Pride and Prejudice

Love and Marriage in Pride and Prejudice

In eighteenth century England, women had few choices. Aside from perhaps obtaining a position as a governess, their career options were severely curtailed. In Austen's era, marriage for women was less a matter of physical desire than it was of social position and financial security. In a letter written in 1861, Austen wrote, "Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favor of matrimony" (Gast, 1). The greatest achievement that most women aspired to was attracting a suitable mate and making a successful marriage. Gast states, "A woman's unmarried girlhood was often the decisive period of her life, and her decision about marriage was probably the most important one she would ever make" (3). However, if the marriage suffered financially, it also suffered emotionally. In Jane Austen's classic courtship novel Pride and Prejudice, the author explores the idea of marriage and its connections with social standing and financial security by examining five different examples of marital relationships through the eyes of her main character, Elizabeth Bennet.

The Unsuccessful Marriage

Phelan notes, "While the novel seems to promise a marriage plot, it also shows that it has no illusions about the inevitability of marital bliss" (293). For example, Mr. And Mrs. Bennet have experienced a less than satisfactory marital relationship that left both partners feeling bitterly disappointed. In a discussion with his daughter Elizabeth, Mr. Bennet warns her, "My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about." By this statement, he is referring to his marriage with Mrs. Bennet. Mc Master states, "Married to a stupid woman whom he has ceased to love, he is a man whose emotional life has evidently been a painful failure" (730). According to Sherry, "For having lost all respect and esteem for his wife, Mr. Bennet has now lost any respect he might have had for the name and character of the man who was fool enough to marry her" (618).

Financial issues contributed greatly to the failure of Mr. And Mrs. Bennet's marriage. Mr. Bennet was not as well to do as some of his neighbors, much to the dismay of his wife. His net worth was only five thousand pounds. His home had been willed to Mr. Collins, who as Mr. Bennet stated, "when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases" (45). Mrs. Bennet felt that she had been disgraced in social status and deprived of financial security because of her marriage. Mr. Bennet felt that Mrs. Bennet's failure to give birth to a son had greatly contributed to their woes. In summary, the relationship was an emotional failure mostly because of their financial issues.

The Marriage of Passion

Another type of disastrous relationship that is explored in Pride and Prejudice is the marriage of passion. Elizabeth's younger sister Lydia elopes with Darcy's sworn enemy Wickham, a shady character who has left a trail of bad debt and broken relationships behind him. Lydia is only sixteen and is both headstrong and wild. Elizabeth notes that "Sometimes one officer, sometimes another had been her favourite, as their attentions raised them in her opinion. Her affections had been continually fluctuating, but never without an object" (202). Crowe states that Lydia is not only "prepared to fall in love…she is determined to do so" (212).

Wickham was not as romantically inclined as Lydia. Like Lydia, he had a steady stream of love interests. Lowder-Newton notes that Wickham "first chooses Georgiana Darcy, and then in succession, Elizabeth Bennet, Mary King, and Lydia Bennet" (31). His motives are less than genuine. When he and Lydia first eloped, he had no intention of marrying her. Crowe states, "His original motive for running away with Lydia is to escape some gambling debts and to have a little fling with an attractive girl while he is at it" (212). This relationship was unsurprisingly unsuccessful. "His affection for her soon sunk 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" (281). Lydia's marriage was not only unfulfilling in itself, but it resulted in a permanently tarnished social status.

Like her parents' marriage, Lydia's relationship with Wickham was largely a failure because of the lack of financial stability. Gardiner tells Elizabeth, "Wickham will never marry a woman without some money. He cannot afford it" (204). When Wickham agrees to legitimizing the relationship, it is on the grounds that Mr. Bennet provides them with one hundred pounds per year (218) and his gambling debts are paid in full. Jane and Elizabeth often sent money to the unhappy couple, who had a pattern of overspending and moving. Their relationship failed because Lydia and Mr. Wickham were both financially and emotionally unstable.

The Marriage of Convenience

Another example of marriage that Austen explores is the marriage of convenience. Charlotte Lucas is a close friend of Elizabeth Bennet. She is twenty-seven years old and unmarried. Charlotte has a pragmatic view of marriage. In her opinion, "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance" (16). She does not believe that knowing her potential partner is any better an indicator of marital happiness than love at first sight; in fact, both methods are unreliable because people grow and change throughout life. When Charlotte discovers that Elizabeth has disdained Mr. Collins' proposal, she begins a scheme to interest Mr. Collins in marrying her instead. "Its object was nothing less, than to secure her from any return of Mr. Collins's addresses, by engaging them towards herself" (90). She 'accidentally' meets him in the lane (she was watching for his arrival through the window) and by the time they arrive at the house, Miss Lucas is engaged to be married. Considering the fact that she is long past the age where she may be considered an eligible bride, she realizes that this is probably the best and very likely the last offer that she is likely to receive. McMaster states that for Charlotte, this was "a deliberate choice to find herself an establishment in life, even at the cost of being yoked with a man to whom she is at best indifferent" (729). Collins's expectation is to find a wife who can fulfill her duties as the wife of a clergyman, while Charlotte's goal is to find a suitable husband. Despite the absence of genuine affection, their marriage is at least marginally successful because it meets their expectations. Crowe states, "In Charlotte's case, her marriage will probably be peaceful and relatively stable. She is willing to do what is needful to satisfy Collins and play the role of clergyman's wife" (212). Crowe sums up their relationship by saying, "So the Collins marriage will be peaceful and systematic -- but not dramatic. One could do worse" (212).

Charlotte Lucas married Mr. Collins because it would provide her with financial security. He was slated to inherit Longbourn after the death of Mr. Bennet. His parsonage and position as clergyman were secure, if not glamorous, and during Elizabeth's visit to the Collins's home the couple reveled in being able to introduce her to his patroness, the Lady Catherine. They felt that they were socially elevated by being invited to have tea in her company. Sir William was impressed by the Collins estate and believed that his daughter had made a successful marriage to a suitable husband. In summary, Charlotte married Mr. Collins for his money rather than his charms. As a wife, she was elevated in social standing and was made financially secure through her marriage. In her mind her marriage was a success because Collins could provide for her future.

The Successful Marriage

Mrs. Bennet is determined that all five of her daughters marry well. In the beginning of the story, her oldest daughter Jane appears to be on the verge of fulfilling her deepest wishes. She has become enamored of Mr. Bingley, and he with her. Jane and Mr. Bingley are temperamentally similar. Sherry describes Mr. Bingley as being "everything a social gentleman should be -- lively, open, unreserved, with a pleasant countenance and an agreeable manner" (612). Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet's second daughter and the main character of the story, describes Jane by saying "You never see a fault in any body. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in my life" (10). Similarly, Mr. Bingley is described as "good looking and gentlemanlike: he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners" (6). Elizabeth expects that they will be happy together in their relationship because "they had for basis the excellent understanding, and super-excellent disposition of Jane, and a general similarity of feeling and taste between her and himself" (252). Both are easygoing, good natured and…