Pride and Prejudice was Jane Austin’s second novel, published in 1813, and has never been out of print. In fact, I imagine it is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice must be doing something right, hey? It is a romantic novel of manners and also a satire, and many things in between.
If you’re unaware of the story, there’s a lot of folk trying to get married or trying to get their children married. Most are at least reasonably well off, but they are trying to arrange ‘good matches’ to climb the social hierarchy. The two main characters are described in the title – the proud Mr Darcy and the prejudiced Miss Bennett. He proposes to her halfway through the book and, well, let’s take this as an object lesson on how not to do it.
He pays her an unexpected visit and she isn’t pleased to see him. She really, really doesn’t like him and hasn’t ever gone to too much trouble to hide it. So, what’s his plan to win her over?
In an hurried manner he immediately began an enquiry after her health, imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better. She answered him with cold civility. He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up, walked about the room. Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes, he came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began: “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.”
So he’s talking quickly at her, getting no positive response, then sitting in silence for a bit, and in that kind of situation, several minutes is an awfully long time. I can’t imagine that someone coming towards you ‘in an agitated manner’ is particularly pleasant either. Anyway, she’s very surprised by this turn of events and stares at him, which
he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed.
I also can’t imagine that felt anything but awkward. Also, he doesn’t seem to know when to shut up – after the proposal itself he moves on straight away to more worldly matters.
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, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that he doesn’t get the response he wants. Her reply is a hard no:
“In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot—I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to anyone. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. The feelings which, you tell me, have long prevented the acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation.”
Given this whole scene and how Miss Bennett clearly feels about Mr Darcy at this point in the book, I was quite amused to find out that there’s a sex pheromone in mice named after him. Darcin (named after Mr Darcy) is released in male mouse urine and when female mice smell it, well, they aren’t at home to any other suitors. Now this is glorious on many levels but also tells me that the scientists involved have heard of Pride and Prejudice but never actually read it. I’d say the fact that this marriage proposal is refused is a key plot point! If he was a mouse and just needed to have a strategic wee, it’d be a very different story.
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