Pride and Prejudice: “Acting by Design”

  • Juliet McMaster
  • Rowland McMaster


“I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him, without any reason”, Elizabeth Bennet admits of Darcy in one of her moments of self-knowledge and confession (225).1 She meant to be clever. It is a phrase that makes clear a refinement of the theme of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth is not only a misguided heroine who makes mistakes and learns the error of her ways: but she wilfully makes mistakes, almost according to a programme she has laid down for herself. Her meaning to be clever connects her with Trollope’s characters, who characteristically “teach themselves to believe” this or that, and with James’s Isabel Archer, who consciously forms herself as though she were a work of art. As Eliot puts it in “The Hollow Men”,

Between the idea And the reality Between the motion And the act Falls the shadow.


Young Lady Wilful Ignorance True Philosopher Romantic Fiction Impulsive Sensibility 
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  1. 1.
    I use R. W. Chapman (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen, 3rd ed., 5 vols (London, 1933), and the Minor Works in the same series (London, 1954). Pride and Prejudice is vol. in in this series. Subsequent references will be in the text.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The fragment Sanditon is likewise a satire of mental attitudes and projectors. See B. C. Southam, “Sanditon: the Seventh Novel”, in Juliet McMaster (ed.) Jane Austen’s Achievement, (London, 1976) 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Northrop Frye, The Anatomy of Criticisim (Princeton, 1957) pp. 309ff.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See especially Mark Schorer, “Pride Unprejudiced”, Kenyon Review 18 (Winter, 1956) pp. 85ff.Google Scholar

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© Juliet and Rowland McMaster 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juliet McMaster
  • Rowland McMaster

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