Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Hi I'm John Green, this is Crash Course Literature and it is a truth universally acknowledged

  • that a video series about world literature must be in want of a Jane Austen episode.

  • So here it is.

  • Today, we'll be discussing Pride and Prejudice, Austen's Regency-era novel of life, liberty

  • and bonnets.

  • The book was first published in 1813, it's a social satire about a family with five daughters

  • and quite a lot of economic anxiety.

  • And the novel's characters and themes have remained relevant for centuries now--which

  • is why there are SO.

  • MANY. adaptations of it, from the Keira Knightly movie to an Emmy winning web series co-created

  • by my brother.

  • Today, we'll talk about the social and historical context in which the book was written

  • , the style that Jane Austen helped invent, and

  • the dilemmas the major characters face.

  • And in the next episode, we'll look more closely at the politics of the book and its

  • attitudes toward money, class and gender.

  • But for now: It's bonnets all the way down.

  • INTRO So we don't know that much about Jane Austen's

  • life because after her death her sister burned most of her letters.

  • Just a friendly note, by the way, to any future literary executors out there, maybe don't

  • burn so much stuff?

  • Even if you're told to.

  • Wait, unless your MY literary executor.

  • Then burn everything.

  • But, here's what we do know: Jane Austen was born in 1775 to an Anglican clergyman

  • and his wife; Jane was the second youngest of eight children.

  • And her father farmed and took in students to makes ends meet.

  • Jane was mostly taught at home and sometimes she wasn't taught at all, although she and

  • her sister did go to a year or two of boarding school.

  • When she was eleven, Jane started writing plays and novels, mostly social satires and

  • parodies ofnovels of sensibility,” a literary genre in which women like, cry and

  • sigh and faint a lot.

  • Many of these early works were in the style of the epistolary novel, which is a story

  • composed of letters, and we see echoes of that form in Pride and Prejudice.

  • We also see some echoes of Pride and Prejudice in Austen's life.

  • She never married, but she did receive at least one proposal that she accepted for a

  • few hours.

  • And after her father's death in 1805, her financial position and the positions of her

  • mother and her sister became increasingly insecure.

  • By 1816, four of her books had been published.

  • And she was working on a new novel, called Sanditon, when she died in 1817, at the age

  • of just 41.

  • Two more of her works, Persuasion and Northanger

  • Abbey, were published after her death.

  • They're all good--but to me at least Pride and Prejudice is the most perfect of them--there's

  • a precision to it.

  • Like Gatsby or Sula, Pride and Prejudice is a novel in which every single word feels genuinely

  • essential.

  • So what happens in Pride and Prejudice?

  • well, let's go to the Thoughtbubble: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet live in rural England

  • with their five daughters: pretty Jane, lively Elizabeth, horrible Mary, airhead Kitty, and

  • boy obsessed Lydia.

  • When Mr. Bennet dies the estate will go to a male cousin, so the daughters have to find

  • rich husbands.

  • Or else.

  • Or else live in poverty or become governesses, and if you've read Jane Eyre, you know how

  • great that gig is.

  • Mr. Bingley, an eligible bachelor, arrives on the scene, and he and Jane fall in love.

  • Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley's best friend, definitely don't.

  • In fact, Elizabeth sorts of hate him.

  • Elizabeth gets a proposal of marriage from Mr. Collins, the cousin who's going to inherit

  • the estate.

  • And marrying him would save her sisters from poverty, but Mr. Collins is awful and Elizabeth

  • declines.

  • So her best friend, Charlotte, ends up snagging him.

  • Meanwhile, Elizabeth starts to fall for Wickham, a soldier in the militia.

  • He hates Mr. Darcy, too.

  • Suddenly Mr. Bingley moves away and Jane is heartbroken.

  • Elizabeth goes to visit Charlotte and is introduced to Lady Catherine, Mr. Darcy's ultra-snob

  • aunt.

  • She sees Mr. Darcy there and he also proposes marriage but in a very insulting way.

  • She insults him right back.

  • But some months later, Elizabeth is on a trip with her aunt and uncle.

  • They visit Mr. Darcy's lavish estate and Elizabeth softens toward him.

  • Then she gets word that Lydia has run off with Wickham.

  • Mr. Darcy saves Lydia's reputation by brokering

  • a marriage.

  • Then it's happy endings all around: Lydia gets married; Jane and Mr. Bingley get

  • married, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy get married, Kitty learns to be a little bit less of an

  • airhead and Mary is presumably still horrible.

  • Thanks, Thought Bubble.

  • So let's talk life and letters in Regency England.

  • By the way, Regency England refers to a period from about 1800-1820 when King George III

  • became mentally ill and unfit to rule.

  • In England, this was a time of political uncertainty and a lot of economic volatility.

  • There was a rising middle class, a burgeoning consumer culture, and a move from an agrarian

  • economy to an industrial one.

  • And that meant less overall poverty, but it also meant a lot of social instability.

  • And It was also a time when people in England were beginning to talk about the rights of

  • women.

  • Like, Mary Wollstonecraft publishedVindication of the Rights of Womenseven years after

  • Austen was born, though it's important to remember that at this place and time women

  • didn't really have many rights--they couldn't vote, and in Pride and Prejudice, the whole

  • plot begins because all of Bennet's five children are daughters,

  • This means that legally, Bennet's estate has to go to a male cousin.

  • But there was a growing belief that hey, maybe women should have rights.

  • Abroad, the American Revolution and the French Revolution had recently unsettled established

  • social and political orders.

  • Everywhere there were increasing discussions about rights and responsibilities, liberties

  • and duties.

  • You can even hear this in the famous first sentence of Pride and Prejudice: “It is

  • a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be

  • in want of a wife.”

  • It has an echo of the American Declaration of Independence: “We find these truths to

  • be self-evident…”

  • But the comic deflation in the second half of the sentence is pure Austen.

  • Some people are initially put off by Pride and Prejudice because they view it as a sort

  • of literaryfied romance novel.

  • And, it is a book primarily interested in human relationships, especially romantic ones--but

  • I'd challenge the idea that such novels can't be great.

  • Nobody ever argues that picaresque novels,

  • or bildungsromans, are merely genre novels--even though they are also genres.

  • But the wordromanceis too often and too quickly dismissed.

  • By the way, Austen has this completely unearned reputation for being genteel and conservative.

  • The reality is that her work is very funny and mean and super smart about human behavior.

  • You can hear that in the letters that survive,

  • like when she writes to her sister, “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it

  • saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.”

  • But also while this book involves lower-case r romance, it is very aggressively not capital-r

  • Romantic, in the Byron Wordsworth Shelley sense that feelings are so overwhelming that

  • they supersede logic.

  • I mean, Wordsworth can write a hillside for thirty-seven stanzas, but if you read Austen

  • closely, you'll find that there's a striking absence of physical description.

  • We don't know what the dresses look like.

  • We don't know what the people look like.

  • When there is a physical description, like the description of Mr. Darcy's estate or

  • Elizabeth's petticoat, it means that something really important is happening.

  • And even then these descriptions are very brief.

  • If we're being honest, there isn't even all that much in here about bonnets.

  • In fact, Austen is suspicious of overwhelming emotion.

  • Remember how I mentioned the novel of sensibility and Austen's early satires?

  • She's skeptical of feeling too much, of getting so carried away by emotion that it

  • prevents you from thinking clearly.

  • This is exemplified by Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy's relationship.

  • They don't fall in love at first sight.

  • Actually, it's the opposite.

  • At a ball, she overhears him telling his friend that her sister is the only hot girl in the

  • room and that Elizabeth is merelytolerable.”

  • Given that Elizabeth and Darcy are end up together, this is a novel that's suspicious

  • of romantic love, especially romantic love based on instant physical attraction

  • and when characters do get carried away by their emotions, they're either fooling themselves,

  • like Mr. Collins, or doing something really wrong, like Lydia.

  • Pride and Prejudice does have a wish-fulfilling ending.

  • but it's still a sly, and ironic and clear-eyed exploration

  • of the individual vs. the collective, happiness vs. security

  • It's about love, but rather than presuming

  • that love is only a feeling, Pride and Prejudice explores how thinking and feeling and need

  • and responsibility intersect to form the experience that we call love.

  • One might even say that it's a novel about romantic

  • love that deconstructs our idea about romantic love.

  • Austen joked that the scope of her works was narrow, equating her writing with a two-inch

  • piece of ivoryon which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after

  • much labour.”

  • She also critiqued of Pride and Prejudice, writing to a friend, “The work is rather

  • too light & bright & sparkling; it wants shade.”

  • and yeah, OK, the novel is fun.

  • But reading should be fun sometimes.

  • I mean, we already read To the Lighthouse.

  • And in terms of the prose-style itself, Austen was actually pioneering a new style here called

  • free indirect discourse.

  • It means that even though the narration is in the third person, the narrative voice takes

  • on the thoughts and feelings of characters.

  • Like after unexpectedly meeting Darcy at

  • his estate, the third-person narration captures Elizabeth's embarrassment:

  • Her coming there was the most unfortunate, the most ill-judged thing in the world!

  • How strange must it appear to him!

  • In what a disgraceful light might it not strike so vain a man!

  • It might seem as if she had purposely thrown herself in his way again!”

  • This narrative approach reflects emotion without stating it--showing instead of telling, as

  • the saying goes--and makes us feel not as if we can sympathize with Elizabeth, but instead

  • as if we ARE Elizabeth,

  • and to me is one of the most profound and important things a novel can do: Great books

  • offer you a way out of yourself, and into other peoples' lives.

  • Next time we'll look more closely at some of the themes, but for now, let's briefly

  • explore the dilemma facing Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters.

  • Because her parents have been bad with money, she knows she has to marry well or face poverty.

  • So when Mr. Collins proposes, that's a fantastic solution.

  • Except for one thing: She doesn't respect him.

  • Mr. Collins is pompous and foolish and the very things that make Elizabeth terrific

  • her lively mind and her fresh witmake him nervous.

  • She tells him, “ You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman

  • in the world who would make you so.”

  • But the idea that happiness should be privileged over security is pretty radical.

  • Elizabeth is deciding that her personal individual

  • happiness should outweigh the economic problems of her family.

  • She is taking a huge risk when she rejects him.

  • As Mr. Collins tells her, she's poor so

  • she probably won't get another proposal.

  • He might not have made her happy, but he would have made her and her unmarried sisters financially

  • secure.

  • And then, Elizabeth takes the same risk or a greater one when she rejects Mr. Darcy's

  • insulting first proposal.

  • She can't make herself marry a man she doesn't like.

  • This was the same dilemma Austen herself faced and her rejection of a suitor made things

  • hard for herself and for her family.

  • But she did it anyway.

  • Now, thanks to the fairy tale ending, Elizabeth doesn't experience, like, catastrophic consequences

  • as a result of her privileging happiness.

  • But as 19th century English readers would

  • have been very well aware, she could have.

  • And so, the novel helped them, and also helps us, explore when we should put our own needs

  • first, and when the happiness and security of others is more important.

  • Is doing what is best for you always the right

  • thing to do?

  • Or are there moments when you must sacrifice your happiness for the good of your family

  • or your social order?

  • or even yourself? next time we'll discuss whether the politics

  • of the book are radical or conservative.

  • And we'll answer a vexing question: Why does Lydia buy such an ugly bonnet?

  • Thanks for watching.

  • Hope it was tolerable.

  • I'll see you next time.

Hi I'm John Green, this is Crash Course Literature and it is a truth universally acknowledged

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 US CrashCourse elizabeth austen darcy prejudice jane

Pride and Prejudice Part 1: Crash Course Literature #411

  • 4979 293
    黃齡萱 posted on 2018/02/10
Video vocabulary