Marriage forms the basis of the events featured in Pride and Prejudice and is presented in various ways in order to convey to readers the importance of it in society and the expectations which come with it. Throughout the book, Austen clarifies what makes a good marriage and how society views marriage as a unity of equal classes and a way to establish connections.
The first aspect of marriage which is revealed is the way a person’s position in society affects the choice of partner. Austen states in the opening line of the book:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”
This line both sets out the beliefs that were held by society at the time, but also the tone of the book and the attitudes of the characters featured. From this line, we can learn that society considered marriage to be not only a unity of two people but also a unity of assets and connections in society. The expectations held by people are also revealed in the way that it is expected of men with a sound financial status to succeed in marrying a woman of equal if not higher status in order to maintain the connections previously established. This line stresses the belief that wealth was of great importance in society and that it was a factor that was taken into consideration even before love and was believed to form the basis of a successful marriage.
Another aspect portrayed by this line is the extent to which Austen included irony in her writing. The word universal for example indicated that this is a worldwide belief, however, it is the belief of the several characters portrayed throughout the book, rather than a general belief.
Wealth proved to be more of a requirement in marriage than personality and attraction between two people, as is stated by the following line where Mrs. Bennett judges Mr. Bingley and forms an opinion based solely on his income.
“A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”
This line also shows that parents were eager to see their children married well and considered a man with a large fortune as capable of providing them with happiness. In this aspect, Austen portrays society and the characters as materialistic when discussing marriage and considering appropriate partners.
Austen also portrays the fact that parents considered marriage to be important for their children’s happiness and it played an important role in the hopes parents had for their children. Mr. Bennett states that:
“If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield, and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for”
This line shows us that marriage was something parents wished for all their children, especially daughters who in that age had no way of providing for themselves and therefore relied on a wealthy husband to support them. Marriage to a well-established man in society was something that would make parents satisfied. Marriage was considered the result of a good upbringing, when parents can finally renounce their responsibility of the child to the man they marry. The following quote states the ambitions of Mrs Bennett and portrays to readers what her purpose in life is and how she may be eager to encourage marriage between her daughters and men, disregarding their feelings often.
“The business of her life was to get her daughters married”
This line is very significant due to the use of the word “business” in a context that would be viewed by society as embodying mostly emotions, rather than tasks. Therefore, the line infers that marriage was a task women had to perform and a target they had to achieve in life, indicating thus that marriage was not about emotions but rather a duty.
The choice of partner in marriage was based on many factors; connections in society, amiability, position in society, appearance and wealth. The amount of money a man had quickly influenced his desirability amongst the women and although characteristics and personality of the man were well liked and approved of, his wealth decided his popularity and often, men with more money would be more desirable, regardless of their personality and intentions. The line below shows a comparison between two men and their desirability, where Mr. Bingley is compared to Mr. Darcy and although both are equally worthy, Mr. Darcy is made favourite due to his income.
“Mr. Bingley was good looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners”
This line portrays Mr. Bingley in a positive light, possessing good characteristics and making him eligible for marriage. The line below however, flatters Mr. Darcy more, purely based on his considerably larger income.
“Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report…of his having ten thousand a year”
Apart from concluding Mr Darcy’s character, the line also embodies humour that Austen used so often to portray a point. Mr Darcy was described by his appearance to begin with and this indicates that society of that time judged a man by his outer appearance rather than personality, but the humour appears when the description goes from visual to material, mentioning his income. The description of his appearance made Mr Darcy out to be very handsome but the mention of a large sum of money made him even more handsome and this shows us the motives some people had to get married.
This line not only describes Mr. Darcy as being physically desirable and a good candidate for a husband, but also gives him extra credit and appeal by mentioning his fortune. From this description, Mr. Darcy immediately becomes more desirable as a husband, fulfilling more criteria than Mr. Bingley. Mr. Darcy is not only well established in society and has a pleasant appearance but also has a fortune, and this makes him more able to give a woman security and financial stability. This therefore infers that society judged men not only on their personality and appearance but also on their wealth and considered a rich man a better husband than a poorer one. The consequence of Mr. Darcy having more money than Mr. Bingley is shown by the line below.
“The ladies declared that he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley”
The line above portrays the views and opinion of the ladies…in this case Jane, Elizabeth and any other woman of society who would be attending an event such as a ball. This therefore indicates that marriage was often a product of gossip and such affairs were determined by the public in society. Marriage is portrayed as an affair which was done according to rules; men were seen at assemblies and balls and women had ways in which to “secure” a man. An example of this is in the line below, stated by Charlotte Lucas in advice about Jane and Mr Bingley.
“…a woman had better show more affection than she feels”
Austen attempts to portray the fact that money is important when it comes to choosing a partner for marriage, and that a wealthy man is automatically more desirable than a man without a large fortune, but she also portrays the fact that although society imposes these views on people, personality also plays an important part and although wealth is important, it is its combination with other characteristics that makes a man an eligible bachelor. The line below shows the consequences of a poor personality and depicts the fact that although Mr. Darcy was considered better than Mr. Bingley based on his wealth, his flawed personality portrayed him negatively in people’s eyes.
“…he was looked at with great admiration , till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity”
This line shows the difference between first and second appearances. It also shows that although the society considers wealth an important aspect when choosing a husband, characteristics such as personality make a difference to the final conclusion on someone’s character.
Just as wealth and position in society are important to a woman when choosing a husband because it ensures that she enjoys a comfortable lifestyle and good connections, the wealth and position of a woman is important to a man when choosing a wife. Austen portrays that marriage should only occur between people of equal class, and when the class in not equal, problems occur, such as shown by the following line, where Mr. Darcy judges Jane based on her class and decides her to be inadequate for Mr. Bingley due to the lack of her connections.
“I have an excessive regard for Jane Bennett, she is really a very sweet girl, and I wish…she were well settled, but with such a mother and father, and such low connections…there is no chance of it”
This line depicts the attitude shared by people of a higher class and status, and shows us that although personality may play a large role in marriage and women are seldom picked based on their wealth due to the fact that they themselves are not the providers, they must be sufficiently well established in society to have any hope of marrying well, as men of wealth and high status are expected to marry a woman equal in position to them.
As Austen has defined the characteristics people look in their partners to establish a commitment such as marriage, throughout the book she also explains and portrays several reasons as to why people choose to get married.
The first of several reasons as to why marriages occur is the desire of a woman to become established in society and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Austen portrays the fact that love may not always be the reason for marriage and the line below explains further why this is so.
“I am not a romantic. I ask only 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”
The quote above shows the sentiments of Charlotte Lucas, who in the novel possesses all the characteristics of a realist in society of that time. Through this character, Austen portrays to readers that women marry not only for love but also for a comfortable lifestyle, and for this purpose they choose a man of adequate wealth and position in society.
Just as women marry for the chance of a better and more comfortable lifestyle, men do too. An example of this is shown by the character of Mr. Wickham as he attempted to marry a woman of a higher status than his in order to become well established in society, and gain enough money for a comfortable lifestyle. Here, Austen shows readers that when a man is not wealthy enough to support himself, he must find a wealthy wife in order to live well. This is a reason equal to that of women marrying a man of greater or equal status to theirs.
“…handsome young men must have something to live on, as well as the plain”
This line states that people of all appearances need wealth in order to live well and relates to Mr. Wickham’s situation of marrying Miss King who is considered to be nothing more than a young girl with a large inheritance. Although both Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Wickham showed affection towards Elizabeth, she was not wealthy enough to guarantee them an enjoyable lifestyle. Elizabeth is set to marry a man of large wealth in order to substantiate her lifestyle just as Mr. Wickham is set to marry a woman of wealth greater than his. The unity of the two would not be possible as neither of them is wealthy enough to support the other. In this way, Austen is showing that even when love and attraction play a part between to people, without wealth and connections, marriage is impossible.
The second reason as to why people marry is that of arranged marriages between families of considerable wealth and status. An example of this is the arranged marriage between Mr Darcy and Miss de Bourgh. The quote below explains this further:
“Miss de Bourgh, will have a very large fortune, and it is believed that she and her cousin will unite the two estates”
This quote shows us that people of great wealth married to unite estates and wealth to provide an enjoyable lifestyle and keep connections between powerful families. In this way, Austen portrays the fact that people often arranged marriages between families of equal status while the children were small and based the marriage on status rather than any kind of love. The following quote portrays the sentiments of Lady Catherine de Bourgh on the matter of an arranged marriage and portrays how people of a higher status and wealth behaved when the issue of marriage arose.
“Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter. It was the favourite wish of his mother, as well as of hers. While in their cradles we planned their union…and now…to be prevented by a young woman of inferior birth.”
This quote shows that just as the marriage between Mr. Bingley and Jane was deemed impossible due to their differences in class, so is the marriage between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth due to the fact that he was thought to be engaged to somebody of his own status and marrying somebody with less money and class would be thought of as ridiculous by members of the upper class society. The consequences of a marriage between the classes is shown by the quote below, voiced by Lady Catherine who embodies all the qualities and quirks of a character with ample money and status and therefore, power:
“You will be censured, slighted, and despised, by everyone connected with him”
Finally, the last reason as to why people marry is that of genuine affection between two people….love. The feeling of respect between two people seems to be the best basis of a marriage. This is shown by the following quote, where Mr. Bennett advises Elizabeth to marry a man she respects and also indicated that he did not do so and therefore regrets it.
“…let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about”
This therefore indicates the failure of the marriage between Mr and Mrs Bennett and portrays to readers that although they may have fallen in love, they lacked respect, which in turn led to a poor marriage. Consequently, many of the marriages in the book are not based upon respect, such as that of Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins, which leads readers to believe that failure will occur here too.
Throughout the book, Austen has established several factors that may cause people to marry: arrangements between families, convenience of money, attempt to become established in society and love. She has also established that people of higher class and wealth should marry each other in order to keep the wealth, and people of a lesser wealth need to marry somebody wealthier to become established in society and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.
After establishing criteria for marriage, Austen presented several kinds of marriages in order to establish their success. The first marriage looked at is that of Mr and Mrs Bennett. From the previous quote, it is suggested that Mr Bennett does not respect his wife and married her on initial attraction as they are both of equal status and wealth. From the way the two converse with each other, it is suggested that although there might have once been love between them, their feelings have changed and in this way, Austen is portraying to her readers that a marriage without respect is set to fail.
Another marriage which fails to result in happiness is that of Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins. Although she gains the lifestyle she sought, she is only happy in his absence and this is an example of one of many marriages of convenience.
By way of unsuccessful marriages, Austen portrays the fact that marriages based on the unity of assets and attempts of establishing oneself in society are not reasons for a good marriage. She portrays the fact that although marrying somebody in order to facilitate a comfortable lifestyle may be an accepted choice, it does not lead to happiness. What Austen is trying to portray is that no one thing by itself will bring happiness. She is trying to portray to readers that a combination of love and respect, together with a sufficient amount of money and connections will make a good marriage and two examples of this is the marriage between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, and, Jane and Mr. Bingley.
Austen portrays a balance of factors in a good marriage and an imbalance in a bad one. On the other extreme, unlike marrying for money as Charlotte Lucas did, Lydia married for love and lust but without a substantial amount of money. A marriage such as this is regarded as unacceptable in society and although Lydia believes that she is happy, she has lost a respectable place in society, as Mr Wickham did not go about his marriage in a traditional way. Austen is conveying the fact that people were expected to follow a procedure of asking the bride’s father for permission before marriage, and eloping was considered to be disrespectable.
The following quote is a realisation of the consequences of her actions of marrying Mr Wickham.
“I do not think we shall have quite enough money to live upon without some help”
This quote shows us that although marrying solely for sentiments may be pleasurable, it does not prove to be enough for a successful marriage and comfortable life. Another thing that is indicated by this quote is that Lydia is not fully aware of her actions and the consequences her marriage to Wickham will have. Therefore, this indicates that marriages based on passion, often affecting somebody of a young age, are destined to fail as one of the partners is not fully able to understand the implications of marriage; especially one of poverty.
As established by Austen, factors such as intent to marry for money and marriage without love contribute to a negative marriage. However, another factor that contributes to the decision to marry is the proposal. By introducing proposals into the storyline, Austen portrays to readers the different ways in which characters communicated with each other and which reasons they stated for wanting marriage and how they state these reasons.
In the example of the proposal of marriage by Mr Collins to Elizabeth (below), the tone is very formal and almost perfected, yet lacking basic emotion. Mr Collins establishes many arguments in his proposals and lays out his intent carefully. The following line depicts the formal tone that is used by Mr Collins:
“…with the design of selecting a wife, as I certainly did”
The word “design” is very emotionless and cold and therefore indicates that marriage was not considered by all to be a union of love, but rather a task. The fact that Elizabeth ultimately refuses Mr Collins indicates that the two have a difference of opinion on the subject of marriage, and by doing this Austen portrays the variety of opinions in a normally very strict society. Again, it is shown that people marry for different reasons.
The different attitudes to marriage in today’s society and the society portrayed by Austen are shown by the way in which people propose. Today’s opinion on marriage focuses much closer on the aspect of love and romance, whereas the society portrayed in “Pride and Prejudice” seems to favour marriages based on companionship and convenience. The explicit tone and wording Mr Collins uses shows no romance and this therefore helps to determine that society was a lot more rigid and emotionless in part than it is today. However, as throughout the story, Austen makes a point of indicating that there were many different attitudes to marriage and it being a duty was only one of them.
The formal way in which Mr Collins addresses Elizabeth is portrayed by the line below:
“My reasons for marrying are, first…secondly…and thirdly”
This line is significant because it portrays the lack of emotion and feeling Mr Collins portrays in a moment, which is portrayed and viewed by today’s society as being emotional. This therefore leads me to believe that certain people placed less importance on love in marriage then than in today’s society and also supports the argument that marriage was a duty rather than a union of love.
Throughout the novel, Austen conveys several different situations in order to sum up possible events in society and to portray the consequences of marrying different types of people in different situations. She has depicted several degrees of successful and unsuccessful marriages, and from this information she has attempted to portray to the readers that a combination of love and wealth must take place for a marriage to stand a chance of being successful. She has shown that although marrying for money or lust may bring happiness for a short period, a marriage without love is never as successful as that with love and therefore advises readers upon the fact that a degree of love and respect must be present in every marriage for it to be successful.
This novel is not entirely romantic however, it has a more pessimistic aspect which reveals the ramifications of people’s actions and of entering marriage based on different attractions; such as the difference between marrying for love and marrying for money. Much of the actions portrayed by the characters is often not the view of Austen herself, but rather embodying the views of various aspects of society. These views were often formed due to the upbringing of people in different classes and the fact that women at the time had very few rights and little independence and therefore relied on men much more than in today’s society. Due to the extreme differences between the classes, many views were held in order to keep money in one family; such as the view of arranged marriages between relations. Society had very strict views on what was and was not acceptable behaviour and people such as Lydia who broke these unwritten codes of conduct suffered exclusion from society.
Although the storyline speaks about love and marriage, it also reveals to readers other aspects of society which are not as positive, such as a marriage of convenience, and therefore helps readers to understand why many characters acted in the way they did and how society affected behaviour and influenced decisions.