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Jane Austen wrote in the tradition of the eighteenth century novelists. Like Johnson and other classicists before her she prized sense more than sensibility. Classicist in spirit she strove to portray her major characters as being prudent and wise, free from the errors and misjudgement arising out of too much emotion. Passion is there, by implication in her novels but what is most important in Jane Austen is that passion must be guided correctly by prudence. Jane Austen's Spirit of Classicism.
Even in the expression of deep and true feeling one must be wise. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia is foolish and Wickham is villainous. The two are lovers no doubt but their love is not under prudent control and hence they do not have the approbation of the author. Elizabeth herself, tells Jane that she regards Darcy, with an interest, if not quite so tender, at least as reasonable as what Jane felt for Bingley. Tenderness is subordinated to reason and passion to principale in Jane Austen.
Jane Austen's Spirit of Classicism

Prudence Vs Emotion:

Yet, in spite of Jane Austen's predilection to support prudence----- the head over emotion----the heart, in Pride and Prejudice we see that at least a few of her characters are at their best when advised by their hearts and are prone to error when they let their heador prudence over come their feelings. This is most obvious in the character of Darcy.

Darcy's Errors:

Darcy's faults arise from a mistaken idea of his own consequence. He thinks himself superior to everyone at Meryton and looks down upon all those who are socially his inferior. His pride blinds him to the merit of Elizabeth and he can cruelly and snobbishly refuse to dance with her for she is not beautiful enough to tempt him. When he does begin to feel the attraction, the power of her beautiful eyes and personality, his prudence intervenes. He cannot allow himself to be attracted to her, because he thinks it would not be prudent to associate himself with her low, vulgar family. It is this same prudence, this advise from the head, which leads him also to separate Bingley from Jane Bennet. When he does fall in love with Elizabeth inspite  of his head advising against it, he proposes to her at Hunsford parsonage. But even while proposing he dwells more on the low circumstances of her family, rather than his feelings for her. Thus, when advised by his head, when guided by prudence, he errs badly. It is when he is guided by his heart, that he is at best. He may think of Elizabeth as being beneath him but his heart tells him otherwise. He feels attracted by the liveliness, the charm, the wit and intelligence of Elizabeth and it is these feelings which lead him to overcome the imprudence of such a match and propose her. But it is only after his pride is totally humbled that his feelings really rise to the fore.

Triumph of Feeling:

It is his feelings for Elizabeth, his love for her which eventually triumphs over his pride or her prejudice. Had pride won the day he would have held his tongue, let her marry Wickham and be miserable. But he writes to her explaining and justifying some of his actions towards Wickham and Jane and Bingley. Begue in bitterness and mortification he ends with an involuntary 'God bless you,' By this letter, conceived in a moment of great feeling, he opens the whole train of circumstances leading to their eventual reconciliation and happiness.

Once he has admitted to his love for Elizabeth, he is governed by these feelings is everything. He realizes that meanness and vulgarity or refinement and grace are not qualities typical to either the rich or poor. Lady Catherine can be as vulgar and mean as Mrs. Bennet Elizabeth and Jane can be more refined and graceful than the conceited Bingley sisters. Finally he can let emotion overcome prudence to such an extent that he is even ready to associate himself with Elizabeth in spite of the scandal of the Wickham-Lydia episode. Advised by his heart, he can act for the best, overcoming his disgust for Wickham and even paying him to marry Lydia.

The same is true of Bingley. He is at his best when advised by his heart. When prudence plays no part, he is affable and friendly, ready to find everything good in his neighborhood, associating himself with everyone in an easy-going manner with no thought for social rank or snobbish pride. He can fall in love easily with Jane for he sees only her loveliness and her good nature and does not, like Darcy, think of her low family status. But he is pliable and allows himself to be advised by Darcy to prudently reject such an ill match. Acting according to prudence, he errs in leaving Netherfield, abandoning Jane and taking up residence in ondon. It is only when influenced by his heart that he is at his best.

Elizabeth, prides herself on her discerning intelligence, on her ability to study characters. And yet her intelligence fails her with respect to Darcy. She can attribute all his actions to his pride and is blindly prejudiced against him. It is only during the moment of great feeling ----- the agony that she undergoes on receiving Darcy's letter of explanation after she has refused his proposal ----- that she first begins to see him and Wickham in the proper light.

Thus, Elizabeth and Bingley and especially Darcy seem to elucidate Margaret Kennedy's remark about Jane Austen that "Her characters are at their best when advised by their hearts and most of their errors come from their heads".


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