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Marriage Ideas in Pride and Prejudice

By kurstin6903 Feb 26, 2006 1631 Words
Marriage Ideas in Pride and Prejudice

Marriage is supposed to be about money and a very small affection towards the person you are marrying. Marriage is a decision made by societies dictates as well. "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" (Austen 1). Jane Austen started her novel Pride and Prejudice this way because it clearly states that marriage is going to be a theme. The line also implies that men who are financially stable must want to get married. We come to find that in some cases this is true, mainly because they must produce an heir. The most frequent circumstance though is that a female without money or beneficial family will be in search of a husband. In fact in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, it is mostly the female characters that not only are in want of husbands but also are doing most of the pursuing. The problems with marriages during this time are the strictures that are put upon the women while finding their husbands. Society rules dictate the whole affair leading up to marriage, and in most marriages women may not even know their husband. Due to a process called entailing, if the father of a family did not have a son, his property, upon his death would be given to a male relative on his side of the family, instead of his wife or daughters. This was the reason that a woman's main role in life was to marry above her station. It meant that not only was she provided for, but that her family could also be provided for on some level. Jane Austen oversteps the boundaries for her time in presenting new character ideas in the men and women of her novel. Through the exploration of Austen's characters we will come to see the new and old ideas of marriage for the 19th century. The story has ups, downs, and surprises with every page turn for each of the relationships that are formed, broken, and then formed again between the daughters and other men. It is in the end that four sharply contrasting marriages emerge to show how real marriages are to be built upon with time. As was standard etiquette for this time, men had to be introduced to a woman by a mutual friend. If permission "to call" was granted, the visit was well-chaperoned and the couple said "goodnight" at the parlor door. There had to be 3 months in between the announcement of the engagement and the actual wedding for it to be considered respectable. These rules clearly show that there was no time for people to get to know the person they were supposed to be marrying. It is through Mrs. Bennet that we get to see the influence that family can have upon the marriage process. Mrs. Bennet I believe was made to look bold in her pursuits of candidates for her daughters to show the reader what "match-making mamas" were all about. Mrs. Bennet was desperate to get her girls married because during the time it was a disgrace for a lady of even lower class to go unwed.

Mrs. Bennet is trying to do what is best for her daughters considering the time period and the way that she was brought up. Considering two of her daughters are almost beyond the realm of marriageable age she must act quickly. Women were introduced into the marriage mart at the age of 17-19 generally and it was only supposed to take a year or two for them to find a successful match. Jane and Elizabeth are both into their early 20's making them not so desirable in the marriage market. Another uncommon feature of this novel is the fact that all 5 daughters of the Bennet family are out at the same time. The "come-out" of a daughter is very expensive because of the wardrobes and endless affairs they are supposed to be going to. The Bennet's have all 5 daughters out in society at the same time which is way beyond their means of income. This could also be another reason for Mrs. Bennet's pushy attitude towards marriage for her daughters.

It is because of the entailment in the Bennet family that we get to see the first suitor for Elizabeth. Due to the entailment, Mr. Bennet's nephew, Mr. Collin's was to receive his house upon his death. Mr. Collin's, desperate to marry, sees Elizabeth not only as a good match for himself but also as a way for the house to stay within the family. He proposes to Elizabeth, however, contrary to tradition, she refuses him. Austen is paving the way for the future at this point in the story. In the 19th century, women were expected to say yes whether they loved the man or not, if it meant taking care of themselves and their family. The role of marriage once again is to make financial bonds between families so that you are provided for. There were etiquette books during this time constantly telling women how they were supposed to accept the proposal.

Women were not expected to be "headstrong" because it had been drilled into them from birth what their place in society was. This reflected how strong the expectations of women were in this time. They were not to speak their mind or make choices contrary to society's dictates. Elizabeth clearly does this and is paving the way for women to follow her path in the future. Her mother, on the other hand, was so outraged at Elizabeth's rejection of Mr. Collin's proposal that she tells her, "I have no pleasure in talking to undutiful children," (Austen,111). Marrying Mr. Collin's was Elizabeth's duty, not her choice, according to society in the 19th century.

The character of Elizabeth's father is thinking outside of society's dictates though when he confronts her about the rejection of Mr. Collins. Elizabeth has to answer to her father for saying no to Mr. Collins. This is again, another example of how Jane Austen is creating and presenting a new way of thinking for her time, regarding marriage. Elizabeth is brought before her father with her mother present, who thinks the father is going to pressure her into saying yes to the marriage proposal to Mr. Collins. He says to her, "An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do," (Austen, 110). This reflects how the attitude toward marriage is changing within this society. There are a few people who are thinking outside the norm.

The biggest disaster by society's demands is Lydia's marriage to Wickham in the end. She runs off in a flurry with him and they are supposed to be eloping, but never quite make it to Gretna Green. Wickham is paid to marry Lydia, by Darcy, to save the family from complete and utter social disgrace. Lydia just wants attention and to be better than her older sisters for once and this is proven when she demands to take Jane's place in line for dinner. Lydia does not follow the marriage process that is dictated by society, mentioned before, and therefore her marriage is not a respectable one. This marriage cannot end happily because of the way that it begins. This is affirmed through the entire end of the novel where we see them leeching off of family because of their financial instability.

Elizabeth and Darcy do not follow all of the rules that society has dictated because they have frequent conversations alone. Elizabeth is far too mouthy and Darcy is far too prideful in the beginning for this alliance to seem like it will be happy. The fact that Mr. Darcy was willing to bail Lydia out is just another example of the evolving ideas of marriage and love. He did it out of love and concern for Elizabeth and the shame her family felt. He loves Elizabeth because of her ability to analyze character and speak her mind, and this was not the norm for the 19th century. This relationship is another representation of evolving times. The idea is presented that not only is it okay to marry because you love someone but it is okay to marry outside your social circle. Love was not spoken of between the people getting married because it was not expected of the marriage alliance.

The ideas that Austen's presents in Pride and Prejudice are reflective of the way marriage was changing. Though money, security and social status were still important in the 19th century, and even today, the idea of marrying for love was becoming ever more popular. The four marriages in this novel represent something different for each couple, and by contrasting them to one another, show us how a happy and strong marriage, that will last, takes time to build, has a basis of understanding, and a balance between love, money, and social power. Hasty marriages built upon sexual passion, money, or social power will only lead to a respectable, but long unhappy marriage, that unfortunately can not be changed in the society the characters live in. Knowing and understanding this, Elizabeth would never settle for anything less than love in her marriage for "[one] could be neither happy nor respectable in a loveless marriage" (Austen, 2).

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Modern Library, 1995.

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