Marriage is the central theme of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice novel. The women in the story have no option but to choose a marriage partner as it is the only way out of their parents’ house and situations. One character, Elizabeth, contravenes the societal marriage perceptions and abides by modern views. The women are in a patriarchal society where marriage is seen an alternative way to attain financial security and stability. In the novel, Mrs. Bennet believes that her children should marry a man who is well off and with a high income. Her ideas are supported by Lady Catherine, Mrs. Hurst, Mr. Darcy, and denote the societal expectations of marriage. Moreover, Charlotte and Mr. Collins marry for the sole reason of financial stability and obtaining respect. In our discussion, we would analyze differences in the perceptions and how they relate to the society.
Elizabeth believes that only love, commitment, and respect should form the bedrock of a marriage. Therefore, she refuses Mr. Darcy’s proposal at first, as he proposes in an unpresentable way. Characters in the story such as Charlotte would quickly take the opportunity without further consideration which is entirely opposite to Elizabeth’s ideologies. It’s evident in the story, “She saw her, in idea, settled in that very house, in all the felicity which a marriage of … which exemplified her belief on affection as an actual source of marital happiness (Austen n.p.). If her expectations never realized, she would prefer to be single rather than unhappy apparent on the part, “She had always felt that Charlotte’s opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own…” Instead, she has to make sure that Mr. Darcy loves and respects her before she can commit herself to him through marriage. Thus, by the time she marries Mr. Darcy, he has already shown commitment and love for her, conforming to her belief about marriage. Therefore, their marriage becomes a union beneficial to both parties. Her unwillingness to marry Mr. Darcy from the beginning astonishes the society, including her mother, Mrs. Bennet, whose primary focus is on financial benefit.
Mrs. Bennet views marriage otherwise. Her belief is similar to community members such as Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Hurst, and Lady Catherine. She considers that since women who do not have any source of livelihood, should consider marriage as the way out. For instance, she talks to her husband telling him, “If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield,” “and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for” (Austen n.p.). Similar sentiments are voiced out by Lady Catherine who supports the need for financial contemplation before marriage. Moreover, Mrs. Hurst and Mr. Darcy in their conversation show that they also believe in the financial aspect of marriage. For instance, Mrs. Hurst reiterates that “I have an excessive regard for Jane Bennet… But with such a father and mother, and such low connections, I am afraid there is no chance of it” (Austen n.p.). Mr. Darcy offers his thoughts on the matter stating that, “But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world” (Austen n.p.). Mrs. Bennet hopes of finding a potential suitor for her daughter come to a halt when her husband turns down the matter. Expectations of him meeting Mr. Bingley fade away after he remains aloof on the issue.
Mr. Collins and Charlotte are other characters with similar traditional views on women and marriage. Charlotte herself believes that a woman should marry a man who brings her respect as well as financial security. For instance, she states that “…Happiness in a marriage is entirely a matter of chance,” to justify her belief that she should not settle with a man who offers no financial security (Austen n.p.). Moreover, when defending her choice of a husband to Mr. Collins, she tells Elizabeth, “I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness…,” which Mr. Collins can give her (Austen n.p.). Mr. Collins, on the other hand, has neither respect nor affection for Charlotte but proposes to her all the same since marriage is an esteemed affair. Furthermore, he can materially sustain Charlotte.
In conclusion, Elizabeth’s idea of marriage goes against the societal convention and perceptions of financial stability purposes. She believes on love and commitment as the foundations for a prosperous marriage. Characters that hold the traditional views on marriage include Mrs. Bennet, Lady Catherine, Mrs. Hurst, Mr. Darcy, Charlotte and Mr. Collins. Elizabeth maintains her stance, and no one can sway her.
Jane, Austen. Pride and Prejudice. Oldcastle Books, 2013.