Pride and Prejudice written by Jane Austen in the 19th century, tells the story of an upper class man Mr. Darcy over coming his pride, to fall in love with middle class Elizabeth Bennet, who agrees to marry him after getting over her own prejudicial issues. The story is set in the early 1800’s in England, when class and social order were very important, and people married for money and social status. Austen has written the book to criticize and poke fun at some of these ridiculous values in a satirical way, and positions the reader to see that marriage isn’t about money or social status, but true love.
Through the way Jane has written the story and constructed the characters, as a reader we are positioned to respond agreeably to the ways in which she has represented ideas and portrayed stereotypes and customs based on the social standings and issues of the regency era. In Pride and Prejudice, one of the main themes focuses on marriage. Austen believes that marriage should be for love, not for financial and social stability. Austen has constructed juxtaposing couples to portray how couples that marry for true love continue to love and live happily, while couples who marry for money and status end up miserable.
There are several characters in the novel that married for financial and social well being; Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins, Mr. Wickham and Lydia and Mr. and Mrs. Bennet- all constructed with negative personality traits. When Mr. Collins visits the Bennet’s house at Longburn- where he is heir to the estate, he is in search of a wife- preferably a Bennet sister as he feels a little guilty as they will be kicked out of their home when their father dies and he will inherit the estate. When Mr.
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Collin’s first proposes, it is to Lizzy, and his reasoning is completely lacking emotion and is based on “logic and convenience”, as he explained “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 – which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honor of calling patroness. This dialogue shows that he is only thinking about his image as a clergyman, and how he would please Lady Catherine and help out the Bennet family at the same time. It was not love that would add to his happiness but more that he was doing something noble and would be seen in a good light by others. Austin portrays this sentiment of the era further when the reader sees how emotionless Mr. Collins is, after Lizzy’s polite “no thank you”, he persistently asks her, before finally giving up and three days later becoming engaged to Lizzy’s best friend, Charlotte Lucas.
Charlotte who had deliberately set her sights on Mr. Collins, consoling him after he is declined by Lizzy, was 27 years old, and thought it was highly unlikely she would get a better offer of marriage. As she discussed with Lizzy, she was marrying for financial security and believed that “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. ” When Charlotte saw Lizzy’s shocked face as she announced her engagement she responded with “Oh, hush. Not all of us can afford to be romantic. I've been offered a comfortable home and protection. There's a lot to be thankful for. This shows us that though Charlotte was an intelligent lady, she had a pragmatic approach to marriage with no sense of romantic attraction to Mr. Collins- that she “accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment”. When Lizzy visits Charlotte at her home in Kent, she basically tells Lizzy that she tries to get rid of her husband by sending him gardening and off on unnecessary trips- minimizing the time they spend together. Austen is showing us the ridiculousness of them marrying for social security and how in their relationship they barely even speak to each other.
As a reader, we are encouraged to see the marriage between Mr. Collins and Charlotte as a prime example in supporting Austen’s focus on the idea that marriage should be for love not financial and social sanctuary. Austen has positioned readers to see these characters as the pragmatists of the novel. Readers are not really encouraged to like these characters. Austen leaves us, as readers, respecting Lizzy’s decision to marry for love and feeling contempt and disdain for Mr. Collins and Charlotte and their choice to have a loveless, unhappy marriage. In Pride and Prejudice, Austen has characterized Mrs.
Bennet and her daughter Lydia as silly, loud and frivolous characters, good examples of the foolish behaviour and values found in some of the middle/upper class women. Austen has characterized these characters to allow us as a reader to view them as ridiculous compared with Lizzy. Mrs Bennet is shown as a rude overbearing mother, who’s sole ambition in life is to get her five daughters married into the best financial and social position possible. When a single rich man Mr. Bingley arrives in Netherfield, Mrs. Bennet is set on getting her eldest daughter Jane to marry him.
When Jane is invited over to the Bingley’s, her mother demands “"You had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain and you must stay all night". When Jane falls sick, and must stay put at the Bingley’s, Mrs. Bennet is encouraged because “As long as she stays there, it is all very well". This shows that Mrs. Bennet does not think about her daughter’s health, only about her best chance of marrying and gaining a rich inheritance. Lizzy who thinks her mother is been ridiculous, sarcastically comments “If Jane should die; it would be comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley”.
Austen has used this line, to help establish the picture that we as readers begin to understand that Mrs Bennet is foolish, greedy and her priorities in regard to her daughter’s health and marriage are muddled. However as an alternative reading, we could interpret that Mrs. Bennet as only trying to help her daughters, as middle/upper class women would be thought poorly of, if they got a job, and if they had no inheritance, there would be no money source; so it was crucial that they got married at a young age to secure financial security. However Austin writes Lizzy’s character as overcoming these problems without this foolishness.
As mentioned Lydia Bennet, like her mother is loud, frivolous and often an embarrassment to her family. She is the youngest of the Bennet sisters at only 15 and is portrayed as immature, silly and naive. Being the favourite of her mother, (as they are both so alike) Lydia is spoilt and has never really been taught how to act or behave in public. So when Lydia is given permission to go away to Brighton, Lizzy is not content, arguing with her father that “"Our importance, our respectability in the world, must be affected by the wild volatility, the assurance and disdain of all restraint which mark Lydia's character. This gives us as readers, a look at how she is viewed by respectable people in society through Lizzy’s dialogue we are encouraged to think the same.
Lydia is also very flirtatious, as Lizzy goes on to describe her as “A flirt, too, in the worst and meanest degree of flirtation; without any attraction beyond youth and a tolerable person; and from the ignorance and emptiness of her mind”. Through other people’s descriptions of Lydia, we as readers dislike her embarrassing and imprudent attitude. When Lydia elopes with Mr. Wickham, she puts the family name in tatters and does not even acknowledging the shameful thing she had done. The message that Jane Austen is trying to display is that the Regency Era had such strict and absurd behaviours, values and class discrepancies. Through using satirical techniques she has encouraged us as readers to respond by disliking the caricatures of Mrs. Bennet and Lydia, as they help represent the ridiculousness of the society during that period. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen is a romantic novel, which challenges and ridicules the era in which it was written, the early 19th century.
Austen, has used satirical language and irony as main literary techniques, to help form the ideas of how she viewed the society. Jane’s perspective was that marriage should be for love, not financial security, and that social status and class; including their roles, values and manners, played a much too important part in defining the society. Through the over exaggeration of stereotypical people from this era, Austin has successfully set us to interpret the characters, ideas and messages of the book to her understanding.
As readers, we are compelled to dislike and laugh at many of the characters discussed, as they represent the negatives of period. Austen has successfully constructed this novel through these negatives and the positive characteristics of Lizzy and Mr. Darcy to ensure, that the audience is persuaded to feel strongly and agree with Austen on the messages that marriage should not be for social and financial stability, and that the society should not revolve around class and social status.
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