Discuss Austen’s treatment of marriage in P and P, with reference to at least three episodes in the novel.
In Pride and Prejudice Austen has different views on marriage; some people in this novel get married for love, but not all of them. A number of others marry because of convenience or physical attraction before they even know the individual properly. The three couples I have chosen all get married for different reasons; the couples are: Mr and Mrs Bennet – who married on physical attraction and now he regrets it Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins – who married for convenience because they both needed a partner and Darcy and Elizabeth – who married because of true love.
Mr and Mrs Bennet got married because they were drawn to each other by physical attraction not love. They didn’t even know each other’s real personalities. Later Mr Bennet has realised what Mrs Bennet is really like and if he’s not spending a lot of time in his library reading books, he’s teasing Mrs Bennet. She is unintelligent, garrulous and capricious; as soon as a rich man (Bingley) enters the neighbourhood she insists that Mr Bennet goes to visit him; when he asks why she’s replies that
“You must know I am thinking of his marrying one of them”
(them being their five daughters.) Mrs Bennet is fanatical about her daughters’ love lives and is constantly trying to get them introduced to rich men. Mr Bennet teases her saying that he won’t go and visit Mr Bingley; she replies saying
“Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves.”
Mrs Bennet always uses her nerves as a justification of her weak mind and is always complaining about them and other present problems which relate to them. Mr Bennet answers
“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.”
He is taunting her again; although she does not always recognize that he is we can see that she grasps it this time in her reply
“Ah! You do not know what I suffer.”
Austen descries Mr Bennet as
“..so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve and caprice..”
This is proven by the way he mocks his wife and her nerves as I mentioned previously. Besides, he had always intended to visit Bingley; after he does he mentions him when the family are together that evening and Mrs Bennet responds
“I am sick of Mr Bingley”
She says this because she assumes that he has not been to visit Bingley; won’t ever call on him and that there is no hope that one of her girls will marry him. Then Mr Bennet replies saying
“I am sorry to hear that; but why did not you tell me so before? If I had known as much this morning, I certainly would not have called on him. It is very unlucky; but as I have actually paid the visit, we cannot escape the acquaintance now.”
He had planned the deception well and the reaction was just as he had wished. After the surprise had surpassed Mrs Bennet pretends that she knew he was misleading them all along, trying to hide her foolishness
“Such a good joke, too,”
This is why Mr Bennet teases her relentlessly because she is slow and doesn’t always realise. He regrets ever marrying her and tells Lizzy this later in the novel when she is engaged to Mr Darcy.
“He is rich, to be sure, and you may have more fine clothes and fine carriages than Jane. But will they make you happy?”
In other words he is trying to warn her not to make the same mistake as he did by marrying someone he didn’t love. This sums up their marriage as a failure. They did not love each other; they had had no sons, so the house would not remain in the family. It was only held together by the fact they had five daughters and that divorce was socially unacceptable.
My second couple are Mr Collins and Charlotte Lucas. Mr Collins arrives to save the day for the Bennets; by wanting to marry one of his cousins (one of the five daughters) he would. If he married one the house would stay in the family. His first intentions are to marry Jane because she is the oldest and prettiest, but Mrs Bennet tells him that she may soon be marrying Bingley; Mr Collins decides to go straight for Lizzy who is the next down the line. When Collins proposes to Elizabeth she is horrified and when she refuses him he will not accept it; after he realises she is not just playing hard-to-get he leaves which annoys Mrs Bennet because the house would have stayed in the family if she had accepted him. Later Lizzy hears that here best friend Charlotte Lucas is engaged to Mr Collins and she is confused why Charlotte accepted; later on when the Bennets visit Mr and Mrs Collins at Hunsford Parsonage Charlotte explains why she did
“…when you have had time to think it all over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. 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 chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”
She is explaining that she does not care much for love and knows that she needed to accept the first man with a good home and situation that asked her because she is worried about being left aside so she is trying to secure herself. Later she explains that she doesn’t mind that she is married to Mr Collins because she does not see a lot of him because he’s always going to Lady Catherine’s house and when he is in the same house as her they will often sit in different rooms.
Mr Collins’ only intention in coming to Longbourn was to marry; he didn’t care who, it was purely for convenience. Charlotte agreed also for convenience. This is another of Austen’s views on marriage. In those days people would marry for expediency and some people nowadays still do; for example to stay in this country if they are asylum-seekers or other foreign people they would just marry to give themselves a better life.
My third couple are Lizzy and Darcy. The novel is mainly based around these two; the title Pride and Prejudice defines them. Lizzy is the Prejudice and Darcy is the Pride. Austen’s view of marriage with this couple is different to the others in the novel. At the beginning Darcy cares little for Lizzy and Lizzy hates Darcy more and more each day, but it all works out in the end and they marry. Unlike other couples who fall in love straight away or do it for convenience these two are in constant conflict almost all the way to the altar.
Darcy’s pride is initially discovered when the two first meet at an assembly in Meryton. Mr Bingley and his friend Mr Darcy are there and Bingley dances with Jane a lot whilst Darcy just stands around ignoring most people; when Bingley comes to him ands tries to persuade him to dance with Lizzy he says
“She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me…”
This shows him as a proud man who thinks very well of himself and no one else. This is proved again when he says that because the girls have an uncle near Cheapside that
“…it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world…”
This means that he doesn’t like to be the idea of poor acquaintances or knowing poor people which shows he is proud and concerned about appearances. This quote makes us think that there is even less chance of Darcy and Lizzy ever marrying. This is of course nonsense because that should not alter their status as agreeable women with whom anyone could fall in love with and marry; they could be paupers or nobles, it does not matter because it’s love. This is also irony because later Darcy finds him self strangely attracted to her; he is first drawn to her dark eyes; this is stated in the next quote:
“But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.”
And later when Miss Bingley asks what he was thinking he replies
“I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.”
This proves that he is attracted to her however through the novel she hates him more and more and she says this to Wickham
“I think him very disagreeable…..every body is disgusted with his pride.”
Which shows what she thinks of him and how she thinks everyone else thinks of him too. This is also an example of prejudice. Lizzy has judged Darcy’s character wrongly and too early.
When Darcy proposes to Elizabeth he says
“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
He is at last admitting to her his true feelings which surprises her because she thought he hated her or only found her “tolerable”. She refuses the proposal and finishes off her slander of him with the words
“I have every reason in the world to think ill of you.”
She is referring to the breaking up of Jane and Bingley on Darcy’s behalf; also she says that
“….I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”
Which means that she thinks she would and never will marry him. After he has left he writes her letter explaining his actions and his relationship with Wickham, another man who Elizabeth likes and has been lying to her about Darcy. He does apologise
“I can only say that I am sorry”
After reading the letter and considering it’s contents she starts to soften to Darcy
“She grew absolutely ashamed of herself.- Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.”
Which is true of her nature, she is sometimes prejudiced and can be a bad judge of character but in the end she does get it right with Darcy; when visiting Darcy’s house Pemberley, in Derbyshire she feels very confused and awkward because the housekeeper keeps on saying the most wonderful things about Darcy and two things she says surprises her and makes her think about him more. The housekeeper says
“I have never had a cross word from him in my life, and I have known him ever since he was four years old.”
Which shows he is a gentle man; she also says “some people call him proud; but I am sure I never saw anything of it.”
This shows that he is different at home which suggests that he is shy, which he indeed is. Elizabeth thinks
“And of this place,” thought she, “I might have been mistress!”
This shows she likes his house and taste very much and maybe is regretting her earlier refusal. Maybe she could tolerate him and live here in such beauty. Darcy returns a day early whilst Lizzy is still visiting and this is what she thinks of him
“..amazed at the alteration in his manner since they last parted..”
He is acting a lot less proudly and more confidently at his own home which proves he is shy; many people do act differently when they are away from their home as to when they are at home.
Later when Darcy and Bingley are staying near the Bennets house; Bingley has proposed to Jane and she has accepted. Lizzy knows she loves Darcy
“What a triumph for him, as she often thought, could he know that the proposals which she had proudly spurned only four months ago, would now have been gladly and gratefully received!”
Darcy proposes a second time to Lizzy saying
“You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever”
She at last accepts and they walk on and talk. He recites some of the things she said when she rejected him the first time and she says
“Oh! do not repeat what I then said. These recollections will not do at all. I assure you that I have long been most heartily ashamed of it.”
Austen has eventually guided the pair to the altar and through all sorts of happenings and events; these two really marry for love, a strong love and their relationship will prove to be a fiery one because of both their strong personalities.
I conclude that Austen has at least three differing views on marriage: Convenience, Physical Attraction (which they might have thought was love) and of course love. She respects people who get married for security and convenience and she laughs at those who do without even knowing each other. She has higher opinion of people who fight through a lot to marry for love, whatever their circumstances.