Jane Austen uses her book Pride and Prejudice to display the importance of marriage and social rank within the world of the Regency period with a person of limited social standing, showing many aspects of marriage and demonstrating how one can make the most of their life regardless of the circumstances. With this cultural and social context, the author uses a number of relationships in order to expose and satirise societal values of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The plot, as well as the first sentence of the novel is mainly about marriage and social class. Austen explains that in the time period, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” She uses the characters’ relationships in order to satirize and make a comedy of the idea of marriage, contradicting the conventional ideals and beliefs of the society in that era. For this reason, she writes about several important courtships throughout the piece , such as the relationship of Mr and Mrs Bennet; Lydia’s scandalous and embarrassing elopement with Mr. Wickham; Mr. Collins’s proposal and later marriage, and of course, Jane and Bingley’s long awaited matrimony. These couples are the stepping stones to the central romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. In Austen’s time, courtship was a critical and absolutely necessary act for every eligible person, therefore family and marriage created a public and central position in the social and economic classes. It was common that women looked for husbands before their parents died in order to keep the continuation of the family heritage and if possible, to get a rich husband for reaching the high class, due to most of the women were practically born poor, and stayed poor, and lived well only by their husband’s money. Austen shows marriage as a constant pursuit of husbands, money and a better lifestyle.
The author uses Elizabeth Bennet as a mirror for her values and attitudes on the importance of getting married for love and not other reason. We often see the story through Elizabeth’s eyes in order to understand and empathize with her ideals of getting married. Elizabeth is almost exclusively the only woman who is looking for a man without paying attention to his wealth, and differs from her sisters and mother who don’t mind to be wed with a man to whom they do not love. The character of Elizabeth does not fit this generalization, nor society’s. Although she makes some mistakes because of her prideful and prejudicial attitudes, she can realize them and learn from her errors. Without a doubt, she is the heroine of the story and the pioneer for sexual equality, again mirroring Austen’s feelings on the societal standards.
The first of the couples is Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Although little is said about how they met and married, it is possible to infer from their conversations that this couple was not married for love. A distinct example of this would be very early on in the novel, Mrs. Bennet states “You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves.” and her husband replies with, “You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.” It can be determined that as a young man he had married a woman who was sexually attractive, without realizing that she was not smart. Mrs. Bennet’s special attention on Lydia and her comments about the common things between her daughter and herself before her marriage, reveals this similarity. On the other hand, Mr Bennet’s comments on Wickham being his favourite son-in-law reinforces this parallelism. Furthermore, the disagreements and arguments between them, whether to give permission or not to their daughter getting married as soon as possible with the first rich man that appears, often display the striking difference between the two. Marrying off her daughters serves as the main purpose in Mrs. Bennet’s life and her obsession. Meanwhile, Mr. Bennet isolates himself from his family, finding refuge on his huge library, which in the end, becomes his only happiness. These characters show to the readers the anger, loneliness and the insanity of two people who are wed without love, as was overly common at the time. Austen shows clear satirical messages through their communications with one another.
Lydia and Wickham’s Marriage is another example of Austen’s idea of a bad marriage. It was based on good looks, false love, appearances for the society, sensual and sexual pleasures and youthful vivacity. When none of them can see the relationship the other’s qualities, the marriage will solemnly fade away. Along the novel, this kinship gradually disintegrates. Lydia comes to visit her sisters frequently, with the justification that her husband is enjoying himself in London or Bath, avoiding stay alone at home. As a result of this, both characters appear to be miserable with their married life and constantly try to escape. Through this couple, Austen shows that hasty marriages based on false love and superficial qualities, do not last much time and only leads to unhappiness. These two characters help to satirize the ideals of marriage by going against them and showing a contrast to the relatively healthy relationships of Jane and Bingley and Elizabeth and Darcy.
The marriage between Jane and Bingley is an example of a successful marriage. Elizabeth expresses her opinion of this couple in the novel “really, believed all his expectations of felicity, to be rationally founded, 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.”. However, there is a plan in their relationships. The flow in that both characters are too gullible and too good-hearted to ever act strongly against external forces that may attempt to separate them. Mr. Bennet says: “You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income.” So, their marriage is in between success and failure. However, they have a natural compatibility for one another. They have real feelings and learn to value each other more and more due to their difficult courtship. They have no feelings of selfish or other desires, just the feeling that they are truly in love. “It was generally evident, whenever they met, that he did admire her; and to her it was equally evident that Jane was yielding to the preference which she had begun to entertain for him from the first, and was in a way to be very much in love.” Austen uses their relationship and compatibility with each other to “prove her point”, meaning that she was creating what she thought all relationships should be based on. Jane and Bingley both have a personal attraction towards one another. They have dignity and both are very sensible. Unfortunately, the interference of outside forces causes trouble in the kinship. His sisters and Darcy believe that Bennet family is too far down on the social ladder to deserve such love and attention from him. Jane and Bingley’s relationship serves to demonstrate the reverse of the caring upper class. The Regency Period was a time for limited social mobility, where the upper classes were reluctant in dispersing their wealth among those who were not born with this privilege. Austen took this relationship as an opportunity to give her opinion on that topic
Mr. Collins comes to the Bennet’s home in order to get a wife. He first lays eyes on Jane but she was already being pursued by Bingley at that point. His attraction then immediately turns towards Elizabeth. His proposal to Elizabeth is not a pleasant one, although he is too ignorant to notice it. She finds her wealthy cousin, Mr Collins, a “conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man”. Elizabeth’s rejection of Mr Collins’s marriage proposal was a revolutionary landmark in the context of the novel. Although it is quite obvious that rejecting a man who you do not love is a common fact today, in 1813 it was a less obvious matter. He could provide Elizabeth a house, a good life style and a long-term stability for her family. Despite of this, she realized that it was impossible to love such a man. It shows her courageousness to make decisions based on her own conventions and desires, and not the wants of society As readers, we are influenced to agree with Elizabeth decision-making and attitudes on getting marry only for love and correct purposes, and not on the ground of appearances. In spite of being rejected by Elizabeth, his attention is rapidly transferred on Charlotte Lucas. The marriage between Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins is a comical and even devastating relationship. He could not possible be in love, taking into account that one week before he had loved Jane and Elizabeth. However, Charlotte who is getting older and less desirable, marries Mr. Collins in order to get financial stability and social security. She is under the pressure of her mother and that of the social class, and sees Mr. Collins as her only option. Charlotte says, “I see what you are feeling, you must be surprised, very much surprised, so lately as Mr. Collins was wishing to marry you. But when you have had time to think it all over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am no romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr.Collins character, connections, 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.” Nevertheless, she soon realizes that he is an intolerable man, and often finds herself embarrassed to be married with him. However, Charlotte continue accepting this disreputable man because he is the only alternative to poverty and social isolation. She yields to society and she accepts the loneliness of her marriage with Collins because to her it seems better than the alternative of social isolation. Austen again shows us with this new example, the consequences of getting married without knowing the partner and with no love for one another, having a complete life with no happiness.
Austen then brings the reader to the central romance of the novel, the marriage between Elizabeth and Darcy. This couple represents all the characteristics of a successful marriage. One of which is that the feelings that are not based on appearances. Although in the beginning they were distant from each other for the misunderstandings and prejudice of the first impressions, both eventually come around. During the instance of their first meeting he insulted Elizabeth by refusing to dance with her. He said where she could hear him, that he was in no mood the prefer young ladies slighted by other men. However, he began to admire Elizabeth in spite of himself, and after further contact with Elizabeth, he realizes that she is the most intelligent, discerning, and virtuous woman he has ever met. He begins to fall in love with her, but his pride prevents him, at first, from lowering himself to her social class. Nevertheless, she becomes his obsession and admiration until he can not bear it longer. He informs his feelings and affection for her and proposes marriage. Elizabeth is surprised, but she rejected his proposal. He sets out to prove his love publicly to the dismay of his high society and royal connections. After all, they could go through the problems due to the series of events they both experienced, which gave them the opportunity to understand one another and the time to reconcile their feelings for each other. So, their mutual understanding is the foundation of their relationship and will lead them to a peaceful and lasting relationship. This example reveals the importance of getting to know each other and having real feelings for the other person, which Austen writes to highlight that the only way to succeed in a relationship is love. So, Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage is one of understanding and mutual respect and admiration. Darcy and Elizabeth are among the few couples within the story that marry for love. They are also among the few characters who find happiness. In Austen’s opinion, this is a successful marriage. She uses this example for representing her beliefs about love and also for proving that happiness in marriage can be reached if there is love for one another.
Austen throughout her novel, describes the societal state of nineteenth century England with awareness of the social issues that affect her society, where marriage is based on economical reasons and social background rather than compatibility and love. Austen writes about the effects that class have on marriage, and marriage on class. With great irony and satire, she displays how people are influenced by social rank and wealth, and marriage is the status that all women strive to achieve. She satirizes the convention of marriage in her novel placed on an acquisitive society, demonstrating that the mere tolerance of the other, wealth, and class factors can produce only misery, shame, unhappiness and isolation. The juxtapositioned kinship between the characters of Elizabeth and Darcy show the readers Austen’s perspective that happiness can only be reached if both parties marry for nothing less than true love.