Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

1. The book had the original, working title First Impressions. Why is Pride and
Prejudice a better title? In what ways are Darcy and Elizabeth guilty of both
pride and prejudice and how does this drive the action of the story?
1. For much of the novel, Austen seems to be offering a fairly pointed critique of marrying for social considerations. But it’s also true that the happy marriages that bring the novel to a close are favorable by the terms of the society. In the end, both Elizabeth and Jane do marry “up.” Does this undermine the critique
the book offers? Is it meant to be read ironically? Do you think that Austen is
critiquing Elizabeth and Jane?
2. Pride and Prejudice is a novel largely about love and relationships, but
without any descriptions of passion. Do you think the novel’s chasteness is more a reflection of the way people lived in that time and place or a reflection of what was acceptable in its literature or something specific to Jane Austen? Is the novel strengthened by this constraint?
3. Why is Darcy so attracted to Elizabeth? When can we first sense this? Why does it take her so long to see it? Elizabeth’s attraction to Darcy arises very differently. Why is this important?
4. The works of Jane Austen have been the inspiration of numerous contemporary book and films, both adaptations and new original works. What universal themes in the novel resonate today?
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
1. Oliver Twist was a landmark novel in the 1830s and 1840s because it
illustrated the lower classes with brutal honesty, while previous fictions had kept to illustrating middle and upper class lives. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1830 made it illegal for the poor to beg for food and gave full
responsibility for illegitimate children to the mother. Which characters and aspects in Oliver Twist seem to be a commentary on this new law? Did Dickens’s portrayal of the lower classes seem realistic for a modern reader, particularly those unfamiliar with the 1830s? Were there surprises about the settings?
2. Some of the earliest reviews of the novel expressed concern because Oliver Twist encouraged sympathy for the poor and for those committing serious vices (thievery, murder, etc.). Consider the cheating done by “respectable” individuals like Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Mann, as well as the thievery of Fagin’s crew and Bill Sikes. How does the novel encourage and/or discourage vice? What seems to be Dickens’ attitude to the punishments (jailing, capital punishment, transportation) to vice?
3. Nature versus nurture. Oliver resisted thievery throughout the novel. Was his honesty an inherited trait? Which characters showed an honest nature, despite their circumstances and “low birth”? Which characters would have been dishonest, despite their circumstances? Or, conversely, did everyone have a chance to choose for themselves?
4. Consider the women in Oliver Twist: Nancy, Rose Maylie, Agnes, Mrs. Corney, and Mrs. Bedwin. Were they good or evil? How are they similar and different from one another? How does Dickens’s portrayal of women compare to his portrayal of men?
5. Fagin as a Jew: Does anti-Semitism influence Dickens’s portrait of Fagin? What does Fagin represent? (“Fagin, in Oliver Twist, is a Jew, because it unfortunately was true of the time to which that story refers, that that class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew.” letter from Dickens to a Jewish friend 1863, qtd in Norton Critical Edition, p 378)