Introduction How Should I Live My Life?

  • Sarah Emsley


Near the end of Pride and Prejudice, there is a well-known scene in which Elizabeth Bennet and Lady Catherine de Bourgh clash in a battle of wills. The pompous and self-righteous Lady Catherine demands that Elizabeth promise not to marry her nephew Mr. Darcy, and the independent and strong-willed Elizabeth refuses to promise, asserting that “ ‘I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me’ “ (PP 358). Does this statement, coming as it does from one of Austen’s best-known and most-loved heroines—the character who many critics agree comes closest to articulating what may be Austen’s own lively opinions—does this mean that Jane Austen sees the happiness of her heroines as a matter of independence, dependent, that is, only on their own rational determination of what is good for them? Is this a selfish, or at least self-centered, notion of happiness? Is Elizabeth the model of the enlightened individual in pursuit of her own happiness? While Elizabeth does pursue happiness, Jane Austen’s idea of what constitutes happiness is not dependent solely on either a comfortable marriage as the goal of life, or on the personal fulfillment of the individual.


Moral Education Christian Faith Secular World Theological Tradition Careful Judgment 
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© Sarah Emsley 2005

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  • Sarah Emsley

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