In Pride and Prejudice, the early and most noticeable feminist was Charlotte, the reason that she was considered a strong feminist was because of her deep understanding of the situation and position of women in society during the times. She understood the importance of marriage, namely the security and fortune a husband could provide for any single woman. An unmarried woman was doomed to the unhappy life of a maid. And the understanding of this concept with the understanding of the position of women in society was what brought Charlotte forward as a feminist. Charlotte’s need for financial security brought her to the marriage with Mr. Collins, as stated by her in the following line. “I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chances of happiness with him are as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state”. Here, Charlotte showed a great amount of sensibility and responsibility, she can be considered sensible and realistic because of her choice to marry Mr. Collins. She understood the position of women in society and the necessity for a husband and considering the “ connections, and situation” of Mr. Collins, she agreed to marry him. Not for love, but instead for security. Not only did Charlotte’s understanding of her position as a woman in society make her a feminist, but also her attempts to gain power also made her a feminist. Because Charlotte understood the position of women in society, she married Mr. Collins. However, even though knowing that she was inferior to Mr. Collins because of their difference in sex, she still attempted to gain power and overcome the differences between her and Mr. Collins. She accomplished this by often appearing to be in charge and control of her own household. For example, when Elizabeth visited Charlotte, Charlotte appeared to be in charge, as she “took her sister and friend over the house, extremely well pleased, probably, to have the opportunity of showing it without her husband’s help”. To sum up, what made Charlotte a feminist was her understanding of a woman’s position in society during the times and her sensible and realistic characteristics, something that Elizabeth lacked in the beginning half of the book. Moreover, Charlotte’s attempts to gain power in her household despised her inferiority in sex also presented her as a feminist.
As mentioned above, Elizabeth was very insensible and unpractical in refusing Mr. Collins’s proposal. But one may also consider the peculiarity of Mr. Collins making two marriage proposals in three days. This in fact showed that Mr. Collins did not marry Charlotte for love, but for responsibility. It was a young man’s responsibility to find a wife at the age and this may be reflected back to the first line in the book, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”. Mr. Collins’s actions presented how women were seen during the times in Pride and Prejudice. From Mr. Collins treatment of Elizabeth and Charlotte, one may see that women were treated or seen as an object instead of a person, especially women of lower class without wealth. They were simply seen as objects that were to be obtained in order to continue the family line by bearing a child. This was shown by Mr. Collins’s two marriage proposals in three days and by the shock and astonishment Mr. Collins received when Elizabeth refused his marriage proposal. When Elizabeth refused his proposal, Mr. Collins was greatly shocked, this was because he saw her as an item and an object, but not as a person. His proposal from any men’s point of view during the time would have been seen as an extremely well and reasonable one. Elizabeth should have no reason to refuse Mr. Collins from economic and social perspective, as he had fortunes, connections and positions in life. His shock can be shown in the following lines, ” You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. My reasons for believing it are briefly these: -- It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of De Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in its favor; and you should take it into farther consideration that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you.” As mentioned above, women were treated and seen as objects and this can also be seen during the marriage of Mr. Wickham and Lydia. Because she ran away and eloped with Mr. Wickham, she was seen as a “damaged good” by many people, like Mr. Collins. This was because she eloped without marriage, meaning that she no longer had the values as a woman. Her value was reduced and thus, she was seen as a “damaged good”. That was the main reason for the marriage between Lydia and Mr. Wickham.
In the final analysis, the position, role and identity of women can be analyzed in Pride and Prejudice through the feminist theory. An unmarried woman’s ability to provide for themselves was very limited and the only method to a successful and happy life was through marriage. Women were seen as objects that were to be obtained in order to bear a child, they were not seen as people by men and thus were seen as objects. And they each carried a value based on their appearances and reputations. The feminists who understands the role of women and tries to improve their own position in society include characters like Elizabeth and Charlotte. Although Elizabeth did not appear to be a feminist at the starting of the book, as she was irresponsible and was somewhat similar to Jane. However, her character developed through the story and she became more sensible. Both she and Charlotte tried to find their own identity in society and went against the norms of society in order to find equality. They, especially Elizabeth tries everything within her power to present herself as a person and not a object to society.
- “Eagleton, Mary. Feminist Literary Theory A Reader. Malden: Blackwell Pub, 1986.”
- “Gilbert, Sandra M. Feminist Literary Theory and Criticism A Norton Reader. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007.”