The Mating Dance in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
As befitting the title of Jane Austen’s novel, pride and prejudice – as well as social decorum – restrain the protagonists’ feelings toward each other, resulting in a love that is forged by caution and tempered by time. Allen suggests that “simply because desire is not expressed, it does not cease to exist; repressed, it does not disappear. Instead it is symbolically displaced, returning with repetitive insistence in a concealed form” (426). In other words, although Elizabeth and Darcy’s feelings are hidden, these “concealed forms” of expression continue to fuel the lovers in their courtship. Literature and dance coexist with social decorum in strengthening Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship, while facial expressions have neither social nor cultural boundaries. Abiding by the laws of decorum, literature, dance, and facial expressions help Elizabeth and Darcy break through their personal repressions and discover their love for each other.
Literature appears in Pride and Prejudice in the form of books and letters. For most of Parts One and Two of the novel, Elizabeth Bennet’s social standing and the indecorum of her family repel Darcy. He remarks that because the Benett sisters have family in Cheapside, it “must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world” (Austen, 33). However, Darcy’s distain is greatly reduced when he discovers that Elizabeth prefers reading to cards. It is a matter of nurture triumphing over nature, for Elizabeth is cultured and educated despite her upbringing. Darcy may be subconsciously or even purposely referring to Elizabeth when he adds the virtues of extensive reading to the list of qualities he admires in a woman.
Decorum is “as often based on knowing what not to say as on properly expressing oneself” (Allen, 431), and written correspondence is no different from spoken expressions. Darcy, as his close friend Bingley says, “does not write with ease” and “studies too much for words of four syllables” (Austen, 42). This is Darcy’s characteristic style of writing and he does not purposely attempt to sound haughty in his letter to Elizabeth. Darcy is also very straightforward in his writing, for he says, “nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of modesty” (Austen, 42). His straightforwardness is the reason why, torn between his pride and his love for Elizabeth, Darcy’s first marriage proposal to Elizabeth is a failure. Unlike written correspondence, most spoken conversations are more spontaneous, and Darcy blurts out how he has struggled in vain not to profess his love for her. Darcy’s feelings have been repressed for a long time, and Allen suggests that “repressed, desire focuses on a specific object” (Allen, 440) – and Elizabeth is Darcy’s object of affection. So focused is Darcy on his love for Elizabeth that he not only forgets about other women, but he also forgets Elizabeth’s initial prejudice...