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Pride and Prejudice

By atelophobes Jan 14, 2014 1305 Words
One of the central themes in Jane Austen’s nineteenth-century novel Pride and Prejudice is the roles of passion and reasoning in justifying a successful marriage. The characters’ differing viewpoints on passion and reason in marriage reflect the contrasts between society’s views on marriage and Austen’s. Society in general sees marriage as an act that should be justified by logic rather than affection. Austen, however, sees passion as integral to the health of a relationship as well. The five marriages in the novel-Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Lydia Bennet and George Wickham, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, and Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley-. These differences and similarities between the characters’ relationships serve to indicate Austen’s own opinions on what should justify a marriage. In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennets’ and Collinses’ marriages reflect Austen’s belief that marriage is a union that should be justified by both passion and logic.

Charlotte Lucas’s marriage to Mr. Collins is justified by reason alone and not by any affection between the two. Charlotte is of the opinion that “‘happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance’” (Austen 24). Her views on marriage are a reflection of those of Austen’s society-that it is much more important for marriage to be justified by logic than emotions. Charlotte accepts Mr. Collins's proposal because he offers a future of financial stability and she may not receive any other marriage offers. Although Charlotte is able to lead the stable life she sought, she finds her husband so intolerable that she takes every possible opportunity to avoid him. Lizzy Bennet notes that "very few days passed in which Mr. Collins did not walk to Rosings, and not many in which his wife did not think it necessary to go likewise" (165). Charlotte is also dissatisfied with Mr. Collins and finds him to be an embarrassment; whenever he "said any thing of which his wife might reasonably be ashamed, which was certainly not unseldom […] in general Charlotte wisely did not hear" (154). Because they have no affection for each other, Charlotte and Collins are unhappy in their marriage. The lack of passion between them and their obvious lack of compatibility as a couple. Austen uses Charlotte Lucas’s marriage to Mr. Collins to suggest that a passionless marriage is ultimately doomed to leave both participants dissatisfied.

Conversely, the marriages of Lydia Bennet and her mother to George Wickham and Mr. Bennet, respectively, are justified by passion but not reason. Mrs. Bennet sees marriage as more of a matter of convenience than a matter of love, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were married when he “captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour, which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind, had very early put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence, had vanished for ever” (228). Being married for twenty-three years had “been insufficient to make [Mr. Bennet’s] wife understand [Mr. Bennet’s] character” (7). Even after over two decades of being together, the Bennets’ relationship has only deteriorated with their attraction to each other. Their relationship is used by Austen to demonstrate that intensity of feeling will inevitably fade with time, and marriages justified by this alone will eventually decline when this happens. Lydia and Wickham’s relationship is also a principal example of a union based on fleeting passions; they surprise everybody by eloping while Lydia is on a vacation. As the youngest daughter of a family whose estate is entailed to a cousin, Lydia has "’no money, no connections, nothing that can tempt [Wickham] to-she is lost forever’" (263-64), and Wickham has nothing to share with his new wife but his gambling debts. Elizabeth Bennet, whose voice Austen often shares, expresses Austen’s viewpoint when she thinks that she could easily extrapolate “how little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue” (296). She is proven right when Lydia and Wickham’s relationship, by the end of the novel, has also faded into mutual discontent. On Wickham’s side, “his affection for her soon sank into indifference; hers lasted a little longer; and, in spite of her youth and her manners, she retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her” (366). Because of her relationship with Wickham, Lydia is left with a bad reputation and married to a man she has no affection for. Lydia and Wickham, like Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, began a relationship based solely on passion. In the end, both couples ultimately only suffered because of it when apathy slowly took the place of passion. Austen uses relationships supported by passion alone to suggest that in such relationships intensity of feeling will dull as time passes.

The unions between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, and Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley, are representations of Austen's ideal marriages, balanced in justification by both passion for each other and logical motives. Jane and Bingley have been in love with each other from the start; Darcy stated that Bingley’s “partiality for [Jane]” was “beyond what [Darcy] had ever witnessed in him” (192). Jane and Bingley’s romance is nearly always constant, and their feelings for each other are unchanging. In contrast, Pride and Prejudice centers around how the romance between Elizabeth and Darcy evolves. Initially, Darcy scoffs that Elizabeth is “‘not handsome enough to tempt [him]’” (13). Over the course of the novel, however, he finds himself falling in love with her, to the point that he begs her to let him express “‘how ardently [he] admire[s] and love[s] [Elizabeth]” (185). The members of both couples clearly love each other, justifying their marriages by passion. However, these unions are also logical-the Bennet sisters will gain financial security for themselves by marrying wealthy men. Additionally, Jane and Bingley and Elizabeth and Darcy are similar in temperament. Jane and Bingley have “for basis the excellent understanding, and super-excellent disposition [...], and a general feeling of similarity between her and himself” (328). Elizabeth and Darcy even tell the other that the two of them are similar; Elizabeth observes that they are both “‘of an unsocial, taciturn, disposition, unwilling to speak’” (90) and Darcy notes that neither of them care to “‘perform to strangers’” (171). When Lady Catherine voices her concern that by marrying Darcy Elizabeth will leave her current social class, Elizabeth replies that “He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal” (337). Elizabeth’s and Jane’s marriages are justified by combining passion and reason. Unlike a marriage based on passion alone, the intensity of feeling will not quickly fade between the partners, and unlike a marriage based on just reason, the couples will be happy spending the rest of their lives with each other. Their marriages are the only ones that both last and end happily, as well as the only ones justified by logic and love rather than just one of the two.

Pride and Prejudice is a novel that revolves around the union of passion and logic within the union of marriage. The marriages of Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Lydia Bennet and George Wickham, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, and Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley serve to highlight the contrasts between the characters’ relationships and opinions of how to best combine love and reason in marriage. These contrasts are indicative of the differences between society’s and Jane Austen’s own views of what should justify a marriage. Society sees logic as the best reason to marry, whereas Austen considers passion essential to a healthy marriage. Austen’s opinion that marriage should be justified by both passion and logic is reflected in the marriages of the Bennets and Collinses.

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