This is a story of individual accomplishment. That accomplishment takes the form of four marriages: Darcy and Elizabeth, Bingley and Jane, Wickham and Lydia, Collins and Charlotte Lucas. In addition, the story leads to some unexpected outcomes. Bingley, whom Darcy hoped to make his brother-in-law by marrying to his sister Georgiana, becomes his brother-in-law instead through their marriages to two sisters, Elizabeth and Jane. More surprising to our sense of justice, Wickham, who attempted to become Darcy’s brother-in-law by elopement with Georgiana, does become his brother-in-law by marrying Elizabeth’s sister Lydia. Most remarkable of all, Collins, whose highest aspiration in life was not marriage, but rather close association with his distinguished benefactor, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, actually becomes the lady’s distant relative through the marriage of his cousin Elizabeth to the lady’s nephew Darcy. Taken as clever story telling, we may be surprised or amused. Taken as profound reflections on truths of human life and action, we can only marvel at the conscious or subconscious knowledge of a twenty-year-old English author.
This is also a story of the accomplishment of English society, a society that chose an evolutionary path to social progress in preference to a destructive revolutionary movement like that which wracked France at the time. The society accomplished this evolution by opening up previously inaccessible levels of higher society to those with lesser status and wealth and by a conscious descent of those higher levels to embrace the life-renewing vitality of the bourgeois class. This evolutionary process is reflected in every thought, sentiment and action in the story and is a key to understanding the forces that lead to individual accomplishment. These two movements are inextricably bound together. They are two aspects of a single movement. The thoughts, attitudes, and actions of the individual characters express and contribute to the wider movement of the society in which they occur. The process of social accomplishment and its reflections in the story are examined in Social Evolution in Pride and Prejudice.
All great literature reveals truths of human character and human nature that exceed, both above and below, the standards and norms of social character and behavior. The quality, intensity, attitudes, values and motives of the individuals involved in the action, particularly the relationship of their individual characters to the specific action, are powerful determinants that very often overshadow in importance the determining characteristics of the act itself. This story brings out the crucial distinction between those whose character is simply a product of the society, the times and the class in which they live and those rare few who develop formed individual characters with the knowledge and will for psychological growth. The accomplishments of the main characters are more a result of their psychological growth than of the external initiatives they take. These individuals take a wide range of initiatives, most of which fail or lead to consequences very different than they had intended. Yet, the movement of events leads invariably toward accomplishment, propelled by a progression of apparently extraneous forces and circumstances. A true understanding of the forces leading to accomplishment requires an understanding of the psychological changes that the main characters undergo. The role of social and individual character in determining the outcome of the story is discussed in Human Character in Pride and Prejudice.
The results of action in the story are an expression not only of human initiative, individual and social character, but also of the character of life itself. Life is a universal field in which forces and forms act and interact with each other. Like the individual and society, it too has what may be called a character of its own. That character can be described in terms of the distinctive ways in which life events occur, repeat and reverse, and the factors that determine the results and consequences of human action. Character of Life in P&P presents a brief discussion of the character of life and illustrates many of its principles from events and consequences in the story.
Human action, individual character, social character and the character of life combining and interacting generate a set of results. When those results are what the characters themselves would view as positive, as they largely are in the story, we can refer them as examples of accomplishment. When they are negative, we term them failures. In Accomplishment in P&P the contribution of these multiple levels of causality are examined from the perspective of the whole story and its results to shed light on the principles and process of human accomplishment.
Human achievements are one expression of the universal process that governs all creative activity and accomplishment at the physical, vital, mental and spiritual level. The outcome of every event is the product of these several different levels of determinants and this creative process. These levels interact with each other, reinforcing and negating each other according to their direction. The process that leads to human accomplishment in any series of events depends on the relative strength of each factor and specific circumstance of the action. Spiritual Evolution in P&P examines how these several factors interact to determine outcomes in the story.
An analysis of action, individual character, social character and the character of life may provide great insight into the course and outcome of the story, it leaves unexplored the far greater field of spiritual determinants that express in and through individuals, societies and life itself. While a story of this type is not the ideal medium for an exploration of this type, we have attempted to illustrate the process of spiritual evolution described by Sri Aurobindo as it is illustrated by actions and events in the story. In The Life Divine, he describes the process of creation or self-conception by which the Absolute or Divine Being manifests the universe by becoming the universe that it creates. This is the process by which the spiritual reality involves itself in material form and life and evolves to rediscover its consciousness, power and being. Spiritual Evolution in P&P examines how the process of spiritual evolution is reflected in the story.
Much can be learned of human character, society and life from a study of Pride & Prejudice and much can be learned about the novel by viewing it from the perspective of these factors. However, in literature as in life, we are constrained by limited information. In life, our knowledge of past and future events, the thoughts, attitudes and intentions of other people, and even much of our own deeper motivations lie beyond the bounds of conscious knowledge. The discovery of the deeper truths of life requires, first, the development of greater self-consciousness and consciousness of others, keen observation of human behavior, deep insight into human motivation. In addition, we are constrained by the arbitrary beginning and end placed on any story. Every action and circumstance can be traced back to antecedents far in the past, both the personal and historical past. They can also be traced forward far into the future. A story gives us a record of a finite segment in a line of causality that extends infinitely backward and forward. Therefore, any observations we make or conclusions we draw are limited by the lack of information and insight both into the distant past and future that has yet to unfold.
In one sense, these constraints are even greater in a novel than in life, because we have only the limited information provided by the author on which to base our insights and conclusions. But in another sense, literature provides an easier and more revealing medium, for it represents a detailed, often minutely detailed, record of a particular set of events. While in life, we can at best have access to our own inner workings and perhaps those of our closest confidants; in literature, we are often privy to the inner feelings, attitudes and opinions of several characters. In a story, the action usually spans an interval from the beginning to the end of a set of important events ending in accomplishment or failure, though we may not have access to all relevant information about antecedent conditions in the lives of the characters or the society. Because this record is written, we have the opportunity to review it over and over again, weighing each word and event, looking for correspondences and interrelationships that occur very frequently in life but are often overlooked in the whirl of the moment and soon buried in subsequent events. For these reasons, literature provides a very powerful medium for reflecting and discovering truths of life.
In this analysis we often draw conclusions about the motives of characters, intentions of life and outcome of events as if they exist independent of the mind of the writer who has portrayed them. We have argued the validity of this approach by stating that the writer, even the writer of fiction, is portraying realities of life that possess a truth of their own, independent of the ideas and intentions of the writer. This approach is vulnerable to criticism because of the many obvious instances in which writers impose purely conscious, personal motives on the action or employ dramatic device to heighten the appeal of a story. We can only respond by saying that the caliber of the literature, its capacity to outlive a particular place and time, is in proportion to the ‘truthfulness’ with which the author depicts the character of life as it really is. In stating our conclusions, we are not taking any position regarding the conscious intentions of the author regarding the motives of characters, the connections between events, or the truths of life that we find reflected in the story. In some instances, the author’s own observations or intentions may coincide closely with our interpretation. In others, they may be opposite.
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This core article is based on research conducted by MSSR