Incidents in the story depict the relationship between personality, psychological growth and personal accomplishment
Personality determines our capacity for accomplishment. The more our personality grows, the greater that capacity becomes. Often in a story we perceive a connection between personality and accomplishment, especially when a bad or foolish person ends up suffering for his evil or foolish acts. But in fact, the connection is always present and always determinative. Sometimes it comes as a direct response to a person’s actions. Sometimes it comes as a response of life. When we fully perceive this truth we come to understand that growth or improvement of personality is not just a luxury for those who have already accomplished in life. It is the most direct and central route to higher accomplishment and fulfilment.
This article examines the relationship between growth of personality and accomplishment in Pride & Prejudice. For further insight into each of the characters, see Human Character in Pride and Prejudice.
Mr. Bennet's Responsibility
Whether a person grows psychologically either by his volition or by his circumstances, in either case life rewards his progress in time. No growth is left unrecognised by life.
A strong sense of responsibility is a principle characteristic of well-developed personalities and those who accomplish at a high level, whereas those who fail tend to constantly wait for others to act, depending on others to accomplish on their behalf or blaming others for their lack of accomplishment. Taking responsibility and acting with full sense of responsibility in any situation, especially one in which you previously failed to do so, demands a psychological effort that leads to growth and is ultimately rewarded by life.
Mr. Bennet is an intelligent, level-headed, responsible estate-owner and head of the family, but in crucial matters concerning his family he has chosen to abdicate his authority and responsibility, giving free reign to the foolish impulses of his wife. He has found reason to regret his marriage to a beautiful wealthy lawyer’s daughter whose behavior must be a constant source or irritation and embarrassment to a sensible man. His one source of assertion and relief is through a caustic mocking sense of humor directed at his wife and younger daughters. Mr. Bennet has resigned himself to his fate and apparently accepts full responsibility for its consequences.
However, in subtle but real ways he has long ago abdicated in favor of his wife in matters relating to the marriage of his daughters. Rather than asserting his authority to command proper behavior, Mr. Bennet chooses to quietly obey.
The first time Mrs. Bennet received news of Bingley's arrival in Netherfield, she immediately impressed on her husband the urgent necessity of calling on him. Knowing his wife as he did and being an obliging, dutiful husband, Mr. Bennet anticipated her request and called on Bingley even before giving her the news of his arrival. As the relationship developed so promisingly between Bingley and Jane, Mrs. Bennet took repeated initiatives to foster it, all of which had the opposite effect. Her boasting of the impending marriage, alerted Caroline and Darcy as to the danger. Her dinner invitation to Bingley went unanswered when Bingley was surreptitiously carried off to London.
When Bingley made his second visit to Netherfield, Mrs. Bennet again insisted that her husband call on him and invite him to dinner. This time Mr. Bennet asserted himself and refused to do so. He felt it was improper for him to again call on Bingley after the man has so obviously slighted Jane. When Mr. Bennet refused to submit to his wife's impulsiveness, Bingley himself came calling at Longbourn unasked on two occasions and on his subsequent visit he proposed to Jane.
The initial disruption of the budding relationship between Bingley and Jane can be viewed as a direct response to Mrs. Bennet's pushy insistence and Mr. Bennet's appeasing acquiescence. The later consummation of their relationship in marriage can be viewed from Mr. Bennet's perspective as a reward for the psychological progress he has made with respect to his wife.
Elizabeth and Darcy too are directly involved in bringing about the marriage, but that does not mitigate Mr. Bennet's role or the reality of his contribution. The entire story can be viewed in terms of the positive and negative tension between the consciousnesses of different levels of English society. Mrs. Bennet represents the intense, unbridled aspirations and uncultured energies of the middle class. Mr. Darcy represents the declining aristocracy which is offended by Mrs. Bennet's unmannerly behavior but attracted by the vitality which her daughter Elizabeth has inherited from her. Mr. Bennet is the governing force in the household, who decides by the exercise of his authority whether or not to permit Mrs. Bennet's personality to dominate the affairs of the family. When he acquiescences, problems arise. When he asserts, the problems recede.
When Lydia insisted on visiting Brighton and Mrs. Bennet strongly supported her, Mr. Bennet refused to exercise his authority to prevent the misadventure. When Elizabeth warned of potential trouble -- without actually revealing what she had learned about Wickham's character -- Mr. Bennet was unwilling to take responsibility. Lydia's elopement with Wickham was a direct consequence of his acquiescence.
On receiving news of the elopement, Mr. Bennet goes to London in search of the couple – a seemingly impossible task in a large city -- but comes back empty-handed. Yet his attitude and intention are sincere. In talking to Elizabeth and Jane over tea, he acknowledged that he was responsible for the elopement because he failed to prevent her trip to Brighton. He took the entire responsibility of his earlier actions which had such potentially devastating consequences for the entire family. It required great sincerity and mental effort for him to accept responsibility when he so easily could have blamed it on his wife, Lydia and Wickham.
Mr. Bennet's genuine acceptance of responsibility is a real psychological growth. Life responds to his progress by bringing her back and arranging for Lydia's marriage. Unknown to Mr. Bennet, Darcy has also gone to London and succeeds in locating the couple and persuading Wickham to marry. Mr. Bennet's psychological effort to accept responsibility, even though he is powerless to act physically, is mirrored by Darcy's own decision to accept responsibility physically, leading to successful resolution of the problem.
On receiving Mr. Gardiner’s letters about the settlements paid to Wickham in finalizing arrangements for the wedding, Mr. Bennet vowed to repay the money to Mr. Gardiner, even though he was not in a financial position to do so. The money spent on Lydia equalled more than two years of income from the estate. It is beyond his known capacity to repay. Nevertheless, his decision is sincere. He is determined to return the money. Had it all actually been done by Mr. Gardiner, Mr. Bennet would have been deeply grateful, but felt the compulsion to somehow repay the money Mr. Gardiner had expended on the marriage. As it turns out, Darcy has paid for the marriage and by the time Mr. Bennet learns of it, he has also learned that Darcy is to become his son-in-law. The heavy obligation to repay the money has been removed. In response to his sincerity, life has rewarded Mr. Bennet, not only by resolving the issue, but by doing it in a manner which is most pleasing.
Mrs. Bennet, Bingley, Caroline & Wickham
Compare Mr. Bennet’s conduct with others and the magnitude of his personal effort becomes more evident. When Darcy and Caroline prevailed on Bingley to leave Netherfield, Bingley relinquished responsibility and obeyed, despite his feelings for Jane and his sense of her feelings for him. When Wickham had dissipated the inheritance left for him by Darcy’s father, he tried to gain success by eloping with Georgiana, a direct betrayal of all the kindness offered to him by Darcy’s family. When Bingley leaves Netherfield, Mrs. Bennet readily blames others for his departure and never once pauses to consider her own contribution, which was primary. When Lydia elopes with Wickham, Mrs. Bennet blames Colonel Foster and others, conveniently forgetting that she was the one who most eagerly supported the trip to Brighton.
Few people in the story display a genuine willingness to take responsibility for the consequences of their own actions, to regret their indiscretions and make amends. Those that do, grow and prosper.
When we meet Elizabeth she is a pretty, cheerful young woman with a keen intellect and sense of humor. She has inherited her father’s mind and gentlemanly behavior, but also his caustic cynicism that sees through appearances and enjoys mocking the life around her. When she meets Darcy for the first time she is affronted by his proud and aloof behavior, not so much because she thinks he does not deserve or entitled to it, but because his behavior reminds her of her own inferior social position. “I could easily forgive HIS pride, if he had not mortified MINE." Elizabeth took a perverse please in teasing Darcy and later confesses to Jane that she made a conscious effort to dislike him for the joy of having someone to laugh at. "And yet I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him, without any reason. It is such a spur to one's genius, such an opening for wit, to have a dislike of that kind. One may be continually abusive without saying anything just; but one cannot always be laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty." She was only too ready to believe Wickham’s lies about Darcy because it justifies both her wounded pride and her cynical wit. Elizabeth never imagined for a moment that Darcy might one day seek her hand in marriage or that she would ever come to desire it. Her mind saw Darcy as an object for scorn and ridicule, and failed to perceive the very real opportunity he represented for her social advancement or emotional fulfilment. Even when Charlotte hinted at the possibility, she could not or would not concede it even in principle. Her mind perceived only irreconcilable opposition in Darcy. Only much later did she realize that this perception was an illusion.
By the time Darcy proposed to her the second time, she is a changed person. Elizabeth has endured insults, embarrassment, disillusionment, public disgrace and private self-condemnation. Through this process she has grown psychologically and it is that growth which makes possible her ultimate marriage to Darcy. Let us trace the stages through which she passes in this process.
Initially she takes joy in criticizing Darcy from a distance. After hearing Wickham’s story, she is bold enough to openly tease and provoke him while they are dancing and to laugh at him during her stay at Netherfield. Never does she imagine that he is attracted to her. Never does she even consider being attracted to him. Darcy does not exist in her social setup except as a distant subject for critical assessment.
She has already come to suspect that Darcy was at least partially responsible for Bingley’s sudden departure from Netherfield and Jane’s inability to meet him in London. After Fitzwilliam confirms Darcy’s role during their walk at Rosings, her earlier dislike turns into intense anger against him. Darcy’s mode of proposing to her provides a suitable occasion for her to fully express her sense of being offended by his behavior, her anger regarding Jane and her dislike because of his treatment of Wickham. Elizabeth rises to a peak of self-justification and self-righteousness.
His first proposal marks the turning point. Up to now Elizabeth has acted by confidently asserting her inherited personality with full force. From this point forward, self-awareness begins to dawn on her; she becomes progressively more conscious of her own errors and deficiencies and eventually feels a deep sense of regret. That passage from confident self-assertion to self-conscious regret is the path of her psychological progress --- a painful transition which ultimately qualifies her for high attainment and brings about the conditions necessary for her accomplishment.
Her honesty and frankness of character are powerfully displayed in her response to Darcy’s letter. She recognizes the vanity, folly and absurdity of her own behavior and feels totally ashamed. At first, she doubts the truth of what he says about Wickham and is further enraged by his effort to further justify his interference in Bingley’s relationship with Jane. But gradually she is forced to concede that she had been wrong about Wickham and rashly unjust in her judgment of Darcy’s character. She begins to re-evaluate her own sense of judgment, of which she had formerly been so proud. She is forced to acknowledge the truth of Darcy’s descriptions of her mother’s and sister’s behavior and even to concede that her father did not assert himself sufficiently to keep their shameless vulgarity in check. The insistence of Lydia and Mrs. Bennet that her youngest sister be permitted to go to Brighton and her father’s refusal to prevent it made her concede that Darcy’s objections regarding her family were well-founded. Perhaps she also recognized that her initial dislike for Darcy was at least in part because his presence reminded her of the real inferiority of her connections.
"How despicably I have acted! I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable mistrust! How humiliating is this discovery! yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind! But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself."'(See Pride & Prejudice: Chapter 36)
When Elizabeth visited Pemberley, the last vestiges of her prejudice against Darcy were removed by the housekeeper’s effusive praise of her master, by the magnificence of the estate and by Darcy’s own gracious courtesy to her and the Gardiners. Above all, she was moved by a deep sense of gratitude to him for loving her still and so well that he was willing to forgive her petulant rude manner at Rosings. Her mind had come full circle from caustic abuse to warm appreciation for his character and behavior. But that mental reversal was not sufficient as a deeper problem remained. She still was not ready to fully accept the truth of her own family origins in her depths or to reconcile it with her surface attraction to Darcy.
News of Lydia’s elopement provided her the occasion for that deeper introspection and reversal. Suddenly the worst accusations that Darcy had made paled into insignificance before the blatant facts of Lydia’s behavior and the public disgrace that would ruin the marriage prospects and lives of all five sisters. Confronted by this irremediable circumstance, Elizabeth was honest enough to recognize her own contribution to the calamity that had befallen on the family. Had she only revealed the truth about Wickham, none of this would have happened. The pain of public humiliation and personal loss was sufficient to fully awaken in her a keen sense of her own deficiencies and those of her family along with a sincere regret for her poor judgment and foolish behavior. It was this deeper psychological change – not just in thought or in action but in the depths of her emotions – that qualified her for high accomplishment. It was not Elizabeth’s innate capacities or endowments that made her eligible for marriage to Darcy. It was the genuine psychological effort she made to honestly recognize what she was. That sincerity was sufficient to elevate her consciousness and evoke the responses from life which culminated in the Lydia’s marriage to Wickham, Jane’s to Bingley and her own to Darcy.
Before her marriage could be consummated she had to undergo the outrage and humiliation of personal confrontation with Lady Catherine. The attack on her character and her family brought out her strength. The unprovoked attack by Darcy’s aunt was a precise response of life to her unprovoked attack on Darcy at the Netherfield ball. Life demanded she physically undergo the blind taunting abuse to which she had earlier subjected her future husband.
The large gap in social position between Elizabeth and Darcy is a real, tangible barrier. It requires great strength of personality for Elizabeth to overcome that barrier and qualify psychologically for the marriage. Lady Catherine provided her that occasion. Collins proposal to Elizabeth has become famous in the world of literature. Elizabeth's confrontation with Lady Catherine is equally memorable. It requires tremendous courage, strength and psychological effort for a twenty year old girl, whose younger sister has recently eloped, to standing up and face the wrath of a domineering personality of higher social position. The resourcefulness of Elizabeth's reply and the presence of mind she exhibited in that interview are magnificent. It was not enough that she possessed the strength in potential. It was necessary that she express it in order for its full force to act in her life. Lady Catherine gave her the occasion. Directly after being rebuffed by Elizabeth, Lady Catherine went to Darcy and recounted the substance of the encounter. When Darcy heard how Elizabeth had responded, he realized there was a chance that her feelings for him might have changed.
Elizabeth passed through several stages of growth. She first came to recognize the fallibility of her own judgments and then to discover truth in another person’s perspective which she had summarily rejected. She came to recognize the deficiencies in her own family and personal behavior. She came to recognize that what she had once perceived as inconceivable or distasteful was what she now most desired in life. She withdrew her aggressive and provocative behavior. She abandoned her false sense of pride in her judgment and prejudice against others. She gave up blaming others for her misfortune, accepted responsibility for the events that had occurred, and developed a deep sense of regret for them.
Elizabeth’s psychological awakening was virtually forced upon her by the calamity of Lydia’s elopement. She did not consciously take initiative to change her attitudes or her behavior. These changes were thrust upon her by the force of circumstances and self-knowledge. She came to the point of recognizing that she had been wrong and regretting what she had done, but never actually came to the point of deciding to change or become a better person.
Consider the formidable obstacles that confronted Darcy in his aspiration to marry Elizabeth. First was her own instinctive dislike for the man when they first met at the Netherfield ball which was aggravated by his discourteous remarks to Bingley which Elizabeth overheard. Next Wickham’s slanderous lies about him which Elizabeth so willingly absorbed in her attraction to the soldier and disdain for the gentleman. Then his active interference in the relationship between Bingley and Jane, which was accidentally disclosed to her by Fitzwilliam at Rosings. All this pales into apparent insignificance compared to profoundly insulting manner of Darcy’s first proposal to her and Elizabeth’s rude rebuttal that he was the last person she would ever marry. Further insults were heaped in Darcy’s letter when in self-justification he feels compelled to expose the vulgar behavior of Elizabeth’s younger sisters, mother and father. And were not this more than sufficient to void any possibility of their marriage, Lydia’s scandalous elopement with Darcy’s worst enemy surely must end all speculation.
The fact that Darcy and Elizabeth did ultimately marry is a dramatic and true to life representation of the power of psychological reversal. In Darcy’s case the path of progress began with a similar process of psychological introspection, self-knowledge and regret for what he was and what he had done. But it did not stop there. Darcy travelled the full path from awakening to reversal. He not only recognized his deficiencies. He also took conscious efforts to change both his attitudes and behavior and express that change in ways that made him directly confront all in him that resisted his growth.
Darcy first perceived Elizabeth in terms very near to her initial perception of him. He saw what was objectionable in her family background and failed to perceive the opportunity she represented for his own happiness. Once he awoke to the beauty of her fine eyes, he was so blindly immersed in his own sense of self-importance and his own view of the situation that he never considered for a moment that she might find him objectionable or refuse his proposal. Knowing that Elizabeth’s mind had been poisoned by Wickham, it did not occur to him that he needed to expose Wickham’s lies before proposing to her. Knowing that he had interfered in Bingley’s relationship with Jane, it never occurred to him that Elizabeth might resent or refuse him on that basis. Even when he proposed to her, he seemed to be unaware how rude and crude was the manner of his address until she so boldly rejected it and expressed her true feelings. It had not occurred to him that the woman he was proposing to might have a view different from his own! Darcy’s path to growth began in ignorant self-immersion and an arrogant sense of his own self-importance.
Darcy was naturally repelled by the crude vulgarity of Elizabeth’s mother and younger sisters. But, so strong was his attraction to her that he felt compelled to propose in spite of his intense distaste for her family. Rather than resolving the conflict within himself, he simply decided that his need for her was greater than his objections to her family. This was not sufficient for him to win her. His growth began with a recognition that he could desire something which might be considered objectionable from another point of view. But accomplishment demanded much more. First he had to recognize that his own desirability as a marriage partner might be subject to dispute. That was a big blow to his self-esteem. After fully justifying himself to her in the letter at Rosings, he was forced to reflect on his own behavior and concede that it was far from perfect. He also had an occasion to reflect on the condescending offensiveness of his aunt, Lady Catherine, and to realize that the lower classes had no monopoly on poor manners.
When a person grows psychologically, what once appeared to be right or appropriate comes to be viewed as wrong or inappropriate. Darcy believed that when he wrote the letter to Elizabeth he was calm and cool. He firmly believed that he was obliged to tell her the truth about the behavior of her mother and sisters, even though he knew it would give her pain. He felt no need to apologize for what he said. He emphatically declared in the letter that even his concealment of Jane's presence in London from Bingley was done for the best. By the time Darcy came to propose to Elizabeth a second time, he was sorry he had ever written that letter. He was ashamed of it and wanted the letter to be burned. He now understood that a gentleman who points out the defects of another person ceases to be a gentleman.
In spirit of understanding with which Darcy wrote the letter at Rosings was very much like that of Collins who explains offensive things, such as Elizabeth's meagre dowry of £50, and then apologizes for having to speak them. It never occurred to Collins that a cultured person would be sensitive even to the mention of such things. Darcy undergoes that change, whereas Collins and Mrs. Bennet do not. The sense of self-righteousness in the position of each is vital. The vital man feels it is always right. It requires mind to set a standard and evaluate one's own position objectively. Darcy's progress was growth from the vital to the mental; rather, from negative vital to positive mental consciousness.
Over time the intensity of Darcy's attraction to Elizabeth compelled him to examine his own character and behavior more closely. He became conscious of the gap between the ideals with which he had been raised and his actual behavior. Like Elizabeth he came to genuinely regret his indiscrete behavior. But he went further. He also decided to change himself. When he met Elizabeth and the Gardiners at Pemberley, they were both visible impressed by Darcy’s spontaneous courtesy and graciousness. It became evident even to Elizabeth that Darcy maintained the love he had expressed for her at Rosings. But now he was no longer struggling against his own better judgment or concerns for social propriety. He had fully made up his mind that he could love and accept her. He had not resolved his disgust for her family. He simply rejected it out of hand and accepted Elizabeth in her own right, an extremely generous gesture for such a socially conscious gentleman 200 years ago.
He may have been ready then to extend a second proposal and Elizabeth may have been willing to accept it, but life was not ready to sanction their marriage. Or stated otherwise, what both of them had consciously come to accept as desirable, remained a point of subconscious contention. The fact remained that Elizabeth’s mother and sister were far from acceptable. The fact remained that Darcy had expressed it and Elizabeth was herself fully aware of it. Their conscious attempt to reconcile was prevented by the continued presence of subconscious conflict.
The elopement of Lydia and Wickham brought the subconscious issue to the fore. Neither could ignore it any longer. It threatened to ruin Elizabeth’s life and permanently cancel any prospect of their marriage. It was not sufficient that Darcy was willing to graciously overlook the obstacle. He was forced to do more. He was forced to actively embrace that which had formerly disgusted him. He was compelled to actively work to save Lydia from disgrace so that she could become his sister-in-law and spend his own money so that Wickham could become his future brother-in-law. In seeking to save the situation, Darcy was forced not only to withdraw his mental objections to the family, but also far more difficult, he was forced to reverse deeply-seated vital attitudes. Darcy’s escapade with finding Lydia, Elizabeth’s encounter with Lady Catherine are on par with each other.
Even that heroic effort – rare both in life and in literature – was not sufficient to make the impossible possible. Darcy had still to reverse his earlier interference in Bingley’s marriage to Jane.
Darcy’s path to accomplishment was by deep psychological change. He had to awaken to accept his own deficiencies, regret them and adopt a diametrically opposite attitude and behavior. It was not enough for him to concede that he had been wrong. He went so far as to accept that Elizabeth had been totally right and justified in her rebuke of him and he dedicated himself to become a person truly deserving of her respect and appreciation. This was a true psychological growth culminating in personal fulfilment.
At first impression Jane is just an attractive, mild, naïve, docile, good young woman who lacks the energy and stamina to stand up for what she wants in life and lacks the cleverness or insight to judge other people and recognize their true intentions and character. We might even come to the conclusion that in her effort to be good she refuses to see the obvious and clings to foolish beliefs in spite of blatant evidence to the contrary.
But by the end of the story Jane has accomplished at a very high level. She has married a very wealthy, good man who loves her as intensely as he can love anyone and who will certainly treat her as well as any man could. She has fulfilled her highest aspiration in life. To compound her matrimonial accomplishment, her dearest sister has married her husband’s closest friend and constant companion, there ensuring that she and Elizabeth will also be constantly together. What more could anyone in her position aspire for?
Superficially we might be tempted to attribute all this good fortune to her pretty face and docile temperament, a perfect match for Bingley’s mild disposition. We might also give credit to Elizabeth, whose goodwill played a key role in overcoming Darcy’s opposition to the match. But these positive influences were not sufficient to overcome the negative contribution of Mrs. Bennet’s, whose loud, vulgar behavior and boastful promotion of the match nearly cancelled the prospect entirely.
A true appreciation of Jane’s accomplishment must take into account the central role which she herself played. Did Jane actually do anything that led to her own success? If so, it certainly did not take the form of active scheming or aggressive self-promotion. From start to finish her behavior was impeccably restrained. She remained quiet, modest and unassuming. Her visit to Netherfield was at the instance of her mother, not her own initiative. Similarly, the trip to London was foisted on her. Left to herself she would have remained passive, not even permitting herself to think too much of the man to whom she was so very much attracted.
What, then, precisely was Jane’s contribution to her own accomplishment? If we place ourselves in her position and do not mistake, as Darcy did, her passivity for, we will soon realize that the psychological effort she made was quite considerable and perhaps beyond the capacity of most people. We need not doubt the intensity of her interest in Bingley or her eagerness to marry at age 23. After the first ball, she frankly acknowledges to Elizabeth her admiration for him. When Bingley returns to London, she is severely disappointed and depressed.
Jane had been raised in a society that held up modesty and passivity as high standards for feminine conduct, and yet we find no one else in the story who comes close to her in meeting the standard. Elizabeth is charmingly aggressive and outspoken. Caroline and Mrs. Hurst are proud, haughty and on occasion offensive. Mrs. Bennet and Lydia are a constant source of embarrassment. Georgiana is the only one who approaches Jane in modesty, and we suspect that in her case youth and timidity were contributing factors.
Contrast Jane’s behavior with that of Mrs. Bennet. Both are perhaps equally eager for the match with Bingley. Mrs. Bennet is unable and unwilling to contain her eagerness. Having pressed Mr. Bennet to call on Bingley when he first arrived, she openly declares her mercenary ambitions to members of the family and close friends. Jane, on the other hand, refuses to take any initiative that is not thoroughly proper and appropriate. Obviously her expression of interest was a sufficient encouragement to Bingley, but from a distance others had difficulty perceiving it. How many people are capable of that self-restraint?
When Caroline and Darcy take initiative to prevent the relationship from maturing by scurrying Bingley off to London, Jane refuses to suspect or find fault with either Bingley or his companions. Jane’s one concern was that she must not be known as one who sought after Bingley. She made a conscious effort not to pursue him. She even tried her best to convince Elizabeth that Bingley was only a good friend. Certainly we do not doubt that she is intensely interested in the man. What self-restraint it requires not to blame or criticize either Caroline and Mrs. Hurst or her own mother and younger sisters for her own disappointment! Her refusal to do so demanded intense psychological effort. That we do not see signs of that effort is only because it has become a hallmark of her personality and a code of conduct for her whole life. Why is that we see the intense energy of Mrs. Bennet in Lydia, Kitty and even Elizabeth, but not in Jane? Because in Jane, that energy has been channelled from an early age into a high self-discipline of feminine modesty. Her unwillingness to respond is part of the reason Bingley is so much attracted to her. Ultimately it becomes grounds for Darcy to reverse his judgment, since he clearly sees that Jane is not angling or conniving to lure his friend into matrimony.
We fault Jane for not being able to see through Caroline’s intrigues. But her inability was at least partially due to her unwillingness to think negatively about anyone she knows. Everyone else in the story is not only able to but also almost eager to accuse, scorn or laugh at others. Mrs. Bennet accuses everyone of ruining her schemes. Elizabeth and virtually everyone else in Meryton readily believe Wickham’s worst lies about Darcy. Even when Caroline speaks of becoming the sister of Georgiana by marriage to Bingley, a situation that might augment Caroline’s own chances of marrying Darcy, Jane justifies Caroline’s aspiration as legitimate. She takes self-discipline to the point of appreciating Caroline’s point of view, even when it is directly at odds with her own aspirations.
Anyone who tries not to think negatively of other people, suspect, criticize or accuse others – especially when things go wrong – will find it almost an impossible exercise in psychological self-restraint. That self-restraint is Jane’s principle strength, the reason why she is so deeply loved by Elizabeth, attractive to Bingley and ultimately acceptable to Darcy. It is true that after Caroline calls on her at the Gardiner’s house in London, Jane wrote to Elizabeth acknowledging her blind spot. She does so mainly to recognize the wisdom and value of Elizabeth’s advice, rather than to condemn Caroline for what she has done.
She exhibits the same characteristics when Elizabeth reveals to her the contents of Darcy’s letter exposing Wickham. She tries to justify the actions of both men and regrets that either one of them might be found at fault, much to Elizabeth’s annoyance. We can easily dismiss all those as her immaturity, naiveté or downright folly, but from her point of view her behavior throughout must have required a great psychological effort. After Lydia's elopement, Jane could not bring herself to believe that Wickam would not marry or that Lydia had no intention of marrying. Several times she tries to justify the actions of Lydia and Wickam. She even appreciates the efforts of Colonel Foster and refuses to fault him for negligence or indifference. After Bingley finally proposes to her, Jane is delighted to learn that Bingley did not know of her stay in London, but she does not condemn Caroline or Darcy for their subterfuge.
Jane’s composure and equanimity from beginning to end are extraordinary. They are not just an expression of mild docility. They are a product of intense psychological self-discipline. She does have an aspiration to fulfil a high ideal, the ideal of being a good and worthy daughter of a respectable English gentleman. The capacity not to react in the face of extreme provocation and disappointment, the capacity not to complain or condemn others for one’s misfortunes, the refusal to pursue mercenary selfish goals, the refusal even to indulge in self-pity are high human endowments which qualify Jane for high accomplishment. Jane has an aspiration. She exerts herself continuously in pursuit of her ideal. She strives to meet the challenges that confront her by further self-discipline and self-improvement. In this sense, she is the one whose accomplishment is directly attributable to her effort for psychological growth.
Charlotte is plain looking, 27 years old, unmarried and likely to remain so. It requires a great psychological effort of generosity to encourage Elizabeth in pursuit of so high an accomplishment, when she herself is likely to remain unwed. Imagine the psychological effort to strive for Elizabeth’s happiness, rather than feeling jealous of her friend's good looks and excellent prospects, to try to foster Elizabeth’s marriage to such a man as Darcy when any marriage of her own appears increasingly unlikely. Yet, it is she who perceives Darcy’s interest in Elizabeth and urges Elizabeth not to foolishly rebuff it. When Darcy requests Elizabeth to dance at the ball, Charlotte persuades Elizabeth not to spurn the offer or spoil her chances with him.
Charlotte also observed that Jane was not responding sufficiently to Bingley's attentions and his expressions of interest. Again she tells Elizabeth that Jane should be more overtly forthcoming. Here too she forgets her own prospects and acts for the success of her friends.
Charlotte's genuine effort to help the Bennet sisters is rewarded by life. When Mrs. Bennet informs Collins that Jane is already spoken for and when Elizabeth spurns Collins' marriage proposal, Collins rushes off and proposes to Charlotte. In retrospect, Charlotte's psychological effort to help Jane and Elizabeth marry Bingley and Darcy directly aided her own marriage to Collins. Life does not overlook a single intention or fail to reward any genuine effort.
Even after her marriage, Charlotte continues to play the same role. She invites Elizabeth to the parsonage in Kent, where she unexpectedly finds Darcy visiting his aunt, Lady Catherine. During that visit, Darcy proposes to Elizabeth for the first time and the marriage would have been consummated had it not been for her refusal. Charlotte's positive role is clearly demonstrated.
Accomplishment and Growth
Accomplishment is made possible by utilizing one’s capacities more fully. Greater knowledge, skill, organization, energy and effort make higher accomplishment possible. Psychological growth expands the existing capacities, thereby expanding the overall potential for accomplishment. Psychological growth is not necessary for accomplishment, but it naturally and inevitably results in accomplishment at a far higher level than would otherwise be possible.
In Pride and Prejudice, none of the characters pursued psychological growth for its own sake. It was thrust on Mr Bennet, Jane and Elizabeth by circumstances. It was thrust on Darcy by his deep admiration for Elizabeth and his aspiration to win her. Regardless of the initial cause, it demanded of them all arduous effort and molded their personalities for greater happiness and fulfilment.
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