Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen marvelously portrays the life of a middle-class country family in England during the early nineteenth century. The family, the Bennets, is presently engaged in finding suitable (rich) husbands for their five daughters. The main character, Elizabeth Bennet, is an intelligent, witty, and opinionated young woman. She has already rebuffed one would-be suitor because she felt he was unfit, and in this scene, she turns down another, Fitzwilliam Darcy, because she feels that he is arrogant and cruel. This scene portrays a lively exchange between the two, with Elizabeth accusing him of prejudice and Darcy charging her with being full of pride.
The scene opens with Darcy entering the room where Elizabeth was reading. After inquiring about her health, he pauses for a few moments and then suddenly declares, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” (Austen, 142) He then proceeds to tell her all the things that are wrong with her family and her own “inferiority” (142). Despite all this, he still loves her. Darcy seems sure she will accept, but Elizabeth’s dislike of his pride and arrogance make it impossible for her to accede. They then proceed to enter into a heated argument and each volley cutting insults upon the other. Austen’s wording during this exchange adds to the liveliness of this quarrel. Elizabeth first disparages his proposal by saying, “Why with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character” (143) Darcy’s proposal was a far cry from romantic and it convinced Elizabeth that Darcy wants a wife inferior to him, something she would never stand for. She goes on to accuse him of being prejudiced against another by laying charge after charge upon him and concluding with, “You have done all this! and yet you can treat the mention of his misfortunes with contempt and ridicule” (144). He retorts, “These offenses might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confessions of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design” (144). She counters by saying, “You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me” (145). She goes on to say, “You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it” (145). After taking a couple more shots at him, Darcy, obviously astonished at what he heard from her, apologizes for wasting her time and hastily leaves the rooms.
The irony that Austen is known for is present in this exchange because it is Darcy who is usually thought to be full of pride and Elizabeth who is blinded by her prejudice in her feelings towards Darcy. This reversal emphasizes that both have been guilty of pride and prejudice.