Jane Austen’s novel of Pride and Prejudice is set in the early 19th century and the central theme of the novel is love and marriage. Marriage was viewed very differently in those days and each character in her novel has different views of marriage. Marriage to women gave status and independence as women could not acquire money on their own without inheriting or marrying into good fortune, so many girls at that time did not marry for affection or love. Jane Austen uses the Bennet family to illustrate different types of marriage and thus reveals her own view.
An example of marriage can be found between Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins. Charlotte married for economic reasons and Mr Collin on the other hand married to “set a good example”.
Mr Collins is the Bennets’ cousin who’s “neither sensible nor agreeable”. The letter he wrote to the Bennet family “is a mixture of servility and self-importance”. He married mainly because Lady Catherine de Bourgh advised him to do so. This shows the importance of class as Mr Collins spends most of his time being obsequious to his upper-class patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. His choice of wife changed early from Jane to Elizabeth and then to Charlotte after Elizabeth’s rejection in just a few days. When he found out that Jane might be engaged to Bingley soon, he hardly needed time to consider at all “to change from Jane to Elizabeth while Mrs Bennet was stirring the fire”; this shows clearly that he did not choose his partner for love.
The five reasons Mr Collins gave for proposing to Elizabeth was firstly, he thinks it’s the right thing to do as a clergyman to “set the example of matrimony”, secondly he thinks that it will provide happiness for him, thirdly it was advised by Lady Catherine De Bourgh, fourthly because he is inheriting the Bennets’ house, he thought it would be a very gallant thing for him to do to marry one of his cousins so the Bennets will lose as little as possible, and lastly and the least important reason is he said that he likes Elizabeth and thinks her suitable. This shows how little affection he has for her, and the way he lays out his reasons shows how formal and dull he is, and all he is doing is trying to please Lady Catherine by doing as she advised.
Charlotte who is Elizabeth’s closest friend married Mr. Collins despite how little she loved him, just to gain financial security and “an establishment”, “accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment” and “cared not how soon that the establishment were gained”. She viewed marriage differently from her friend partly because of the age difference between them. She is 27 years old which was considered as almost an ‘old maid’ at that time, whereas Elizabeth is only 19. Elizabeth rejected Mr Collins’ proposal straight way with certainty, which was followed by Charlotte’s quick acceptance of this marriage out of practicality. She knew that she mustn’t waste an opportunity like Mr Collins or she might never get another chance. Charlotte stated that she is “not romantic”, she only asked “a comfortable home”, and “considering Mr Collins’ character, connections and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state”. She married for independence by saving herself from spinsterhood and to gain financial security like many women would do at that time, “marriage was the honourable provision for well educated young women of small fortune”.
I believe Jane Austen disapproved of this kind of marriage and that people like Charlotte will not end up happy and will suffer in silence since Mr Collin is such a silly man, “When Mr. Collins said any thing of which his wife might reasonably be ashamed, which certainly was not unseldom ..Once or twice she could discern a faint blush; but in general Charlotte wisely did not hear”.
Lydia Bennet and Wickham’s marriage is based on the attraction of good looks and youth vivacity rather than love.
Lydia, the youngest of the Bennets who is her mother’s favourite since they are both similar, is devoted to a life of dancing, gossip and flirting, She cared about nothing but the military officers “in scarlet coats”. Lydia’s lack of common sense and responsibility is revealed when she eloped with Mr Wickham. While everyone was seriously alarmed and concerned by this, she found it a good joke. She did not even consider that marriage might not have been on Mr Wickham’s mind since she will have no money to offer him, “Neither her virtue nor her understanding would preserve her from falling easy prey”. She thought that she was in love with Wickham, “for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel”, but it’s clear that her love is not serious and she married for his charm and physical attraction, “Mr Wickham was far beyond them all in person, countenance, air, and walk”. Lydia did not seem to realize how much trouble her family went through to make Wickham marry her and how her actions might have ruined her family’s name. She takes pride in being the first Bennet girl to be married, and this also shows how status worked those days, “ah, Jane, I take your place now, and you must go lower, because I am a married woman”. Lydia does not take into consideration the circumstances of her marriage, the personality of her husband, or the prospects of their marriage in the future.
Mr Wickham is the “late Darcy’s steward”, who appears to be the perfect gentleman but is not trustworthy at all, “Mr Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as many ensure his making friends—whether he may be equally capable of retaining them is less certain”. Although Wickham might have liked Lydia for her “youth, health, and good humour”, he “will never marry a woman without some money”. This shows that he did not have as much affection for her as she had for him. He eloped with Lydia with no intentions of getting married but to get away from Meryton as he had lots of debts. The only reason he married Lydia in the end was because Mr Darcy bribed him with money.
It is clear that Jane Austen disapproved of this kind of marriage, “small as is their chance of happiness and wretched as is his character”. Lydia married someone who had no real affections for her and Wickham married someone who did not have money to offer him; their marriage was forced, therefore there would be little happiness. Even Lydia’s affection for Wickham will fade and their marriage will slowly disintegrate like Mr and Mrs Bennet, whose affections for each other have already faded.
Although the novel does not tell much about how Mr and Mrs Bennet got together, it is clear from their conversations that their marriage was unsatisfactory. Mr Bennet married Mrs Bennet for her attractions without realizing that she was unintelligent. He was “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. Respect, esteem, and confidence have vanished forever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown”.
The result of this marriage is that Mr Bennet isolates himself from his family and enjoys his quiet study in his library, or makes fun of his wife who still doesn’t understand when he is being sarcastic. The lack of attention he paid towards the family made his younger daughters run wild. This not only embarrassed the family, but also was criticised by others. Through Mr and Mrs Bennet, Jane Austen has shown that this kind of marriage will make two people lose respect for each other and could also forfeit the respect of the whole family.
The most successful marriage with also the longest courtship in the novel is based on love between Elizabeth Bennet who is the heroine of the novel and Mr Darcy. Elizabeth and Darcy’s strong feelings for each other were not based on appearance, money or status, but by the mutual understanding developed between them as they got to know each other better.
Elizabeth, the second eldest of the Bennets, is by far Mr Bennet’s favourite daughter as she is very intelligent, quick-witted and lively. Darcy is the richest man in this novel who is also a very good friend of Mr Bingley. Elizabeth and Darcy disliked each other at the beginning due to their pride and prejudice. Elizabeth’s prejudice makes her misjudge and thinks ill of Darcy’s character “from the very first moment of their acquaintance”; while Darcy’s pride against Elizabeth’s poor social background blinded him, he was taught to “care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world”. But as Mr Darcy got to know Elizabeth, he started to fall in love with her.
In the end his passionate feelings for her were to overcome all the objections and obstacles of her family, connections and class. It was only after Elizabeth read Darcy’s letter which explained the matters of Wickham and Jane, that she realized how she has been blinded by her own prejudice and totally mistaken his character, “How despicably have I acted! I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities!” It’s her flexibility that enabled her to reconcile her feelings towards Darcy. And it’s her words “had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner” that took away his arrogance and pride. In time given opportunities, they got to understand one another and this led them to a happy marriage.
The other successful marriage is between Jane Bennet and Mr Bingley who also married for love although theirs is not so complicated.
Jane and Mr Bingley were immediately charmed by each other when they first met at the Netherfield Ball, Bingley was instantly attracted by Jane’s beauty, soft temper, and loving heart, and Jane adored Bingley for he was the most gentlemanlike. Unlike Darcy, Bingley had no objections to Jane’s family position. But it is Jane’s ability to hide her feelings, “he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on,” that leads Darcy to think that she does not love Bingley as passionately as his attentions deserve, therefore he persuaded Bingley to leave the country. And it is Bingley’s “modesty” about her apparent lack of affection what led him to trust in Darcy’s judgement and leave. They overcome this obstacle in the end and married happily which showed their affectionate love for each other. However the flaw in their relationship has been proven, Jane and Bingley are so good hearted that they can be easily cheated.
In conclusion, I believe Jane Austen doesn’t agree with marriage based on superficial qualities such as money or mere physical attraction which won’t last for ever, or marriage that acts on haste and impulse. Her view is that a happy and strong marriage would be based on love and understanding, which takes time to build up to reach mutual respect for each other.