The theme of money in connection with marriage is highly prevalent in Pride and Prejudice, as it is in a number of Jane Austen’s novels. To the modern reader, this could be misleading, as in today’s society, love is generally far more important than wealth when choosing a marriage partner. The modern reader could perhaps judge these references to money in relation to marriage as being superficial or materialistic; possibly lessening their opinion of the character. However, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, it was extremely sensible and common to take a prospective partner’s financial situation and status into consideration, especially for people of a less fortunate background or inheritance.
Marriage was considered to be the only way, for women in particular, to live a comfortable life, free of financial worries. If a woman failed to marry, one of their only other options would be to become a governess, completely under the control of their employer for the rest of their lives. This is why marriage was so significant for people of a lower social or economic status, as, despite whether they loved their marriage partner, if they possessed enough fortune to secure their future happiness, then it would be in their best interest to accept the proposal. Jane Austen once stated in a letter of 1816 that, “single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony.” A number of marriages take place in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and a number of married couples are portrayed. It could be said that each of these marriages has a different motivation behind them, almost as if the author is trying to alert us to the various grounds for matrimony observed at the time.
It is evident from the very first sentence of the novel that a prominent theme throughout will be that of marriage and fortune, and the pursuit of a suitable partner.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
This suggests that single men with a considerable fortune were often on a quest to find appropriate women to marry in the nineteenth century. However, through Jane Austen’s unique, economical style, it is also revealed that, while a single man must be “in want of a wife”; a single woman, too, whose options are significantly more limited, must be quite desperately in want of a husband.
The first married couple that we are introduced to in the novel are Mr and Mrs Bennet. The author certainly does not show us any signs of love or affection between this couple. Throughout the novel, we see that Mr Bennet has no respect for his wife, thinks very ill of her, publicly subjects her to mockery and even encourages his children to follow suit. This tells us that they obviously have nothing in common and have little regard for one another. Obviously, Mr Bennet is justified in some of his feelings towards his wife, who is depicted as a rather ridiculous, laughable character who enjoys over-reaction at every given opportunity and has a tendency to humiliate the family in public with her tactlessness. However, this does not mean that exposing her faults in social situations is acceptable behaviour for a husband or a gentleman, and this must be hurtful to Mrs Bennet at times.
“…but it is a comfort to think that, whatever of that kind may befall you, you have an affectionate mother who will always make the most of it.”
Here, we see that Mr Bennet is openly inviting Elizabeth to condemn her mother, which is not the type of behaviour adopted by real gentlemen, however irritating the person in question may be. However, it is evident that Elizabeth never actually mocks her mother even when encouraged by her father, which shows good judgement and sensitivity on her part. We later discover that the Bennets’ marriage was one based purely on lust, as Mr Bennet used to find his wife very physically attractive, and married her for these reasons only, despite her absence of mind and less than favourable connections. This is an example of a marriage originally based purely on passion, which has now disintegrated into an unequal relationship, with feelings of bitterness, regret and disapproval on both sides, but particularly for Mr Bennet. We are not really given any descriptions of Mrs Bennet’s feelings towards her husband, but we can assume that she is either upset by his constant jibes, too self-centred to realise or does not have the intelligence to understand his mockery and sarcasm.
Ironically, a similar marriage to the Bennets is that of Lydia and Wickham, who marry on the basis of passion only, and perhaps a certain feeling of pressure and unfortunate obligation on the Wickham’s part. Wickham certainly did not run away with Lydia for love, and in the beginning the primary motivation could not have been money, as it was common knowledge that the Bennet sisters would not inherit a large fortune. Therefore, the main reason for this attempted elopement must have been for passion and lust, and perhaps the relentless flirtation and persuasion of a dominant female. However, this situation differs slightly to that of the Bennets, as eventually, Wickham refused to marry Lydia unless induced with a large sum of money. Therefore, it could be thought that his intention all along was to refuse to a marriage unless given adequate finance. In some respects, one cannot place too much blame on Wickham for acting in the cruel way that he did, as going through with a marriage to a girl with no fortune would have been most imprudent and insensible of him given his own poor financial state.
Another marriage portrayed within the novel is that of Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins. It is clear to the reader that there is absolutely no passion involved in this relationship and perhaps only a little affection, if indeed any at all. For both, it was perhaps more of a marriage of convenience than anything else. Charlotte Lucas was around twenty seven at the time of the proposal, which was considered to be quite old for a single woman in the nineteenth century. She was beginning to face quite a dilemma, as if she did not marry soon, she may never have the chance and would be forced to become a governess or similar. She was therefore practical and reasonable about her situation and realised that an offer of marriage may never arise again, and certainly not one of such convenience, to a man who lived in a comfortable house, had a good enough temperament and would one day inherit Longbourn.
Charlotte may be criticised by the modern reader for entering into a marriage where convenience and practicality is the sole motivator, rather than love or regard. Even Elizabeth thoroughly denounced her friend’s judgement when she first gained knowledge of the match. However, Charlotte’s decision was sensible and would secure her future, making it the more intelligent, mature option. Personality is also a largely contributing factor to decisions such as these. Charlotte told Elizabeth that she was “not romantic you know, I never was.” This puts her acceptance in an even more favourable light, as if she is never likely to feel romantically inclined towards a man, then what is the point in missing an opportunity to marry a man who can provide her with, “her home and her housekeeping, her parish and her poultry, and all their dependent concerns”. If these are the things that the character of Charlotte truly values in life, and Mr Collins can provide them for her, then it seems to be a most perfect match. It is also apparent that the author does not condemn marriages based on convenience rather than affection, especially if decided in a rational manner and for sensible reasons, like Charlotte’s increasingly desperate situation.
Jane and Mr Bingley are another couple heavily focused upon within the novel. When they eventually get married, it is certain that the union is based on true affection and esteem. In Bingley’s case, his desire to marry Jane definitely does not derive from the want of greater fortune or social status, as he is significantly wealthier than her and of a higher social status also. It is obvious that he feels genuine regard and love for Jane throughout the book, and is readily willing to marry her despite her financial disadvantages. It is Darcy who strongly discourages him from the match, as he feels that the disadvantages lie not only in her monetary circumstances, but also in her poor connections and distasteful family members.
“The situation of your mother’s family, though objectionable, was nothing in comparison of that total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly betrayed by herself, by your three younger sisters, and occasionally even by your father.”
Although this may appear to be rather callous of Mr Darcy to express these objections, one cannot help but accepting his point of view; as Jane’s fortune is very little and members of her family are, indeed, very vulgar. Darcy’s behaviour could simply be viewed as that of a loyal friend who cares about Bingley’s welfare and future happiness and social status. However, Bingley and Jane managed to outweigh Jane’s shortcomings with the indisputable love and fondness they felt for each other. This is a much celebrated and triumphant marriage in the novel in my opinion, as it is one that defies and overcomes the conventions of the time in order to create a secure and long-lasting partnership.
A similar marriage to the previous is that of Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. This is perhaps the “model marriage”, in that it incorporates all the important components, such as affection, esteem and passion. The eventual union between these two characters, who have proceeded to be in conflict throughout the novel, possesses an almost fairy-tale quality. Similarly to Bingley and Jane’s partnership, Darcy is not gaining any material gains from this marriage, as Elizabeth possesses the same shortcomings as Jane, in that she has little fortune, poor connections and offensive and tactless relations. However, Jane Austen shows that this can be overcome and that, in the end, love will conquer all even when faced with a most inappropriate match like Darcy and Elizabeth. I think that the union between both Bingley and Jane and Darcy and Elizabeth is the author’s way of showing that, even in such materialistic times, when so much was based on social status and fortune, true love can still exist and can be properly exposed in the union of marriage. I also think that their union reflects the title of the novel to some extent, as Elizabeth tends to represent prejudice and Darcy represents pride.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen