“Marriage rather than love is the central theme of Pride and Prejudice.” Do you agree with this assessment of the novel? Please give reasons for your answers, supporting them with the aid of suitable reference to the text. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”. Jane Austen establishes the two main themes from the first line and emphasizes the vital link between romance and finance. Throughout her novel, she gently criticizes marriage’s different values and ethics, which are often founded on financial and practical factors rather than pure love.
From the beginning of her novel, Jane Austen highlights the importance of marriage within this world. The opening sentence suggests that the sole purpose of marriage was to increase the characters social and financial status. It mentions nothing of love, which underlines the fact that love wasn’t always involved in engagements. Finding a suitable husband for the female characters often became the only goal of their lives. But some characters such as Elizabeth and Jane Bennet do not fit this generalization. They believed in love.
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Throughout this novel, Austen shows the development of different relationships and highlights the importance of marriage that was seen as a determining factor in achieving fulfilment in life. The novel is set in the 19th century and explores a class orientated society in which women had no opportunities and had to rely entirely on men. She portrays a society in which individuals’ opportunities were minimal and mainly based on their social status. Women, in particular, were powerless and vulnerable; they were educated superficially, had no job opportunity, and couldn’t entail….
This explains why marriage was their only option to attain wealth and social standing. Their sole goal in life was to secure their future by marrying “a man of good fortune”: “Without thinking highly of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object”. Once married, their next goal was to marry their daughters, and this explains Mrs Bennet preoccupations and desperate attempt to engage her five daughters: “Oh! Single my dear to be sure! A single man of large fortune… What a fine thing for our girls.” This shows Mrs Bennet excitement for the arrival of a possible future husband; Mr Bingley in the neighbourhood.
Marriage was often seen as a business deal, and it was a well thought out decision. A perfect example of a socially advantageous marriage is the one between Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins. This marriage was entirely based on practicality and money. Mr Collins was desperately looking for a wife, while Charlotte Lucas wanted to secure her future by marrying him. However, as Charlotte explicitly tells Elizabeth, love doesn’t always dictate marriage, and very often, some outside factors such as the desire for security push together two people without the need of love: “I am not romantic, you know, I never was. I ask only for a comfortable home”.
Austen criticizes women who marry only for security. Still, on the other side, she almost admires them because they can cope with the difficult situation and learn to live with a man that they don’t love: “When Mr Collins could be forgotten, there was a great air of comfort throughout, and by Charlotte’s evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposed he must be often forgotten.” It seems that Charlotte can live with her relationship even though it seems impossible for Elizabeth to look on it with anything else but sadness and pity of her dearest friend. Unfortunately, this was the sad situation of many women in the 19th century.
Although most of the engagements were based on practical and economic aspects, Austen wrote two of the most admirable love stories in English literature: Elizabeth & Mr Darcy and Jane & Mr Bingley. Austen explores two couples that, unlike the others, decide to marry for pure love. Both couples overcame the obstacles and tensions mainly caused by prejudice and proved that love is independent of external factors. For example, Mr Darcy romantic proposal: “In vain have I struggled. It will not do.
My feeling will not be repressed” clearly demonstrates how he was capable of overcoming his prejudice and dismissal of her “she is pretty but not handsome enough to tempt me” and express his real feelings for her. Another example of a successful marriage is the one between Mr Bingley and Jane. However, unlike Mr Darcy and Elizabeth, these two characters are too good-hearted and often unable to fight against the outside factors that hinder their romantic and successful story.
Throughout the novel, Austen often explores the characters’ views on marriage, and by the end of the novel, we have an overview of the different opinions. Some characters, such as Jane and Elizabeth, are highly romantic and genuinely believe in love. However, they would never trade their independence for financial reasons: “Oh Lizzy, do anything rather than marry without affection”.
On the other side, most women were concerned with money, establishment, and marriage’s financial aspects. Charlotte Lucas, Mrs Bennet and Lady Catherine de Bourgh are typical 19th-century women. Mrs Bennet’s only preoccupation is to marry her five daughters, and she doesn’t care if they are happy, as long as they are married to a wealthy man. Her excitement proves this to Elizabeth engagement to Mr Darcy: “Oh my sweetest Lizzy! How rich and how great you will be! What pin money, what jewels, what carriages you will have.”
Her reaction highlights the importance of material and superficial goods, and the lack of interest toward the fundamental values of marriage (love and affection) show the priorities of marriages. Mr Bennet, however, wants to see his daughters happy: “He is rich, to be sure….But will that make you happy?” If they’re happy, then he is more than likely to “accept the proposal”, but on the other side, he wouldn’t mind if they all died old maids. So he humours Mrs Bennet through her fears, and he opposes her thoughts on marriage: “Your mother will never see you again if you don’t marry Mr Collins, and I will never see you again if you do”.
Other characters such as Lady Catherine de Bourgh are more concerned with the social aspect of engagements. She believes that marriages should remain between a small group of people to maintain their social status. “Do you not consider that a connection with you must disgrace him in the eyes of everybody”. Lady Catherine de Bourgh points out that a marriage between Mr Darcy and “a woman of inferior birth” such as Elizabeth could ruin Mr Darcy’s reputation.
Overall, it is clear that Austen had very radical views on marriage for her time. She believed that marriage should be entirely based on love, and other factors such as social connections, money, prejudice… shouldn’t interfere. She uses her heroine (Elizabeth) to show the contrast between those who married for love and lived “happily ever after” and those who married for superficial purposes and will sooner or later regret it. By exploring Elizabeth’s and Mr Darcy’s successful union, Austen also proves that true love can easily overcome obstacles and triumph.
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