Pride and Prejudice

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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Pride and Prejudice, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
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Class is the target of much of the novel's criticism of society in general. Austen makes it clear that people like Lady Catherine, who are overly invested in their social position, are guilty of mistreating other people. Other characters, like the suck-up Mr. Collins and the scheming Caroline, are depicted as thoroughly empty, their opinions and motivations completely defined by the dictates of the class system. To contrast them, Austen offers more positive examples in Bingley and the Gardiners. Bingley is someone from the upper class who wears his position lightly and gallantly. The Gardiners represent the honest, generous, and industrious middle class and are examples of how to be wealthy without being pretentious.

Austen does seem to respect the class system in a few ways, especially when it operates not as a dividing power in society, but as a force for virtue and decency. Darcy is the primary example of Austen's ideal high-class gentleman. Though originally he seems to be an arrogant and selfish snob, as the novel progresses it becomes clear that he is capable of change. Eventually, thanks to Elizabeth's influence and criticism, he combines his natural generosity with the integrity that he considers a crucial attribute of all upper-class people. He befriends the Gardiners and plays a key role in helping the ungrateful Lydia out of her crisis. The marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth shows that class restrictions, while rigid, do not determine one's character, and that love can overcome all obstacles, including class.

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Class Quotes in Pride and Prejudice

Below you will find the important quotes in Pride and Prejudice related to the theme of Class.
Chapter 1 Quotes
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

With this, one of the most famous opening lines in literature, Pride and Prejudice begins. Austen will quickly move into greater specifics, as she describes the goings-on at the Bennet house, but it is telling that it is a general statement, and not a description of a particular family in general, that sets the tone for the book. It is ironic that Austen's "universal" is, of course, limited to a particular moment in history and to a particular, upper-class social environment. However, for that group, this fact is so widespread as to be universal as well as obvious - even if another aspect of that environment is that people tend not to explicitly talk about such facts.  

In Austen's universe, people seek order and stability through two main venues: fortune and marriage. Men who have a certain income, and thus can comfortably imagine starting a family, seek wives who can give one to them: women, on the other hand, who are barred from holding fortunes themselves, can only find an equivalent stability in marrying a man who is wealthy enough to support them. For the rest of the book, Austen will explore in intricate detail the lives of a single family and the people around them, but here she suggests that their story is not unique but typical and representative - and that this makes their story more, not less, interesting and relevant.

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Chapter 7 Quotes
Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty ... But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes ... he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth has walked three miles to Netherfield in order to look after Jane, who has fallen ill, and Darcy - who is at Netherfield as well - is impressed both by her insistence on running after her sister (something that other characters find unladylike) and by how pretty she looks as she arrives, anxious and eyes shining. Darcy too had leapt to conclusions the first time he had seen Elizabeth, affected by the assumptions of his class and social environment that found her wanting in several aspects. Now, however, when he considers her more closely, he finds that she is pleasing both physically and in terms of her spirit and intelligence. While this passage is an example of Darcy's slow maturation, as he opens his mind to the possibility of liking Elizabeth, it also underlines the way men saw and judged women at the time, frankly and even like property that they might be interested in.

Chapter 15 Quotes
Having now a good house and a very sufficient income, [Mr. Collins] intended to marry ... he meant to choose one of the daughters, if he found them as handsome and amiable as they were represented by common report. This was his plan of amends—of atonement—for inheriting their father's estate; and he thought it an excellent one, full of eligibility and suitableness, and excessively generous and disinterested on his own part.
Related Characters: Mr. Collins
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Collins has inherited Mr. Bennet's estate since women, at this time in England, do not have the right to inherit property. In some ways, Mr. Collins is thus simply fulfilling the general statement that began the book: now that he has a considerable income, he will go in search of a wife. But he also fancies himself a fount of kindness and generosity, as he seeks to restore some sense of fairness to the dealings.

The tone throughout this passage, however, is undeniably ironic. Austen may not believe that there is anything intrinsically wrong about primogeniture (the rule by which an estate passes to the first-born son or other male relative), but she certainly can see how silly it is for Mr. Collins to think himself so generous and kind, when he is really just planning to share with one of the daughters the riches that he took away from them in the first place. Austen also pokes fun at Mr. Collins's high-minded self-regard in general, suggesting that he holds himself a bit too much in esteem.

Chapter 19 Quotes
Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.
Related Characters: Mr. Collins (speaker), Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

In this excruciating scene, Mr. Collins proposes marriage to Elizabeth, and, as she attempts to reject the proposal again and again, simply brushes off the rejection. He knows that he is rich and Elizabeth comparatively poor: everything he has been taught tells him that there can be no rational reason for her to reject his offer (only the more irrational question of love and suitability). Mr. Collins is blinded by this businesslike and rationalistic (though in his defense quite widespread) understanding of marriage. He even weighs Elizabeth's beauty and amiability against her paltry income to conclude that he must be right.

Mr. Collins's speech grows increasingly ridiculous from beginning to end. He finally does bring in evidence from more romantic sources, but only as further evidence in his favor, as he refuses to believe he can fail to see the truth. By portraying Mr. Collins as so utterly blind and silly in his stubbornness, Austen reminds us that considering marriage as a business transaction can lead to truly awkward consequences - even if she does not embrace the other extreme of passionate love.


Chapter 22 Quotes
Mr. Collins, to be sure, was neither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome, and his attachment to her must be imaginary. But still he would be her husband. Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.
Related Characters: Mr. Collins
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Collins's next marriage proposal is to Elizabeth's friend Charlotte Lucas. Unlike Elizabeth, Charlotte accepts. She too understands that Mr. Collins is far from the ideal husband, that he is petty, pompous, and can even be ridiculous. But here she attempts to explain her reasoning for why she will marry him, in the absence of love or admiration. Charlotte has a true realist's attitude towards marriage. She knows that since she is not wealthy, it will be her greatest source of stability, and as a well-educated young lady, she knows just how important stability and order are in order to allow her to pursue the few things that women are allowed to pursue in this society.

While Austen had ridiculed Mr. Collins's businesslike view of marriage, Charlotte's attitude is treated with greater sympathy. Working within a system that disadvantages women, Charlotte makes a calculated move that will actually allow her more freedom than if she remained single and less well-off. Elizabeth may not agree with Charlotte's choices - and we will see later a more ideal scenario for marriage - but we are not meant to entirely dismiss or scorn Charlotte's decision either.

Chapter 29 Quotes
Her air was not conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them such as to make her visitors forget their inferior rank. She was not rendered formidable by silence; but whatever she said was spoken in so authoritative a tone, as marked her self-importance
Related Characters: Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Collins has, smirkingly, warned Elizabeth that it's just as well that she has only a simple dress, since Lady Catherine enjoys making distinctions of class and rank even more obvious than they already are. Now, having arrived at the home for dinner, Elizabeth realizes just how true that is. Lady Catherine seems to almost gloat about her social position - and about how much higher her position is than that of her guests. Rather than make them feel comfortable and at home, she prefers to act as if class differences are a natural mark of hierarchy in character and worth as well.

Elizabeth isn't the kind of person who would allow such attitudes to embarrass or shame her. She holds her head high in such situations: while Lady Catherine's pride is boastful, Elizabeth is shown to be elegant and proper. 

Chapter 34 Quotes
"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." ... He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority—of its being a degradation—of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding
Related Characters: Fitzwilliam Darcy (speaker), Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

Darcy arrives at the Bennet home to make an offer of marriage to Elizabeth, something that shocks her entirely. Although Elizabeth admires Darcy's eloquence, her pride is deeply hurt by just how much he lingers on everything that counts against her, everything in spite of which he still, strangely, loves and wants to marry her. Darcy says that his feelings are real and strong, but then he lingers over her inferior social situation and her embarrassing family. As he enumerates the list, he seems cold and calculating: his first words about his "ardent" admiration and love begin to seem totally out of place, if not a painful joke.

We see here, however, just how knotty a problem it was at this time for people from even slightly different social stations to marry. Darcy believes he is simply being honest, and that by showing how society strives against such a marriage, he will flatter Elizabeth - since he still wants to marry her even so. But Elizabeth, proud as she is, cannot understand how Darcy can be both in love with her and conscious of her inferiority. Such an attitude towards a future partner utter disqualifies him from her consideration. Of course, Elizabeth already knows exactly what she thinks about Darcy, so it is doubtful that anything he would say would be considered positively or generously by her.

Chapter 43 Quotes
Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth is touring Pemberley, Darcy's estate, and she is impressed by the beauty of the place. Elizabeth has never been vain or silly (like her sister Lydia), and this is one of the few times that she seems enraptured by something so material as an estate. Still, Pemberley is closely linked in her mind with Darcy as a person, and as she tours it she cannot help but imagine a life that might have been possible for her, had she not made the mistake of rejecting his proposal.

Elizabeth does not really feel at home with her own family, and she knows that as a young lady without a fortune she cannot create a home for herself without a husband. At Pemberley she indulges in the thought that being with Darcy would have allowed her to have this kind of home, with all the order and stability that stems from it, and even to be "mistress" of a place. Elizabeth's fanciful thoughts are less rational than is usually the case for her, but they are meant to show just how powerful the symbols of class and class stability can be for someone in a vulnerable position at this time.

Chapter 44 Quotes
When she saw him thus seeking the acquaintance and courting the good opinion of people with whom any intercourse a few months ago would have been a disgrace—when she saw him thus civil, not only to herself, but to the very relations whom he had openly disdained ... the difference, the change was so great, and struck so forcibly on her mind, that she could hardly restrain her astonishment from being visible.
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy
Page Number: 251
Explanation and Analysis:

Darcy has come to see Elizabeth and Jane with their relatives the Gardiners, and has even brought his sister Georgiana. The Gardiners are just the example of the kind of inferior relations that Darcy had mentioned when making his awkward proposal of marriage. Now that Elizabeth has rid herself of her prejudice against Darcy, she sees his tone and actions with new eyes: but it also seems true that Darcy's own attitude has shifted. A great part of the reason that Elizabeth had long wanted nothing to do with Darcy was that he looked down on her and her family, making her natural, even defensive feeling of pride kick in: now that reason seems no longer to exist. We are meant now to take Elizabeth's judgments at her word, having witnessed her epiphany and painful acceptance of the fact that she judged too quickly before. Now, instead, she pays close attention to what surrounds her so as to make the most accurate judgment possible. 

Chapter 48 Quotes
The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this ... They agree with me in apprehending that this false step in one daughter will be injurious to the fortunes of all the others; for who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves with such a family?
Related Characters: Mr. Collins (speaker), Mr. Bennet, Lydia Bennet, Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Collins has written a letter of condolences to the Bennet family, but he hardly seems to strike a tone of compassion or understanding. Instead, his attitude seems almost gleeful, as he carefully delineates just how Lydia's ruinous decision will affect not only her life, but also the prospects of each of her sisters.

Lady Catherine, of course, should be known to us by now as proud in the worst ways, acutely aware of subtle class differences and eager to maintain those differences in any way possible - without taking to account more significant (at least in Austen's view) elements of character and morality that should support, not compete with, class distinctions. That Mr. Collins has embraced such a viewpoint speaks, in one sense, to his own sense of pride: having been refused marriage by one of the Bennet sisters, he takes some satisfaction in seeing the family fall from grace. But his attitude is also meant to stand in for societal opinions in general. In this environment, great danger can stem from one young woman's careless actions. Marriage for these women is not just a frivolous matter; without other means of freedom, it determines what kind of lives they can hope to have, so anything that jeopardizes their marriage prospects must be treated with the utmost seriousness.

Chapter 52 Quotes
They owed the restoration of Lydia, her character, every thing, to him. Oh! how heartily did she grieve over every ungracious sensation she had ever encouraged, every saucy speech she had ever directed towards him. For herself she was humbled; but she was proud of him. Proud that in a cause of compassion and honour, he had been able to get the better of himself.
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Lydia Bennet
Page Number: 309
Explanation and Analysis:

Elizabeth learns from Mrs. Gardiner's letter that it was in fact Darcy who negotiated Lydia's and Wickham's marriage and paid Wickham off, asking only that Mr. Gardiner take the credit so that his generosity might remain secret. Now Darcy grows in even greater estimation in Elizabeth's eyes. She is once again reminded of how she allowed too-quick prejudices to cloud her opinion of him, whereas now she has subtle but concrete proof of Darcy's goodness and humility.

Elizabeth recognizes, too, that pride doesn't always have to be a vice: you can be humble yourself but proud of other people, in which case the sentiment becomes virtuous. She knows that Darcy isn't perfect - he has the tendency to be proud just like her - but she realizes that he has conquered his innate sense of class differences in order to help a family in desperate need. As a result she only admires him more.

Chapter 56 Quotes
I have said no such thing. I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet (speaker), Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Page Number: 338
Explanation and Analysis:

Lady Catherine de Bourgh claims that Elizabeth has tricked her nephew Darcy into proposing to her. She also demands that Elizabeth refuse any offer of marriage from Darcy, who is meant to marry Lady Catherine's daughter. Elizabeth here refuses. She is shocked by Lady Catherine's brute frankness and scheming attitude towards marriage, and in response to the suggestion that she is not "good enough" for Darcy, her natural pride kicks in to enough of an extent for her to hold her ground against the older woman. 

Elizabeth claims here that Lady Catherine is meddling in affairs that do not concern her at all. Because she is from a wealthier background than Elizabeth, she seems to believe that she can say what she want, and holds that Elizabeth must out of shame bow to Lady Catherine's wishes. While the novel respects class differences to a certain extent, it also wishes to show how inappropriate such blatant displays of class friction can be, and how unpleasant they can become.