Pride and Prejudice Essay
October 28th, 2013
From the first, very famous sentence of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen introduces to her readers a view of, not love, but marriage, concepts that in 19th century England were not necessarily very closely related. Austen portrays class divisions and struggles through the relationships between the characters in the novel, chiefly the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth. Pride and Prejudice reflects how relationships were determined by wealth and class status in pre-industrial England. Austen presents the reader with four marriages, each based around different motivations including lust, economic stability, beauty and ...view middle of the document...
The novel's opening lines set the criteria for future relationships: 'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife'. This line implied two central concepts, the first that Mr Bingley is only an acceptable husband as a result of his fortune. Secondly, women were expected to marry a wealthy man who could provide for them until death. Mrs Bennet, with five eligible daughters of marrying age, desired that all marry as 'highly' as possible because the girls would not inherit any money from the family.
Charlotte and Mr. Collin's union is presented as the most common sort of marriage in this period, and one that Elizabeth goes against, risking a future as an old maid in her choosiness, but intimately ending up with the best union. Charlotte and Mr. Collins's reasons for marrying are purely pragmatic and dispassionate. While Mr. Collin's proposal to Charlotte is never presented, his proposal to Elizabeth is enough to show his lack of understanding of the meaning of marriage. As he says to her,
"My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish. Secondly, that I am convinced it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly. . .that it is the particular advice and very recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness" (Austen 81).
Charlotte's pragmatic view of marriage is obvious after she accepts Mr. Collin's proposal, as she reflects that he "was neither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome, and his attachment to her must be imaginary. But still he would be her husband" (Austen 95). Her practical view, if one can really call it that, is obvious considering the society she lives in, as she recognizes that "at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it" (Austen 95). She does not have the luxury of choosiness as she runs the risk of "dying an old maid" (Austen 95). While to us, the idea of marriage without love seems a worse fate then simply spending one's days alone, to most women in the 19th century, there was no worse fate than living as a poor single woman.
Yet another example of an ill-matched union is that of Lydia and Wickham, which can be wholly attributed to Lydia's frivolousness. Lydia foolishly elopes with Wickham, running the risk of ruining both her and her family's reputation. Of course Lydia had thought that they were leaving to marry, but "neither her virtue nor her understanding would preserve her from falling an easy prey" (Austen 212), and she is too imprudent to realize that Wickham has no intention of marrying her. In order to protect the reputation and dignity of the Bennet family, Mr. Darcy very generously bribes Wickham to marry Lydia. One can guess what kind of a marriage results from such terms and Elizabeth observes that "Wickham's affection...