Jane Austen's Attitude to Marriage in Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen's Attitude to Marriage in Pride and Prejudice

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Jane Austen's Attitude to Marriage in Pride and Prejudice


In the early nineteenth century, marriage dominated every woman's
purpose in life, and was immensely influenced by her social status and
class. The idea was that upper and middle class women were to be
dependent on a man throughout their lives, as a daughter and later on
as a wife and that a 'good marriage' was always one which enhances
status and accumulates wealth. The opening line of 'Pride and
Prejudice' states that 'it is a truth universally acknowledged that a
single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.'
This sentence hints outline of the entire plot to the reader, which
concerns itself with the pursuit of "single men in possession of a
good fortune" by various female characters. Through this statement,
the narrator also discloses that the reverse is also true, that a
single woman is in desperate want of a husband.

Jane Austen lived in a mercenary world where income and property of
the local upper class citizens were openly spoken about and there were
no secrets of the need or want to marry for money. A man or woman who
had no fortune was expected to look for a spouse who had. Although
Austen would be the last to deny the importance of money in a
relationship, she also believed that marriage should be based on love,
understanding and social suitability. Her attitude towards marriage is
displayed throughout the novel through three different types of
marriage presented in the book. These are 'the ideal state', 'the
mercenary marriage', and 'the marriage based solely on passion and
physical attraction'.

'The ideal state' is shown by Elizabeth and Darcy. Their relationship
is one that is 'rationally founded' and based on 'excellent
understanding' with a 'general similarity of feeling and taste'.
Elizabeth is the second daughter of the Bennet family, and by far the
cleverest and sharpest. She is fun loving, witty and proud of her
upbringing, although she has a strong tendency to judge too quickly.

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Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, comes across as being arrogant and
reticent. He is the son of a very well-established family, and the
master of Pemberley, an immense estate. He also inclines to judge
people ruthlessly, and his background and assets make him excessively
proud and aware of his social status. We see this when 'he looked for
a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and
coldly said: "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I
am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are
slighted by other men…"' This line shows such incredible
self-righteousness and that he sees himself well above the likes of
Lizzy. In retaliation, Lizzy judges Darcy and believes him to be rude
and haughty. Rather than getting to know him herself, she listens to
other sources, such as Wickham, that prove her opinion to be correct.
However, throughout the novel Darcy finds himself falling in love with
Elizabeth and all obstacles that may have been in their way, led them
to getting to know each other without meaning to and we find the
moment of true connection between the two characters in Chapter 43
where 'their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were
overspread with the deepest blush'. These series of events, which they
both experienced, led to both them getting to know each other without
intending to. Austen's views on love are shown independently on the
social forces between the characters when Darcy and Elizabeth finally
agree to get married. She expresses her opinions of a successful
marriage through Elizabeth and her relationship with Darcy shows how
Austen really feels that marriage is not based on first appearances.

Jane Austen's 'ideal state' is also shown through the relationship of
Bingley and Jane. This marriage was one for physical attractions as
well as love. This is first portrayed to the readers during the early
stages of the novel where Bingley states at the ball, 'she is the most
beautiful creature I ever beheld!' This obviously typifies his
attraction to Jane, and his love for her is made stronger by her
beauty. The love between them is shared equally as Jane's idea of
marriage is to find someone who loves her and respects her as much as
she does him so Jane married Bingley for love. Their marriage was a
perfect match and their feelings for one another were undeniably from
the heart, thus showing that if Jane and Bingley had married only for
attraction, their bond would not be as strong. Again, Austen
understands that Jane and Bingley must have a compatibility of
interests, character and astuteness for their marriage to be
successful.

Another type of marriage presented in the novel is 'the mercenary
marriage'. This is demonstrated by Mr Collins and Charlotte Lucas'
relationship. Their marriage was one for convenience. Collins was in
need of a wife whilst Charlotte had always been pessimistic about
finding happiness in marriage anyway so she believes she may as well
marry for security. For someone without personal fortune, this was
obviously an attractive reason. This particular union sums up how
things were expected to work at the time it was written. Mr. Collins,
a snobbish and foolish clergyman, is about to inherit the property of
Mr Bennet. We see that Charlotte agrees to the engagement only for
security during a conversation between her and Elizabeth where she
explains to her that she asks "only a comfortable home; and
considering Mr Collin's character, connections, and situation in life,
I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most
people can boast." This quotation proves that romance did not play a
part in many marriages, and that finding partner with wealth and good
status was far more important than finding the 'ideal state'. Like
many others, Charlotte did not need romance to make her happy, and
considered her reason for marriage was as logical as Elizabeth's.

Lydia and Wickham's marriage is 'based solely on passion and physical
attraction'. 'Their elopement had been brought on by the strength of
her love, rather than his'. This extract shows that Lydia believed
that a man like Wickham should not be overlooked and was instantly
attracted to his charms. She wanted to wed him because she found him
incredibly handsome, and she believed this was reason enough to tie
the knot. The main reason that Wickham married Lydia was for her
money, but he also thought that she was good looking. He is also not a
man to resist the opportunity of having a wife with such a high
position as Lydia. 'Wickham's affection of Lydia… not equal to Lydia's
for him' shows us that Lydia is a lot more openly attached to Wickham
than he is to her. The success of such a union can be judged by
looking at the development in the relationship between Mr and Mrs
Bennet. Once the excitement of youth and beauty had faded, the two
people found that they did not understand or even like each other. Mr
Bennet was captivated by Mrs Bennet's youth and beauty and married her
without realising that she lacked in intelligence. Affection had worn
off between the two early on in their marriage because of this, and we
see this where it states, 'he had very early in their marriage put an
end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem and confidence had
vanished forever.' We can see that Austen does not approve of marriage
for physical attraction and lust as she depicts these two marriages as
unsuccessful and lacking in compatibility.

As the story unfolds, the voice of Austen becomes much clearer to the
reader. By finishing with the two perfect marriages of Lizzy and Darcy
and Jane and Bingley, she suggests a true happy ending will only come
to a couple if they share a connection that is beyond physical lust
and economic necessity. This belief is contrary to most people of her
time who believed that love and understanding was inferior to wealth
and social status.
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