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Marriage in Pride and Prejudice
Transcript of Marriage in Pride and Prejudice
Two key aspects of choosing a husband or wife in 19th century England were money and social class.
Marriage for Females
Women had a duty to marry in Jane Austen's time - a duty to find a husband and to have children. Those who were either unable to or did not wish to marry were viewed as incomplete women, known by the unflattering term of 'old maids' and were entirely dependent on their relatives for their living.
Marriage 200 Years Later
Pride and Prejudice is still a much loved novel even 200 years after its first publication in 1813. It is adored by women of all generations despite the fact that marriage and its ideals have changed considerably since the novel was written. In the 21st century, few people base their marriages on money and social class but tend to search for partners that are more compatible to the ideals of Elizabeth Bennet. Jane Austen's notions of a successful marriage, as set out in Pride and Prejudice, reflect modern notions of marriage in which love and respect epitomise what men and women prioritise in a relationship.
Marriage in Pride and Prejudice
There is no denying that marriage is a central theme in Jane Austen’s much loved novel Pride and Prejudice. Austen, humorously, if critically, exposes the general female obsession with the institution of marriage through numerous examples in which the ideals of marriage are demonstrated by ...
Mr and Mrs Bennet
Marriage in 19th century England was essential. In Jane Austen’s time, marriage was the only means by which women of the lower genteel class could gain independence from their parents and financial security while for men, marriage increased their respectability and potentially their wealth.
It is for these very reasons that Charlotte Lucas marries the obsequious and contemptuous Mr Collins.
"Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune." (Austen 1813: 120)
Charlotte, though she does not love Mr Collins, believes that she can be happy so long as she is given the security and comfort provided to her by the steady income of Mr Collins.
Austen ridicules nonsensical and sentimental views of marriage, in particular those expressed by Mrs Bennet. Ensuring that her daughters marry is a primary goal for Mrs Bennet and the happiness or success of their marriage is of less importance. This is made clear through her delight over her daughter's shameful and disgraceful elopement to Mr Wickham.
"'My dear, dear Lydia!' she cried: 'This is delightful indeed! - She will be married! - ... How I long to see her! and to see dear Wickham too!" (Austen 1813: 289)
It was essential for women of lower gentility such as the Bennet and Lucas daughters to marry a man with a comfortable income, with love often being seen as less important than a comfortable home. This pragmatic view was held by a majority of the society of Jane Austen’s time, however Austen’s views on the topic are made clear through the strong minded and willful character, Elizabeth Bennet.
It is Elizabeth’s belief that there should be more substance to a marriage than just pure convenience as represented by Mr Collins and Charlotte Lucas’s marriage, however. Lizzie believes that whilst a steady income and comfortable home are important, there should also be a mutual respect and love between the partners for there to be any happiness in the marriage. Lizzie Bennet makes it clear through her refusal of two advantageous marriages that she would rather die an old maid than marry someone whom she could not respect and love.
[Colonel Fitzwilliam:] "[…] But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like."
[Elizabeth:] "Unless where they like women of fortune, which I think they very often do."
"Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money."
Social class was highly influential in determining whether a marriage occurred. Even within a single class, British society was incredibly stratified through the many distinctions of rank. Though Elizabeth and Darcy are from the same class, which Lizzie points out to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, they are of different ranks within that class, Lizzie at the bottom, while Darcy is at the top. It is because of these distinctions of rank as well as the imprudence of Elizabeth's family, that Darcy is so reluctant to succumb to his attraction towards Lizzie. He believes himself to be superior to her, and believes that matrimony between the two would undermine his social standing.
Society's view on the importance of money in a marriage is highlighted by this conversation between Colonel Fitzwilliam and Lizzie. Colonel Fitzwilliam hints to Lizzie that though she is attractive and intelligent and that he enjoys her company, his attraction to her will never result in marriage because a marriage between the two would be imprudent due to the lack of money on both sides.
21st Century Comparisons
Differences between marriages of today and marriage in Pride and Prejudice are the increased rights of women and the ability to obtain wealth. The women of today's society are provided many rights and freedoms that were restricted in Jane Austen's time, in particular, the freedom to have a career and make money of their own. Because of the reliance that women had on men in the 19th century, it was not uncommon, nor particularly shocking, for women to marry men for the sake of convenience. It is very rare for women to marry men for the sake of security in today's society as women are just as capable of earning as much, if not more, than men in their professions. Another difference is wealth. Wealth can be acquired through hard work and diligence in today's society, which was difficult in Austen's time as wealth was predominantly inherited. Because of the change of women's rights and how wealth can be gained, the people of today are able to focus on less superficial and materialistic things in a marriage such as happiness, love and respect.
In Conclusion ...
Pride and Prejudice reflects 19th century views that marriage was fundamentally about money and social class. It also introduces Austen's more modern notions on marriage of marrying out of love and respect. It is partly because these views are compatible with the modern notions of marriage that Austen's Pride and Prejudice has endured in popularity over the years.
"Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger." (Austen 1813:51)
Go to G drive, open folder titled "Assessment", select PowerPoint "Marriage in Pride and Prejudice Quiz".
By Sophie O'Donovan