the other hand, you could argue that the book is a lot more radical than that.
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Yes, Mr. Darcy makes Elizabeth happy, but arguing for her own individual happiness is
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really progressive stance.
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Like, when Lady Catherine tries to get Elizabeth to say that she will never marry Mr. Darcy,
09:03
Elizabeth replies, “I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own
09:08
opinion, constitute my happiness.”
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My own opinion.
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My happiness.
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Maybe that doesn’t sound revolutionary, but it is.
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This book was written in a time when individual happiness was not privileged over family status
09:21
and security, And that was especially true for the individual
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happiness of women.
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So Elizabeth saying that she would only act in a manner that would constitute her happiness
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is a claiming of full personhood, who has the right to make her own decisions independent
09:43
of what her family wants for her–another radical idea for women in Regency England
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The novel also suggests that Elizabeth’s vivacity will have a beneficial effect on
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Mr. Darcy, hinting that it might be possible to work from within to change some of the
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older, more authoritarian systems.
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She’s not wild or flighty or always buying terrible bonnets like Lydia, but she is independent-minded.
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The fact that Mr. Darcy falls for her suggests that maybe he, and men like him, are capable
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of change.
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Now this would be a darker novel or a more radical one if it actually made Elizabeth
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choose between happiness and financial security, instead of presenting all of that—and Pemberley,
10:21
too—courtesy of Mr. Darcy.
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But it is no sin for a book to have a happy ending, and Pride and Prejudice is still a
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vindication of Elizabeth’s character and temperament and it makes a really persuasive
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argument for personal happiness as a moral category worth celebrating.
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So go forth and pursue some happiness yourself.
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And thanks for watching.


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Photo credit: Screenshot from video

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