University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Jane Austen’s use of coincidence in Pride and Prejudice
The plot of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice relies heavily on what we call chance and coincidence. Jane Austen’s prime objective seemed to be establishing circumstances, through “chance and coincidence” which enabled opportunities for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth to get together. She used major characters such as Mr. Collins, Mr. Wickham and Mrs. Gardiner to appear at the exact moment they were needed to establish situations that brought Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth into close proximity with one another. Through this, Ms. Austin, linked all the characters in the book to one another in some form or another. Mr. Collins is a coincidence himself. He might be an obsequious, pompous fool, who lack’s common sense but he just so happens to be the heir to Longbourn and a clergyman for Lady Catherine de Bough who just so happens to be the aunt of Mr. Darcy. His existence creates opportunities for Elizabeth and Darcy to interact. For example, at Mr. Bingley’s party in Netherfield, Mr. Collins brought the reluctant lovers together by unwillingly and unconsciously embarrassing himself. In Jane Austen’s time, social classes were treated with the highest respect. Those higher up the social ladder take great care in keeping their position. This requires years of lessons on the proper etiquette and manners on how to behave in public. Mr. Collins, at the time had not been introduced to the prideful Mr. Darcy. Trying to start a conversation with someone of higher stature was a grave offence. Jane Austen used Mr. Collins to create opportunities where Miss Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were forced to interact, forcing them to get closer to each other. A couple of months after Charlotte had moved in with Mr. Collins, Elizabeth decided to visit her friend and check on how she was doing now that she was living with Mr. Collins.
This visit gave Jane Austen all the freedom to let her characters run free. However, the way Jane Austen went along to write this was all wrong. When Elizabeth visited Charlotte and Mr. Collins at their home in Roseings, Mr. Collins and his wife were invited to have dinner at Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s mansion. Elizabeth was allowed to come because she was a guest of Charlotte’s. At their arrival, the group discovers that just so happened that Mr. Darcy is visiting his aunt at the same time. The same time Elizabeth was visiting Charlotte, Darcy happened to be there. This coincidence seemed to have happened because Jane Austen wanted, in my opinion, for Mr. Darcy to see how terribly his aunt used her class to bully Elizabeth about herself, her family flaws, and her lower class. This might have brought up some empathy from Darcy, and an ability to recognize how foolish and insulting using class would be. Perhaps this meeting also resulted in some affection towards Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy is an unusual man, he is already prideful, socially awkward and straight to the point. He also always seems to be wherever Elizabeth is. The man is either stalking her or Ms. Austen is bending the truth. On a trip to the countryside with her Aunt and Uncle, Elizabeth got to discover this man’s ways of (word). Being that that Mrs. Gardiner was from a village close to Mr. Darcy’s estate, Pemberley. She decided that it would be exciting to visit the property since they were so close. Elizabeth of course worried about running into Darcy in his own home, she was a bit paranoid. She mentioned that “She felt that she had no business at Pemberley, and was obliged to assume a disinclination for seeing it.” She tried to no prevail to change her stubborn aunt’s mind “She must own that she was tired of seeing great houses; after going over so many, she really had no pleasure in fine carpets or satin curtains.” It is at this point that the coincidences Jane Austen weaves seem to get a little out of control. Upon arriving at Pemberley, Elizabeth and her relatives were blown away by the size and grandeur of the estate. Mr. Darcy’s house was so big apparently, that visitors had the opportunity to take tours of the grounds. The Gardiner’s did not come for the house, but the land and forests that surrounded the mansion. Coincidence happens while Elizabeth wanders around Mr. Darcy’s estate. Mr. Darcy suddenly shows up seemingly out of nowhere, “Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of both were overspread with the deepest blush,” It was Jane Austen’s goal, from the start of the book, to get these two together and to start a flame of love between them. It was quite romantic but how Mr. Darcy just appeared, seems strange. Mr. Darcy was heading to London with Mr. Bingley when he left. Being that Darcy know knew that Elizabeth was in town, and that by now it’s clear Mr. Darcy has feelings for Elizabeth, he invites Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle to dinner. For the most part of the book, the general mood hasn’t really seen any problems between the characters.
It seems that Jane Austen thought she had left the characters in Meryton alone for long enough. As Elizabeth received a letter from Jane describing their situation; Lydia had run off with Wickham endangering her and her family’s reputation. The fact that Elizabeth gets this letter when she ran into Darcy, and that Darcy is the only one who could fix the problem does seem suspicions. The arrival and help of Darcy further encourages Elizabeth’s change of heart, Jane Austen planned these coincidences perfectly, pushing Elizabeth’s feeling towards Darcy stronger than before. Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy have a history together, throughout the book we slowly get the whole story. These two also share a few coincidences which Jane Austen tried to hide. As a child, Wickham’s father was the steward of Mr. Darcy’s father’s house. However, when Wickham’s father passed away Wickham had nowhere to go. Darcy’s father felt bad for the boy so he was taken in and treated Wickham like his own son. For some time there was peace and happiness; the boys got older as did their father. By the time his adopted father had died, Wickham had turned into a different person. He was gambling, lying, and lowlife. Any inheritance he received from his father’s death was gambled and lost. Darcy on the other hand, who had received the bulk of the cash, was smart and invested most of his money. When Wickham came crawling back for more money, he was refused. This of course didn’t make Wickham a happy man. To get revenge, he tried to elope with the young Georgina Darcy. Before the young couple could leave Darcy ended up dragging his sister back and refusing to ever see Wickham again. Darcy and Wickham are two of the main male characters. Jane Austen has done an amazing job in creating these fictional charters. But, she creates situations and makes them take choices that no normal person would ever do. For example, both Darcy and Wickham, who are from Derbyshire, come to provincial Meryton. Darcy came with Bingley house hunting and Wickham had been moved there in his regiment. However, when they both show up within days of each other, one has to wonder if this really was pure chance. Was it pure coincidence? Would it really happen?
Mr. Wickham, as I explained before, hates Mr. Darcy for refuses to give him the money he thinks he so rightfully deserves. Itching for revenge, Mr. Wickham learns of Mr. Darcy’s plans to go to Meryton. I believe Mr. Wickham jumped at this opportunity. He switched (battalions) to go to Meryton.
However, Mr. Darcy was far too powerful and influential for Mr. Wickham to hurt him physically or economically. As a crafty fellow, he went after something dearer to Mr. Darcy’s heart; Elizabeth! It makes sense! I wondered why Wickham would choose Elizabeth of all the Bennet sisters to favour his attentions. He seems to like women who are compliant and preferably with money, yet he picks Elizabeth, who is not as beautiful as Jane, nor as flirtatious as Lydia, and who has no money. He doesn’t seem the sort of fellow who would like a women who challenges and teases him, yet he still chooses Elizabeth. Why? Elizabeth, her sisters and Mr. Collins are walking down the street when they spot Denny and Wickham coming the other direction. Kitty and Lydia want to meet this new handsome fellow, so under the pretense of wanting something from a shop, they lead the others across the street. They have just reached the pavement where they encounter Denny and Wickham who have now changed directions and come back –an extraordinarily detailed and unnecessary stage direction, but when you play it out, it means Denny and Wickham are now facing in the direction that they will see someone riding from Netherfield in the direction of Longbourn. Darcy and Bingley ride down the street on their way to Longbourn and distinguish “the ladies of the group.” They come forward, Bingley converses with Jane, and Darcy proceeded to bow to the ladies. Darcy, who would have been missing Elizabeth’s presence at Netherfield, “was beginning to determine not to fix his eyes on Elizabeth,” so one can assume that until that point his eyes were in fact fixed on her. Presumably he’s paying no attention to the men in ordinary dress, but when he looks away from Elizabeth as part of his determination not to look at her, he notices Wickham.
Now let’s take the same scene from Wickham’s point of view. He is being introduced to some pretty ladies when Darcy and some other fellows ride up to the group. Darcy’s gaze is fixed on one of the ladies. Wickham would notice Darcy’s presence right away. The observant and enterprising fellow that he is, he would also notice who Darcy happens to be staring at in his love-struck way. Wickham knows Darcy very well, much better than Charlotte Lucas who is then able to recognize Darcy’s interest in Elizabeth. Would he not see it as well, and perceive both a danger and an opportunity there? The very next time Wickham sees Elizabeth, he singles her out and asks her “hesitatingly” about her acquaintance with Darcy. She doesn’t mince words in her reply. What an opportunity for Wickham – he can pour his poison into the ear of the woman Darcy wants for himself, and then he’s going to charm her to boot. He’d derive a lot of pleasure from making Darcy’s love interest fall in love with him instead. After Elizabeth returns from Kent, she tells Wickham in late May that she and Darcy became better acquainted at Roseings and that she has changed her mind about him, and she is openly amused when he refers to Darcy’s supposed engagement to Anne de Bough. Wouldn’t Wickham, knowing of Darcy’s past interest in Elizabeth, assume that their relationship might now be romantic? Fast forward to Brighton, where Wickham out of the blue starts romancing Lydia, in whom he has never shown interest before. Is it because she’s easy or because he sees her as Darcy’s potential sister-in-law, and therefore a source of both revenge and money? Suppose, then, that Lydia happens to mention to him in late June the news that Lizzy, who was supposed to go to the Lakes, is going to Derbyshire instead. Why would Elizabeth unexpectedly be going to Derbyshire, and to a village not five miles from Pemberley? Wickham sees an opportunity, and he elopes with Lydia just over a month later on August 1. It seems likely, broken down that way, that Wickham actively targeted Elizabeth and later Lydia as a means of revenge on Darcy.
Pride and Prejudice follows the main character Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of early 19th-century England. The author Jane Austen did a brilliant job in writing this book, we discover an exciting storyline full of suspense and romance, and a cast of characters that have kept this book alive throughout the ages. Mrs. Austen’s obvious objective was to establish circumstances, through “chance and coincidence” which enabled opportunities for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth see past each other’s pride and prejudice to, in the end, get together. To establish situations that brought Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth into close proximity with one another, she used major characters such as Mr. Collins, Mr. Wickham and Mrs. Gardiner to appear at the exact moment they were needed. She was also able to connect all of these characters together in one way or another. Coincidences happen in our world all the same as the ones in fictional works of art. However, we don’t seem to notice these connections until after we think and reflect.
This is what I have done with this essay, I believe that I have uncovered some exciting coincidences Jane Austen wove into Pride and Prejudice, but I don’t believe I have covered them all. This is all the more reason that Jane Austen is an amazing author, she makes us have to go back and think about what we just read to discover the true meaning behind her words.