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Preparing To Teach Pride And Prejudice

I offer here a series of questions for teachers preparing to teach Pride & Prejudice next year. 

What problems do teachers often run into when teaching a “girly book” like Pride & Prejudice to boys? Is there anything boys must believe about this book—or believe about themselves—in order to take Pride & Prejudice seriously from the beginning? Do boys need to take Pride & Prejudice seriously from the first page, or should the teacher be content to win them over slowly as the class proceeds? If boys cannot take a book about marriage seriously, should the teacher nonetheless make an heroic attempt and be content to fail? Is it possible for boys to not take Pride & Prejudice seriously now, but to productively remember it ten years later?

Is marriage a “girly” subject? Do girls enjoy talking about marriage more than boys do? At what age do girls most enjoy talking about marriage? Did girls tend to enjoy talking about marriage more twenty-five years ago than they do now? Why is that?

What are the three most important truths about marriage or romance which Austen presents in Pride & Prejudice? Are these truths widely accepted in our time or not? If they are not widely accepted, when did their widespread acceptance begin to decline? Name three films, three novels, and three short stories which also present these truths. Name three songs which are grounded in these truths. Name three songs which are wholly opposed to these truths. What do you students think of these songs?

At what age can boys or girls begin having serious discussions of marriage—not as an eminent possibility, but as a forthcoming event that must be prepared for? Why are many boys and girls loathe to admit they are old enough to begin preparing for marriage?

What experiences of romance (by which I mean a crush, an infatuation, or perhaps even a date) has the average sixteen-year-old had which the teacher can appeal to or reference when explaining Pride & Prejudice?

The good teacher’s goal is to use his texts to teach virtue, but what particular virtues does Pride & Prejudice tend toward? Who are the virtuous characters? What are their virtues? Who are the vicious characters? What are their vices?

Why is Elizabeth not ready for marriage when the novel begins? Why is she ready for marriage when the novel ends? How can you use Elizabeth’s character arc to help students think about preparation for marriage?

In the several cinematic adaptations of Pride & Prejudice which you have seen, which character is most misunderstood? Does it seem inevitable this character would be misunderstood by Hollywood, or is it a special fault of the director? Does the fact Hollywood misunderstands this character mean your students are similarly apt to misunderstand the character, as well?

Which character in Pride & Prejudice has the most to teach the average modern teenager? Which character in the novel do teenagers often think they understand even though they don’t?

Pride & Prejudice is full of frustrating characters—characters that do and say stupid, selfish, shallow things. How does a good teacher use shallow characters to challenge his students to seek out spiritual and intellectual depth? How does a good teacher use shallow characters to help students investigate their own shallowness? How does a good teach use shallow characters to investigate his own shallowness?

1 thought on “Preparing To Teach Pride And Prejudice”

  1. Thank you for these questions! I am always surprised at the end of the year how many young men say that Pride and Prejudice was their favorite book of the year. A few years ago, when I asked my students about the first sentence, “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” they nodded sagely in affirmation. I then pushed, “So, gentlemen: if you’re Mr. Bingley, newly flush with cash… the first thing you’d want is to find a wife and settle down?” One of the boys calls out, “No, he wants a truck!” Teaching Austen pushes against a lot of things—students who want the tea and dresses and emotion and nothing else, students who think that the practical (money, family) don’t matter in a marriage, etc.

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