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Appearance Versus Reality In 19th Century English Literature

2300 words - 10 pages

English 395
January 3, 2012

The Role Appearance Versus Reality Plays in 19th Century English Literature
Nineteenth Century English novelists use themes to portray certain truths about the society in which they live. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte are three novels that portray the theme of appearance vs. reality in unique ways. In Pride and Prejudice, the heroine Elizabeth Bennett judges Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham based on her first impressions of them. Appearance versus reality in this novel illustrates that one's true character is often hidden by one's outward behavior. Mary Shelley uses actual physical appearance ...view middle of the document...

Elizabeth is able to empathize with Mr. Wickham as she sees an equal in him. Mr. Wickham jumps at the opportunity to discredit Mr. Darcy as soon as he learns of Elizabeth's ill opinion of him. Wickham lies to Elizabeth about his and Mr. Darcy's history. He makes himself out to be the victim in his tale. His charm and good looking appearance is all Elizabeth needs to take what he says at face value. This is clear in Elizabeth's reaction to Mr. Wickham's tale, “How abominable! - I wonder that the very pride of this Mr. Darcy has not made him just to you!- If from no better motive, that he should not have been too proud to be dishonest, - for dishonesty I must call it” (Austen, 56). This reaction is ironic considering that Mr. Wickham was just entirely dishonest in the telling of his tale to Elizabeth. The truth is that Mr. Darcy carried out his father's wishes towards Mr. Wickham and what he is owed from his father's will. Mr. Wickham chose to squander this fortune and entrap Georgiana Darcy into elopement when the money ran out. Elizabeth does not learn this however until she has been forced to hear Mr. Darcy's side of the story. Mr. Wickham does not turn out to be the man that he first impressed upon Elizabeth. Later on in the novel, Wickham causes damage to Elizabeth and her family's reputation by living with Lydia out of wedlock. Elizabeth and the reader soon learn that all Wickham's actions are out of his own self interest. Mr. Darcy's first impression has the opposite effect on Elizabeth that Mr. Wickham's had. At the Meryton ball when Bingley tries to convince Darcy to dance with Elizabeth, he haughtily responds, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men” (Austen, 9). Elizabeth was in earshot of this encounter and it therefore marked in her a dislike for Mr. Darcy right away. Darcy's rude behaviour demonstrates his pride and sense of social superiority which furthers Elizabeth's dislike of him. While Darcy's opinion of Elizabeth changes within a few chapters, her sense of him as a self important and arrogant individual remains constant until midway through the novel. After the rejection of his first proposal Darcy sets the record straight about Mr. Wickham and how he betrayed the Darcy family on more than one occasion. He also saves the Bennet family's reputation by paying off Wickham and forcing him to marry Lydia after they escaped together. Elizabeth does not learn this until after the fact when her opinion of Darcy begins to change. She realizes that she has been prejudiced towards him based on her first impression of him.

In Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley the theme of appearance versus reality is very much focused on the physical appearance of individuals and the value that society bases on appearance rather than their moral compass. In this novel, Mary Shelley illustrates through characterization one of...

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