Discuss the Various Attitudes to Marriage and Courtship That Jane Austen Presents in ‘Pride and Prejudice’

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Discuss the Various Attitudes to Marriage and Courtship that Jane Austen presents in ‘Pride and Prejudice’

In Jane Austen’s book ‘Pride and Prejudice’ she shows various attitudes of marriage and courtship through each character. Some of these attitudes to marriage and courtship are very different to the attitudes of most people today. This book is mainly about marriage so it is very easy and interesting to compare the opinions of marriage from the early nineteenth century to life now. Jane Austen mentions marriage for the first time, in Pride and Prejudice, in the very first sentence:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

(Chapter 1, page 51)

This is possibly the most important quote in the book because it sets the tone for the rest of the novel and it is where we first discover that the book is actually about marriage. Marriage was more of a business arrangement then. For young women it was very important, particularly for the Bennets, that you married a man who was as rich as possible. The amount of money that men had and the lifestyle based on that amount played a very important part in the decision of who to marry. How much love played a part in the equation was a lot smaller than how much the money did.

Mrs Bennet, throughout the book, we can see is a very loud, impolite woman. Her character could be described as being a caricature. We first hear of Mr Charles Bingley when Mrs Bennet is telling her husband, Mr Bennet, about him. We don’t learn too much about him other than the fact that he is very wealthy and he is in the area. Mr Bennet asks at this point to Mrs Bennet if he is married or single. She replies:

“Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”

(Chapter 1, page 51)

From what Mrs Bennet says we can instantly see that she is very excited at the news of Mr Bingley being in the area. All that she has heard is that he is wealthy and single and she is already picturing him marrying one of her daughters:

“You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”

(Chapter 1, page 51)

We can see that Mrs Bennet’s main aim is to have her daughters married to rich men because while she is trying to inform Mr Bennet of, in her opinion, great news that Mr Bingley has just arrived into the area, Mr Bennet shows no interest, which agitates her further.

“Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion for my poor nerves.”

(Chapter 1, page 52)
Elizabeth, however, has different views to marriage compared to her mother. Her opinions of marriage are very much like the opinions of most women today. Of course she takes into account how much money she would have as a result of the marriage but having a rich husband is not all she considers in the decision of marriage. For Elizabeth love has to be included with the marriage no matter how wealthy the husband would be. This is why she refuses two marriage proposals from Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy and Mr Collins later in the book, because – although accepting either marriage would financially improve her lifestyle – she does not love either man. Of course later in the book she does change her mind and fall in love with Mr Darcy. She shows this with various changes of her character and opinion of him throughout the book and later accepts Darcy’s second marriage proposal.

This book was set to be in the late 18th century at which social gatherings were particularly important. Balls and musical evenings were seen as being the centre of social life. These gatherings were great opportunities to find a partner. Jane Bennet first met Mr Bingley at a ball in Meryton. (They later marry). At the same town ball Elizabeth Bennet first met Mr Darcy too. (They also marry...
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