“Pride” in Byte and “Prejudice” in Bits: A Medievalist’s Perspective on Jane Austen’s Novel

“Pride” in Byte and “Prejudice” in Bits: A Medievalist’s Perspective on Jane Austen’s Novel

Fritz Kemmler

Published in Connotations Vol. 32 (2023)


It is well known that many of the moral aspects, concepts, and themes that can be found in Jane Austen’s novels are based on the eighteenth-century tradition of moral instruction, which, in itself, is part of an older, and in many respects Christian, tradition of moral philosophy and spiritual guidance.

In this paper I wish to demonstrate by means of a computer-aided close reading of the novel, supplemented by a comparative approach as well as several interpretative hypotheses, to what extent Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice mirrors, in a secular context, important elements that are characteristic of the Christian tradition of moral instruction and spiritual guidance. It will be seen that the majority of these elements can be traced back to the mediaeval moral paradigm of the Seven Deadly Sins, with the sin of pride usually heading the list. The seven deadly sins—together with their “remedies,” the Seven Virtues—constitute the subject matter of numerous mediaeval handbooks of religious instruction written in Latin and the vernacular for both clerics and laymen. A word list of Jane Austen’s novel will help to identify lexical items that refer to moral concepts. Together with “pride” and “prejudice” these items clearly indicate that Pride and Prejudice is eminently suitable for a critical reading on the basis of the mediaeval moral paradigm of sin and virtue.

1. Introduction

It is well known that many of the moral issues raised in Jane Austen’s novels are firmly rooted in the eighteenth-century tradition of moral philosophy which found its chief expression in moral, philosophical, and political writings (essays, pamphlets, sermons, treatises) as well as in numerous poems, dramas, and novels, many of which were not only professedly didactic.1 This tradition, however, did not arise ex nihilo, for many of its concepts and ideas go back to moral writings that originated in the cultural context provided by Western Christianity and can also be traced to the moral philosophers of Latin and Greek antiquity.2

The very title of Jane Austen’s novel invites the application of an alternative moral paradigm with a focus on “pride,” in an investigation of the varied and complex moral issues addressed in Pride and Prejudice. To what extent can concepts such as sins, virtue, repentance, confession, and reform, as central constituents of the Christian tradition of moral instruction, be traced and identified in the decidedly more secular context of this novel?3 It is not necessary to carry out an extensive search in order to ascertain that, of the two nouns in the title, pride figures most prominently in the mediaeval tradition of moral instruction, especially in the numerous treatises and handbooks 4 concerned with the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins.

In several critical scholarly contributions on Pride and Prejudice, the eighteenth-century context for “pride and prejudice” has been studied in some depth,5 whereas the medieval context has been largely neglected. In my view, it is the mediaeval context in particular which can provide an excellent heuristic model for an analysis of the complex uses of the moral concepts “pride and prejudice” in Jane Austen’s novel.

In order to undertake a detailed study of the use and significance of these two concepts, we should know where, and how often, the nouns “pride” and “prejudice” as well as their related adjectival and verbal forms can be found in the novel. It is for this reason that I have based my study on a programmed word list generated on the basis of an “electronic text” of Pride and Prejudice.6 This word list indicates that the noun “pride,” with a total of 47 occurrences7 in the novel, first appears in chapter five: “every [→ page 41] body says that he [Darcy] is ate up with pride”—an indication of the prevailing prejudice of the Longbourn families against Fitzwilliam Darcy, a prejudice resulting, indeed, from “first impressions.”8 Totalling eight occurrences, i.e. in both nominal and verbal forms, the noun “prejudice,” by contrast, first occurs considerably later in the novel, namely in chapter 18: “And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?” There, it is also used in association with Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Prior to an analysis of the moral paradigm indicated by “pride” and “prejudice” in Jane Austen’s novel, some of the major methodological considerations underlying the programme designed for the word list need to be addressed.

2. Preparing the Word List

A computer programme generating an alphabetical word list of a novel such as Pride and Prejudice requires important considerations as to the system of references for every item that will be recorded if this word list is to be used not only for a quantitative and statistical analysis of the “lexicon” of the novel but also as a reliable basis for a critical close reading and analysis of Jane Austen’s text. For the programme generating the word list, I chose the software package TUSTEP9 because this software allows for a quite simple and efficient handling of the references. These supply important information on the occurrence and frequency of every lexical item as well as abbreviations and numbers10 used in the text.

Since the electronic text which provides the word list does not contain page numbers but does contain both explicit and implicit structural information in terms of the chapters and paragraphs of the novel, it is this information that will be used as a system of references. A word list making use of these structural features provided by the electronic text can hence be used in connection with any printed edition of Pride and Prejudice.

As most of TUSTEP’s modules are based on a system of numbered records, with record-numbers that can be employed in and modified by other programmes related to TUSTEP, a very simple and efficient referencing system is available for the word list. Character strings in the source file [→ page 42] which supply explicit information on chapters, e.g. “<CHAPTER I (1)>” etc., will be transformed into record “1.0” etc. Chapters of the novel can accordingly be identified by TUSTEP’s “page numbers,” whereas information about the paragraphs in a chapter is indicated by TUSTEP’s “line numbers.”

TUSTEP’s system of line numbers will be used for those “lines” in the electronic text that contain only the hexadecimal code “0D” (the digital code for “carriage return”). This code will be used as an indication for the beginning of a new paragraph. The rather abstract hexadecimal code will be transformed into the more explicit tag <par>, and it is by this tag that a consecutive system of paragraph numbers will be created and displayed on the screen, e.g. “1.1” for “chapter 1, paragraph 1” etc. In the same way, the dual record numbers created by a programmed run of TUSTEP’s powerful module COPY can be used as an efficient system for the references in the word list.11

In designing the programme for the word list, several options had to be addressed that are crucial with regard to the uses of a word list. A simple word list based on the electronic text will show that Jane Austen’s novel is composed of a total of 6,423 different items—words, numbers, and abbreviations. An advanced version of a word list with information on the frequency of the individual items will indicate that the sum total amounts to 122,471 items in the novel as a whole, with the definite article “the” contributing 4,333 items to the text and the preposition “to” a total of 4,162. An advanced list will also reveal that 2,364 items occur only once in the text of the novel.

For purposes of critical investigation and interpretation, more sophisticated lists are needed which should, for example, provide more detailed information relating to personal names as well as place names found in a literary text. A simple list will show that the terms of address, i.e. Miss, Mr., and Mrs., have an occurrence of 281 (Miss), 781 (Mr.), and 342 (Mrs.). A more sophisticated word list will indicate that “Miss,” followed by a personal name, occurs with a total of 30 variations in Pride and Prejudice; “Mr.” occurs with a total of 23 variations, and “Mrs.” with 26.

The word list generated by my programme script with TUSTEP is even more complex as words italicised in the novel appear as separate entries.12 [→ page 43] In addition, the list is divided into four thematic sections. The first two sections provide information about both personal and place names, and these two sections are sorted to the front of the list. The first section of the word list with its 206 items is accordingly a useful tool for an investigation of Jane Austen’s techniques of introducing the characters in her novel.13 Section two of the list, with a total of 67 entries, provides a “lexical” topography of Pride and Prejudice. Section three of the list is a record of the lexical items which constitute the semantic and thematic field “pride and prejudice.” The fourth and final sections contain all other vocabulary items of the novel in alphabetic order, with abbreviations such as “&c.” and numbers appearing at the end of this section of the word list.

These brief remarks indicate that the programme assembled for a sophisticated word list requires a high degree of familiarity with the text of the novel on the part of the programmer. As the remarks in note fourteen (see below) clearly indicate, detailed steps were necessary to generate an entry such as “Bingley’s Miss” based on the phrase “Miss Bingley’s” as found in the text of the novel. Fortunately, structures indicating names of characters in Jane Austen’s novels can be defined relatively easily. The character string “Miss Bingley’s” can be “translated” into a general pattern which can be used as an algorithm: “Miss followed by space followed by an uppercase letter followed by a series of lowercase letters and ending in a lower case letter which may perhaps be followed by apostrophe followed by s.” This basic structure may, of course, involve further elements which can also be defined quite easily, such as “Mr. and Mrs. N” or, to use a concrete example, found at 39/17 of Jane Austen’s novel, “Col. and Mrs. Forster.”14 A similar routine was devised for place names, e. g. “Netherfield,” “Netherfield House,” and “Netherfield Park.” Routines similar to those just specified can be used for generating word lists based on other electronic texts as well.

In the process of planning and designing the programme for a sophisticated word list it occurred to me that a word list created for the purpose of a scholarly investigation and close reading of a novel such as Pride and Pre­judice would profit considerably from a differentiation between direct speech and letters on the one hand, and the narrator’s text on the other. For an evaluation of terms that express social and moral values as well as [→ page 44] judgements, it is important to know whether these terms are used by the characters of the novel with their limited perception and perspective or by the narrator, in particular by an omniscient one, such as in Jane Austen’s novels. This means that the validity and importance of every use of the term “pride” as well as other significant terms should be considered with reference to their context of utterance. But even though a differentiation between “text” and “speech”15 can be achieved in a carefully programmed word list, the quotation below, taken from chapter eight, paragraph three of the novel, clearly shows that it is necessary to take a good look at the specific context in the parts of the text contributed by the narrator. Here the narrator mentions the term “pride” for the first time:

When dinner was over, she [Elizabeth] returned directly to Jane, and Miss Bingley began abusing her as soon as she was out of the room. Her manners were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence; she had no conversation, no stile, no taste, no beauty.

We see that this is not the narrator’s point of view but the rendering of a conversation between some of the characters of the novel and therefore an instance of reported speech. A close analysis of the context of utterance for the first occurrence of the term “pride” in direct speech shows that it is part of a statement by Mrs. Bennet, at 5/14:

“I do not believe a word of it, my dear. If he had been so very agreeable, he would have talked to Mrs. Long. But I can guess how it was; every body says that he is ate up with pride, and I dare say he had heard somehow that Mrs. Long does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise.”

Mrs. Bennet is here reporting public opinion and does not express her personal view and opinion concerning Darcy.16

The differentiation between direct and indirect narration can easily be achieved by a programmed run of TUSTEP’s module COPY. With the help of the quotation marks in the electronic text of the novel, the programme will generate two files, one with the portions of the text belonging to direct narration, the second based on the portions of the text which are part of either direct speech or letters. The first occurrence of direct speech, interrupted by the narrator’s commentary, at 1/3, can be used as an example: [→ page 45] “‘My dear Mr. Bennet,’ said his lady to him one day, ‘have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?’” This text will be split: “‘My dear Mr. Bennet’” and “‘have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?’” will be stored in the file specified for direct speech, and “said his lady to him one day,” will be stored in the file specified for direct narration. Both files will be used to generate of the differentiated word list. One instance will suffice to make evident the structure of the entries generated by the programme devised for the differentiated word list. In this list, the adjective “dear” from the quotation above is listed as “@ dear [150] +SPEECH 1/3…” with “+SPEECH 1/3” indicating the position of “dear” in chapter one, paragraph three of the text. The number in square brackets points to this adjective occuring 150 times in the direct speeches and letters of Pride and Prejudice. The predicate “said” in the quotation above appears in the differentiated word list as “@ said [357] +TEXT.” This entry does not indicate the position of “said” in the novel because of the very high frequency (357 instances) of this lexical item in the parts of the novel representing direct narration (“+TEXT”).17

After this excursus into the field of programme scripts and some of their underlying considerations, methods and approaches, it is now time to address the issues “close reading” and interpretation of major moral aspects present in Pride and Prejudice. It will be seen that the word list generated by my programme is essential for this undertaking as it provides a reliable basis for important interpretative hypotheses and observations. These will be presented in the following two sections of this paper.

3. Working with the Word List: Preliminary and General Remarks

A word list with references relating to the frequency and position of the lexical items in the text of the novel is an eminently useful aid in the process of literary analysis and interpretation. A few examples will demonstrate its advantages.

On the basis of the word list we learn that the name of the heroine of the novel, Elizabeth, appears 582 times, supplemented by 38 occurrences of the [→ page 46] genitive “Elizabeth’s”; the shortened form “Lizzy” occurs 97 times. By contrast, the hero of the novel, “Mr. Darcy,” is mentioned “only” 243 times, supplemented by 175 additional occurrences of the name “Darcy.” As to the name “Bennet,” the list specifies 18 entries, 60 occurrences are recorded for “Miss Bennet,” 79 for “Mr. Bennet,” and a total of 140 occurrences for “Mrs. Bennet.”

A word list as described above can be used for more complex purposes, not only for a quantitative analysis of the lexicon of a particular text. The word list assembled for Pride and Prejudice is also a useful tool to find out more about Jane Austen’s skills as a novelist. The system of references in the word list helps ascertain quite easily that chapter 43 with its account of Elizabeth’s and the Gardiners’ visit to Pemberley, certainly one of the most important chapters as to the development of the plot, is the most highly structured chapter with its 73 paragraphs. The word list also allows for comments on Jane Austen’s narrative expertise and fine uses of irony. A brief analysis of the seven occurrences of the noun “fire”18 in the novel will prove my point. The noun “fire” is used metaphorically only once, at 22/1, where the narrator connects it with expert irony to one of the characters whom many readers of the novel probably see in a very different light:

But here, she [Charlotte Lucas] did injustice to the fire and independence of his [Mr. Collins’s] character, for it led him to escape out of Longbourn House the next morning with admirable slyness, and hasten to Lucas Lodge to throw himself at her feet. [emphasis added]

The frequency of occurrence specified for every entry in the list has specific purposes as it can be used to generate a further word list based on the frequency of occurrence of every individual item. An example will suffice to illustrate the potential of the word list. The noun “obsequiousness” appears only once in the text of the novel, at 15/1, and the adjective “obsequious” also only once, at 60/28. A reading of the two paragraphs will show that both terms are used with reference to Mr. Collins.19

Two further examples will probably be welcomed by readers and critics with an interest in the theme “happiness” as well as “marriage” in the novels of Jane Austen. The word list reveals that the word “happiness” is used 72 times in Pride and Prejudice. By contrast, “unhappiness” is used only [→ page 47] twice. The adjective “happy” has a total of 83 occurrences compared to 13 occurrences of “unhappy.”20 The theme of marriage constitutes a further important topic in critical studies of Jane Austen’s novels. The word list shows that the noun “marriage” can be found 66 times in Pride and Prejudice.21The occurrence of both themes used in combination can also be specified by using the evidence of the list. The phrase “happiness in marriage” can be found at 6/10, supplemented by “happiness in the married state” (20/4), “felicity in marriage” (38/6), “happiness with him in marriage” (47/50), “happy marriage” (50/16), and as “connubial felicity” at 15/16. Jane Austen’s use of “alliance,” apparently a synonym for marriage, should also be mentioned. It will be seen that this noun, used three times in the novel, expresses specific ideas and concepts. At 10/54 “alliance” is in conjunction with “happiness” in the phrase: “planning his [Darcy’s] happiness in such an alliance.” Bearing in mind that the subject governing “planning” is “jealous” Miss Bingley (see 10/53), the adjective “such” suggests that “alliance” should be understood as “mésalliance” and “happiness” really means “unhappiness.” “Alliance” also has negative connotations at 50/12 and an “alliance” between Elizabeth and Darcy is called a “disgrace” by Lady Catherine De Bourgh in her angry speech to Elizabeth (56/45).

After these general observations and commentaries that point out the advantage of a sophisticated word list for the analysis and interpretation of a literary text, it is now time to focus on the main topic of this paper: the analysis of the significance and use of the terms “pride” and “prejudice” in the novel. This enquiry will be supplemented by an evaluation of the import of both terms when the moral paradigm based on “sin and virtue,” according to the mediaeval Christian tradition of moral instruction and spiritual guidance, is applied to the moral message encoded in Pride and Prejudice.

4. Working with the Word List: “Pride” and “Prejudice”

The word list shows that the semantic field “pride” has a total of 73 occurrences22: pride (47), prided (1), proud (22), proudest (1), and proudly (1). [→ page 48] By contrast, the noun “prejudice” occurs only five times, the plural “prejudices” twice, and the verbal form “prejudiced” once.23This first quantitative statement based on the word list clearly foregrounds that the semantic field “pride” deserves particular attention in a study of the moral paradigm that can be specified for Jane Austen’s novel.

The word list also allows us to locate the occurrences of “pride” as well as “prejudice” when modified by an adjective or in conjunction with a second noun. First “pride & x”: The phrase “pride and impertinence” occurs at 8/3, “pride and obsequiousness” at 15/1, “pride and caprice” at 33/38, “pride and insolence” at 36/1, and “pride and conceit” at 58/24. The corresponding phrase “x & pride” is represented by “vanity and pride” (5/20 and 11/23), “pleasure and pride” at 50/21, and “appetite and pride” at 53/60. Accompanied by an adjective or as part of a phrase, “pride” occurs as “abominable pride” (16/40 and 34/31), “family pride, filial pride, brotherly pride” (all at 16/41), “angry pride” occurs at 21/2, “worst kind of pride” at 33/40, “mistaken pride” can be found at 52/4, “every kind of pride” at 52/6, “improper pride” occurs at 59/34, and, finally, “delighted pride” at 61/1. Phrases with “prejudice” also make their appearance in combination with nominal forms: “strong prejudice” (36/1), “general pre-judice” (40/23), “family prejudice” (43/37), and “former prejudices” (58/19). These phrases point to the great care that Jane Austen took in addressing different shades of meaning as well as drawing attention to a variety of functions of “pride and prejudice” in her novel.

The word list is also an excellent tool to find out which characters of the novel are associated with “pride.” A complete list reflecting this constellation would transcend the scope of this paper. Suffice it to state that such a list is headed by Mr. Darcy, with some twenty instances, followed by Elizabeth.24The attribution of “prejudice” to characters in the novel can be stated in a few words: Darcy and “prejudice” can be found at 18/34, 36/1, and 40/23; Elizabeth is associated with “prejudice” at 36/7, 40/21, and 58/19; the housekeeper at Pemberley is thought to be prejudiced at 43/37. Finally, Jane and “prejudice” are in conjunction at 55/52.

After this presentation of the first “bits” and “bytes” of “prejudice” and “pride,” it remains to be seen whether the meaning and significance of these two concepts can be diversified, extended, and increased by applying [→ page 49] a mediaevalist’s perspective to the moral paradigm encoded in the novel. Such a perspective is readily provided by the mediaeval manuals concerned with the seven deadly sins and their so-called “remedies,” the seven virtues.

A mediaeval moral paradigm based on “sin and virtue” is available in Chaucer’s “Parson’s Tale,” the concluding section of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.25 The parson’s sermon offers a highly detailed description of the many aspects pertaining to the sin of pride, “superbia,” making use of the then very popular and highly expressive image of the tree of sins with its numerous branches and twigs:

Of the roote of thise sevene synnes, thanne, is Pride the general roote of alle harmes. [...] De Superbia. / And thogh so be that no man kan outrely telle the nombre of the twigges and of the harmes that cometh of Pride, yet wol I shewe a partie of hem, as ye shul understonde. / Ther is inobedience, avauntynge, ypocrisie, despit, arrogance, inpudence, swellynge of herte, insolence, elacioun, inpacience, strif, contumacie, presumpcioun, irreverence, pertinacie, veyneglorie, and many another twig that I kan nat declare.

A brief search in the word list, based on the parson’s list above, reveals that almost all of the aspects and manifestations mentioned by the parson can also be found in Jane Austen’s novel, either as nouns or as adjectives: hypocritical (2), spiteful (1), arrogance (1), impudence (3), insolence (1), impatience (10), and presumption (3).26

Even though “prejudice” is not mentioned in the parson’s list quoted above, a close examination of the parson’s full account of the manifold manifestations of the sin of pride reveals another term, namely disdain, that comes fairly close to the modern meaning of “prejudice”27: “Despitous is he that hath desdeyn of his neighebor—that is to seyn, of his evene-Cristene—or hath despit to doon that hym oghte to do.”28The word list indicates that the noun “disdain” can be found six times in Jane Austen’s novel, three times in “+Text” (18/44, 44/10, 56/27) and three times in “+Speech” (33/40, 34/28, 41/18); “disdained” occurs thrice: “+Text” (34/16, 44/10) and “+Speech” (36/8). Long lists with specifications and descriptions relating to the manifestations of pride29 as well as other sins can be found in many other mediaeval manuals as well. Such lists are the results of careful [→ page 50] observation and investigation in the fields of human behaviour and social interaction, which are also characteristic of Jane Austen’s novels.

A further analysis and evaluation of the mediaeval moral paradigm constituted by the seven deadly sins reveals that pride was considered to be the basis for other sins. In the words of Chaucer’s parson, “pride” is “the general roote of alle harmes.” A similar statement can be found in Thomas Chobham’s voluminous treatise written for confessors30 and also in Robert Mannyng’s Handlyng Synne,31 a fourteenth-century handbook in verse composed for the instruction of the laity. Since Chobham, Mannyng, as well as Chaucer’s parson emphasise that pride generates all other sins, it is worthwhile to consult the word list in order to find out whether any other “deadly sins” are also part of the “paradigm of sins” in Jane Austen’s novel.

According to Chobham and numerous other mediaeval authorities, the remaining six deadly sins are “invidia” (envy), “ira” (ire), “tristitia” or “acedia” (sloth), “avaritia” (avarice), “gula” (gluttony), and “luxuria” (lust). The word list reveals that only one of the seven deadly sins is not mentioned directly in the novel. This is the sin of “luxuria,” “lust,” one of the sins of the body. The evidence of the word list, at a first glance, suggests that members belonging to the society presented in Jane Austen’s novel are apparently not guilty of the sin of lust. Another sin of the body, however, “gluttony” (gula), can be implicitly encountered at 8/2: “Mr. Hurst, […] was an indolent man, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards.” “Invidia” is mentioned in the novel as the noun “envy” (3 occurrences); “ira” shows up as “anger” with a total of 13 occurrences, and “avaritia” as “avarice” (1 occurrence). “Tristitia” or “acedia” (sloth) is also more difficult to locate in the text of the novel. A close look at the word list shows that there are several references to this sin based on the following words: “idle” (8), “idleness” (2), “indolent” (1), “indolence” (2) as well as “dilatory” (2).32 The word list also allows us to ascertain that one of the minor characters of the novel, Mr. Hurst, is guilty of two “deadly sins”: “sloth” as well as “gluttony” (see chapter 8, paragraph 2).

An extended search in the word list reveals that even a reference to the sin of lust can be detected on the basis of three terms whose meaning can easily be related to the sin of “lust”: “profligacy” (at 36/4) and “profligate” (at 47/12), “vice” (at 36/4) as well as “dissipation” (at 35/7)—and these [→ page 51] four terms relate to Wickham. The sin of “lust” is also alluded to in a statement by the narrator relating to Lydia Bennet: “[Lydia] had high animal spirits” (9/36).33 The evidence provided by the word list clearly shows that the distinct traces and echoes of the mediaeval moral paradigm related to the seven deadly sins are indeed an important theme in Jane Austen’s novel. And this moral paradigm, built on pride, deserves further attention.

The mediaeval moral paradigm has more to offer than long lists and detailed accounts of the manifestations of the seven deadly sins. The paradigm also includes advice on how to avoid and overcome sin. This dual concern is particularly evident in Chaucer’s “The Parson’s Tale.” According to the teaching of Chaucer’s parson, the sin of pride can be “remedied” by the virtue “humility,” and “The Parson’s Tale” offers an excellent description of the contrast between them34:

Remedium contra peccatum Superbie.—/ Now sith that so is that ye han understonde what is Pride, and whiche been the speces of it, and whennes Pride sourdeth and spryngeth, / now shul ye understonde which is the remedie agayns the synne of Pride; and that is humylitee, or mekenesse. / That is a vertu thurgh which a man hath verray knoweleche of hymself, and holdeth of hymself no pris ne deyntee, as in regard of his desertes, considerynge evere his freletee. / Now been ther three maneres of humylitee: as humylitee in herte; another humylitee is in his mouth; the thridde in his werkes.

A look at the word list reveals that the concept “humility” also occurs in Jane Austen’s novel, in nominal and verbal forms and with a frequency of 22 occurrences (see Appendix).

In her study of the paradigm of virtues that can be inferred from Jane Austen’s novels, Sarah Emsley has pointed out the importance of the virtue “humility,” with particular reference to Elizabeth and Darcy.35 I will supplement and expand Emsley’s argument by looking in particular at the contexts in which the adjective “humble” with its nine occurrences is used in the novel. It should be noted that the noun “humility”—with a total of five occurrences in the novel—is associated with Mr. Bingley (at 10/24), appears in the context of a general statement at 10/25, and is used with reference to social behaviour in a further three instances (twice at 15/1, see below, and also at 18/61)—and these three instances refer to Mr. Collins.

[→ page 52] Mr. William Collins, the rector, is certainly among the more important characters of Pride and Prejudice. The word list shows that the name “Collins” occurs 185 times in the novel, compared to 188 instances of the name “Wickham.” The word list reveals that the first mention of Mr. Collins can be found at 13/6, and Mr. Collins enters the scene at 13/25. Many readers of the novel, as well as several of its characters, will harbour an aversion to Mr. Collins caused by the contents of his letter addressed to the Bennets. This first impression is reinforced by Elizabeth’s and Mr. Bennet’s comments on both the letter and its writer at 13/21 and 13/22:

“He must be an oddity, I think,” said she [Elizabeth]. “I cannot make him out.—There is something very pompous in his stile.—And what can he mean by apologizing for being next in the entail?—We cannot suppose he would help it, if he could.—Can he be a sensible man, sir?”

“No, my dear; I think not. I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter, which promises well. I am impatient to see him.”

This first prejudice against Mr. Collins is foregrounded by the narrator’s ironical, indirect statement, via Elizabeth’s thoughts, at 13/20.36 And it is also the narrator, who, at 15/1, provides a detailed and unmistakeable characterisation of Mr. Collins, the rector in the services of the “proud” Lady Catherine de Bourgh:

Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society [...] The subjection in which his father had brought him up had given him originally great humility of manner, but it was now a good deal counteracted by the self-conceit of a weak head, living in retirement, and the consequential feelings of early and unexpected prosperity. [...] the respect which he felt for her [Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s] high rank and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his rights as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility. (emphases added)

This characterization of Mr. Collins by the narrator and Mr. Collins’s use of the term “humility” in his address to Elizabeth, at 18/61, reveal that his is definitely not true and sincere humility: [→ page 53]

“My dear Miss Elizabeth, I have the highest opinion in the world of your excellent judgment in all matters within the scope of your understanding, but permit me to say that there must be a wide difference between the established forms of ceremony amongst the laity, and those which regulate the clergy; forgive me leave to observe that I consider the clerical office as equal in point of dignity with the highest rank in the kingdom—provided that a proper humility of behaviour is at the same time maintained.” (emphases added)

On the basis of the conjunction of “pride” and “humility” in the first quotation from 15/1 (see above), a closer analysis of the terms representing the thematic aspect “humility as remedy against the sin of pride” according to the mediaeval moral paradigm is called for, in particular an analysis of the use of the adjective “humble.”

A careful reading of the chapters and paragraphs in which this adjective occurs reveals that of the nine occurrences of the adjective “humble,” three appear in “+Text” and six in “+Speech” (for the references, see Appendix). Of the three occurrences in “+Text,” two are followed by the noun “abode” and one by the noun “parsonage.” In “+Speech,” three instances of “humble” are followed by the noun “abode,” and a further three by “home scene,” “parsonage,” and “respects.” In all nine instances, the adjective “humble” is used solely in connection with Mr. Collins, the rector.

As a rule, we would expect a rector to strive for and cultivate the virtue “humylitee, or mekenesse,” one of the virtues referred to in the Beatitudes in the Sermon of the Mount: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5). But, as the passages in the novel clearly reveal, Mr. Collins uses the adjective “humble” almost exclusively to refer to his material circumstances—and these are far from deserving a characterization by this adjective.37The most telling instance of Mr. Collins’ concern for his “humble” abode and material circumstances can be found at 18/71, where he comments on the duties of a rector:

“The rector of a parish has much to do.—In the first place, he must make such an agreement for tithes as may be beneficial to himself and not offensive to his patron. He must write his own sermons; and the time that remains will not be too much for his parish duties, and the care and improvement of his dwelling, which he cannot be excused from making as comfortable as possible.[…]”

[→ page 54] This and further pertinent passages in the novel and their use of the terms “humble” and “humility” with reference to Mr. Collins, create the predominating impression, shared by the characters and the readers of the novel, of affected and false humility. This view is in harmony with Darcy’s comment on “humility” as expressed at 10/25: “‘Nothing is more deceitful,’ said Darcy, ‘than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.’” This commentary, addressed at Elizabeth and Mr. Bingley, acutely indicates Mr. Collins’s covert boast relating to his advantageous material circumstances.38

After having found evidence of the semantic field “humility,” the “remedy” against the sin of pride according to the mediaeval moral paradigm, more attention should be paid to the way in which Jane Austen further modifies and expands on the meaning of the concept “pride” in her novel: the occurrences of the noun “pride” reveal an unexpected and highly interesting use of the concept. At 5/18, pride is considered in terms of an almost positive quality by Charlotte Lucas when she comments on Darcy’s pride:

“His pride,” said Miss Lucas, “does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, every thing in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud.”

A look at the word list reveals a further surprising statement contributed by the character in the novel most frequently associated with “pride” and its negative consequences: at 11/24, Darcy comments on the effects of pride: “Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride—where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.” Both quotations demonstrate that the concept “pride” in the novel is not presented as uniform and negative in itself. It has been argued that this positive attitude towards pride may have its origin in eighteenth-century moral writings.39 However, a careful study of two of the mediaeval manuals used in this paper reveals that pride was not exclusively considered a sin but was also said to have distinct and unmistakeably positive connotations.

In his treatise entitled Summa Confessorum Thomas Chobham argues in favour of a careful distinction between “good” and “bad” pride40: [→ page 55]

In accordance with true excellence or true honour, the love of such excellence or honour is not pride. However, if pride is said to be the love of one’s own excellence, a         false kind of excellence may be understood. For a certain excellence is vain and temporal, for example if anybody desires to be praised and elevated above others on account of temporal things. If, however, a person wishes to excel because vice is below him and by way of the virtues ascend towards God, the love of such       excellence is good and such pride, if it can be called pride, is good and holy according to the words of St. Jerome: holy pride has to be learned.

Chobham’s remark “ut vitia sibi subsint—because vice is below him” comes quite close to Darcy’s observation at 11/24: “where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.” Chobham’s text provides a second positive statement concerning pride: “Therefore, if anybody opposes vices in consideration of the excellence of his nature, he possesses holy pride and never sins in this way.”41

The Gilbertine Robert Mannyng, author of Handlyng Synne, took great care in instructing his lay audience in matters pertaining to the sin of pride with its many aspects and manifestations. In addressing the manifestation and consequences of “pride” in connection with worldly offices and authority (“bayly”), Mannyng argues42:

Ʒyf þou euer bare þe hyghly

Yn ouerdo pryde for þy bayly,

Bere þe lowe; men se al day,

þy bayly shal nat laste alway

Mannyng’s qualifying participial adjective ouerdo (“exaggerated, excessive”) suggests that a moderate degree of pride resulting from an important secular office associated with a higher social status should not be counted as a manifestation of pride. Mannyng’s statement is not too far away from the statement by Charlotte Lucas at 5/18, the “right to be proud,” as quoted above.

An application of the mediaeval moral paradigm of sin and virtue to Jane Austen’s novel and its moral message would be incomplete without an extended inquiry into a potential echo of the traditional relation between “pride” and “humility”43according to the mediaeval manuals. The occurrence and significance of the term “humility” for the subject matter of the novel has been commented on above, in the section relating to Mr. Collins. [→ page 56] It remains to be seen whether further evidence of the traditional relation between humility and pride can be found in Pride and Prejudice.

The concept “humility” can also be linked to Jane Austen’s use of the past participle “humbled,” with a total of four occurrences in Pride and Prejudice, three in “+Text” and one in “+Speech.” The first occurrence of “humbled,” at 49/48, is used by the narrator in connection with Mrs. Bennet:

As soon as Jane had read Mr. Gardiner’s hope of Lydia’s being soon married, her [Mrs. Bennet’s] joy burst forth, and every following sentence added to its exuberance. She was now in an irritation as violent from delight, as she had ever been fidgety from alarm and vexation. To know that her daughter would be married was enough. She was disturbed by no fear for her felicity, nor humbled by any remembrance of her misconduct. (emphasis added)

Mrs. Bennet, as the passage clearly indicates, does not possess the power to reform her habits and review her opinions.44

The second and third occurrences of “humbled,” at 50/13 and 52/6, refer to Elizabeth:

From such a connection [Lydia’s marriage] she could not wonder that he [Darcy] should shrink. The wish of procuring her regard, which she had assured herself of his feeling in Derbyshire, could not in rational expectation survive such a blow as this.       She was humbled, she was grieved; she repented, though she hardly knew of what.

In this passage, the connection between “humbled” and “repented” is particularly noteworthy as it indicates a highly traditional use of “humbled” which many mediaeval manuals address in great detail in the context of sin and confession.45

A constellation of apparently contradicting modes of behaviour relating to sins and virtues can be found in the second occurrence of “humbled,” again used with reference to Elizabeth:

Oh! how heartily did she grieve over every ungracious sensation she had ever encouraged, every saucy speech she had ever directed towards him. For herself she was humbled; but she was proud of him. Proud that in a cause of compassion and honour, he had been able to get the better of himself.

[→ page 57] This quotation is evidence of Jane Austen’s expert handling of two apparently contradictory concepts—“humbled” and “proud.” However, pride, as attributed to Elizabeth in this quotation, is a rather positive feeling, occasioned by virtuous action. It has been pointed out above that Chobham’s “superbia sancta—holy pride” is also considered a consequence of virtuous behaviour.

The only occurrence of “humbled” in “+Speech” can be found at 58/24, as part of Mr. Darcy’s confession:

“I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. [...] What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled.”

Darcy’s statement expresses a close connection between the sin of “pride” and the virtue “humility” and is perfectly in line with the teaching of the mediaeval manuals.

In contrast to Mrs. Bennet, and, of course, Mr. Collins, both Elizabeth and Darcy, it would appear, are prepared to subject themselves to the painful process of reform, based on contrition, confession, and satisfaction. According to the teachings of the mediaeval manuals, these are the elements necessary for true “penance and reform” based on humility, which is the precondition for overcoming pride. Since true “penance and reform” require a certain disposition of character, it might be interesting to find out how this disposition is indicated in Pride and Prejudice. The word list suggests that it is the character trait “generosity.”46 An analysis of the passages in which the concept “generosity” occurs reveals that in the novel it is expressed by the adjectives “generous,” “ungenerous,” “generous-hearted,” and by the adverb “generously.” A careful reading of the chapters and paragraphs indicated in the word list shows that Jane Austen attributes this disposition to Darcy, Elizabeth, and Jane Bennet—apart from the Gardiners, perhaps the only characters in the novel (almost) beyond reproach. For these characters, generosity refers to character and behaviour and requires a “greatness of mind” as indicated in chapter 41/18 in relation to [→ page 58] Elizabeth. A similar concept, “real superiority of mind” can be found at 11/24 in association with Mr. Darcy.

The concept “generosity,” it should be pointed out, is also used with reference to Mr. Collins and conveys a very different message compared with the two instances just mentioned. The first use of “generous” regarding Mr. Collins can be found at 11/24 when the narrator comments on the rector’s generosity: “This was his plan of amends—of atonement—for inheriting their father’s estate; and he thought it an excellent one, full of eligibility and suitableness, and excessively generous and disinterested on his own part.” The adverb “excessively” distinctly indicates the narrator’s perspective on Mr. Collins’s idea of generosity. The second instance in association with Mr. Collins can be found at 19/10, in a direct speech addressed to Elizabeth in the process of his wooing her:

[“]To fortune I am perfectly indifferent, and shall make no demand of that nature on your father, since I am well aware that it could not be complied with; and that one thousand pounds in the 4 per cents, which will not be yours till after your mother's decease, is all that you may ever be entitled to. On that head, therefore, I shall be uniformly silent; and you may assure yourself that no ungenerous reproach shall ever pass my lips when we are married.”

Both quotations show that, for Mr. Collins, generosity is first and foremost a disposition with a focus on money and wealth and has no relevance for the sphere of human relations.

Apart from the concept of “generosity,” the word list records a second lexical item which expresses—in my opinion perhaps with even greater force—a precondition necessary for the process of penance and reform: “goodness.” The noun occurs a total of ten times in the text of the novel and is used with reference to Jane Bennet (33/40 and 55/54), Mr. Bennet (55/37), the Gardiners (46/5 and 49/41), and Mr. Darcy (40/15 and 52/6). The noun is also used three times in relation to Wickham (36/4, 40/14, and 48/4), in all three instances accompanied by lexical elements that plainly indicate Wickham’s lack of this quality. Surprisingly, there is not a single instance in the novel where “goodness” is used with reference to Elizabeth.

While not associated with the concept “goodness,” Elizabeth is singled out with regard to the concept of “repentance.” It is expressed in the novel [→ page 59] on the basis of the verb “repent,” and this verb occurs only twice in the novel, first at 37/17:

His attachment excited gratitude, his general character respect; but she could not approve him; nor could she for a moment repent her refusal, or feel the slightest inclination ever to see him again. In her own past behaviour, there was a constant source of vexation and regret; and in the unhappy defects of her family a subject of yet heavier chagrin.

The second sentence in this passage indicates that Elizabeth is beginning to review her former opinions in the light of new evidence. Elizabeth’s process of repentance and reform is complete at 50/13: “She was humbled, she was grieved; she repented, though she hardly knew of what.” In my view, the concessive clause introduced by “though” is not a limitation of the act of repentance but increases the general significance of this act.47

5. Conclusion

This paper, with its combination of different approaches to Jane Austen’s novel—“digital philology” and traditional close reading supplemented by a marked diachronic perspective—, shows that “pride and prejudice” in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice constitute a highly complex theme, more complex and also more comprehensive than it has been presented hitherto in many critical writings on this novel. By applying the mediaeval moral paradigm of “sin and virtue” with its special emphasis on “pride” and “humility” to Jane Austen’s text, an application based on the evidence of the lexicon of Pride and Prejudice provided by the word list, it has been shown how distinct echoes of the mediaeval moral paradigm, based on the seven deadly sins and the seven corresponding virtues, can be detected in the moral paradigm developed in the novel. It is to be hoped that my argument and hypotheses will be taken up in future investigations of the “survival” of the mediaeval moral paradigm into Early Modern times and beyond. Such an investigation should be undertaken with a focus on its modifications and transformations.

[→ page 60] This paper has also shown that the positive attitude towards “pride” that can be found in Jane Austen’s novel is by no means an exclusive influence of the eighteenth-century tradition of moral philosophy, as has been suggested in critical studies of the novel. A positive view of pride belongs to a much older perspective that can be identified in texts belonging to the mediaeval tradition of moral instruction and spiritual guidance. Further research should be devoted to this aspect by a close examination of further mediaeval manuals and treatises as well as their treatment of the seven deadly sins, in particular pride.48

In concluding this paper, I would like to point out that my hypotheses and observations as to the importance of the mediaeval moral paradigm based on the seven deadly sins and the seven virtues for the moral message in Jane Austen’s novel should not be understood as an argument in favour of this paradigm as a direct source for the moral issues raised and addressed in Pride and Prejudice. My argument developed here should rather be taken as an invitation to undertake an inquiry into the persistence of a moral paradigm that was developed, modified and cultivated in the cultural context provided by classical antiquity and adopted and modified by its major inheritor, the Christian West. This moral paradigm can also be discerned in literary texts such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Eberhard Karls Universität

Works Cited

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Austen, Jane. The Works of Jane Austen. Ed. R. W. Chapman. Vol. 6: Minor Works. London: OUP, 1954.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. The Novels of Jane Austen. Ed. R. W. Chapman. 5 vols. 3rd ed. London: OUP, 1932. Vol. 2.

Bradbrook, Frank. W. Jane Austen and Her Predecessors. Cambridge: CUP, 1966.

Burrows, John Frederick. Computation into Criticism. A Study of Jane Austen’s Novels and an Experiment in Method. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1987.

Butler, Marilyn. “History, Politics, and Religion.” The Jane Austen Handbook. Ed. J. D. Grey. London: The Athlone P, 1986. 190-208.

Butler, Marilyn. 1975. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1987.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Riverside Chaucer. Ed. Larry D. Benson. 3rd ed. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1987.

Chobham, Thomas. Thomae de Chobham Summa Confessorum. Ed. F. Broomfield. Analecta Mediaevalia Namurcensia, 25. Louvain: Nauwelaerts, 1968.

Devlin, David D. Jane Austen and Education. London: Macmillan, 1975.

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Emsley, Sarah. Jane Austen’s Philosophy of the Virtues. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Johnson, Claudia L. Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel. Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 1988.

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Lovejoy, Arthur O. “‘Pride’ in Eighteenth-Century Thought.” Modern Language Notes 36 (1921): 31-37.

Mannyng, Robert. Robert of Brunne‘s ‘Handlyng Synne.’ Ed. Frederick J. Furnival. EETS O.S. 119, 123. London, 1901, 1903. Rpt. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus Reprint, 1978.

Ryle, Gilbert. “Jane Austen and the Moralists.” Critical Essays on Jane Austen. Ed. Brian C. Southam. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968. 106-22.

Tanner, Tony. Jane Austen. Houndmills: Macmillan, 1986.

Wenzel, Siegfried, ed. Summa Virtutum de Remediis Animae. Athens, GA: The U of Georgia P, 1984. 51-325.

Zimmermann, Everett. “Pride and Prejudice in Pride and Prejudice.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 23 (1968-69): 64-67.


Appendix: “Sins,” “Virtues” and Related Concepts


Figures in square brackets indicate the number of occurrences in the text of the novel. The slash between figures separates chapters and paragraphs. Superscript figures indicate multiple occurrences in a particular paragraph of the novel, e.g. “pride” occurs twice in chapter 33, paragraph 40.


pride [21] +Text: 8/3; 15/1; 20/24; 21/2; 33(II.10)/38, 402; 34(II.11)/5, 312; 36(II.13)/1; 43(III.1)/23, 58; 44(III.2)/142, 16; 50(III.8)/21; 52(III.10)/4, 6, 53(III.11)/60; 61(III.19)/1

pride [26] +Speech: 5/14, 182, 19, 203; 11/23, 242; 16/15, 38, 393, 40, 413, 48, 58; 24(II.1)/23; 34(II.11)/22; 41(II.18)/38; 58(III.16)/24; 59(III.17)/34

prided [1] +Speech: 36(II.13)/8

proud [9] +Text: 3/5; 4/11; 14/1; 25(II.2)/20; 36(II.13)/6; 44(III.2)/3; 45(III.3)/3; 52(III.10)/62

proud [13] +Speech: 5/18, 20, 21; 10/27; 16/38, 41, 43; 43(III.1)/38, 68; 47(III.5)/14; 53(III.11)/8, 34; 59(III.17)/33

proudest [1] +Text: 3/6

proudly [1] +Text: 50(III.8)/14


prejudice [3] +Text: 36(II.13)/1; 43(III.1)/37; 55(III.13)/52

prejudice [2] +Speech: 18/34; 40(II.17)/23

prejudices [1] +Text: 58(III.16)/19

prejudices [1] +Speech: 40(II.17)/21

prejudiced [1] +Text: 36(II.13)/7


humility [2] +Text: 15/12

humility [3] +Speech: 10/24, 25; 18/61

humble [3] +Text: 14/1; 16/3; 28(II.5)/3

humble [6] +Speech: 14/3, 7, 38(II.15)/2, 42, 9

humbled [3] +Text: 49(III.7)/48; 50(III.8)/13; 52(III.10)/6

humbled [1] +Speech: 58(III.16)/24

humiliating [1] +Text: 22/18

humiliating [1] +Speech: 36(II.13)/8

humiliation [1] +Text: 46(III.4)/20

humiliation [1] +Speech: 36(II.13)/8


vain [6] +TEXT 16/562; 37(=II.14)/17; 43(=III.1)/54; 46(=III.4)/19, 29

vain [4] +SPEECH 5/20; 40(=II.17)/19; 41(=II.18)/18; 46(=III.4)/20

vanity [7] +TEXT 6/23; 26(=II.3)/29; 33(=II.10)/38; 36(=II.13)/6; 38(=II.15)/17; 41(=II.18)/25; 52(=III.10)/6

vanity [11] +SPEECH 5/202; 6/2, 21; 11/23, 24; 24(=II.1)/14; 36(=II.13)/8:2; 47(=III.5)/10; 58(=III.16)/26

anger [10] +TEXT 18/43; 23/3; 24(=II.1)/3; 34(=II.11)/6, 8; 37(=II.14)/17; 44(=III.2)/5: 45(=III.3)/8; 47(=III.5)/41; 50(=III.8)/10

anger [3] +SPEECH 46(=III.4)/5; 58(=III.16)/28, 45

avarice [1] +SPEECH 27(=II.4)/9

envy [1] +TEXT 41(=II.18)/40

envy [2] +SPEECH 51(=III.9)/11; 52(=III.10)/14

idle [3] +TEXT 37(=II.14)/17; 41(=II.18)/25; 46(=III.4)/29

idle [5] +SPEECH 8/27; 29(=II.6)/31; 41(=II.18)/18; 47(=III.5)/10; 57(=III.15)/22

idleness [1] +TEXT 36(=II.13)/4

idleness [1] +SPEECH 35(=II.12)/7

indolence [1] +TEXT 50(=III.8)/5

indolence [1] +SPEECH 47(=III.5)/8

indolent [1] +TEXT 8/2

dilatory [2] +TEXT 48(=III.6)/1; 50(=III.8)/5

profligacy [1] +TEXT 36(=II.13)/4

profligate [1] +SPEECH 47(=III.5)/12

vice [2] +TEXT 36(=II.13)/4; 42(=II.19)/1

vice [1] +SPEECH 57(=III.15)/22

vices [1] +SPEECH 11/28

dissipation [1] +SPEECH 35(=II.12)/7


generous [5] +TEXT 15/2; 33(=II.10)/38; 50(=III.8)/142; 55(=III.13)/52

generous [6=] +SPEECH 16/41; 36(=II.13)/8; 49(=III.7)/35; 55(=III.13)/38; 58(=III.16)/5, 7

generous-hearted [1] +SPEECH 43(=III.1)/33

generously [1] +SPEECH 52(=III.10)/4

ungenerous [3] +SPEECH 19/10 31(=II.8)/15; 34(=II.11)/12


goodness [4] +TEXT 36(=II.13)/4; 48(=III.6)/4; 52(=III.10)/6; 55(=III.13)/37

goodness [6] +SPEECH 33(=II.10)/40; 40(=II.17)/14, 15; 46(=III.4)/5; 49(=III.7)/41; 55(=III.13)/54