From the beginning lines of Pride and Prejudice, marriage is expressed as a central theme of the novel. Austen even makes the bold statement that “it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune, must be in want of a wife” (1). Throughout the novel, the question arises whether marriage is meant for love or for wealth and social status. Although Austen presents both sides of this argument in the text, marrying for love is favored.
This novel, being written in the eighteenth century, still provides many current, controversial themes. What is marriage about? Why should it be pursued? Mrs. Bennet seems to think that fortune precedes love when it comes to marriage. When first speaking of Mr. Bingley, Mrs. Bennet shares her excitement by saying “a single man of large fortune;…what a fine thing for our girls!” (1). She finds it convenient for her daughters that the single Mr. Bingley has moved near to Longbourn. All she truly wants is to have her daughters married to respectable, wealthy men. Love, she feels, would be a lucky bonus. Because of this, the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet seems to be questionable as well. Since marrying her daughters to wealthy men is of such importance, it is derived that she probably feels the same way towards her own marriage. In conversation with Mr. Bennet, they disagree more times than not. While Mrs. Bennet threatens to “never see her again” (82), if Lizzy does not accept the proposal by Mr. Collins, her husband replies headstrong saying “from this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents” (82). They never talk about their disagreements like a loving couple should. Austen also portrays marriage for fortune in other characters. These characters, however, seem to be the humor in the novel, displaying Austen’s nonsensical feeling towards this motive of marriage. Lady Catherine de Bourgh believes it completely appropriate to marry because of social status. “Mr. Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry” (78). Never in this statement does Lady Catherine mention any importance of marrying for love. She believes it to be proper for Mr. Collins to marry only because he is a clergyman and his social status demands it. Likewise, Mr. Collins agrees. By saying “my reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish” (78), he reveals that love is not a necessity in his future marriage plans. Charlotte Lucas, also not influenced by love in a marriage, expresses that “Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life” (92), will provide her with a state of happiness as far as “most people can boast on…” (92). Luckily, Elizabeth’s refusal of this same proposal, stemming from her desire to love and be loved, begins to reveal Austen’s true feelings of why marriage should take place. Elizabeth’s search for love is fulfilled throughout the story, making her marriage one to be noted. Elizabeth turned down several proposals because she did not want to marry for social status or fortune. In refusing Mr. Collins, she states “you could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who could make you so” (79). In this one short sentence, Austen uses her protagonist to display her most pressing feelings about the subject. Love and happiness are the two most important things to be sought in a marriage. Elizabeth is “not one of those young ladies…who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time” (79). She makes it clear that no matter how many times she may be asked for her hand in marriage, she is not afraid for the refusal to be repeated “a second, or even a third time” (79). She finally, however, finds true love and happiness in her eventual marriage to Mr. Darcy. Because of Mr. Darcy’s aloof personality, Elizabeth’s prejudices hinder her from being able to “love” Mr. Darcy from the beginning. It was not until he wrote Elizabeth a letter in explanation and in apprehension or renewal “of those offers [proposal] which were last night so disgusting to you” (145), that she began to realize her love for Mr. Darcy. After coming to this conclusion, Elizabeth screams of how she has acted “despicably” (154). Her prejudice has gotten in the way of a man whom she loves. She worries that Mr. Darcy will not propose to her a second time. She was so set on marrying for love that she let her “blind, partial, prejudiced, and absurd” (153) personality get in the way. Jane Austen, however would not let the story end without proving that marriage for love is more successful than marrying with shallow intentions, such as for social status and wealth. Austen strategically displays both Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s views and Elizabeth’s views when Lady Catherine comes to visit the Bennets. Lady Catherine says that “this match (Darcy and Elizabeth), to which you have the presumption to aspire, can never take place” (258). Her boldness, followed by Elizabeth’s cunning answers show Elizabeth’s refined manners and good morals, opposed to Lady Catherine’s rude statements and shallow beliefs. In the end, Darcy and Elizabeth are portrayed as being overwhelmed with love towards each other; a thing Mr. Collins and Charlotte could only dream of obtaining. Austen’s subtle way of displaying her beliefs on marriage are conveyed through opposing characters and their actions. It is proved through the novel Pride and Prejudice that love is the means for happiness, and that marrying for social status can never produce a life as exciting and enjoyable that Darcy and Elizabeth will soon experience.