The overall purpose of this thesis is to compare and contrast Jane Austen’s intentions behind the portrayal of two of her male characters, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham, in 'Pride and Prejudice', with particular emphasis on the consequences of their behaviour for the female characters in the novel.
The conduct of both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham has great influence on the women in the novel. According to contemporary conduct rules they both behave improperly on several occasions. While Mr. Darcy goes through an internal change as the story develops and becomes a proper gentleman, Mr. Wickham does not change and he is finally revealed to be an imposter.
I will focus on how the male characters not only create an ordinary plot and ‘drive’ in the novel, but how Austen’s portrayal is of greater symbolic importance. While Mr. Wickham displays what is wrong in society, I believe Mr. Darcy’s development is symbolic of a greater change Austen wished for in society. She describes women’s unfair position in a patriarchal society and how the upper class manipulate social rules to ‘keep out’ people from the lower classes. She stresses the importance of good morals and conduct in order to restore fairness and equality in society.
In order to understand the moral standards and to perform a critical discussion of morals and conduct rules, I will draw on the literary theory of New Historicism and examine conduct rules from Austen’s contemporary society. The main sources for this thesis, besides 'Pride and Prejudice', are James Fordyce’s conduct book 'Addresses to Young Men', and Lord Chesterfield's 'Advice to His Son, on Men & Manners'.