“Pride and Prejudice” is one of the most famous works written by Jane Austen. She was one of the few female authors of her time and her writing reflected the customs, relationships, morale and altogether English middle-class lives of the early 19th century. Her novels are considered to be critiques of the 18th century novels of sensibility (or sentimental novel), which told love stories with a great level of exaggeration. “Pride and Prejudice” represents different social classes and the way they interact but also the once predominant customs and the place of women in society.
Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) was a prolific British writer. Her family was by no means rich but had a steady income and a fairly respectable lifestyle. She grew up in Stevenson, Hampshire, England, but moved to various cities in her early years. From a very young age, Jane Austen had full access to the family library and was home schooled. She then spent a few years in Bath, a coastal and fashionable town which she drew inspiration from for her novels ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’. She started writing plays, poems and stories when she was still a teenager. At the age of fourteen she wrote “Love and friendship”, which was already a criticization of novels of sensibility. As a writer, Jane was encouraged by her brother Henry who represented her work to publishers (source).
Amongst her major works, we can cite Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816). All of them are highly representative of women’s life at the beginning of the 19th century and show the different social classes, their customs and relationships. ‘Sense and Sensibility’ was published under a pseudonym “By a Lady” in 1811. This novel helped spark Austen’s popularity significantly. Over the next few years, Jane Austen had become an established author, yet continued to publish anonymously. She died in 1817, unmarried and without children, which was a fairly rare occurrence in her time. She left three unpublished works; two of which would be published posthumously.
Her books have been recognised by readers and scholars. Her influence is boundless, as most literary academics can’t imagine discussing the modern novel without Jane Austen’s influence of the genre.
The historical and geographical context in the country, in Europe, possibly in the world: historical events of the time, geographical borders, movement of persons
The British Empire was at a tipping point during Austen’s lifetime, with revolutions and riots flooding the news.
Abroad, The American Revolutionary war (1765-1783) between Britain and their colonies in North America was raging on. The Declaration of Independence of the United Stated was signed in 1776 and was formally recognised by Britain in 1783.
Shortly after, in 1789, the French Revolution followed. The Old regime was overthrown, King Louis XVI, his wife and many of the French aristocracy were executed. Britain stayed in a constant state of war with France for the 22 years that followed (The French Revolutionary Wars (1792–1802) and Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815)). It was one of the most significant conflicts in British history that affected every level of British society. An estimated quarter of a million men were serving in the army, militia or volunteered to fight Napoleon’s invasion, including Jane Austen’s brother, Henry who joined the militia in 1793. Napoleon was defeated in Waterloo in 1815. A Great Economic Depression followed the long years of war.
Literacy and print significantly expanded in the early 19th century. Almost every middle-class citizen and above were now literate. This expansion and the advancement of print technologies led to an increase in accessibility and affordability of books. Novels became the dominant form of literature in Britain. The Middle Class was expanding, and women had more leisure time and income to read. But novels were considered as a merely popular genre – unserious, frivolous, and often irrelevant. During Jane Austen’s career, taxes on knowledge were heightened. Prices of paper, newspapers, advertisements, and other texts were rising. The government wanted to limit access to information for the lower classes in response to revolution in France and upheaval at home.
In the literary world more specifically, the shift from the Enlightenment period to that of the Romantic era happened during Austen’s lifetime, setting her work in both movements. While her work was sometimes considered realistic, her contemporaries developed their arts in the romanticism era. In England, authors such as Lord Byron and Walter Scott were at the height of their fame in Austen’s lifetime. Emily and Charlotte Brontë, two women famous for writing ‘Wuthering Height’ and ‘Jane Eyre’ respectively, were born just a few years after Austen’s death.
In the rest of Europe, romanticism developed a little later, in the mid 1820’s in France for example, with authors such as Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, Mérimée, George Sand rising to fame.
The rights of ordinary men and women were severely limited during the 18th century. Only wealthy men had the right to vote although public influence was strong. Politicians were heavily satirised. Rioting and crowd actions were common. Riots over the rising price of food and implementation of industrial machines were ordinary. The army was often called to restore order. Protests and riots never resulted in fundamental upheaval. Formal political organisations were formed in order to bring in working-class’ demands. This form of communication proved to be very effective (source).
The French Revolution presented a danger for the British Government as it showed the potentially serious consequences that could come from social unrest. A series of repressive measures designed to restrict activities of political radicals (such as restrictions of political meetings, a ban on publishing,…) were implemented during the 1790s. Freedom of speech was heavily curtailed, leading to a dark period commonly named the ‘Reign of Terror’ of Prime Minister William Pitt’s. This was further exacerbated by the great economic depression following the Wars with France. Decades later, the Prince Regent provided a great deal of support for the development of the arts and sciences that flourished during his regency in 1811-1820 (source).
The status of women, as they are key in Jane Austen’s work, was low and irreverent. Women were not considered equal to men, had almost no rights and access to education was quite scare. Women were to marry, to take care of the home and the children. A woman’s education was in knitting and playing the piano, rather than learning Latin or politics. However, Austen was a fervent believer in women’s potential.
Pride and Prejudice
As early as age 7, Jane enjoyed writing short novels, plays, verses, and parody. Later, she shifted her writing towards more serious outputs. Her first major work was ‘Elinor and Marianne’, a story consisting of a series of letters, later published as ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (1795). The first version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, called “First Impressions”, was initially declined for publishing in 1797 (source). After her father’s death, Jane started revising her novels ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in order for them to be accepted by publishers.
Romanticism is a literature and art genre that covers the work of most artists in the late 18th century and the first decades of the 19th (source).
Literary critics state that ‘Pride and prejudice’ cannot be characterized by one literature style. It is rooted in more than romanticism, and also belongs to the realism genre, sometimes also considered ‘social realism’. The romanticism is demonstrated by the interest in human emotions and feelings, the facts that love and good fortune prevail (source). However, the focus on the realities of domestic life, objective narrator and psychologically developed characters direct her work into the realism.
‘Pride and Prejudice’ is also a novel of manners. Jane Austen recreated a social world and described in detail the customs and values of her time (source).
Its European, or even international dimension (inspiration, literary current, posterity)
Austen’s inspiration for her novel did not really come from contemporaries, but rather from her own experiences and observation. For example, her close relationship with her sister Cassandra inspired the one of Jane and Elizabeth in‘Pride and Prejudice’ and the society she describes and criticized is in many way similar to her own.
‘Pride and Prejudice’ is a novel that has inspired numerous writers, directors and artists throughout the centuries. Despite having received a moderate welcome when first published, the book has now been translated in more than 35 languages and has influenced men and women alike for generation. Scholars have praised the work and it is often studied when addressing English Literature.
The story was adapted into an American movie in 1940 starring Greer Garson (Elizabeth Bennett) and Laurence Olivier (Mr. Darcy). It was then adapted into a Television serie by the BBC produced in 1980 starring Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet and David Rintoul as Mr. Darcy (5 episodes) and later by another one also produced by the BBC starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in 1995 (6 episodes). A movie version was eventually produced in 2005, starring Keira Knightley (an Oscar-nominated performance) and Matthew Macfadyen.
Her novels were praised by Sir Walter Scott, Victorian critic G.H. Lewes or Virginia Woolf (source).
To really highlight her popularity, in 2017, her face replaced that of Charles Darwin on the 10 pound English note!
Major issues/problems of the time addressed
‘Pride and Prejudice’ displays the genteel world. Outside of it, people living in the countryside were on the verge of starvation, spurring food riots across the countryside. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ points out significant concerns of people about property, status, and money. Austen’s novels portray mostly the gentry and professional classes (doctors, clergy, lawyers) which was the most influential sector of society in Austen’s time. Large country estates (as Mr. Darcy’s) are a symbol of wealth and power. Landed gentry was a broad social class encompassing those who owned land – clergy, country squires, military officers. Their hold over the land was fortified by a system that encouraged the consolidation and extension of estates by enforcing strict inheritance laws. A family’s wealth and estate were passed on to the oldest male offspring or the closest male relative rather than being divided between family members. This measure ensured the property stayed in the family. Women had very little control over money, even money that could be considered theirs.
Marriage was a quick and easy way to obtain capital. Women depended on marriage for financial survival – it became a central focus of their life. A young lady who was beautiful, mastered etiquette, had a sharp mind or pleasant disposition could become more attractive through ‘accomplishments’ such as: needlework, singing or playing an instrument, mastering languages or drawing. A woman with these skills was considered highly accomplished and ‘marriageable’. Women who didn’t marry (like Jane Austen) became spinsters with no formal role in society, becoming a burden for their family. The Bennet family belongs to an educated upper middle class of landed gentry. As a result, they are accepted in society with aristocracy but are a long way behind them in regard to wealth and precedence. Indeed, Mr. Bennet’s wealth and property is to be passed on to a male member of the family – Mr. Collins, while disinheriting Elizabeth and her sisters(source, source).
The conception of family and the role of women started to change in the late 18th century. As a reflection, Elizabeth Bennet’s character demonstrates that conflicting transformation in women’s roles. Her financial stability and independence depend on a future marriage, but she demonstrated intellectual and moral independence reflecting this conception of gender equality (source).
The gallery of characters
Elizabeth Bennet – the second oldest of the Bennet sisters. The most sensible, witty, and intelligent. She is lovely and honest but has a sharp tongue. She slips into making hasty judgements on people which leads her astray.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy – a friend of Mr. Bingley. Cousin to Mr. Fitzwilliam and a nephew of Lady Catherine. Brother and guardian of his younger sister Georgiana. Tall, handsome, intelligent, and forthright gentleman. Wealthy owner of the family estate of Pemberley in Derbyshire. Mr. Darcy is overly conscious and overly proud due to his social status and wealth. Often perceived as proud and reserved. He tends to make hasty and harsh judgements. Considered kind and decent by his friends and family.
Jane Bennet – the eldest of the Bennet sisters, considered the most beautiful one. She has a gentle spirit, is cheerful and happy. She thinks the best of people. She falls in love with Mr. Bingley.
Mr. Bingley – rich young gentleman, handsome, amiable and friendly. A close friend of Mr. Darcy whose advice he heavily relies on. Easily influenced by others.
Lydia Bennet – the youngest and wildest of the Bennet sisters. Her mother’s favourite daughter. Headstrong, attractive, reckless, selfish, and impulsive. She enjoys socializing and gossiping. Her character demonstrates her lack of discipline and parental guidance.
Mr. Wickham – officer in the militia. Charming and attractive but fortune-hunting. Acquainted with Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Collins – second cousin of Mr. Bennet, pompous man, heir to Mr. Bennet’s land and wealth, a clergyman, a beneficiary of Lady Catherine.
Colonel Fitzwilliam – A nephew of Lady Catherine, cousin of Mr. Darcy, son of an Earl, a second son of his father for so he needs to marry a woman with significant dowry.
Mr. Bennet – Father of five unmarried daughters. Closest with his daughter Elizabeth. Landowner in Netherfield with a modest income. Without a son, his property, the estate of Longbourn, and wealth falls upon his cousin Mr. Collins. He became detached from his family, overindulgent and weak father due to his unreasonable wife and the difficulties of taking care of five daughter.
Mrs. Bennet – Mr. Bennet’s wife. Her main ambition is to marry her daughters off to wealthy men. She is noisy and foolish, and lacks social grace.
Lady Catherine – The aunt of Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam, owner of Rosing Park, benefactor of Mr. Collins, pompous and arrogant. She wants h98er daughter married to Mr. Darcy.
- Netherfield: Mr. Bingley’s estate
- London: The capital city of England
- Pemberly: Mr. Darcy’s estate
- Derbyshire: where Pemberly is
- Rosing Park: Lady Catherine’s estate
- The ballroom : where social encouters happen between people from society
Iconography in the ebook
Charles Edmund Brock (1870-1938) is an English illustrator, painter and line artist. He illustrated ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen published 1895 in London by Macmillan & Co. He illustrated several books, not only by Jane Austen, but also by Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, William Thackeray or sir Walter Scott.
Hugh Thomson (1860-1920) is an Irish artist and illustrator. He is famous for illustrating with pen-and-ink. He illustrated works by authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and J.M.Barrie. He is one of the most famous illustrators of the Victorian era.
Other illustrators were used in the eBook, but the work of Brock and Thomson were the most significant in illustrating Jane Austen’s novel.
The reading workshop
PHASE 1: ENTERING THE EBOOK
UNIVERSE, ATMOSPHERE AND HYPOTHESES
Activity: The world of Jane Austen
Entry activity in ebook
Materials needed for the activity
- Printed pictures of the period (both from the eBook and other resources)
- Various clues and physical elements evoking the era (silverware, ribbons,…)
- Music for the atmosphere (‘Pride and Prejudice’ movie soundtrack for example)
Before the session:
– Prepare recording or music extracts from the various movies and televisions adaptation to set the atmosphere. They can easily be found online. If not available, find various tunes echoing the period of the book.
– Choose visuals available on the platform, or images related to the period. These images relate to the location, time and social context of the story (images of ballrooms, dresses, marriage, …). Print enough for students to pass around and handle (they will be divided in groups). If printing is not an option, one can use a projector.
In the workshop:
– Divide the participants in smaller groups of 4-5 students. Explain the instructions clearly so that the participants understand that this is an introduction to the universe; that they will have to figure out the when and where and the social context of the story.
– Turn the music on, give them some time to listen to it.
– Then, start handing out the various clues and images. Start with the items related to the location (where), then the period (when). Encourage them to discuss the clues in groups and to later share their ideas and hypothesis.
– Once they have a clearer idea of the setting (when and where), continue handing out the different items linked to the social context in the story. Direct them discreetly to discuss various social, economic and political context they might think of.
– For participants with low to no speaking skills (A1-A2), focus on the when and where, ignoring the social context. With a more advanced audience, discuss (depending on the complexity) the social and economic context of the 18th century.
– Walk around the class to help participants formulate their ideas and ensure participation.
– At the end of this activity, ask participants (who are willing to do so) to share their ideas of what the story will be about.
Note: There is no right or wrong answers, this activity is about getting the students involved.
If the classroom audience has students with SLD (specific learning disorders), there are various ways in which the activity can be adapted. Having a multisensorial approach is ideal but be aware not to overwhelm the students (loud music, flashing images…). Providing clear and constructed instruction is paramount. Focus on breaking down each instruction (when, where, context) and check with students before proceeding to the activity. Foster collaboration rather than individual written answers. The strength of each students will be heightened by their partners.
PHASE 2: DIVING INTO THE EBOOK
Activity 1: Who’s there?
Preparation activity for global understanding
- A blank genealogy tree with lines to connect (siblings, weddings, etc.)
- A list of the names/images of the main characters
- Various pens and pencils
Before the session:
- Prepare the family tree in a way that will fit the Bennet family (5 daughters, two love interests, etc.).
- Prepare the labels of the names of the main characters, in an adapted font and size. For students with low to no reading skills, prepare small images of the characters from the eBook.
In the workshop:
This activity takes place before the first reading of the ebook.
- Divide the students into sub-groups.
- Provide each subgroup with the blank family tree, the tools and the series of name/images.
- Using the tools at their disposals, ask the students to draw the family tree of the Bennet family based on their assumption and hypothesis. They can use the list of names of the series of portrait at their disposal. This will help students familiarize with the array of characters in the book.
- There will be links for love interests and distant relations, these can be filled in during the following activities if students are unsure.
- Then, ask the students to use the different colour pens at their disposal to highlight the different type of relations each character has with each other (Friends, family, lovers,…). This can help students with lower writing skills to form basic sentences such as ‘she is the sister of…’ for example.
- Once the sub groups have provided their hypothesis, check with the whole classroom and highlight the relationships between the characters.
- This will conclude a series of ‘general understanding’ activities which will help students to situate themselves in the story and the following activity.
Activity 2: Chapter 1-3
Global understanding activity
Printed illustrations from the ebook
Before the session:
- Choose the illustrations of the most important moments in the first 3 chapters of the story. (Meeting Mr Wickham, Mr Bingley’s Ball, Mr Collin’s proposal, the discussion with Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr Darcy’s proposal, etc.). There should be at least 3 to 5 images per chapter.
- Place the series of images of Chapter 1, 2, and 3 on three different tables. There should be one chapter per sub-group.
In the workshop:
This activity takes place after a first reading. The instruction and prediction should be given beforehand.
- Break the students into three groups. Assign a chapter to each group. Remind the classroom to use the family tree they have created earlier to think of relations between characters.
- Depending on the level of the group, chapters can be numbered so they know what chapter is assigned to them and its place in the story. If the participants are at a higher level, they will have to discuss in which order each chapter goes after they have discussed and reflected on everything (for them, do not number the chapters beforehand).
- Give clear instructions to the participants; They will have to figure out the chronology of the key moments depicted in the picture they have in front of them. Each sub-group is in charge of one chapter and will present what they think the story will look like and in what order the pictures should go.
- Once the students have shared their hypothesis, the animator will synthetise the story beginning to end to form the story.
- Then, ask the students to read the 3 first chapters of the eBook. This reading is done, initially, without audio for levels 1 and 2 of reading.
- Following the reading, check the hypothesis with the students. Correction can be done if there were mistakes in the chronology.
- Ask the students to mention the characters involved in their chapters as well. Give special attention to the characters that were not included in the first activity, and complete the genealogy tree they have in hand if needed.
- Set a time to reread these chapters (accompanied by one or two listening for reading levels 1 and 2). Allow time for groups to clarify the connection between the characters, the ongoing dramas and gather their predictions as to what the end of the story will be!
Activity 3: Chapter 4-5
Refined comprehension activity
- Printed illustrations from the ebook
- Labels of words/quotes extracted from the chapters of the ebook written in an adapted font and size
Before the session:
- Choose the illustration of the most important moments in the last 2 chapters of the story (Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberly, the wedding of Wickham and Lydia, Mr Bingley and Jane, Lady Catherine’s visit etc.). There should be at least 3 to 5 images per chapter.
- Choose the relevant words/quotes extracted from the chapters of the ebook (depending on the audience’s reading level). These words should ideally bring to light the major themes of the artwork (marriage, money, friendship, etc.)
- Place the illustrations and the words/quotes on each group’s table (one chapter per group).
In the workshop:
- Divide the classroom into two groups. If there is a higher number of students, make 4 groups with two groups working on the same chapter at the same time.
- Allow time for groups to study the images and the words in front of them. Clarify the meaning of words/quote if it is not clear with the entire class.
- The first step of this activity is to ask participants to guess the chronology and therefore the conclusion of the story. Have them share the hypothesis they have created, then share the storyline with the entire classroom.
This activity is similar to the previous one, but adds a twist.
- Allow time for students to discover the ending of the book. This reading is done, initially, without audio for levels 1 and 2 of reading. The chapters are shorter, this will take less time than in the previous activity.
- Once they have read the story, check if the hypothesis regarding the chronology is correct. If it is not, clarify with the students.
- The second step of the activity is to focus on the key words provided at the beginning. Ask the students to link the words (short quotes, depending on the level of reading) with specific images from the chapters and explain why they are relevant to each other. This will reinforce their understanding of the key themes approached during the reading.
- For levels 1 and 2 readers, a second reading time accompanied by one or two listening can be suggested.
- Engage in a discussion with the classroom concerning the main themes of the story addressed in the book such as Victorian customs and manners, marriage and money, the role of women in society, etc.
Activity 4: Title me this!
Refined comprehension activity
- Blackboard and chalk (or markers)
- Images of the eBook
Before the session:
Prepare the images relevant to the title of the eBook: images where characters have shown ‘Pride or Prejudice’. This will help students with little to no reading skills to participate.
In the workshop:
- Write the key words “pride” and “prejudice” on the blackboard. For students with little to no reading skills to participate, help them read, or read the words with them.
- Ask students if they know the meaning of these words. If not, provide simple explanation, definition and clear examples. Make sure all students have understood those words before moving on.
- Ask them why they think this title was chosen and to provide examples from the story (key moments,…). Students can use the various pictures at their disposal to show the moments, if they are not comfortable with oral expression.
- Conclude the activity by asking the participants how ‘pride’ and ‘prejudice’ influenced the outcome of the story and how problems were created and solved.
- Students with beginner skills can share key words found in the eBook such as “trust”, “truth”, conversation”, “letter”, and more, to express their outlook.
- For more advanced or native students, the discussion should further focus on bringing both the socio-economic context to the idea of ‘pride and prejudice’ in society.
To go further with cross-culturality
Engage in a dialogue with your students to discuss the possibilities of men and women in society, regarding key questions such as marriage and financial independence. Further involve them by having the participants share their opinions and views of these issues in other areas of the world (including those of the participants) to encompass both European and worldwide outlooks.
PHASE 3: THE CREATIVE STAGE
Activity: Ready… Set… Act!
Activity to enhance the reading experience
Associated Practical Sheet:
- How to create a story board
- A3 and A4 sheets of paper
- Pens and pencils
- A camera, or the ‘video’ setting in any smartphone
In the workshop:
- Review the key elements of the ebook with your students. This can be done by putting up the results from the previous activities, or with a short discussion of the aforementioned ideas.
- Once the story has been refreshed in everyone’s mind, ask the students to reinvent the story in a different setting, for example, our modern times (the setting does not have to be England). Each group will update one chapter of the eBook to something more modern and current. They can choose which chapter they want to update, but keep in mind that there must be at least one of each chapter.
- Divide the class in sub-groups. If the students have different levels and skills, mix them to create heterogeneous groups.
- Students will have to use a narrator and create the key dialogues between characters. They will create a short script (no more than two pages), and depending on the group’s level, students can decide to write, use images, or to draw rather than writing (see variant).
- Then, students will either present, explain or role-play what they have written for their scene. Ask them to film their presentation or performance.
- At the end, if the students feel confident with their text, put all the scenes together and perform the story in one piece.
Students with SLD can have difficulties with fine motor skills such as writing long sentences for example. The activity can therefore be writing-free and focus solely on drawings and key words. Before the activity, instead of a white piece of paper, provide the students with a comic strip-like page (this can easily be made with tools such as Canva or BDNF), with a series of empty panels. This will help the students create their script in a logical manner and follow chronological reading. The students can decide to only draw action, or add text whenever need be. The rest of the activity can remain the same, with students either presenting, acting, or playing out their script.