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Pride and Prejudice - Context

This GCSE English Literature quiz challenges you on context in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. A text’s context refers to the specific environment in which it was written. Context thus includes the author’s political and social environment, along with the time and geographical location in which he or she was writing. This particular collection of influences might sound familiar to you. If so, the reason might be that these same elements within the text are discussed as “setting”. Setting refers to these aspects of a text’s created, fictional world, whereas context refers to these aspects of the author’s own world. Context inevitably has some impact on a fictional work, because authors do not live apart from the world, but are affected by political and social issues, as well as by historical events they have experienced. Personal beliefs also have an effect on the text, although discerning the impact might not always be easy.

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How to write about context

It is usually a good idea to learn as much as you can about the context of a fictional work. Your efforts will help you to develop some insight into the important influences shaping the text. This is not to say that context dictates the meaning of a text. The influence can be subtle and the relationship between context and meaning is never simple and straightforward. Your knowledge of context can nevertheless provide some useful information to bear in mind as you analyse a text.

The context of Pride and Prejudice is interesting because so many of Austen’s characters are given similar circumstances to those in which she and members of her family lived. Sometimes readers find it very tempting to suggest that characters are based on “real-life” figures known to Austen. Of course, even where particular characteristics and personal circumstances have been fictionalised, it is most often the issues, society, and sometimes politics of Austen’s day which are the focus of her satirical fiction.

Research the context of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, remembering everything you have learned in English lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know about the context of the novel.

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  1. Which of the following literary forms is associated with, and became very popular during, the eighteenth century?
    Jane Austen read widely, especially enjoying novels, which were a relatively new art form. Her heroine, Elizabeth, unwillingly draws attention to herself by her appreciation of books
  2. How did Austen earn her living?
    While her characters agonise over how a family of five daughters can survive unless the daughters marry well, Jane herself became a professional author. She was not entirely able to support herself, her mother and her sister through her writing, however, and they continued to depend on the generosity of male family members
  3. Which of the following is correct?
    The original title page offers this identification: "by the Author of 'Sense and Sensibility'"
  4. When was Pride and Prejudice first published?
    The novel was first published in January 1813, and is possibly a heavily revised version of an earlier unpublished work from the 1790s, First Impressions
  5. Which of the following is correct?
    Education for girls was a luxury even for a well-off family such as the Austens. Jane and her only sister received some private tuition and a single year at boarding school
  6. What was the profession of Austen's father?
    Having grown up in a Rectory, Austen would have met with many clergymen. Two of her brothers also were ordained. Does this knowledge affect your view of the fictional Mr Collins and his alternately fawning and pompous behaviour?
  7. What wars were taking place in Europe at the time the novel was written?
    Soldiers and officers feature in many of Austen's novels and are a disruptive presence in the fictional Meryton
  8. Austen was writing during which era?
    The "Regency" refers to the time during which George III's insanity left him unfit to rule the country; his son, who acted in his place as ruler, was known as the Prince Regent
  9. Jane, her sister and her mother spent a few years without a permanent residence. What was the cause?
    The women of the family had very little income and lived with friends and various family members for several years before finally settling in Chawton (through the help of one of Jane's brothers). Many unmarried women of this class led lives of insecurity in contrast to those who could rely on a father or a husband for financial support
  10. In the novel, Mr Collins is given a "living" by Lady Catherine and Mr Wickham claims to have been cheated of a "living" by Mr Darcy. To which of the following does this term refer?
    A clergyman's income depended entirely on the wealth of the parish and on the goodwill of his patron. Wickham claims to have been promised a good living. Mr Collins panders shamelessly to Lady Catherine in the awareness that his financial well-being is entirely dependent on her. Austen's family would have depended on the living her father was given as a clergyman

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