Attitudes to Women in Pride and Prejudice

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The first mention of women appears in the very first sentence 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 rather plainly expresses women not simply on their own, separate from men, but as wives. Jane Austen goes on the write, "this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some or other of their daughters." This goes to show that parents were quite willing to marry off their daughters to a man simply because he was a wealthy gentleman. There is not a word of his character or to his general disposition, no question of whether or not he could make their daughter happy, or if she could ever love him. Marriage was, as Mr Collins later proves, a "business" transaction. This was not because parents did not care for their daughters, it was simply because unless a woman had her own financial means, as Lady de Bourgh does, she had no option but to marry a man who could support her and provide her with a house and such securities. Other alternative was to become a governess, which was not desirable. In Shirley by Charlotte Bronte Mrs Pryor (who was a governess herself) spends a great deal of energy trying to dissuade Caroline Helstone from becoming a governess. "Governesses,'' she observed, "must ever be kept in a sort of isolation... ...All I mean to say, my dear, is, that you had better not attempt to be a governess, as the duties of the position would be too severe for your constitution. Not one word of disrespect would I breathe towards either Mrs. or Miss Hardman; only, recalling my own experience, I cannot but feel that, were you to fall under auspices such as theirs, you would contend a while courageously with your doom: then you would pine and grow too weak for your work; you would come home -- if you still had a home -- broken down. Those languishing years would follow, of which none but the...
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