Social Evolution in Pride and Prejudice

Dec. 13, 01

Pride and Prejudice

A View of Social Evolution of the Period

Literature is the cream of life created in the imagination of a poet or a writer whose personality has outgrown the social limits and extended itself into the domain of impersonal consciousness. The individual we are is the social expression of the human being whose real existence transcends the social consciousness. Great poets and writers create in their imagination that Real Man and make him play a limited social role where he often peeps out of his social personality into his universal individuality. It is this extra dimension of those characters that is fascinating to us and renders them immortal characters. We see that the immortality of a character is his innate universality.

Jane Austen’s genius captured the flavour of the French Revolution wafting across the shores of England which was anxious to restructure its society so as to avoid a bloody revolution. Mental growth that assimilates the spirit of the times can compel the body to rise to the occasion, thus avoiding the inherent violence of any revolution. England did escape the guillotine by exercising its social wisdom which was willing to unite the higher and lower strata of the society.

Pride and Prejudice can be seen as a story of several marriages where the abominable pride of Darcy becomes the uncontrollable passion of his heart. Romance is the adventure of the heart for the unattainable. This approach views the story as the aristocracy descending to the commoner in its passion to preserve the society by preserving itself. It is this social power of passionate self-preservation that passes through Darcy to Elizabeth as an irresistible romantic attraction. Elizabeth is the best daughter of the aristocratic Mr. Bennet and the mother of intense physical energy that is neither educated nor enlightened. The vast reservoir of physical energy of the mother is there in the daughter as the substratum while its top level is the awakened mind of the father that is cheerfully undeterred by the insolence around him. Darcy is attracted by the light brightening Elizabeth’s eyes, though they are clouded by the prejudice of the recipient of benefits.

Viewing the story as a field of social forces interacting to create a higher reconciliation, each character must be seen as a force expressing through human personality. Aristocracy coming down to assimilate the commoner is the same as Mr. Bennet with a developed mind seeking in marriage the virile specimen of physical bodily energy of Mrs. Bennet because of the external appearance of good looks. Viewed thus, every event and every character take on a new dimension and what is revealed is no mere story, but the drama in social transition.

The greatest tragedy for a family is elopement. Socially a family dies, and often it must leave its place of residence. All actions, all essential actions of the story begin with Lydia’s elopement. We feel relieved that the nightmare of elopement fortunately passes away. At this point, Darcy the lover turns into an active benefactor of the family and in that process meets all that is low in the society. He discovers in himself the need to accept Lydia as a sister-in-law, Wickham as a brother-in-law, and to listen to the sarcastic remarks of Mrs. Bennet with patience. Thus, after his marriage with Elizabeth, there will be nothing worse for him in store. The reconciliation society attempts in its new evolutionary structure is reflected here in the cultural realities of Pemberley coming to Longbourn.

Thus, the great misfortune initiates all the three marriages and, in fact, becomes a disguised good fortune. Jane Austen’s aim is not to destroy the aristocracy, but to preserve it in an altered form. Nor was the English aristocracy destroyed.

The central event in the story is Darcy’s love for Elizabeth of which she was not aware. She was infatuated with the charms of Wickham who possessed aristocratic manners in abundance. Viewed from our perspective, Darcy’s romantic passion is a social urge for evolution, and Lydia’s elopement, which is a family tragedy, is the point of ignition of the cataclysm of social upheaval. It is significant that Lydia ignited the explosion, as she is the most biological of them all and hence most open for such initiative. In a complete social context, say a few decades before when there was no revolution in the air, it is doubtful whether an Elizabeth would have abused and rejected a Darcy in spite of his haughtiness. A further question is whether such a relationship would have surfaced. It is conceivable that Elizabeth would have refused his hand but not in that fashion.

The evolutionary force that compels society to evolve is not moral. It is a force that acts to achieve its own goal, nor does it endeavour to conform to the social codes. It acts as other impersonal forces do, such as gravitation or electricity. The action of such a force cannot be evaluated by social or moral norms. If at times it produces socially desirable results, it is because that force works through human personalities who are social and moral. Seen in this context, Lydia’s marriage explains itself. If that force follows any rules, they are the rules of life whose growth they minister to.

After the birth of the USSR in 1917, nations gradually changed themselves to being welfare states to stem the tide of communism. As a result, the seventy-year rule of communism could not give that prosperity to its proletariat which capitalism could give its workers. This is a process of avoiding a communist revolution by unconsciously receiving the force of that revolution to express it as social evolution.

The same phenomenon takes place in the England of Jane Austen’s time, which she unconsciously captured in this story. The major features are given below, almost like a summary of a longer review written earlier:

  • Darcy represents the vanishing aristocracy.
  • His coming to Meryton is an act of the aristocracy moving to seek a reconciliation with the commoners and the working class.
  • As it is a self-imposed descent of consciousness, his natural urge of conservative instincts resists reaching down to the lower working class, but stops short of his goal at the level of gentleman farmer, which is really the lower order of aristocracy.
  • The reconciliation is really played by the urban bourgeoisie, as they are the middle social stratum. Bingley represents that social section.
  • Revolution as well as evolution does not follow either the rules of society or of morality. They follow the rules of life.
  • The rules of life are subtle, subliminal and subconscious.
  • When Darcy’s sister and aunt are seen as members of the vanishing aristocracy susceptible to the waves of the invisible forces of evolution, they will very well fit into the scheme.
  • Seen in this perspective, the marriage of Mr. Bennet with Mrs. Bennet is revealing in the sense that it is a powerful parallel to the future changes of the society.
  • The physical part of the society – the workers – destroying through revolution the aristocracy is paralleled by a physical brainless woman invading the life of a sophisticated Mr. Bennet to destroy his peace of mind.
  • The first two daughters represent the father’s intelligence in an ascending grade. The last three daughters represent the mother in an equally ascending grade. Lydia is the next generation to her mother in utter physicality that is shameless.
  • Elizabeth, being the next generation, reveals the bright intelligence of this changing social force, which is the mental brilliance or the spiritual light of Mr. Bennet’s education. Darcy is attracted not by her beauty, but by her accomplishments, particularly her fine eyes that show the light of revolution.
  • The fact that the book is popular until today shows that society has come to value the force that the book expressed at the time of writing, in that it is time for the emergence of the Spiritual Individual, as the world has treated the 20th century as the century of the common man.
  • Elizabeth was the Spiritual Individual.
  • Her life, in the story, was the life of the Spirit immersed in ignorance emerging into knowledge.
  • Her capacity not to be offended or not giving in to offence, and her quickly reviving playfulness are traits of a free mind or better still, of the free Spirit.
  • Mrs. Bennet is all energy, energy of the body, ready to swing into action at a moment’s notice. Her getting three daughters married is a social advancement. In the language of social evolution, it is the achievement of the body in the vital plane of the society.
  • Lady Catherine’s confrontation with Elizabeth and her nonchalant reception of that tirade are typical of the empty form asserting itself in sound and fury without success.
  • Wickham is the charming false external of the receding social segment successfully enticing everyone for a while before being fully exposed by events.
  • Darcy, in seeking Elizabeth’s hand, is painfully aware of all that her family is, but he seeks her hand ardently in spite of the shame of that seeking. This is a true representation of the evolution compromising with the otherwise violent revolution.
  • Mr. Collins, in the sub-plot, is the first generation of education, resulting in stupid effusions, coming into property, having ambitions of the emerging individual as his wife on the strength of his wealth and the pretence of his Oxford education. The exhibitionism of his personality is as revealing as the dinner table was at the Kremlin in 1917 when it was surrounded by workers picking their teeth with forks.

The rules of life expressing in the non-physical subtle, subconscious, and subliminal planes are:

  • Life exists in layers of physical, vital, mental, spiritual planes.
  • Each of these planes is surrounded by its own character, which is invisible to the eye, but equally well defined. It is sometimes called the subtle plane, as the pain of a festering sore is felt an inch away from the surface.
  • Action takes place when the equilibrium of life forces is disturbed or goes into a disequilibrium of differentials.
  • Actions do take place in outer life in response to our thoughts, feelings or acts. They may be known in our language as ‘Life Response’.
  • The mind is more powerful than the vital (life) and vital is more powerful than the body.
  • In terms of accomplishment, an accomplishment in the body is more difficult than in the vital. By the same rule, accomplishment in the spiritual plane is more difficult than in the plane of mind.
  • All acts are first created in the subtle plane before they are precipitated in the gross, physical plane, as acts first originate as thoughts.
  • No act is isolated. Acts have a past history just as they have a future.
  • No act ever occurs without a reason or purpose for the one in whose life it occurs.
  • Silent functioning accomplishes more and more effectively.
  • Expectation cancels. Intense expectation of strong people makes it happen.
  • Planning of a work with forethought in an area where one has inner and outer equipment achieves more and better.
  • ‘Planning’ is the best way to spoil, forestall, or cancel any work that is shaping well, by one who is not equipped for it.
  • What happens, especially things that are beyond our reach, happens by itself, not by working for it or expecting it.
  • Any help given outside of duty is sure to bring harm through the recipient of that help, or a person of his character and circumstances.
  • Infatuation finds itself endowed with a higher reason while being utterly unreasonable and ridiculous.
  • The sense of responsibility or such higher ideals in practice activate the subtle plane to warn in time when others plan to harm one.
  • No act ever happens without a prior indication.
  • In a positive personal atmosphere, negative initiatives end as positive acts.
  • Goodness without strength does not achieve. Goodness with strength never fails to achieve.
  • Good will is luck.
  • No word or act will fail to have its consequence however feeble it is.
  • Life is a whole with all its parts well knit.
  • Literature is equally a whole, but it can be more true to life than the physical life we see. The greater a work of literature is, the greater is its truth of life.
  • Nascent power whether it is knowledge or prestige, is far more powerful in action.
  • The opposite events contain a truth, often a greater truth than we see.
  • It is not true things could have been avoided had there been more or right information. Still, it would have happened. Things could be avoided if the attitude had changed.
  • The heart opens once and only once. Once it has opened to a person, it cannot really express or feel angry with him again.
  • Good will, even when it is out of stupidity, brings luck.
  • Each rule of life stated here can have various applications and can be divided into sub-rules.
  • For every rule that is true, the opposite one too is true.
  • To complete the list of rules is possible with several more added. In the original, longer review such rules are stated as part of the writing. Therefore, this list is left as it is.

In this summary, the events of the story can be stated as illustrations of such rules. If not all, some can be attempted. As the central idea is to view the story as an expression of social evolution, no emphasis is laid on explaining the validity of these rules.

Revolutions are violent and bloody. No justice is expected in such periods. If there is any justice, it is the justice a war permits. As evolution is a variant of revolution, the normal punishment – reward of life is out of place here. Revolution is an activity of the oppressed against the oppressors. Apparently those who rise in revolt will often receive rewards that they could not expect in life. If there is any justice there, it is revolutionary justice. Thus we see the preservative element in the story preserves the life of dissipating Wickham. He is not only preserved intact, but Elizabeth continues to support him to the end. The heart that once was enamoured of his charm remains so till the end.

Some examples from the events of the story that express the central theme or a rule of life:

  • Elizabeth was unaware of Darcy’s interest until his proposal. Except for the natural rivalry of Caroline and the wisdom of Charlotte, no one knew of his interest in her. Romance of any degree is noticed all round. Maybe it is one definition of romance that it cannot be hidden from the public eye. As Darcy was a vehicle of evolutionary pressure, naturally it escaped everyone and characteristically Elizabeth herself. In Darcy, the social energies took on the vesture of a passionate romantic love which overpowered him.
  • All the energetic initiatives of Mrs. Bennet in the beginning of the story and again during the second visit of Bingley are readily cancelled by circumstances. When Bingley comes on his own, he engages himself to Jane. Even here, during his first visit, because of Mrs. Bennet’s initiative to leave the lovers alone, nothing happens.
  • In a purely positive rich atmosphere, Elizabeth visits Pemberley. Caroline introduces a bad note and spoils the wholesome beauty of the hour. The news of the elopement of the next day is indicated by the mean intrusion of Caroline at Pemberley.
  • Elizabeth, though she was shy of Lydia’s and her mother’s behaviour at the dances, was not mortified by what they were otherwise or at other times. It is true nothing depressed her beyond the moment. It is equally true that her compunctions about the low breeding of her sisters was only skin deep. In wishing Jane’s wedding with Bingley, it did not strike her even once that her family would be objectionable to Bingley. Even when they all left for London, Elizabeth rightly understood the true cause as the manipulations of his sisters. What occurred to all of them never occurred to her. No wonder, having been brought up by Mrs. Bennet and having received no offers for any of her sisters until Jane was 23, she felt no natural shyness of what the family was. Not even when Darcy abused her did it come to her on her own. Only when Darcy wrote about the various members of the family did her eyes open. It led her to introspection and to acceptance of the truth of Darcy’s letter. For one in her position, it is a remarkable turnaround of emotions. Her meeting Darcy was not accidental, nor was it a chance. It was a direct life response to her changed emotions that were powerful. Every event in this story, or for that matter, any story, can thus be explained. The change of heart on the part of the recipient to receive the prodigious social benefits is the success of the social force that tried to change the revolution into evolution.


Revolution is the minority rebelling against the majority violently, as it is an act of physicality. Evolution is the winning of minds of the majority and dispensing with the bloodshed. Such a change calls for the genuine change of heart in the beneficiary which we witness in Elizabeth. Mr. Bennet abuses Darcy and Jane too in the true revolutionary spirit.

Revolution of the individual becomes the evolution of the collective. The primitive man learned by doing through a process of trial and error. The civilised individual learns through education the experience of past societies.

  • The first is a movement from the physical to the mental.
  • The second is a descent of the mind on the body.


What France underwent by a revolution England was anxious to learn by the experience of France. We see its main expression in Darcy who was an aristocrat who had realised or the force acting through him wanted him to realise that a revolution like the French one could be avoided in England if there was a conscious reaching out of the aristocracy and the commoners towards each other. Darcy was impelled by that force or actuated by an unconscious knowledge of such a force. Elizabeth was the spearhead of the enlightened section that aspired for such a reconciliation. Though the Spirit in her aspires in that direction, her mind without sharing that spiritual aspiration remains clouded by its old prejudice, which finds expression in Darcy’s impolite remark that she was tolerable. The course of the entire story was her overcoming her prejudice to appreciate the value of the aristocracy for her. In her emotions this was finally achieved when she told herself that she could have been the mistress of Pemberley had she wanted. It is noteworthy in our context of one class seeking the other that:

  • the aristocracy seeks the bright eyes that aspire, and
  • the rising population rising to aristocracy seeks the material possession of aristocracy.


From Darcy’s proposal and letter to her visit to Pemberley, there was a steady progress in her mind that reaches her emotions of shame. It was finally clinched by the fine prospect of the view of the lake seen through the window of Pemberley. We do note that Darcy had everything material to give. Elizabeth was after all to receive and had nothing material or physical to give, not even beauty.

It is a rule of life that the recipient of any gift, especially an unsolicited benefit, resents it and as a result desires to be insolent to the benefactor. Based on this truism, a joke was popular in the 20th century in Europe which is summed up in the statement, “I do not know why that man hates me, I have not done him any good.” This joke came to India from the Englishman. Darcy offers his love passionately to Elizabeth in an unpardonable language. She recognises the abominable sentiments and ignores his fervour. The rule of giving, especially for the gentleman is to behave as a receiver in his giving. Darcy falls very much short of the standard the aristocratic gentleman set for himself in the early centuries. His offer was couched in offence. She resented and abused him. Her resentment of Darcy found its residual echo in Mr. Bennet’s abomination and Jane’s surprise and shock. Evolution changes the killings of the revolution into resentment.

Life seeks fulfilment by becoming conscious. Life is a field of contradictions. Truth in life emerges by overcoming contradictions. Hence the irresistible attraction of the adventure. Adventure seeks its own higher fulfilment in the opposition of contradictions and overcoming them. All growth is knowledge overcoming ignorance. Man is conceived by the woman as a blend of the male and female forces. Man’s greatest fulfilment is to find his reconciliation in the woman. That is the highest adventure Nature has set forth before him. All other adventures are of lesser importance.

Before marriage, it is romance. All romantic episodes are beset with barriers of social stratification. Whether they are social or psychological, they are barriers. The boy or the girl has to overcome differences in class, caste or feud or prejudice. To attain to the other sex breaking the barriers is romance. After marriage, the outer social barriers change into inner psychological impediments. The famous dictum, “Girls abuse men and they like it, don’t ask why” is an epitome of this process in human wisdom.

  • It is true man wants to dominate.
  • It is a greater truth of human psychology that he loves to submit, surrender to a greater authority, worship that authority and prides in his dissolving his personality.


The truth of leadership lies in the love of submission of the many. The greatness of leadership lovingly lies in its passionate loyalty to the following. Loyalty is the submission of the low to the high and equally the high to the low.

In the universal scheme of evolving Nature, this emotion is refined, elevated and finally sublimated in the pure courage willingly submitting itself to the object of its love.

Romance is its social version and therefore has a flavour and fragrance that excels all others. Every member of the population is exhilarated on hearing of an episode of romance and feels the distant fulfilment in it. It is for this reason it never escapes public attention. Bingley’s interest in Jane carries this aura, not Darcy’s, because in Darcy romance is a subordinate feature. What is prominent in him is the social urge. Society does not take notice of it, as it is unconscious of these forces. If society is fully conscious of any vibration, it is that of romance. Romance is a vibration where the urge of the physical becomes the fragrance of the Spirit. The evolving Spirit is a flame rising to the pure heavens from the murky earth. There is no other force or vibration that carries that intensity or purity. Its perfume is the perfume of Purity itself. Heaven knows it to be Love and earth recognises it in romance.

Social evolution taken from the social stratum of aristocracy to the level of personal psychology permits us to study individuals in the same context. We can present a very short summary of one or two characters like Mr. Collins or Mrs. Bennet. In both of them we see several phenomena:

  1. Well-formed entrenched physicality that is very well fed.
  2. Mr. Collins has the education that Mrs. Bennet lacks.
  3. But she is possessed by an urge that issues from her moving into the higher social stratum. In fact, Mr. Bennet is described as the principal inhabitant of Meryton.
  4. Mr. Collins is the first generation to receive education. His father was stupid, stingy and uneducated.
  5. Education gives a mental energy that is reinforced by the vital energy of its new status.
  6. Trained as a clergyman, he knows well all the phraseology the pulpit requires. His language is the best in the story.
  7. The same nascent energy is witnessed in both for different reasons.
  8. Mr. Collins talks incessantly, giving vent to the excess mental energy in sophisticated phrases. That effusion possesses him.
  9. He wants to reconcile with the family of Mr. Bennet for the injury done by the entail. Taken as such, it is a laudable aim even if the famed beauty of the daughters attracted him.
  10. Goodwill of an educated idiot expresses as an odious habit of talking irrelevantly, exposing his lack of culture all the time.
  11. He sat at the whist table without knowing the game and danced awkwardly, missing steps. He was more aware of his urges of good intention rather than the fool he made of himself.
  12. Mrs. Bennet is exactly of his type cast into the mould of family.
  13. Her assertion was often offensive which in her estimation was frankness.
  14. At the dance assembly, she celebrated, by a loud voice, the future possibility of Jane's wedding and its possible consequences. She was aware of the joy her new understanding gave and assumed it would be the same understanding in others.


Nascent possession, whether it is knowledge or status, has a powerful urge and has no capacity to wait for the appropriate forms of cultural expressions to be created. Hence the tragi-comedy. Darcy’s proposal vies with these people for a distinction of a similar description.