Jane Austen wrote most of her novels at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. From a literary perspective, this was the time when English literature was moving from romanticism to realist writing. Both these influences can be seen in Pride and Prejudice, which we will now take you through. Note that the word ‘romantic’ used in this paragraph does not mean romantic in the traditional sense where it only has to do with love and romance.
The romantic period in literature and art (roughly 1778-1832) was characterised by rebellion and a focus on personal freedom and individuality. Other central ideas were the glorification of childhood and the purifying influence of nature. There was also a great belief in expanding the self, which may in part explain the emphasis which the romantics placed on emotions. The movement took place in a time of social turmoil and new ideas and was a reaction to the ‘soulless’ rationalism which had dominated the century before.
We sense some of the romantic ideas in Pride and Prejudice. Almost like an early feminist, Austen criticises women's traditional dependence on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. This preoccupation with gender roles fits nicely with the emphasis many romantics placed on the rights of women: if the individual ought to be set free, this would naturally include women, too. Also, Elizabeth Bennet is a very independent, free-thinking heroine. She rejects the security of Collins’s offer of marriage because she does not love or respect him. As Mrs Bennet’s reaction to this demonstrates, this was a rather radical thing to do at the time.
Another romantic characteristic may be the fact that Pride and Prejudice takes place in a rural setting where the characters frequently go for walks in nature. The importance of the outdoor setting is discussed in our Symbols section.
However, Austen also rejects some of the romantic characteristics, which makes her one of the early realist writers when it comes to novels. Pride and Prejudice has none of the wildness and fascination with the supernatural which were also central in rom...