Explore proposals of marriage and the representation of married women in Pride and Prejudice

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Explore proposals of marriage and the representation of married women in Pride and Prejudice

Marriage is the ultimate goal in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The book begins with the quote 'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife', and this sets the tone for all the events that are to follow. It manages to present a miniature version of all that happens over the course of the novel, the entire plot of which is basically concerned with the pursuit of advantageous marriage by both male and female characters. The obsession with socially beneficial marriage in nineteenth-century English society manifests itself here, for although she points out that a single man 'must be in want of a wife,' Austen reveals that the reverse might be more accurate, as almost all of the unmarried female characters are virtually desperate for marriage.

Married women are represented as foolish, for example Mrs Bennet and Charlotte Lucas/Collins. Mrs Bennet is very much a one-dimensional character, and this might be because she is already married, and her story is therefore of no real interest to Austen, so she does not spend time developing Mrs Bennet as a fully rounded character. However, she does manage to show Mrs. Bennet as a frustratingly irritating character, as she is both noisy and absurd, and her single-minded obsession with seeing her daughters married to rich and eligible bachelors becomes tiresome early on in the novel. More irritatingly, her pursuit of her daughters' well being is usually her undoing, as her attempts tend to fail, due to her lack of social graces, which separate her from the class of men she wishes for her daughters. She shows how utterly preoccupied with marrying her daughters off, regardless of their happiness, in the way that she is pleased with Lydia's marriage to Wickham. It is painfully obvious that Lydia will soon become disillusioned with her hasty marriage, but Mrs Bennet still sees it as 'delightful indeed' 9169). It is very likely that Austen's use of Mrs Bennet's character is only a deliberate device to highlight the necessity of marriage for young women to avoid scandal or scorn and to ensure that they are provided for, and this explains why her character is never developed any more than necessary. Charlotte, however, is still given as much attention after her marriage as she was before, and this is probably because Austen wants to let us as the reader see how her marriage of convenience affects her.
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