Pride and Prejudice Marriage

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THE NOVEL IS CRITICAL OF THE SUPERFICIALITIES AND INJUSTICES OF AUSTENS SOCIETY, BUT NOT OF THE WAY THAT SOCIETY IS FUNDAMENTALLY ORGANISED. It is not the fundamental structure of the Regency Period that Jane Austen criticizes in “Pride and Prejudice” but rather its transgression into a shallow society, defined largely by marriage and status. Contextually women derived their all-important wealth (as women had no right to inheritance)  and status from the frivolity of marriage, but this more often than not rendered women powerless and both parties were unable gain a sense of personal satisfaction. The satirization of Mr and Mrs Bennet’s loveless marriage allows us to challenge the conventional fixation on wealth as opposed to the happiness and development of the woman. Through the portrayal of Lizzy and Darcy’s union however, Austen in her novel of moral instruction presents us with an alternate view to marriage as a vessel for moral growth and development. It can be said that Austen, who never married herself  asks not for social upheaval and revolution but instead embraces the importance of mutual respect within the union of man and woman. Marriage is presented as an institution that has the potential to assist in social improvement and for Austen; consists of mutual respect,  individual growth and understanding but also backed with wealth.

The highly satirical representation of Mr and Mrs Bennet’s marriage exposes the consequences of what was then considered a conventional marriage, illustrating the reduction of human potential and interpersonal development. It is this uncomplimentary relationship and her self awareness that provides Elizabeth with the stamina to pursue a rewarding partnership with Darcy. Through the narration, Austen challenges the materialistic perception of marriage within Regency England as a means to reflect social discourse that existed. Mr Bennet’s regret in marrying a woman of “youth, beauty and an appearance of good humour” is shown in his loss of “respect, esteem and confidence”. This bases Mr Bennet’s cynical nature on the disappointment of his marriage. This suggests that marriage for vanity and materialistic aspiration is insufficient reason for a partnership  and may leads to the inevitable dissatisfaction and restricts both individuals in their ability to mature. Within Mr and Mrs Bennet’s matrimony, happiness is sacrificed as there lays a discrepancy between mutual respect and superiority. Mr Bennet’s role as both a husband and father is overridden by a domineering and illogical Mrs Bennet who, unlike her husband holds no integrity or reflective capacity. This notion is emphasized through Mr Bennet’s withdrawal from familial affairs to the realms of his library and is also channelled through his regret. This is evident through the lines “My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”  Here Mr Bennet appears a broken man; reduced and defined by the actions of his wife which contextually was viewed as a reversal of gender roles. This in itself reflects the need of a male superior to maintain rationality within marriage, a fundamental structure of the Regency Period as wealth and status was primarily passed down the male line amongst the gentry.  Austen encourages us to celebrate this but within moderation and thus views a happy marriage as one of respect and understanding. It can therefore be assumed that marriage in the Regency Era is a necessary tool for the continuum of moral thought and judgement for both the woman and the man.

Austen employs Pride and Prejudice as a vehicle to advocate her approval on marriage but only under circumstances of respect and understanding. Contextually this notion was forgotten given women’s social and economic dependency on their male counterparts. Thus women only had  the option of  marriages where often neither party were a partnership. Through the defiant and outward voice of Elizabeth Bennet, Austen...
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