Money Vs. Love in Jane Austen's Novel 'Pride and Prejudice'

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Marriage is about economics. This statement may seem utterly shocking in the context of the twenty-first century and its idealistic emphasis on true love within a marriage, but a middle- or upper-class woman in England at the turn of the nineteenth century understood the institution of marriage in such pragmatic terms. The inferior status of women and their inability to acquire professional opportunities at the time cemented their financial dependence on their fathers and, subsequently, their husbands. Marriage essentially provided a means of income and, therefore, assumed a vocational nature; it likened itself to a type of career for women, which emphasized the need for a financially stable marriage. In 'Pride and Prejudice', Austen illustrates the different motivations of love and money in her portrayal of several marriages. The stable marriage of Charlotte Lucas and William Collins juxtaposes the unstable marriage of Lydia Bennet and George Wickham and shows that in the society depicted by 'Pride and Prejudice' the economic stability that marriage offers to women prevails over the importance of love between the spouses. Put simply, decisions about marriage should be based on money, not love.

A marriage in 'Pride and Prejudice' that completely surprises many of the characters in the novel is that of Charlotte and Mr. Collins. Elizabeth, who has already rejected Mr. Collins’ proposal to her due to her lack of love for him, cannot fathom Charlotte’s reasoning for wanting to marry a man so disagreeable and ridiculous. Despite Elizabeth’s initial disapprobation of the relationship, however, Charlotte’s marriage appears to be not only the most prudential but also the most realistic. Throughout the novel, Austen’s narrator characterizes Charlotte favorably as a sensible and intelligent young woman. She, for example, warns Elizabeth early on that Jane should not conceal her affection for Bingley, for he “may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on” (15). While Elizabeth simply dismisses Charlotte’s advice and contends that a rushed marriage is unstable, Charlotte’s warning ultimately proves to be correct. Jane’s misery, after all, can be partially attributed to Darcy’s misguided belief that she feels indifferent towards Bingley. Charlotte’s astuteness and thoughtfulness, thus, establish the narrator’s admiration for her.

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Her later actions regarding Mr. Collins further highlight her sensibility and rationality. Austen’s use of free indirect discourse in 'Pride and Prejudice' reveals Charlotte’s inner monologue and reasons for her acceptance of Mr. Collins’ marriage proposal: “Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been [Charlotte’s] object; it was the only honorable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative she had now obtained; and … she felt all the good luck of it” (94). Charlotte understands the reality of her situation; as a twenty-seven-year-old woman with little money and no prospects, she recognizes that she is deeply entrenched in a flawed social system and that the only solution to her predicament is marriage. Marriage, after all, will not only provide her with wealth and an enhanced social status but also allow her to no longer be a burden on her family. She further explains her consent to Mr. Collins’s marriage proposal in her conversation with Elizabeth: “I am not romantic you know. I never was. 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 with his is as fair, as most people can boast on entering the marriage state” (96). Although Charlotte does not feel love for Mr. Collins, she realizes that marriage to him is the surest path to felicity. If she rejects Mr. Collins, she will likely fall in social status to that of a poor, lonely spinster. After Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr. Collins at Hunsford Parsonage, furthermore, she finds the married couple to be content. She admits to Darcy, “My friend has an excellent understanding – though I am not certain that I consider her marrying Mr. Collins as the wisest thing she ever did. She seems perfectly happy, however, and in a prudential light, it is certainly a very good match for her” (137). Charlotte’s marriage, pragmatically conducted based on money, thus demonstrates that true felicity arises when a couple is financially sound. Although Mr. Collins’ personality may not facilitate her happiness, Charlotte can still choose to be happy with the stable economic and social position she achieves through marriage.

The option that Charlotte has for happiness is denied to Lydia due to the latter’s rash entrance into a marriage without consideration of money and solely based on love, though her love more closely resembles an infatuation. Lydia naively believes that she loves Mr. Wickham and decides to elope with him even though, as Mrs. Gardiner says regarding Mr. Wickham earlier in the novel, “the want of fortune [makes the relationship] so very imprudent” (111). Mr. Wickham, on the other hand, realizes the financial carelessness of marriage with Lydia and does not intend on marrying her until Darcy provides him with sufficient compensation to do so. The resulting marriage, however, is still unstable and provides neither Lydia nor Mr. Wickham with felicity. As Austen’s narrator describes at the end of the novel, “Their manner of living, even when the restoration of peace dismissed them to a home, was unsettled in the extreme. They were always moving from place to place in quest of a cheap situation, and always spending more than they ought” (296). The couple not only is unable to enjoy domestic life but also becomes dependent on Elizabeth and, by extension, Darcy for financial help. Therefore, Lydia fails to fulfill her responsibility towards her family to marry a wealthy man and no longer be an economic burden. Without a sufficient income during their marriage, the relationship is bound to be unsuccessful; no matter how true their love is, the inability to afford an easy life inevitably leads to complications within the marriage itself. Lydia, however, is not even fortunate enough to have the guarantee of Mr. Wickham’s unconditional love. After their marriage, Mr. Wickham’s affection for Lydia “soon [sinks] into indifference” (296). This change in sentiment emphasizes the fleeting and fickle nature of love; it is just as easy to fall out of love, as it is to fall in love. Love, therefore, simply cannot be depended on as a solid foundation for marriage.

These marriages demonstrate that in 'Pride and Prejudice' one should marry for money, not for love. Financial security leads to the success of Charlotte and Mr. Collins’ marriage despite the absence of love, while financial insecurity causes troubles in Lydia and Mr. Wickham’s marriage despite the initial presence of love. The social and economic webs that characterize the turn of the nineteenth century in England entrenched women in a system of dependence that stripped them of their agency. Especially for middle- and upper-class women, then, financial stability was the foundation for a happy life, one that often forced them to deny their own emotional fulfillment. Though women’s status and role in society have seen dramatic improvements over three centuries, the entanglement of love and money is still a recurring theme in the lives of many.

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Money Vs. Love in Jane Austen’s Novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’. (2023, December 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/money-vs-love-in-jane-austens-novel-pride-and-prejudice/
“Money Vs. Love in Jane Austen’s Novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’.” Edubirdie, 08 Dec. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/money-vs-love-in-jane-austens-novel-pride-and-prejudice/
Money Vs. Love in Jane Austen’s Novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/money-vs-love-in-jane-austens-novel-pride-and-prejudice/> [Accessed 20 Apr. 2024].
Money Vs. Love in Jane Austen’s Novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Dec 08 [cited 2024 Apr 20]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/money-vs-love-in-jane-austens-novel-pride-and-prejudice/
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