Pride And Prejudice
Q. How is love and marriage treated in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?
Pride and Prejudice is the most popular of Jane Austen’s novels. Pride and Prejudice was first published in 1813. The original novel was written during 1796-1797 under the title ‘first impressions’ and was in the form of an exchange of letters. The great strength of her novels is the social observations they contain: Austen employed a strong sense of irony in her critique of aristocratic disaffection and the pretensions of the nouveau riche. With a measured sardonic eye she was able to summarise social mores and the restraints suffered by women in Regency England.
The novels of the 17th century were written as such that they focused mainly on the aristocratic class and ignored the middle class and the lower class. Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ tells the story of the initial misunderstandings between Elizabeth Bennet and the haughty Darcy, which are sorted out eventually, and the problems of marriage during Jane Austen’s period. The tone of the novel is light, satirical and vivid.
The opening line of the novel itself summarises the attitude of people towards marriage during Jane Austen's period.
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife’
This, very first line highlights the importance of marriage and the helplessness of women during Jane Austen's time. In this first line Austen makes clear to the audience three things. First: the main subject of the novel will be courtship and marriage. Second: she elaborates on a simple subject in a humorous tone. Third: she prepares the reader for a hunt in the novel, of either a man in search of a wife or a lady in pursuit of a husband. The thread that sews together the lives of all the characters in this classic is the establishment of marriage. During Jane Austen's time women could not inherit property and so had to rely on marriage as a source of survival. Readers often are misled with the seeming preoccupation of money with marriage. Although it may seem that only greedy characters such as Wickham think about money while marrying, that is not the case, for even sensible people have to brood on this. Since marriage was the primary source of survival everyone had to think of a guaranteed income source to ensure the smooth operation of the household after marriage.
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Love and marriage is an important theme in ‘Pride and Prejudice’. There are seven different marriages presented in the novel. With the exception of the marriage of the Gardiners’ and Lucas’ the remaining five marriages contrast each other to reveal Jane’s opinions and thoughts on the subject of marriage. The first marriage we encounter which is not based on love and is unsuccessful is the relationship between Mr and Mrs. Bennet. They are clearly incompatible. Mr. Bennet’s frequent refuge in his library highlights the failure of Mr and Mrs Bennet’s marriage.
‘Her father, captivated by youth and beauty and that appearance of good humour, which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her.’
The next place where the theme of love and marriage is involved is the proposal of Mr. Collins to Elizabeth. Although a highly prosperous proposal, financially, it lacks the happiness and understanding between the two partners, and so is rejected by Elizabeth. Austen highlights the fear women had during the 18th century about marriage. This is highlighted in Mr. Collins reply:
‘… In spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made to you’.
Elizabeth’s refusal shows her to have more trust in love for a happy marriage rather than economical security, and strengthens the theme of love and marriage in the book.
‘I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal. You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who could make you so.
Charlotte Lucas however opts for economical security over love. This marriage is shown to be more of a mutually advantageous arrangement between Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas and is another unsuccessful marriage in the book since it is based on money and not love between the two people. Charlotte degrades herself in the eyes of her best friend Elizabeth by marrying Mr. Collins
‘I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collin’s character, connections and situations in life, I am convinced that my chances of happiness with him as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state’.
The third marriage is that of George Wickham and Lydia Bennet. It is clear that Wickham doesn’t intend to marry Lydia and that Lydia is completely unaware of this situation. The marriage, which takes place, is the result of Mr. Darcy’s tenacity in persuading the untrustworthy Wickham to do the honourable thing and marry Lydia. If Mr. Darcy had not intervened in the situation the consequences would have been disastrous for the Bennet girls. Lydia’s lack of common sense and responsibility is revealed when she takes pride in being the first Bennet girl to be married:
‘Ah Jane, I take your place now, and you must go lower, because I am a married woman!’
In Jane Austen’s world, Lydia’s loss of dignity and fall from grace would have resulted in banishment for the respectable society. Even though Lydia is saved from complete degradation, her punishment is provided in the form of an unhappy marriage without the love and respect of her partner. Lydia and Wickham’s marriage gradually disintegrates. Through their relationship Jane Austen shows that hasty marriage based on superficial qualities quickly cool and leads to unhappiness.
The marriage between Darcy and Elizabeth reveals the characteristics, which constitute a successful marriage. One of these characteristics is that the feeling cannot be brought on by appearances, and must gradually develop between the two people as they get to know each other. In the beginning Elizabeth and Darcy were distant from each other because of their prejudice. The series of events, which, they both experienced, gave them the opportunity to understand one another and the time to reconcile their feelings for each other. Thus the foundation of their marriage is the mutual understanding between them, which leads them to a happy and lasting marriage. The relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy reveals the importance of getting to know one’s partner before marrying. The witty and lively Elizabeth could only be happy with a man whose talents and understanding matched her own. Accordingly, Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage is based on mutual respect and intellectual equality. Elizabeth’s view of Mr. Darcy changes during her trip to Pemberley and marks the beginning of a better understanding between the two people:
‘Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene, the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it’
‘There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth's mind, a more gentle sensation towards the original, that she had ever felt in the height of their acquaintance’
The marriage between Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley is also an example of a successful marriage. Through Elizabeth Jane Austen expresses her opinion on the couple in her novel:
‘Elizabeth really believed all his [Bingley] expectations of felicity, to be rationally founded, because they had for the basis the excellent understanding, and super-excellent disposition of Jane, and a general similarity of feeling and taste between her and himself’.
How unlike the perfect Darcy and Elizabeth match there is a problem in Jane and Bingley’s marriage. The problem is that both characters are too gullible and too good- hearted to ever act strongly against external forces that may attempt to separate them.
‘You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you, and so generous, that you will always exceed your income.’
In Pride and Prejudice, Jane has denounced the elements of marriage and society that she found distasteful. These are the conclusions of her observations of the people in her world. In her writing Jane has also reflected her own enjoyment in life among people with and without their fault. This long, interwoven theme of marriage can appeal today, as social classes and position are factors in people’s marriages – Austen seems to be saying that none of this is important, and one should marry someone that he/she really likes as a person, not as a means of prestige.