Upper/middle classes at the time that Jane Austen wrote ‘Pride and Prejudice’ were very secluded in their social groups. People tended to socialise in the same circles all the time, mainly with people who lived close to them. Everyone seemed to know each other and each others affairs. If a woman was seen to be unmarried by a certain age, she was seen as ‘not marriage material.’ The less fortune the girl was set to inherit, or the less well off her family was, the lower in the social hierarchy she would marry. If the man was rich or he held a respectable family name, he would want a suitable wife. The women had to be ‘an accomplished woman’ to be seen as suitable, ‘a woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern languages, to deserve the world.’
The relationships between men and women were very restrictive up until marriage. It was frowned upon if a single man and woman were alone together. They could very rarely find partners outside their own social circles, because they didn’t mingle with different people. The potential husband had to offer something to the family he hoped to be marrying into in the way of financial support, as the women very rarely worked.
The effect this had on marriages was that the males were much more stereotypically dominant in the relationship, as they were the earners and head of the household. The women were mainly the carers for the children, and the sons were always favoured, because they would continue the family name and also inherit the family fortune that’s passed down.
I think Austen’s view of a good marriage is portrayed through Lizzie. It must be natural love, as well as being exciting and passionate, rather than boring and safe. She often describes Lydia and Wickham’s marriage as being awful and almost forced on Wickham’s part, ‘small as is their chance of happiness’ showing that Lizzie thinks it’s a bad marriage, because there is no love there. Austen shows that a marriage must have love; otherwise the marriage will turn bad, like Mr and Mrs Bennett. I also think Austen thinks that the two people in the marriage must have passion as well, as she portrays this through the fiery trysts between Darcy and Lizzie.
A good marriage in Jane Austen’s opinion is Darcy and Elizabeth. Although to begin with Elizabeth sees him, although striking and handsome, as proud and offensive ‘I could easily forgive his pride if he had not mortified mine.’ Her displeasure towards him turns into love after she sees his true character. Darcy himself finds Elizabeth unappealing to start, describing Elizabeth as ‘tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me,’ but soon becomes inclined towards her ‘fine eyes.’ All these insults do is create tension between the two characters, and neither will subside until they realise their true feelings. Their marriage is the best in the book, because have just the right balance of true love and passion and conflict. They are both such strong and influential characters that Jane Austen makes it obvious that their love is true, as before, even when Darcy proclaimed his love for Elizabeth, she shunned him. She then had a complete change of heart, saying to her father, ‘I love him,’ showing that Darcy loved her so much, that he could change. He went from an arrogant proud man to ‘perfectly amiable.’
He helped Elizabeth through troubles and helped her when she needed someone, even without her needing to ask. I think this is what Austen is trying to get across in Pride and Prejudice, that love can change people for the better. We know this, as she is forever making references through Elizabeth to how Darcy has ‘changed’ after Elizabeth flatly turned down his rude proposal because of his involvement in Bingley and Jane’s relationship. We also can tell that Austen thinks that Elizabeth and Darcy have a good marriage because even through the social differences, their love manages to thrive and grow, despite Lady Catherine de Burgh and Caroline Bingley’s numerous efforts to deter Darcy’s passion, ‘I am afraid, Mr Darcy, that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes.’ These attempts are unsuccessful, showing that true love cannot be quelled by people outside the relationship. After marriage, we know that Elizabeth and Darcy have an equal relationship, which was practically unheard of in the times of Pride and Prejudice, ‘her lively, sportive manner of speaking to her brother.’
An example of a bad marriage is portrayed through Lydia and Wickham. We, as the readers, knew of Wickham’s unsavoury past and temperament, as Mr Darcy had reported it to Elizabeth. There was no love between Lydia and Wickham, only ‘animal passion.’ We can tell Jane Austen thinks this is a bad marriage, for she is forever making references to Lydia being much more in love with Wickham, than him with her. We know, to begin with, that they weren’t even planning on getting married when they ran away together, ‘and if they are not married already, make them marry!’ Lydia was but a child, and Wickham took advantage of her lustful nature. They had no money, and Wickham was known to have excessive gambling debts, which Mr Darcy paid off in return for Wickham’s marriage to Lydia. They cannot support themselves as Mr Darcy is always dropping out of his career choices, therefore having to beg from Elizabeth, ‘I do not think we shall have quite money enough to live upon without some help.’ This cannot be a good marriage, because in these times, men were supposed to provide for the wife instead of gambling what little money they had away.
An interesting marriage is between the reverend Collins and Charlotte. There is no love between them, at least on Charlotte’s behalf ‘Mr Collins would undoubtedly have much less in her own apartment, had they sat in one equally lively’, but they both seem to be content in their situation. We know for a fact Collins was desperate to find a wife to uphold his image of family vicar for Lady Catherine, ‘find such a woman as soon as you can.’ It’s definitely a convenience marriage, ‘they both seem to be happy at least, and in a prudential light, he is a very good match for her,’ more than a marriage for love, but they both have a stable and comfortable relationship. Charlotte was getting older than average for marriage, and Mr Collins was the best option she would probably get due to her advancing age. It can’t have been a very attractive proposal from Mr Collins, because he had earlier been described as a ‘conceited, pompous, narrow-minded silly man’ which shows that Charlotte was marrying more for expediency than lust or love of any kind.
It is not a bad marriage because there is no extortion of feelings, such as with Lydia and Wickham, but it cannot be described as a good marriage because to have a good marriage, there has to be certain components (love and connecting personalities) which are missing from Charlotte and Mr Wickham. Charlotte is satisfied nonetheless; she has a comfortable house and will always be taken care of. Unlike Wickham, Collins isn’t the type of husband to treat Charlotte disrespectfully. Their marriage is very different to a stereotypically good marriage such as Mr Darcy and Elizabeth, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad one. It’s more of a comforting arrangement rather than a typical marriage for love, but it seems to suit both Charlotte and reverend Collins, ‘when Mr Collins would be forgotten, there was really a great air of comfort throughout, and by Charlotte’s evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposed he must be forgotten often.’