The original title Jane Austen had chosen for her novel was “First Impressions”. The reason why it was changed to “Pride and Prejudice” was because of her former novel’s (Sense and Sensibility) success. Her publisher had asked her to retain the form of “noun and noun”. The truth is that both titles are inseparable, do perfectly describe the main theme of the romantic novel and are successful in their own way.
First of all, in order to decide if Austen’s first choice was wise or not, it is necessary to understand not only the main theme, but also how the story itself unfolds. Pride and Prejudice portrays the life of a family with five daughters, living in the British countryside. The plot begins with the arrival of two men of great fortune, one of whom incidentally is a principal character of the novel; his name is Fitzwilliam Darcy and the heroine is Elizabeth Bennet, the second-eldest daughter of the Bennet family. The common characteristic they share is the fact that they judge each other from their first meeting, where they establish their opinions. Wrong or not, these impressions are determinant for their relationship.
The first time Elizabeth met Mr. Darcy was at the Meryton ball, which took place in the local assembly rooms in Netherfield (Wikipedia, 2018). The latter made an insulting comment on her, implying that she was not “as handsome for him as to tempt him” (Austen, 1813), revealing that he was a proud man. Elizabeth’s self-esteem and pride were hurt and that is the reason why she was prejudiced against him. Mr. Darcy could easily be characterised with the word aloof, as he seemed to be cool and distant (Oxford Dictionary), frank to the point, saying what he believed, while Elizabeth was more emotionally mature, self-sarcastic and having a sharp tongue herself.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that first impressions are not always accurate or reliable. They can often lead to negative consequences, as they can be unjust, meaning for example, that they are able to build wrong kinds of relationships between people. That exactly was the matter in the case of most characters in this novel. To be more specific, when later on Darcy’s attitude towards Elizabeth changed, he overcame his initial prejudice against her social rank, became interested in her and even proposed to her, but she refused due to her prejudices.
In addition, another first meeting whose role was of great significance for the whole plot was when Elizabeth’s and Mr. Wickham’s paths crossed. She was charmed by him, believed every word he said and thought that he was trustworthy. Elizabeth, eventually, found out the truth about both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham, as she believed what was written to her in Darcy’s letter, which he wrote in a unique and frank way. She realised that she jumped to the wrong conclusions, before trying to know both sides of a story.
On the contrary, not all the first impressions made in the novel seemed to be proven incorrect. For instance, that applies to the other leading characters of the novel, Mr. Darcy’s friend, Charles Bingley, and Elizabeth’s older sister, Jane. It is believed that they both fell in love at first sight. Nonetheless, even in their case, the two of them had to defeat all the difficulties, which did unfairly arise, for Mr. Darcy’s wrong thought of Jane’s feelings for Mr. Bingley. Another example in which first impressions turned out to be correct was Elizabeth’s belief of her cousin Mr. Collins. She did not like him at all from the first moment she met him and her feeling that his intentions were not pure, were actually verified, when he made, in the period of one week, two proposals.
Austen’s brilliant description of the characters, confirms that in our life all relationships are in some degree influenced by the first idea someone has for us or that we form for another person. That is also why an opinion about someone should only be expressed after having the chance to really getting to know him. Otherwise, if the opinion is incorrect, it could easily have an effect on someone’s feelings and, in the worst case, truly hurt them.
Finally, with the title First Impressions the readers would take as an approach the character’s point of view and focus on the appearances and the general behaviours. In contrast, with the title Pride and Prejudice, the reader is forced to discover alone the whole truth. I strongly believe that Jane Austen could not have made a wiser choice. Her novel is all about first impressions and if they are in the end proven valid or invalid. Fortunately, the second option, the worldwide known Pride and Prejudice, was at least as successful as the first one, carrying all the hidden meanings that the readers are requested to explore themselves.