Analyze the way in which marriage is presented in Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was written and set in 19th century England, and the time periods views about marriage are reflected heavily in the novel. This is a novel which explores many variants on marriage and how it influences the actions of the characters in the novel. Austen reveals the relevance of marriage to the novel as in the first line as she states ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortunes, must be in want of a wife.’ This immediately reveals to us that the novel will revolve around the importance of marriage in the regency period. This sudden juxtaposition of the certainty of ‘a truth universally acknowledged’ and the uncertain ‘feelings or views of such a man’ in the next sentence, reveals that it is not in fact a universal truth but something fixated in the minds of a society that values status and marriage over everything.
We are also introduced quickly in the first chapter to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, whose marriage is an example to the bennet sisters, and perhaps influences their views on what marriage should be. We are introduced to the pair arguing about the arrival of an eligible bachelor, Mr. Bingley, showing us that this fixation on marriage does not end once married, as Mrs. Bennet has an obsession on marrying her daughters off, regardless of real affection or attraction. This warped sense of love and marriage is projected onto her daughters, mixed with Mr. Bennet’s real lack of interest. This is shown particularly in Kitty and Lydia, and proves to have near catastrophic consequences for Lydia due to her learned infatuation over men, and consequence her eloping with Mr. Wickham. However, this view on marriage is produced in a social climate where your class and status dictates your life, so Mrs. Bennet’s obsession over getting her daughters married could be justified, as it’s really a product of a sexist society in which a woman must marry for any stability in her life, due to her inability to own property or produce her own income. It is interesting Jane Austen manages to produce such an authentic novel on marriage despite never marrying herself, which perhaps alludes to how ingrained expectations for marriage were in the regency period. She depicts marriage as a comic business, which juxtaposes with her characters preoccupation with it, she also however, shows it as a cruel business as it causes great hardship.
The first proposal which brings out the comic aspects of all these thoughts on marriage can be seen in Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth. It is interesting to note that Mr. Collins first shows interest in Jane but after learning of her situation with Mr. Bingley he soon moves on to Lizzie. He says to Lizzie, ‘as soon as I entered the house I singled you out as the companion of my future life’, this is comical as it is a blatant lie, which reflects perfectly the way people married in the regency period. If Lizzie were to accept his proposal it would be a marriage of convenience, and Mr. Collins is fully aware of this. He is not interested in compatibility or love, and this complete lack of passion is shown in the way he proposes by saying, ‘My reasons for marriage are’, this methodical, structured way of proposing shows that he only sees Lizzie as a list of benefits to him. Amusingly he speaks more passionately about his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. By saying ‘You will find her manners beyond anything I can describe; and your wit and vivacity I think must be acceptable to her’, it juxtaposes a gushing compliment to Lady Catherine and a back hand compliment to Lizzie. It also implies that Lizzie will only be acceptable to him, if she’s acceptable to his patron, and a lady of a higher class. This illustratres that this would be a marriage based on status alone, as if she married him, he would satisfy his patron and be seen as a respectable member of the parish, as a Vicar he is expected to uphold the example of matrimony. This demonstrates how superficial and one sided this proposal is as it is only an example for others to follow. Austen portrays Mr. Collins as pompous, self-deluded and ignorant, however proposal based off practicality alone was common and expected for many people, so although Lizzies denial of his proposal is admirable It could also be perceived as selfish as she is risking her family’s future.
The second example of marriage shown to us is that of Charlotte and Mr. Collins, ironically, we learn Mr. Collins proposed to Charlotte three days after proposing to Lizzie. This emphasises even further that for Mr. Collins, marriage is purely pragmatic. While it is obvious that Austen looks down on this variant of marriage, she also is aware of its importance for many women of time. Charlotte understands this as well as she says, ‘I ask only for a comfortable home; considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections and situation I life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is a as fair, as most people can boast on entering the marriage state’. As Charlotte is 27 her chances of proposal were unlikely, so in order to have a comfortable future she accepted, the alliteration of the letter ‘c’ creates a harsh sound which emphasises her reliance on the hope of a comfortable home, connection and a chance of happiness. Referring to marriage as a state also shows Charlottes lack of interest in romance of excitement in her marriage, she sees it only as a condition in life, like being asleep or awake. Lizzie cannot comprehend how Charlotte could be happy with Mr. Collins as she reflects that ‘it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen’. This is somewhat ironic as one of the reasons Charlotte gives Lizzie as to why she is marrying Mr. Collins is that her ‘chance of happiness is fair’, however Lizzies pride prevents her from seeing anyone happy unless in a situation she deems desirable.
The next proposal we encounter is that of Mr. Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth, he enters thee room in a hurried manner which reflects the haphazard nature of this proposal. He began in an ‘agitated manner’ which may suggest his concern of expressing his love, but we soon learn it is due to his concern over her status and inferiority. Darcy, though passionate in his feelings for Elizabeth is no less passionate about the fact that marrying her would be a ‘degradation’. Perhaps Elizabeth would’ve accepted if he had not begun detailing ‘his sense of her inferiority’ and her family’s status. Ironically it is Mr. Darcy’s prejudice against her family that truly hinders the proposal, and Elizabeth’s pride that allows her to retaliate in anger after his insults. And Elizabeth’s insults consequentially only fuel his pride, causing a further rift between the two. Mr. Darcy, although unlike Mr. Collins, assumes that due to her status she would have to accept his proposal which undoubtedly reminded Lizzie of Mr. Collins’ proposal, only angering her further. Darcy listens with listens with little ‘remorse’ as Lizzie explains her anger over his destruction of Mr. Bingley and Janes relationship, which angers her further. However, it is Elizabeth’s beliefs about Darcy and Wickham that truly anger him as it is an insult to his character and built on lies, whereas he still believes he was correct in preventing Mr. Binley and Jane’s marriage, and to admit he is wrong would be an insult to his pride. As the two digest what has happened, they find themselves inextricably bound up with each other. There is certainly a connection between them which cannot, even now, be dismissed.
In chapter 35, Elizabeth opens the letter Mr. Darcy has written in order to address the accusations made at him. He states that he ‘is writing without any intention of paining her’ which reveals that the letter will be purely cathartic. Ironically, he states he’s writing about two offenses ‘of equal magnitude’, but then proceeds to explain his separation of Bingley and Jane quickly, and then refers to that of Mr. Wickham in great detail, which reveals that his pride is currently far more important that Elizabeth’s feelings. However, by apologising to Lizzie about the separation of Bingley and Jane and stating, ‘I must have been in an error’, juxtaposes with his prior fixation on his pride, emphasising that he is man going through moral changes. When addressing Wickham, one could presume that he is only writing to protect his pride, but also because it is the only preventing his and Elizabeth’s relationship from blossoming. This is the first time in the novel he truly opens himself to Elizabeth, as his previous proposal was masked by formality’s and reservations. This honesty allows Elizabeth to see him in a new light and is the turning point in the novel for their relationship.
When visiting Pemberley with the Gardiners, Elizabeth sees a portrait of Mr. Darcy which allows her to suddenly view him in a different perspective, which is reflective of the visit as a whole. Her aunt states on their visit that, ‘he is a liberal master…and that in the eye of a servant comprehends every virtue’. The way a person treats their servants, or in fact anyone of lesser class is a reflection of their morals and character, however Lizzie was unable to see this until now due to her prejudices against him, further showing how this trip deconstructs everything Elizabeth thought she knew about Darcy. However, it is no coincidence that Elizabeth goes to Pemberley and her perspective is changed, in fact it is Austen’s engineering that allows Lizzie to finally see Mr. Darcey for who he is. This engineering by Austen is personified in the characters of her aunt and uncle, who take her on this trip and are liberal in their compliments towards Darcey. Austen is telling us that even in something as organic as love, there is always a level of social engineering, something in which Lizzie is so critical earlier in the novel, where the engineering is more obvious, for example in the marriage between Charlotte and Mr. Collins.
Mr. Darcey’s next proposal begins with a series of apologies and gratitude from both Darcey and Lizzie, much unlike the previous proposal which was based on self-defence and arrogance. Mr. Darcey states in regard to Lizzies’ family that ‘as much as I respect them, I believe, I thought only of you’, this is significant as previously he had no respect for them and thought only of how his matrimony with Lizzie would reflect on himself, now he has respect for them but they are irrelevant in his feelings for Elizabeth. Mr. Darcey is quick to ask Lizzie if his letter ‘made her think better of him?’, this dismissal of pride is essential as they can now see each other clearly, and Lizzie explains that his letter allowed ‘all her former prejudices to be removed’. This removal of pride and prejudice allows Austen to portray her idealised version of what marriage should be, which could also hold true in any other relations, romantic or not, as pride and prejudice only allow us to distance ourselves from one another. This proposal is full of passion which the first was devoid of completely, showing that they are ready for each other, after all their trials and tribulations.
Another example of marriage in the novel is that between Lydia and Mr. Wickham. We know that Mr. Wickham had no intention of marrying Lydia, and was merely using her for sex, much like his relationship with Georgina. In Lydia’s naïve mind, she would have been sure their elopement would’ve been followed by marriage, however due to Wickham’s past it would’ve been unlikely if it wasn’t for Mr. Darcy’s interference. The elopement would not have a great impact on Wickham’s life, but catastrophic effects on Lydia, as her reputation would be spoiled, and that of her family. Although Lydia and Wickham’s marriage is purely used to show the reader Mr. Darcy’s’ good intentions and further back up his accusations against Wickham, it is also a reflection on a society that holds men and women to very different standards, and values legality over everything.
For Jane and Bingley, all their issues are external, and neither must go through any moral changes or growth in order to fall in love. This marriage is almost the antithesis of Lizzie’s marriage with Darcy which cannot be affected until Lizzie has learnt to overcome her prejudices and Darcy his pride.
In conclusion marriage is the driving force in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and it concerns all characters heavily, which reflects the way it occupied the minds of those in the regency period. It is a particular worry for all female characters as marriage is not something to be concerned about after being in ‘possession of a good fortune’, but on the contrary will dictate if they are to have a comfortable life or not, so is a concern most women are born with. The novel comments on how our own pride and prejudice is the only thing in the way of creating meaningful connections with one another, however if our lead characters had not had these flaws there would have been no journey for them to go on morally, and their marriage at the end of the book would not be satisfying. Austen reflects her somewhat modern ideas on marriage by showing us a variety of marriages based on different beliefs, and she criticises heavily the expectations set on women and she deems marriages with no real affection as pointless. This is view is reflected in her own life as she was proposed to by a Vicar, who although she initially accepted, she later declined as it was not based on love and it would only prevent her from doing what she loved, which was writing. Despite her criticisms of marriage she concludes that marriage based on love and understanding is achievable if without of any pride or prejudices.