Two weeks ago, I wrote about The Hero’s Journey as a way to structure your book or film.
This week I show you how this narrative model works in the classic Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice.
If you want to recap how the 12 Steps of The Hero’s Journey work first, go to my previous blog post here.
Here’s the 12 Step Breakdown of Elizabeth Bennet’s Journey. I’m partially using the synopsis from the Wikipedia description of the book, with a focus on her transformation in the story.
Mrs. Bennet tries to persuade Mr Bennet to visit an eligible bachelor, Mr Bingley, who has arrived in the neighborhood. We see that Mrs. B is totally focused on marrying off her daughters. We meet Elizabeth Bennet. She’s smart and savvy, loves her beautiful sister Jane, and wants more in life than to just marry some idiot.
CALL TO ADVENTURE
The Bennets attend a ball. At the ball, Mr. Bingley is very attracted to Jane. His friend, Mr Darcy, is reputed to be twice as wealthy and he’s quite handsome. Elizabeth is intrigued by him, but he declines to dance with her, and acts haughty and aloof.
REFUSAL TO THE CALL
Elizabeth laughs at Darcy’s rudeness, and her negative opinion of him is cemented– What a prideful man!
Jane is invited to visit Mr Bingley’s sister Caroline. On her way there, it starts to rain. She catches a serious cold and is forced to stay at the Bingley mansion until she is well.
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
Elizabeth, out of genuine concern for her sister’s well being, visits Jane there. Darcy becomes attracted to Elizabeth, and Caroline Bingley grows jealous of Elizabeth since she wants to marry Darcy herself.
Elizabeth has entered the world of Darcy.
TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES
Jane is in love with Bingley and Elizabeth wants her to be happy.
Mr Collins, a cousin of Mr Bennet and heir to their Longbourn estate, visits the Bennet family. He is a pompous and obsequious clergyman and expects each of the Bennet girls to want to marry him due to his inheritance. He plans to propose to Elizabeth over Jane as he is led to believe Jane is taken.
Elizabeth and her family meet the dashing and charming Mr Wickham who singles out Elizabeth and tells her a story of the hardship that Mr Darcy has caused him by depriving him of a clergyman position promised to him by Mr Darcy’s late father. Elizabeth’s dislike of Mr Darcy deepens.
At a ball at which Mr Wickham is not present, Elizabeth dances with Mr Darcy against her will. All the members of the Bennet family (except Jane, Elizabeth and their father) reveal their embarrassing lack of decorum. Mrs Bennet states loudly that she expects Jane and Bingley to become engaged and Elizabeth’s family is exposed to ridicule.
The following morning, Mr Collins proposes to Elizabeth. She rejects him, to the fury of her mother and the relief of her father. They receive news that the Bingleys are leaving for London, and that Mr Collins has proposed to Charlotte Lucas, a sensible young woman and Elizabeth’s friend. Charlotte is slightly older and is grateful to receive a proposal that will guarantee her a home. Elizabeth is aghast at such pragmatism in matters of love.
APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE
Jane is shunned by Caroline Bingley and goes to stay with her Aunt and Uncle at an unfashionable address in London. Mr. Bingley doesn’t visit her at all. Jane is crushed and Elizabeth worries about her.
Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr Collins in Kent. Elizabeth and her hosts are frequently invited to Rosings Park, the imposing home of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lady Catherine is Mr Darcy’s aunt and extremely wealthy. She expects Mr Darcy to marry her daughter. Mr Darcy and his cousin, Colonel FitzWilliam, visit Lady Catherine. Colonel FitzWilliam tells Elizabeth how Mr Darcy managed to save a friend from a bad match by convincing the friend of the lady’s indifference. Elizabeth is horrified that Darcy is behind Mr. Bingley dumping Jane. Mr Darcy, however, has fallen in love with Elizabeth and proposes to her. She rejects him, stating that she could not love a man who has caused her sister such unhappiness, and accuses him of treating Mr Wickham unjustly. Mr Darcy accuses her family of wanting propriety and suggests he has been kinder to Bingley than himself. Both are furious and they part barely speaking.
The following morning, Mr Darcy gives Elizabeth a letter that explains that his treatment of Mr Wickham was caused by the fact that Mr Wickham refused the clergy position and was compensated economically, but then proceeded to waste all the money and then, impoverished, demanded the living again with threats. After being refused, he tried to elope with Darcy’s 15-year-old sister Georgiana for her great dowry. Darcy also claims that the reason he told Bingley to dump Jane, is because he thought Jane (in her reserved way) did not love Bingley. He was trying to spare his friend heartache. Darcy apologises for hurting Jane. Elizabeth begins to reevaluate her opinion of Darcy.
Some months later, Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner visit Darcy’s estate in Derbyshire, Pemberley. While there, Elizabeth hears the housekeeper describe him as being kind and generous. When Mr Darcy returns unexpectedly, he is overwhelmingly kind and civil and invites Elizabeth and the Gardiners to meet his sister and go fishing. Elizabeth is surprised and delighted by the kindness to herself and her aunt and uncle. However, she suddenly has news from Longbourn that her sister Lydia had eloped with the cad Mr Wickham. She tells Mr Darcy immediately and departs in haste, believing she will never see him again as Lydia’s disgrace will ruin the family’s good name.
SEIZING THE SWORD
After an agonizing wait, Mr Wickham is persuaded to marry Lydia. With some degree of decency restored, Lydia visits Elizabeth and tells her that Mr Darcy was at the wedding. Mrs Gardiner informs Elizabeth that it was Darcy who forced Wickham to marry Lydia. Elizabeth realizes Darcy saved her sister (and family) from ruin.
THE ROAD BACK
Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy return to Netherfield. Bingley proposes to Jane and is accepted, much to the delight of all.
Lady Catherine, under the impression that Elizabeth is going to marry Mr Darcy, visits her and demands that she promise not to accept him. Elizabeth, now convinced that she’s misjudged Darcy completely and that he is, in fact, more than an honorable man, stands up to Lady Catherine and says she’ll make no promise. We see she loves Darcy
Darcy and Elizabeth go for a walk together and they become engaged.
MEETING WITH THE MENTOR
Elizabeth then has to convince her father that she is not marrying for money, and it is only after she speaks about Mr Darcy’s true worth that he is happy about the wedding.
RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR
Jane marries Bingley and Elizabeth marries Darcy.
They live happily ever after.
Take Action! See how the plot of P&P flows clearly through the Hero’s Journey? Elizabeth wants love but refuses to bow to economic pressure. She meets Darcy and hates him. When her sister becomes ill, she’s forced into his world. She bonds with Wickham and believes that Darcy is even worse than she thought. She gradually comes to see that Darcy is a good man, and when her younger sister throws the family into possible ruin, Darcy saves them. In the climax, Elizabeth is intimidated and asked to forsake Darcy. She refuses. She now knows that he is kind and selfless. She realizes her own prejudice has blinded her to the truth and transforms. Because she “changes,” she gets what she wants. True love.
When reading P&P, you will see that there are many subplots woven throughout. But the center that holds all these threads together is Elizabeth’s Hero’s Journey from prejudice to love.
Could you use these 12 steps to shape your novel?
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