One of the central themes of “Pride and Prejudice” is love and marriage. Jane Austen portrays the different incentives of marriage using various characters as literary devices to explore relationships between characters who have married for love opposed to couples who marry for superficial reasons. She satirises the custom of marrying for practical reasons, or reasons other than love. Her views are seen through Elizabeth, the main character whose viewpoint we are most inclined to sympathise with as she herself firmly believes that one should only marry for love. This view was seen as quite radical for her time.
Pride and Prejudice was set in the regency era, in a patriarchal society, where women’s values were regarded as inferior to that of men’s. Women had no access to property or voting rights and had limited access to money. They were left very vulnerable and at the mercy of fathers, husbands or patrons. This is seen through the practice of entailment, as only a male relative was eligible to inherit the estate. This rule of society appears even harsher when put in context of women in situations similar to that of the Bennet sisters, whom having no brothers, relied on the pompous Mr Collins for financial security, as he being their closest male relative was entitled to inherit the estate, and could leave them destitute if he willed it.
The entailment of the estate was a great hardship for the Bennet sisters as without the independent income which could be derived from an estate, they will need to marry well in order to secure their livelihood. Moreover, their marriage prospects are considerably lower because of their small inheritance. Austen uses this situation to bring to the readers attention the difficulties which women faced in early 19th-century England. Austen’s disparaging attitude towards the limitations which society placed upon women is emphasized in her portrayal of Mr. Collins, who is to inherit the Bennet’s estate.
Austen uses the character of Mrs. Bennet to express her own views, and through Mrs. Bennet’s uneducated and unguarded reaction, brings to attention the natural injustice of the law, to her, the fact that Mr. Bennet’s property should pass to Mr Collins instead of to his own daughters is absolutely ridiculous “I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailed away from your own children, and if I were you I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it”. Furthermore, Austen’s representation of Mr. Collins as a conceited and pretentious character, leads the reader to dislike him and to object even more intensely to the fact that he will inherit Longbourn.
One of the most famous phrases in literature is the opening lines of Pride and prejudice. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” This was a comment made by Jane Austen as an omniscient narrator, satirising society using a sarcastic tone. It wittily and pointedly establishes the idea of wives as an extension of property, and the importance of social class and wealth. Furthermore, not all single men “want” or require a wife, rather, the other way round, much as the mothers of unmarried daughters such as Mrs Bennet
would like to think so.
Social class and wealth were given great importance in the novel, as these two things dictated the ways people behaved and their likelihood of marrying, as the wealthier a person was, the more popular they were as a marriage partner. Many people tried to marry into their own class or a higher class, as this would mean a better social status and added economical benefits. However it was particularly unusual for aristocracy to marry a middle class person as this would be seen as”degradation”. This explains Lady Catherine de bourgh’s horror at Darcy and Elizabeth’s union, as she thought that the “shades of Pemberly” would be “polluted” by it. It also suggests why when he first comes to love her; Darcy views Elizabeth as a “danger” and later mentions the how “inferiority of her connections” first prevented him from thinking seriously of her in his first proposal. Darcy was bought up in such a way that he began to scorn all those outside his own social circle, and had to overcome this class prejudice to see the deeper values of Elizabeth, and to win her heart.
Marrying for practical reasons such as financial advantage was very common in Jane Austen’s society. A woman had to marry to be able to provide money for the remaining members of the family and women from wealthy families needed to marry well to continue their extravagant lifestyles. Many women were almost entirely dependant on men all their lives for security, money, connections and social status, and thus needed to “marry well” or face either destitution, “dying an old maid”, living a life of spinsterhood or becoming a governess, none of these were viewed as a satisfactory way of life and were looked down upon in society. Therefore, many women including Charlotte Lucas were willing to sacrifice marrying someone whom they actually love, to obtain the assurance of being comfortably married and without having to face any of these prospects. The irony is that in the end Elizabeth ends up not only with a marriage based on mutual affection but also with one that is even more financially advantageous than Charlotte’s.
In “Pride and Prejudice” Charlotte and Elizabeth have contrasting views on marriage. Where charlotte has a conventional and pragmatic view of marriage, Elizabeth chooses a more romantic approach, and believes that the sole purpose of marriage should be to love one another in a socially acceptable arrangement.
Charlotte is 27 (which was seen as quite old for marriage), she is “plain” and “without ever being romantic”. She feels that Mr Collins is her only option and feels pressured into marrying him. She considers marriage for financial and social security more important than her personal feelings, and ideology for marrying for love alone. She is resigned to the fact that she lives in a patriarchal society and is dependant on men for financial security and to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. This view is best expressed when Austen acts as an omniscient narrator and makes a comment about Charlotte; “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’s portrayal of the Collins’ marriage shows that marrying for practical reasons can never equate itself to happiness. Charlotte is often embarrassed
by her husband’s pompousness and obsequiousness. This was the price she had to pay to be a respectable married woman of her society
Elizabeth’s romantic view on marriage and her disappointment in charlotte may have been the result of an objection to her own parent’s marriage. In seeking a love marriage, Elizabeth is searching for a relationship opposite to that of her parents. Her parents’ dramatically contrasting personalities, leads the audience to suspect that their marriage is an arranged one. Mr Bennet is an “odd mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve and caprice” while Mrs Bennet is a “a woman of mean understanding, little information and uncertain temper” This shows that Mr Bennet married a women he found physically attractive before realising that they were intellectually incompatible. The outcome of this relationship is that Mr Bennet would isolate himself from his family and found refuge in his library and belittling his oblivious wife.
This is how Austen has made obvious that they neither love nor like each other, creating a fragmented household where neither parent seems happy. In this relationship Austen shows that it is better to marry for love and get to know your spouse who you are going to spend the rest of your life with, or realise too late that you and your partner are unable to coexist happily together, and lose love and respect for each other. However Elizabeth’s views and therefore Austen’s views would be seen as idealistic by 19th century readers, as Elizabeth would have a severely limited income after her father’s demise and as Mr Collins pointedly suggests, she may not get any more offers again because of this. Consequently, most young women in 19th century society may dream of marrying for love but would understand the necessity of marrying for practicality as charlotte has.
In Jane Austen’s society, it was very difficult to get to know one’s partner before marriage as men and women had no real chance to get to know one another in a socially acceptable manner. The only place at which men and women could converse or be introduced to each other was at balls or dances. Balls offered social opportunities of young people seeking a marriage partner to meet and get to know each other in an acceptable way. In the era in which “pride and prejudice” is set, a young lady of “good breeding” was strictly chaperoned and escorted everywhere she went, and would find it difficult to meet privately with a single gentleman even one who was courting her as this was frowned upon in society. This is seen when Mr Bingley never writes to Jane himself, but his sisters do.
Mr. Collins’ proposal and his reaction to Elizabeth’s refusal solidify Austen’s portrait of his absurd character. The proposal itself is delivered in such a way that it seems more appropriate for a business deal than for a proposal of marriage and love. Firstly, Mr. Collins explains to Elizabeth that he had come to Longbourn with the “purpose of finding of a wife” both on account of Lady Catherine’s advice and on account of a desire to make amends for inheriting the Longbourn estate. Only after he explains these cold contemplations does he mention that he has a high regard for Elizabeth and his “affection” for her. He almost seems hypocritical as his reasons for marrying are not what a clergyman should have for marrying, which should be to love each other. For example “setting the example of matrimony” or marrying because it was suggested by his patroness do not seem like valid reasons to Elizabeth as she believes that happiness in marriage can only come if the people involved truly love each other regardless of wealth, social class and any other superficial reasons.
Mr. Collins’ comic inability to consider Elizabeth insincere in her repeated refusals of his proposal demonstrates how little respect he has for Elizabeth and how completely conceited he is. He is not the “least discouraged” by Elizabeth’s clear refusal, and simply shrugs it off as some sort of female etiquette. Words, for Mr. Collins, are not expressions of genuine thoughts and feelings but a means of filling certain formalities of social propriety. Thus even when Elizabeth speaks sincerely to him in no uncertain terms about her feelings he assumes that her words, like his, are merely the fulfilment of some strange female tradition which requires a woman to refuse a proposal the first time it is made this also shows his ignorance of the other sex and lack of knowledge of social etiquettes. Since none of his own words express genuine thoughts or feelings, he assumes that no one else’s words do either.
For example in his proposal he uses hyperbole to flatter Elizabeth, and talks of the “violence of his affections” this cannot possibly be true as at first he was caught by Jane and only three days later proposes to Charlotte Lucas. Austen also comments as an omniscient narrator and tells us that Mr. Collins “regard for her was quite imaginary” This is an example of how Austen satirises him and his absurdity. Furthermore, his conceit prevents him from seeing any reason why Elizabeth would not want to marry him. As he repeatedly reminds her of the entailment, to pressure her into marrying him, and to make him seem more powerful as she could be faced with destitution if he decides not to let her and her family stay at Longbourn estate which is his to do whatever he chooses to.
He is also implying to her that she will not get any more offers by mentioning entailment and saying “it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. He also deems it necessary to point out “the many amiable women” in his neighbourhood, almost putting her down and making it sound as if she is nothing special to him and that he is doing her a favour by marrying her. Mr. Collins is an example of someone who sees marriage more as a partnership for social and financial advantage than as a relationship to express the love and affection of two people for each other and therefore fails to see why Elizabeth could refuse him.
Later in the novel Mr Darcy makes his first proposal to Elizabeth. He starts of better than Mr Collins by telling Elizabeth his affection for her and uses emotive language “in vain I have struggled” and superlatives to tell Elizabeth his feelings. He is also sincere unlike Mr Collins his “attachment” is so strong that “in spite of his endeavours he had found it impossible to conquer” this shows that this is not just a sudden attraction but real love which has lasted for months not minutes. This is unlike Mr Collins, who could switch his attentions from Jane, to Elizabeth and then to charlotte “and it was done” in the space of three days. However Darcy soon becomes shy and like Mr Collins, he starts to talk about the practical side of the marriage.
Darcy is still a proud character and his strong class prejudices are evident when he starts to talk about the “inferiority of her connections” and his desire to avoid proposing to her because it would be a “degradation”. . Austen uses Irony when she says “his sense of her inferiority…dwelt on with a warmth” as he in his proposal should be talking of his love with warmth, not her connections and social status. Another similarity of Mr Darcy’s first proposal and Mr Collins is that both were too conceited and “no doubt of a favourable answer” In spite of the fact that Elizabeth has not shown any partiality or affection toward him at all, he is so conceited that he believes that Elizabeth cannot possibly refuse him this shows his pride as he doesn’t think that a middle class person could not possibly refuse, him a rich aristocrat, “he spoke of apprehension and anxiety but his countenance expressed real security.
This just Insults Elizabeth more and makes her want to reject him. Elizabeth’s comment to him–“had you acted in a more gentlemanlike manner” makes him start, and as will be seen later in the novel, has such an impact on him that his character changes completely. Darcy is honest but hurtful in his first proposal when he was rejected by Elizabeth, accuses her of pride “these offences may have been overlooked had not your pride been hurt by my honest scruples” he is trying to be realistic and trying to face the practical problems of the relationship.
In his own way, Darcy thinks he is being romantic as he falls in love with her and is even prepared to propose to Elizabeth in spite of all the “scruples” and “inferiority of her connections” When Elizabeth gives him her reasons for rejecting him, (which include wickham) Darcy then accuses her of prejudice because she had believed Wickham account of Darcy, this was only one point of view and Darcy is hurt that Wickham’s lies are given preference over himself. He is disappointed that Elizabeth who he held in such high regard has fell victim to Wickham’s surface charms and become like any other girl. “You take an eager interest in that gentleman’s concerns”