“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” In the very first sentence, Jane Austen neatly paraphrases the main theme of Pride and Prejudice with a satirical comment on marriage in society of the time.
The book remains, till today, one of the most acclaimed works of English literature because it provides a clever caricature of society at the time, and an ironic comment on how peoples’ lives revolved so wholly around marriage. Despite being, as Austen herself puts it, ‘light, and bright, and sparkling’, Pride and Prejudice has a key message to convey which is not lost out even in all the humour.
The plot seems to suggest that at the time, marriage was viewed as an end objective, and the ultimate accomplishment- unlike modern society, where marriage is thought of as more of a journey. Everyone has the final motive of matrimony; this is the purpose for which Mr. Collins goes to Longbourn, for example.
The fact that books at the time usually ended with the marriage of the main characters emphasized this point further. Contrary to this, today we might find books that begin with a marriage, and the rest of the book might explore the success of the marriage itself rather than the success of the events that lead up to engagement.
The book gives us a snapshot of life for the middle and the upper classes in Georgian times. Perhaps Austen wrote about these classes because she was more familiar with them, but also because these classes had some social mobility. It may have been irregular, but it wasn’t scandalous for someone to marry slightly above his or her rank. It could be considered prejudiced (and therefore hypocritical of the author) not to depict the working class at all, but this class had no social mobility at all so writing a book about their marriages would have been far beyond Austen’s time.
Typical to novels at the time, in true fairy-tale style, the book ends with love and marriage (although it begins with pride, prejudice and general discord). Contrary to this, today we would be likely to find novels that explore the actual marriage itself, and how successful it has been.
Pride and Prejudice has quite a simple plot, which allows for the involvement of various couples- as an example of each gradation of success in marriage. The major matrimonies are of the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, and of a rich gentleman, Mr. Darcy. The marriage of Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley (who is a close friend of Mr. Darcy) is also important to the message that Austen is trying to convey. However, the Bennet marriage and the matrimony of Charlotte and Mr. Collins also are important to the idea of what makes a couple successful. However, these couples are highlighted for negative rather than positive reasons.
The union of Darcy and Elizabeth is a direct illustration of the idea that ‘opposites attract’. Yet, despite being so utterly contrasting, essentially both characters share the admirable traits of wit and intelligence. And even in their differences, their two characters complement one another. What Elizabeth lacks- calmness and perspective- Darcy has. And Elizabeth’s sense of fun is good for Darcy, who is generally so shy that he is mistaken as being haughty and overly swollen with self-importance.
It is important to observe that Austen’s character development were probably more mature than general novels of the time. There doesn’t seem to be a distinct division in the characters; nobody is decidedly ‘bad’ or decidedly ‘good’. They are instead portrayed in more grayish shades. The classic example, of course, is Elizabeth and Darcy’s infamous pride and prejudice, despite their being the supposedly ideal couple. The scene is far more realistic than the typical Gothic romances of the time; it shows a snapshot of everyday life, with human characters who have faults as well.
In the beginning of the book, both Elizabeth and Darcy are wrought with pride and prejudice. Darcy’s superior upbringing gives him an intense pride that makes him strongly prejudiced against Elizabeth’s inferior social status. On at first slighting Elizabeth as of merely ‘tolerable’ beauty and of not being ‘handsome enough to tempt’ him, Darcy wounded her pride, and provided the seeds for prejudice against him, a prejudice that was so strong a feeling that it would later prove hard to erase.
Darcy is the first one that begins to admit his admiration for Elizabeth; even though for a long time he seems to be in denial because his pride cautions him against loving a woman who is of a lower social standing. And even though people around him (like jealous Ms. Bingley) start noticing Darcy’s growing admiration for Elizabeth, her own prejudice blinds her from seeing his regard for her. Despite her strong character, pride is the trait that clouds her judgment. It is this pride that makes her refuse to see Darcy’s true nature, and the same pride that is flattered by Wickham seeking her special attention, cunningly relating to her far-fetched tales that were created merely to induce sympathy. Elizabeth’s family pride prevents her from letting anyone else ‘speak ill’ of her family, although she herself realizes their shortcomings; a fact that is evident when we see how she ‘blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation’ when Mrs. Bennet ventured to give her embarrassing opinions. Darcy’s personal pride also gives him a subconscious feeling of self-importance, and this is reflected in everything he does, especially in his proposal to Elizabeth. The two characters themselves unconsciously give a snapshot of this during their conversation in Netherfield, when Elizabeth accuses Darcy of having a ‘propensity to hate everybody’, to which Darcy retorts that her defect was ‘wilfully to misunderstand them’.
This mutual pride and prejudice makes the couple misjudge each other for most of the story, but they later succumb to the ‘gradual process of falling in love’, and the book ends with their marriage.
If Darcy had been a typical gentleman of the time, he would have felt it his duty to marry someone of equal stature to him in society. Although he did not fulfill this feeling in the end, throughout the book it was Elizabeth’s lower class that worried him. Ms. Bingley, knowing this, tried her hardest to emphasize Elizabeth’s inferiority and her own superiority. Darcy had the perceptiveness to see through Ms. Bingley’s schemes quite early on in the book. Ms. Bingley is distinctly obnoxious in her hypocrisy. Although she seizes every opportunity to slight Elizabeth’s lack of class, her own money came from the much-scorned source of ‘trade’. Her criticism of Elizabeth rises only from a source of deep jealousy, since she wants to marry Darcy herself.
The woman constantly makes covert and not quite so subtle attempts to gain Darcy’s attention and prevent him (unsuccessfully) from liking Elizabeth. Ms. Bingley herself, however, she isn’t in the least in love with Darcy, but is solely after his wealth. Her shallowness of character and vanity make her refuse to see that her constant flirting doesn’t at all sway Darcy.
When Elizabeth walks three miles to see her sick sister at Netherfield (meanwhile getting dirty and muddy), Ms. Bingley thought it was a scandalous, unladylike act and showed an
abominable sort of conceited independence’.
However, ultimately Darcy remained unconvinced despite this constant disparagement- although he maintains that Elizabeth’s manners are ‘not those of the fashionable world’, it was this very independent spirit of hers that seemed to appeal to him. Openness is the one trait that Darcy himself lacks. Perhaps this is why he admires Elizabeth specially, although he is generally so proud that he is quite hard to please. The fact that Elizabeth is not at all restricted by upper class behaviour also helps him to realize that if she loves him at all, she loves him for reasons entirely other than his wealth. Darcy, who is used to being defined solely by his wealth rather than his personality, appreciates Elizabeth for this reason and gives her due respect rather than taking her for granted. Elizabeth is even more likable when we see the totally contrasting character of Ms. Bingley, who is extremely irritating to Darcy for she praises him effusively and insincerely for the most trivial of things.
When Darcy finally swallows his pride enough to decide to propose to Elizabeth, again the words he chose made him ‘not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride.’ He far too frankly spends more time emphasizing the fact that she is inferior to him and not suitable to marry him- but that he, being a great man, was willing to overlook that- than stressing that he truly loves her, or complementing her.
Darcy’s proposal is disastrously untimely. Having just been informed unwittingly by Colonel Fitzwilliam that it was Darcy was the disruption in the Bingley-Jane marriage, Elizabeth’s hatred for him is at its height. She is even more outraged by his maligning her and her family, and does not hesitate to reject him. Darcy had never for a moment expected rejection. While in modern times, we can accept the fact that she refused him, women in that day and age were expected to unquestioningly comply with a proposal, especially when the proposal had come from someone of such high class. However, this rejection could quite probably be referred to as a main cause of their later successful marriage because it lowered Darcy’s pride. If Elizabeth had merely accepted the proposal the first time, Darcy might have taken her for granted, and he would continue to have felt falsely superior to him at all times. This would have created an inequality in their status and their marriage would have been a failure.
By this time Elizabeth Bennet; who is a woman who is neither considered uncommonly beautiful nor is in the possession of a lot of wealth, has already refused two worthy suitors. This emphasizes her independence of mind. We are convinced that she does not feel the common fear for ladies of her age at the time; she is not afraid of remaining a spinster all her life. She would not, therefore, meekly accept any proposal that came her way.
Pride and Prejudice is not an epistolary novel, but its first draft was one. This is reflected in the fact that all the major events and plot twists are portrayed as letters. This is not only because letters move the plot of the novel along faster (since the characters do not have to find things out by themselves all the time). Letters are also used because it was essential to abide by the subtle norms of polite society. Letters proved to be a more diplomatic medium of saying things that would have been considered impolite or ‘indiscreet’ otherwise.
The crucial turning point of Elizabeth’s feelings towards Darcy is when he sends a letter explaining all his good intentions, relating the story of Wickham’s deceit and defending his decision to talk the impressionable Bingley out of marrying Jane.
Not long after rejecting Darcy’s proposal and receiving his letter, Elizabeth goes to Pemberley with the Gardiners, and there, she meets Darcy by accident.
‘Never in her life had she seen his manners so little dignified, never had he spoken with such gentleness as on this unexpected meeting.’
In this scene, Austen subtly portrays that it is a combination of the humbling of Darcy’s pride at his proposal being rejected, and the loss of prejudice on Eliza’s behalf (after learning the real story of Wickham’s betrayal) that has catalyzed Darcy’s apparently sudden change of character.
Pemberley was where Elizabeth finally changed her opinion of Darcy. His housekeeper’s effusive yet sincere praise, insisting that ‘some people call him proud…to my fancy, it is only because he does not rattle away like the other young men’ was what first made her realize that not everyone held the same view of Darcy. She decided that maybe it was better to trust the judgment of a housekeeper who had known him since he was four, and of the obviously good natured Mr. Bingley. The ‘four and twenty’ or so families in Meryton may have found him ‘disagreeable’, but after all, they did not really know him at all, but whose criticism was based merely on first impressions. The fact that Meryton was a small and close-knit village community also made even more eager to be suspicious of strangers. Austen depicts that a certain amount of openness of thought is also required for a good marriage. To meet the right person, one must be open to thinking about him with an open mind, rather than simply being quick to find fault all the time.
Another hindrance that could potentially have disrupted the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth was the intervention of Lady Catherine De Burgh. Much like Ms. Bingley in her snobbery, the lady is obnoxiously aware of her superior social position. On hearing rumours of Darcy’s love for Elizabeth she was shocked that Darcy would stoop so low as to even consider marrying someone so inferior to him. The Lady has her own designs too, and wishes that Darcy should marry her own equally conceited daughter. She goes to Longbourn in an attempt to make Elizabeth swear that she will not marry Darcy; but Elizabeth, true to form, doesn’t bow down to Lady De Bourgh’s superficial rank and refuses to comply with her wishes. Ironically, the Lady’s very act of trying to break up the imminent marriage was ultimately the reason why Darcy and Elizabeth did get married. Darcy is ‘taught to hope again’ by Elizabeth’s response to the lady and he is encouraged to try a second proposal.
To be ‘violently in love’ is depicted as a ‘hackneyed, doubtful and indefinite’ emotion by Mrs. Gardiner (whose opinion we are encouraged to trust). Austen works on persuading us to believe that rationality is as strong a basis for love as is pure emotion, which could be just a superficial illusion and may well run out. A key example of this sort of feeling is the ‘love’ that Mr. Collins so fervently professes, first for Elizabeth and then for Charlotte Lucas. He insists that Elizabeth would make him ‘the happiest man alive’, yet he feels no qualms in declaring the same to Charlotte three days later.
Lydia and Wickham also base their relationship around what is likely to be a ‘fling’, based solely on passionate physical attraction.
Whereas in Darcy’s (second) proposal to Elizabeth, we notice that she doesn’t even look at him while accepting, let alone any physical contact. This proves that their love is based around far more than just physical attraction and childish infatuation. True love brings about a deeper understanding for each other along with a respect and influence that can cause people to change. Elizabeth maintains that it is ‘love, ardent love’ that lowers Darcy’s disagreeable pride. The fact that the couple had to overcome their own difficulties and obstacles makes their marriage not only more appealing since we, as readers, can relate and sympathise with the both of them; but highlights yet again Austen’s views on marriage. The long time that Elizabeth and Darcy take to really appreciate each other gives us the impression that the two of them have understood each other on a deeper level.
When Austen wrote the novel, she was probably aware of the fact that the marriage she was writing about was not at all conventional at the time. In the 1800s, the typical suitor generally looked for a modest woman who never ventured to offer her own opinion about anything. The typical woman, in turn was supposed to be ‘accomplished’ enough in skills like sewing; skills that were mastered with the purpose of seeming quaint and charming without actually being very practical. A woman was expected to marry a man who would look after her and provide her with only a ‘comfortable home’. Love or respect was never a consideration at all.
Elizabeth Bennet was not likely to be a traditionally admired heroine at the time when the novel was written. She was far too self-assured in her mannerisms to create the overall demure impression that the typical woman was expected to fulfill. Contrary to being the ‘damsel-in-distress’ stereotype, Elizabeth is convinced that she can take care of herself and does not need a man to do so.
However, to modern readers today, the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy is appreciated since we like Elizabeth’s feisty, lively character. In today’s feministic era, coolness and self-reliance is encouraged. We appreciate the fact that they marry not because Elizabeth needs to make sure that there is someone to provide for her, but because Elizabeth and Darcy truly understand and respect each other. Theirs is a union of equals, and they are therefore bound to be successful together.
Jane and Bingley are the other major couple in the book. Austen sketches Jane’s character as a slightly stereotypical, pleasant girl who everyone admits is the prettiest in the Bennet family.
Elizabeth and Jane both have the important virtue of sense. They are both strong enough to take charge of the family through its greatest times of need. Through the elopement of Lydia and Wickham, it is Jane who supports the family. Although she loves Bingley and is hurt when he leaves her, she stands up to the loss rather than breaking down completely.
Yet, in other respects, Jane is rather watery of character. She refuses to acknowledge any vices in any person, to a point where it is almost dangerous since it causes her to lose her perspective and become a bad judge of character. (Although admittedly she was the first one to point out that Darcy’s haughtiness was perhaps more so due to an underlying shyness). She refuses to believe that the snobbish, troublemaking Ms. Bingley could have played any part in discouraging her budding relationship with Bingley. It is ultimately up to Elizabeth to act protectively towards her more naï¿½ve sister.
Despite the fact that they get along so well together, Jane and Elizabeth are ultimately two quite different sisters. Jane lacks the vivacity, wit and confidence that make Elizabeth so very unique.
The contrast between Bingley and Darcy is as pronounced and emphasized as the contrast between Jane and Elizabeth. Bingley is easy-going and of an open character; Darcy is aloof, complicated, and by his own admission, his ‘temper would perhaps be called resentful’.
In the end, both Elizabeth and Darcy and Jane and Bingley are good matches since husband and wife are so suited to each other. All four are good people, but it is not enough to get married to a good person; the best marriages are of equals. For example, Elizabeth would have gotten bored of Bingley very quickly, just as Darcy would have tired of Jane’s constant virtuosity.
While Darcy and Elizabeth were equals in terms of intelligence, displaying their wit throughout the book through teasing repartee, Jane and Bingley are equals in terms of truly good nature, and of sincere and kind ‘disposition’.
A key emotion in the plot is the hurt that Jane feels when Bingley goes away to London saying that he will never come back, since his leaving Netherfield made it unlikely that he had any intentions of marrying Jane. However, it is quite probably Jane herself who played a big part in this issue, since it is partly her fault that her marriage with Bingley was so delayed. In the words of the much more shrewd Charlotte Lucas, ‘if a woman is partial to a man, and does not endeavour to conceal it, he must find it out.’
It is not enough to be ‘made for each other’ and fall in love- they must be proactive and take action so that they actually do get together. In her need to constantly be compassionate towards others, Jane hides her own feelings for Bingley so that he is fooled into thinking that she does not reciprocate her love for him. This is an occasion where it might perhaps have helped to follow Mrs. Bennet’s ideas (although cautiously) and be a little more forward, since this is essential if one wants to get a good marriage.
Mr. Bingley is also slightly to blame for the misunderstanding. He is so eager to please everyone that he is easily persuaded, and his sisters and Darcy find it no hard task to dissuade him from marrying Jane. Darcy himself phrases the same in a diplomatic way: ‘Bingley has great natural modesty, with a stronger dependence on my judgment than his own.’
If either Jane or Bingley had married someone more cunning and intelligent than themselves, their spouses could have taken advantage of their innocence. This is what makes their marriage so good- they are equals.
The marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet is the author’s illustration of the worst possible combination of people- simply because it did not unite two equals. Marriage formed on inappropriate grounds can instill a sense of overwhelming loneliness.
Austen uses every opportunity to fit in humourous scenes that criticize Mrs. Bennet to an almost sadistic level- but she does so within reason, for Mrs. Bennet is a silly and frivolous woman. Definitely of ‘uncertain temper’, her mood swings suddenly from high spirits to low, and her generally fickle disposition causes her to quickly change her opinion of people. Although critical of Darcy throughout the story, as soon as Elizabeth announces her engagement to the man, Mrs. Bennet is overjoyed.
Legal ‘entails’ made it inevitable that once the patriarch died, the Bennet estate would pass on to the next male member: Mr. Collins. This means that Mrs. Bennet’s ultimate ambition in life is to get all her daughters married to rich men who will assure her a comfortable life when Mr. Bennet dies. Ironically, sometimes she is so eager and desperate to get them good suitors that she herself drives away potential husbands, Bingley being the chief example. One of the reasons why Darcy advised Bingley not to marry Jane was because of the hindrance that her family would prove. It was only a short time earlier that Mrs. Bennet had created an embarrassing scene in front of Darcy and the Bingleys, making her tactlessness and lack of breeding very obvious.
Mrs. Bennet deliberately sends Jane to Bingley’s estate on horseback- she knew that rain was expected, and that Jane would have to therefore stay over at the Bingleys’ estate if she went by horseback rather than by carriage. Moreover, she was delighted when she heard that Jane was sick and would have to spend quite a few days there. Ultimately it was Elizabeth who found it necessary to visit Jane at once.
Mr. Bennet was so much more intelligent compared to his silly, frivolous, tactless wife that had early on lost all respect for her. He had initially been ‘captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour, which youth and beauty generally give’, but soon it was evident for all that ‘respect, esteem and confidence had vanished forever.’ Needless to say, if twenty-three years had been ‘insufficient to make his wife understand his character’, their marriage was not a successful one. The fact that Mr. Bennet seems to amuse himself by teasing and mocking his wife and youngest daughters only emphasizes that fact.
However, in some respects even Mr. Bennet is not a good father. Practicality is as important as intelligence, and this man has so far given up on his marriage that he withdraws from all problems of his family- to a point where he could be thought of as lazy and selfish. He is content with openly acknowledging his youngest daughters as silly. Mr. Bennet might be one of the most amusing characters in the book, but when read deeper; he is almost heartless and slightly masochistic in his refusal to sympathise with the women in the house. Mrs. Bennet might be irritatingly desperate to marry off her daughters, but on viewing the scene from her shoes, we realize that she is only being practical; without a marriage, her daughters would be condemned to poverty, since Mr. Bennet has not provided for their future at all. Instead, the library is the refuge where he slowly breeds almost a sense of denial. He realizes the foolishness of his youngest daughters, but does not attempt to do anything about it. He just passively mocks them.
Another message Austen tries to give in the illustration of the Bennets is the fact that there are ‘disadvantages which must attend the children of so unsuitable a marriage’. Even Elizabeth, who is so close to Mr. Bennet, realizes that he has an ‘ill-judged direction of talents; talents which rightly used, might at least have preserved the respectability of his daughters, even if incapable of enlarging the mind of his wife.’ It is she who advises Mr. Bennet to forbid Lydia from joining the regimen’s travel, but true to form, he does not take the advice. Even when Mr. Gardiner sends a letter to him warning him of Lydia’s forthcoming marriage, his reaction is that ‘it will pass’. He believes that remaining uninvolved is the best solution to his problems, for he is lazy to act during a crisis.
Admittedly, if Mr. Bennet had been exactly like Mrs. Bennet, pushy and frivolous, the mayhem in the Bennet household would have reached even greater heights since they would both have not only lacked intelligence, but have insisted on carrying out their ill-judged ideas. However, despite the potential chaos, they would at least have been happy, since they would have been able to relate to each other. Perhaps the happiness would have made up for some of their faults.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner are the exact opposites of the Bennets. The always-cynical narrator obviously approves of this marriage. Mr. Gardiner is a ‘sensible, gentlemanlike man, greatly superior to his sister [Mrs. Bennet] as well by nature and education’, and Mrs. Gardiner is no less praised: she is an ‘amiable, intelligent, elegant woman’. Subtle hints are constantly thrown in suggesting that Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner make better parents than Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Mrs. Gardiner is ‘a great favourite with all her Longbourn nieces’, and after Jane, it is she who is Elizabeth’s chief confidante, not Mrs. Bennet. She is always looking out for Elizabeth, observing her reaction towards Darcy, offering gentle rather than forceful and insistent advice as to what she should do.
Not only that, but when Lydia runs away with Wickham and crisis ensues, it is Mr. Gardiner, not Mr. Bennet, who is effective in solving the problem (although admittedly it was Darcy who was the primary help).
Again this adds to the idea that the children from a bad marriage suffer, perhaps even more than the husband and wife themselves, who can get away with just withdrawing from family matters.
The matrimony of Lydia and Wickham symbolizes another unenviable union. Lydia is almost exactly like her mother, as Elizabeth says, ‘ignorant, idle and vain’. It is inevitable that her marriage will also turn out as disastrous as her mother’s in later years, when the ‘captivation of youth and beauty’ wears off.
Lydia is frivolous with a largely vacant mind, and Wickham is, by the narrator’s description, ‘the happy man towards whom every female eye was turned’. Physical attraction and passion alone seemed to be the fuel for their fire, which is why one doesn’t think it would last very long.
It is evident that Lydia’s childish infatuation with Wickham far exceeds his attraction for her. Wickham needs to be bribed heftily to marry Lydia, while she remains unfeelingly oblivious towards Wickham’s deceit and shameless behaviour and does not seem to notice how much trouble she has caused her family.
Neither is it a match based around love or understanding, nor a marriage based around practicality (like Charlotte and Mr. Collins’). Neither Wickham nor Lydia has any money; they depend on Darcy for their income.
The marriage of Charlotte and Mr. Collins is symbolic of a different type of marriage altogether. The story of this couple is one of the funniest in the book, but the humour does not hide the underlying theme- the idea of a practical rather than a sentimental marriage.
Charlotte quite obviously is far more intelligent than her husband, but it is she herself who encourages him to propose to her. Why? Because Charlotte Lucas is already cynical about the subject of love, and feels that one might as well marry for money, because anyway ‘happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance’.
Despite being the best of friends, Charlotte and Elizabeth are complete opposites. Charlotte is a realist. By her own admission, she is as practical as Elizabeth is romantic. In creating Darcy’s first impressions, Charlotte had been the only one who had forgiven his pride since she thought that his rank had justified it. This trivial comment tells us what kind of person she is and prepares us for her decision to marry Mr. Collins. All she wants from her husband is a comfortable home, and Mr. Collins, despite all his vices, is definitely able to give her this.
Mr. Collins is an exceedingly irritating and pretentious man. This is illustrated not only in his flowery descriptions of his ‘humble abode’, but also in his long-winded and garrulously phrased letters. He indulges in empty flattery to everyone, and defers to Lady De Bourgh as if she is a god. This is something that irritates Elizabeth, since she does not like the idea that money alone can make someone superior to others. Mr. Collins is ‘a conceited, pompous, narrow minded and silly man’.
His fickleness is highlighted subtly yet ironically when we see how quickly he switches his preferences between different women. Initially, he was interested in Jane, but on understanding Mrs. Bennet’s hints as to how the girl was nearly engaged already, his matrimonial intentions shifted quite effortlessly to Elizabeth. Mr. Collins ‘thought too well of himself to comprehend on what motive his cousin could refuse him’. Even after being rejected he has not lost his pride, and attributes his rejection to Elizabeth’s rather than his own weaknesses. Yet, when Lizzie rejected his proposal, Mr. Collins was not a man to wallow in the pain… he proposed to Charlotte Lucas within three days!
Obviously, Charlotte is quite a sharper and more cunning woman than she initially seems. An instance that specifically highlights this fact is when we see that it was she who planted the idea of marriage into Mr. Collins’ head, but the silly man still believes that it was his original plan all along.
Elizabeth disapproves strongly of the Charlotte-Collins marriage, and we, as readers, tare encouraged to back her judgment. It is not the kind of marriage that Lizzie appreciates; because she believes that mutual understanding is the strongest basis for marriage, and this is something that Charlotte and Mr. Collins do not have.
However, on looking at the situation from an unbiased perspective, we could consider the fact that perhaps it is Elizabeth’s infamous, easily provoked prejudice that triggers her intense disapproval. Although she chides Charlotte for marrying for money, she herself admits when Wickham leaves her for Mary King, that it is valid to marry for reasons of money sometimes.
On deeper analysis, we see that there are some merits of the Charlotte-Collins union. Charlotte is very different from Elizabeth. She is practical enough not to remain in denial over the fact that she is neither as pretty, nor as vivacious as Elizabeth Bennet. She does not feel that she will ever get a marital opportunity that is more satisfactory than Mr. Collins’ offer. All she wants is a ‘comfortable home’, and despite all her husband’s vices, this is something he can provide. Her marriage is evidently not as dire a union as the Lydia-Wickham scandal, because at least Charlotte is convinced that she will be happy. She readily admits that she doesn’t really like or respect her husband, and tries to engineer her day so that she sees as little of him as possible. When she is not forced to endure his company she can be happy with her peaceful surroundings and the charming home that her husband has provided for her: ‘when Mr. Collins could be forgotten, there was really a great air of comfort throughout. And by Charlotte’s evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposed he must be often forgotten.’
Our only anxiety could be that maybe she might one day meet a man who would make her less sure of herself and the idea that she would never fall in love. If she one day met someone who she would really make a connection with, she will be miserable with the unsatisfactory Mr. Collins. It will not be long before their marriage crumbles; for it was laid on such poor foundations.
The marriage of Charlotte and Mr. Collins was a more typical marriage of the time. It was a marriage that was essentially a socio-economic equation, where the match was based totally on a foundation of financial security and a good rank in society- with no thought given at all to the mutual understanding between the two people.
Sometimes it might seem like the characters of Mary and Kitty Bennet seem just like simple fillers in the plot, since they are not much involved in the story at all. However, when analysed further, it is evident that they are both important when trying to create the environment for the book.
Mary seems quite intimidating and wise at first, but since she lacks the more practical, sharp intelligence and good perception that Elizabeth has, the vague reflections she declares from time to time seem irrelevant and purposeless. Mary has neither Lydia’s feminine charm, nor Elizabeth’s admirable independence and strength of character, nor Jane’s modest beauty. Men do not flock around her like they do around her other sisters, and even her tactless mother has given up on getting her a husband. She blocks the idea of marriage from her mind and resorts to her books in an attempt to get another outlet for attention. Mary keeps to herself, and finds it hard to be accepted by people around her. Society pressured young girls to find suitable husbands as their life goals. The general idea was that marriage was ‘the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune.’
However, when Elizabeth, Jane and Lydia leave Longbourn for their husbands’ estates, Mary gets the opportunity to change. She got her chance at freedom, having remained under the shadow of her elder, more vivacious sisters.
Even Kitty, removed from the influence of Lydia’s frivolous ways, changed to become slightly more balanced of character.
The narrator in this story almost has a distinct character of her own. Although the narrator is not Jane Austen, or Elizabeth; she seems to share many of their characteristics. Both Elizabeth and the narrator are humorous in a sardonic style, and with every marriage explained, the narrator has a definite opinion to offer.
The narrator is omniscient, but keeps things to herself and only reveals them as Elizabeth discovers them, which not only keeps the plot exciting and filled with suspense, but allows us to sympathise with Elizabeth. Most third person omniscient narrators tend to simply relate the story, but this narrator’s voice is not ambiguous or unbiased. We are distinctly encouraged to approve or disapprove of specific marriages in the book. This makes the message of the book clearer as we can segregate quite plainly between the bad and the good marriages.
Pride and Prejudice was Jane Austen’s outlet for describing the essence of an exemplary marriage: to put it briefly, mutual understanding, respect, and an assurance that they two involved will never lose interest in each other. Austen felt that society should not be allowed to put too much pressure on people to marry, since marriage was a decision that would shape the rest of their lives. It was essential to find a good person to marry; someone who not only suited you on the emotional and intellectual levels, but also on practical terms, could provide a good fortune to leave you a comfortable life.
Combining a gentle mix of comedy and thought-provoking ideas, Pride and Prejudice remains till today one of the most admired books in English Literature.