Pride and Prejudice Is Concerned with Various Aspects of Love and Marriage
Pride and Prejudice is concerned with various aspects of love and marriage.Discuss.“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, was written in 1797, when women were still dependent on men for their livelihood and marriage was a tool for women of the time to get settled in comfortable households.
During the turn of 19th century in England, balls were one of the places to socialise, in other words, an opportunity for most young women to look for suitable husbands.
Many of the Jane Austen novels centre on the theme of love and marriage, and it can be said that it presents to us the social history of England. Raymond Williams said, “Austen’s novels provide an accurate record of that moment in English history in which bourgeois society most evidently interlocked with an agrarian capitalism. ” Austen’s Emma is a case in point in which the lead heroine is a match maker and though she herself vows not to marry but eventually falls in love with George Knightley who is the owner of an estate.
Similarly, in other Austen novels, the story revolves around men and women interacting and socialising, and leads to an end where the heroine is happily married. Pride and prejudice is not free from such a theme, while marriage is a big concern, we also see development of love and the growth of relationships especially between Jane and Bingley, Elizabeth and Darcy. Pride and Prejudice starts with the comment, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. This clearly sets out the pace of the story and we come to know that men with property are being highlighted. Mrs Bennet with five daughters to take care of and who also wants to protect her future after her husband’s death, feels it a great responsibility to marry off her daughters in well off households. So, when she hears of a Mr Bingley with ‘four or five thousands a year’, she pesters Mr Bennet to meet him for the sake of her daughters.
This shows how she has already raised up her hopes that perhaps ‘he may fall in love with one of them. Mr Bingley is not only in the hunt list of Mrs Bennet but also on several other women’s too in the neighbourhood. Mrs Bennet makes a comment on Mrs Long ‘She has two nieces of her own’, which suggests that she is desperate to get her hands laid on him before he commits to another woman. The question is why women needed to be in this institution of marriage. One reason, as it appears, is the social status, and the other, the future comfort that marriage promises to women. As Wollstonecraft quotes, “… he only way women can rise in the world- by marriage. ” Why Charlotte gives in to marry Mr. Collins is only for a promising future and to free herself from being a burden to her family. Also, Mrs. Bennet throws her daughters into the marriage market in hope of acquiring them a social status. But why did women have to run after wealthy men? It is only because women did not have any income of their own during that time, so they needed financial support through their husbands to run their lives.
Had this been not the case and if women were working, marriage would not have become a priority of life for women just to gain a stable future and financial status of men would not have mattered then. Even now some mothers like Mrs. Bennet, who have adopted such notions of marriage of that time, still talk about getting their daughters married in good households. For them the future is all about marriage, they can’t separate the thought of their daughter’s future from the thought of them being married one day. Similarly, for Mrs. Bennet, Jane marrying Mr.
Bingley is an excellent prospect; Elizabeth, being Darcy’s mistress, has the promise of living a luxurious life. Though Elizabeth is the heroine of the novel, Jane’s life takes a centre-stage in the eyes of the characters as she is the most beautiful of all the women, and so everyone is involved in her love life as they believe that with her beauty she can captivate any man of fortune. She is then thrown into the marriage market. From this we also come to know how love is not the first priority but economic status in society is what women want to seek through marriage.
We also see how beauty played a role for catching good husbands. Charlotte Lucas who is seen as another potential candidate for Bingley in the beginning, fails because she is not handsome enough. She ultimately marries Elizabeth’s cousin Mr Collins just to gain financial security. This, maybe, because of the lack of education that women received. They were only educated in the arts that were necessary to be a “lady” and also the ones that would make them a good housewife.
Another quote by Wollstonecraft: “It is acknowledged that they (women) spend many of the first years of their lives in acquiring a smattering of accomplishments; meanwhile strength of body and mind are sacrificed to libertine notions of beauty, to the desire of establishing themselves- the only way women can rise in the world– by marriage. And this desire making mere animals of them, when they marry they act as such children may be expected to act- they dress, they paint, and nickname God’s creatures. Not only ‘well-educated young women of small fortune’ were in want of husbands but as Amrita Bhalla in her essay ‘Property Rights of (Wo)men’, writes ‘Even women of fortune were not spared an orientation for marriage- their chief concern was to be “accomplished” in a specific manner, dictated by the current times. ’ Perhaps, marriage enhanced their status in the society.Lady Catherine de Bourgh is quite astonished when she finds that the Bennet sisters did not draw, play or sing. Single men are the primary target for young women in the novel.
We see Elizabeth’s younger sisters out with men at quite an early age. They are quite attracted by the officers in red coats. We see Lydia and Kitty socialising with the officers and they seem to be the most excited ones at the prospect of marriage. Mrs Bennet encourages them to go out, as she wants to be free from her duty as soon as possible. There is an attitude of urgency towards marriage not only to get husbands of fortune but as in Lydia’s case who runs away with Wikham, is ultimately married to him for the sake of the status of her family in society.
She then feels quite proud of the fact to be the first one of her sisters to get married. We also see Mr Collins, a single man with considerable wealth, who wants to marry desperately, keeping his eye on the Bennet sisters. Although, he notices Jane first, after knowing she is taken he settles on Elizabeth but he is refused by her. Jane Austen quotes, ‘It is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. ’ Mr Collins finally finds civility in Charlotte Lucas and she consents to his marriage proposal for the prospects of future wealth.
The narrator comments, ‘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, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. ’ While the novel is focused upon different attitudes towards marriage such as marrying for financial security or social status, we see elements of love which sprout slowly and finally blossom by the end of the novel.
It’s the love between Darcy and Elizabeth that develops most slowly but as is it does, we see a change in both the characters. Darcy is the first to fall in love, but it is after his proposal is refused, that he reflects upon his behaviour. He then realises his mistake and tries to undo all of them. He tries to restore the honour of the Bennet family by making Wikham marry Lydia. It is his love for Elizabeth that urges him to help her in all way possible. He even gives up on his ‘pride’. This change in him develops a stronger feeling of love in Elizabeth towards Darcy.
She too introspects and realises how prejudiced she has been all along. She falls for Darcy but we are not quite sure when exactly her mind changes although she jokes that she happens to change her mind when she visits Pemberley. Therefore, love gives rise to self-reflection and an alteration in attitudes of the main characters. Austen does not directly dwell into love in the beginning of the novel. While marriage is the main focus, love happens eventually between the principal characters.
The ‘disagreeable’ and proud Darcy is not fascinated enough to fall for Elizabeth at first sight but as he sees her more and more, he is captivated by the beauty of her eyes. He starts studying Elizabeth’s character more and more, and falls for her deeply. He ignores his status, while he proposes to Elizabeth, although she does not belong to an equal background. Elizabeth justifies herself in front of his aunt, “He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal. ” Darcy being the ‘prince’, who marries an ordinary woman, gives Pride and Prejudice a fairytale ending.
Another couple who are affected by love is Jane and Bingley, Jane falls passionately in love with Mr. Bingley and he falls for her. When Bingley deserts Jane, her love only grows for him while he is away. They too have a happy ending when Bingley finally returns for her. Austen is quite subtle in the presentation of love among her characters; they do not delve into passionate love making, but grow feelings of love and care for each other. There are overall five important marriages in the novel: Mr. And Mrs. Bennet, Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins, Lydia and Wikham, Jane and Bingley, Elizabeth and Darcy.
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are quite opposite in their characteristics which is why they have conflict of ideas, and hence, fail as a couple whereas, Charlotte and Mr. Collins do not share any commonality between them either. Both of these couple lack the emotion of passionate love for each other. Charlotte is married to Mr. Collins only for future support and not because she loves him. Wikham and Lydia’s marriage again is not borne out of love, but it is a compromise after their little runaway trip together. The only successful marriages that seem to be are of Bingley and Jane, and Elizabeth and Darcy.
Both these pairs are lovers and the men in this case ignore their status and social obligations to marry the women they love. After he hears about Elizabeth and Darcy, Mr Bennet says, ‘If any young men come for Mary or Kitty, send them in, for I am quite at leisure. ’ He is overjoyed for his favourite daughter for finding herself a ‘superior husband’. Hence, we notice that having a superior husband was considered important at that time and this is one of the points that feminist writers point out in their criticism against Jane Austen because of her including such a statement.
She ends the novel on a happy note, with all her heroines happily married. Although, marriage is seen necessary for monetary support but ultimately Austen characters cannot escape love. Mary Wollstonecraft in Vindication of the Rights of Woman felt that if women were better educated, they “would not then marry for support. ” Pride and Prejudice, thus, shows us how the society in 19th century England looked at the social institution of marriage. We can, therefore, conclude that Pride and Prejudice deals with various aspects of ‘love’ and ‘marriage’.