Marriage as an institution has always been in a constant state of flux, the ideas revolving around it have been changing from era to era. In the stone age marriage was not a concept as it is nowadays, men and women would make pairs and procreate. Slowly and steadily values started to get attached to it and the term marriage was created; “ the state of being united as spouses in a consensual and contractual relationship recognised by law” ( Miriam Webster). In the 21st century the idea of marriage is more than the textbook definition, it’s about love, companionship and raising a family. Marriage is a bond that two people who love each other share and are able to end it due to various reasons such as extra marital affairs, financial reasons etc. People as individuals have more control on their marriage rather than the society as a whole. On the other hand marriage in the 18th , 19th and mid 20th century was seen through a different perspective. It was not about love or companionship it was more about people’s status in the society and money. The society controlled the marriage rather than the people involved in it and was more male oriented. Similarly, according to pride and prejudice marriage could set someone for life , destine them to mediocrity or ruin them for the rest of their lives.
In the 19th century women did not have a significant role in society apart from looking pretty, being confined to household chores and getting married. The status of women and their identity depended on who they married and how desirable they looked. The bourgeois and the aristocratic women had to stay dependant on a man ; first as a daughter and then as wife and after marriage the women “belonged” to their spouses physically and emotionally. The concept of love marriage was not present in the era since the women’s family wanted to get their daughters married as soon as possible so that the money could be kept in the family, due to the law of primogeniture; “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”(Excerpt From: Jane Austen. “Pride and Prejudice”.) Divorce was a taboo in the society and hence if the women were unhappy, they had to stay in the marriage.
Marriage was seen more as a business rather than a testimony of love and companionship as compared to the 21st century. The woman’s family would marry so that the money could be kept in the family since only a man could inherit the property according to the law of primogeniture and the men would marry essentially for beauty and the economics of it, even though having an extra marital affair was ordinary and common. According to Ms.Bingley; A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions (ch. 8 , page 80,Pride and Prejudice , Jane Austen). If a woman did not possess all of this or was not married she would be shunned from the society and would have to lead the life of a spinster. This could also be seen in Les Misrables by Victor Hugo, Fantine was not married and had a child and was shunned from the society and had to become a prostitute.
In the text the reader can see different scenarios of marriages. In case of Jane and Mr. Bingley, the aspect of love exists but is certainly not the most important one. Jane is the oldest and the most beautiful daughter out of the Bennet family and to sustain herself she needs to get married to a financially stable and wealthy man hence Jane needs to scavenge around to get married. Jane and Charles’s marriage was one which had neither been affected by pride nor by prejudice. According to the law Mr. Collins had to marry one of the Bennet daughters since he was the oldest male relative of Mr. Bennet and the money needed to be kept in the family. Since Mr.Bingley was financially well off Mr. Collins turned from Jane to Elizabeth. He had been described as a buffoon in the text and hence was turned down by Elizabeth.
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were two contrasting characters. Mrs Bennet’s obsession with gossip and marrying off her daughters was first seen in the early parts of the novel. She exclaims “A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls” (page 4 , pride and prejudice , Jane Austen) which suggests that the mindset of mothers and society was more towards the financial fortune of the spouse rather than personality or intelligence. Her obsession can be clearly seen when Mr. Collins proposes to marry Elizabeth so that the money can be kept within the family and it infuriates her when Elizabeth turns him down. While on the other hand Mr. Bennet was more insouciant about the concept of marrying his daughters in comparison to his wife and seemed detached from the family and made sarcastic jokes about his wife and her obsession. Mr.Bennet agreed with Elizabeth on her decision to not marry Mr. Collins and marry Mr. Darcy, he said “Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” (page 236 ,chapter 20, Pride and prejudice , Jane Austen). The marriage of Lydia and Wickham was one that the readers did not expect. Lydia was one of the youngest Bennet sisters and was naive, youthful and immature. She would seek gossip, was conceited and would throw herself on any man that would attract her regardless of his social status or reputation. Lydia was instantly attracted to Mr. Wickham who was extremely handsome and was in the military. Wickham was greedy and fortune hungry hence had no hesitation marrying a naive young girl who couldn’t distinguish between the wrong or right. Given the societal scenario elopement was thought of as a taboo, while wickham could continue living his life because he is a man, it could tarnish Lydias image and reputation in the society simply because she is a young woman who eloped. The marriage didn’t seem right because it was carried out in haste without calculating the future repercussions, neither Lydia nor Wickham was financially stable, and Elizabeth doubted Lydia and Wickham’s financial stability which was proved correct later in the text when Lydia wrote “it is a great comfort to have you so rich”(chapter 61 , page 794 , Pride and Prejudice , Jane Austen). Hence, Lydia and Wickham portray negative happiness in the text.
Charlotte and Mr. Collins marriage was an ideal example of a marriage carried out in business. Women in the 18th century had to marry in order to survive and sustain themselves even if it was a man like Mr. Collins since unwed girls were not acceptable in the society and Charlotte was getting older and older and was afraid of being a spinster. She was becoming more of a burden on her parents and family and she knew that she could not sustain herself hence she had to get married to Mr.Collins irrespective of her own desires and wishes. “I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’ character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”While as for Mr. Collins, he felt accomplished by someones interest in marrying him and also for the financial aspect. Charlotte felt safe and secure but not necessarily happy.
Elizabeth Bennet was the second most eldest daughter of the Bennet family, the most intelligent and witty out of the four sisters. She always strayed away from the conventional societal norms and wanted to live a life which had more purpose than just getting married and belonging to a strange man she did not know. She was seen as more evolved than any woman her age in the society at the time and transcended the rules of the society, she was romantic , fond of reading and spiteful. Elizabeth had little tolerance and was not be afraid in confronting the person even if it was Mr. Darcy or Mr. Collins. She was able to distinguish between wrong and right , she knew that Mr.Collins was not the right choice for him and turned him down even if it was against her mothers wishes. Elizabeth was surprised when Mr.Darcy first proposed to her but was offended by his pride and turned him down because , instead of focusing on his love for Elizebeth he focused on how she was different from him and belonged to a lower class “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” ( chapter 31 , page 362 , pride and prejudice Jane Austen) . Elizabeth was morally sound and hence later in the novel realised her love for Mr.Darcy and when he proposed for the second time Elizabeth accepted it and they got married. Their marriage even though was not on the grounds of finance and security or status but still was according to the societal norms and did provide financial security to Elizabeth since she was aware that she would’ve been left on her own if she couldn’t get married even if she was not fond of the idea.
In the novel, the four marriages were different from each other in some or the other way. Lydia and Wickham’s marriage was a perfect example of negative happiness and a decision made in haste. Charlotte and Mr.collins marriage was a perfect example of the business of marriage since a female couldn’t inherit the property and hence had to get married in order to sustain herself. While on the other hand Jane and Bingley’s, and , Mr. Darcy and Elizabeths marriage was one which was not established on the grounds of money, security or business but on the grounds of love and affection even though they were according to the norms of the society. Austen incorporated satire in the text and mocked the society through the portrayal of Lydia and Charlottes marriages and depicted the perfect marriage through Jane and Elizabeth. A woman’s identity was depended on who she married and not on who she was.
- Jane Austen. “Pride and Prejudice”. Apple Books.