Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy have become such familiar names for so many of us that we feel as if we know them and most likely our students do, too. Teaching with literature, and especially teaching with Jane Austen’s works is fun, just think of how entertaining, witty and modern her novels are. Let’s get passionate about literature and explore Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in class.
Pride and Prejudice is one of our latest additions to the Helbling Readers Blue Classics series, adapted by Elspeth Rawstron, and illustrated by Sara Menetti. The book was originally published in 1813, and it has lent itself to many adaptations, just think of the 1995 BBC TV series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and the 2005 film with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen. The book has also inspired contemporary adaptations like Bridget Jones’s Diary films and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, an American web series presented in the form of vlogs.
We have collected some paths into the novel which you can follow in your English lesson. We would like to approach the text through projects which focus on its themes, language, characters, locations and the film adaptations.
We recommend these projects for students from the age of 13-14 until adult, with an intermediate level of English or higher.
1 Three themes for discussion
It may seem obvious to start with the title, but the words pride and prejudice demand for clarification and offer great discussion opportunities. Ask your students to think of their circle of friends or their own town (the scope of society Jane Austen focuses on in her novels). Can they remember any examples of communication when pride or prejudice ruled the discussions and the participants’ behaviour?
Thanks to computer-based corpus analysis of novels, now we know that an important key word in the novel is civility. In a study Michaela Mahlberg argues that by studying the context in which this key word occurs, we learn that in the novel civility is connected to the following definition of the concept by Sarah Emsley: ideally (civility is) the outward manifestation of real goodness, politeness based on respect, tolerance, and understanding’, whereas in practice, it ‘has a great deal to do with … maintaining social niceties even when does not feel like being polite’. (Mahlberg, 296)
Before reading the novel, think of examples of this concept of civility in your own lives. What are social niceties? Do you have to maintain them? Why is it important to manifest goodness, politeness and respect, tolerance and understanding? How can you practise these attitudes in your own life?
Further themes in the novel are love, marriage, fashion and lifestyle. If you go to the last page of the Helbling Reader adaptation of the novel, you will find discussion questions based on these themes.
Close-up on characters
As Ron Carter and John McRae phrase it in the The Routledge History of Literature in English, Jane Austen ‘applies the microscope to human character and motivation, with no great didactic, moral, or satiric purpose, but with a gentle irony and perspicacity, which make her novels unique, as representations of universal patterns of human behavior, and as documentation of an aspect of a provincial society of her time.’ (Carter and McRae, 258)
Imagine observing people around you with a microscope. What will you see? How different are we? What motivates people around you? Pride and Prejudice, just like other novels, offers heroes, villains, major and minor characters, and they are all equally important and amusing for the readers. Study this page from the Helbling Reader edition to learn more about the major characters of the novel. Then, when you are reading the story, use our Character Analyzer card from our Book Club Starter Kit.
Here are some more points to consider while you are reading the novel.
- What motivates the character?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of his or her personality?
- Does s/he change during the novel?
- Why does s/he get into conflicts with other characters?
- Collect adjectives which best describe the characters.
- Who is the most and the least likeable character in the novel?
You can also focus on minor characters like the Bennet sisters’ father, and analyze them, then give a summary of the story from their perspective.
Looking at location
Open a map or Google Maps on your computer, and find the following places in Britain. Find and describe some photographs of the countryside around these places.
Pemberley, the home of Mr Darcy is a fictional place in the story, but it was represented in many film adaptations of the novel. First, find a description of the place in the novel. Then, go to this website and see examples of real places which can help us visualize the place.
Other imaginary places
Longbourn, the residence of the Bennet family and Netherfield, the residence of the Bignleys are also imaginary places in Derbyshire. Rosings is the residence of Lady Catherine is supposedly in Kent. These homes are designed in different architectural styles, representing different lifestyles of different social classes. Find examples of these places in film adaptations and compare them.
Language then and now
The language is Jane Austen is witty and humorous, and although she writes in modern English, but we can spot differences in her English and present-day English (Carter and McRae, 259).
Look at various examples from the adapted edition of the novel, and you will find interesting examples of language usage even in the graded language of the adaptation.
In Chapter 1, Mr and Mrs Bennet talk about the new neighbour. Act out the scene and then work in pairs to rewrite it so that it sounds more like a conversation today.
In Chapter 2, Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy talk during a dance. Act out these scene, then repeat it in a way you would have this conversation today in a club.
Two opening scenes
The opening scenes of the 1995 BBC TV series and the 2005 film adaptation of the novel set very different atmospheres for the stories. While you are watching the first few minutes of the film, pay attention to the following points. Create a chart and answer the following questions about the two opening scenes.
- Which characters appear?
- Where are they?
- What is the weather like?
- What sounds can you hear?
- What colours dominate the scene?
- How do the characters feel?
- What is the mood of the scene?
- How are the characters dressed?
Would you like some more projects? Go to our project-based lesson to travel back to the early 1800s with Jane Austen’s Emma.
Carter, Ron and John McRae (1997) The Routledge History of Literature in English: Britain and Ireland. London: Routledge, 1997.
Michaela Mahlberg (2010) Corpus Linguistics and the Study of Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Journal of Victorian Culture, 15:2, 292-298, DOI: 10.1080/13555502.2010.491667