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The Concept of Domesticity and Marriage in Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Persuasion'

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Watson argues that “the house embodies the wealth and way of life the woman is marrying” (Watson, Book 3, p. 173). This essay will discuss the importance of houses in relation to the marriage plots in Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Persuasion’. It will argue that in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, a novel which can be perceived to centre on women depending on marriage to secure their finances, a house embodying the wealth and way of life that a woman is marrying is evident through female characters in the novel. It will, however, argue that wealth and houses alone are not enough to persuade protagonist Elizabeth Bennet to marry. On the contrary, alternative views of marriage are seen in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ through characters such as Charlotte Lucas. In addition, it will examine the importance of houses in relation to marriage plots in ‘Persuasion’ and argue the importance of the house is not as evident in the marriage plot of protagonist Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, due to constant movement and temporary residences. Nevertheless, it will argue that although houses do not seem as significant in ‘Persuasion’, that Captain Wentworth’s way of life is an important element to Anne in this marriage plot. Lastly, this essay will examine the ways in which Jane Austen uses narrative techniques such as focalisation, free indirect speech and irony through a third person narrator to characterise different points of views towards houses. It will also discuss Austen’s use of satire in both ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Persuasion’.

According to Toner (2015) “characters such as Elizabeth and Anne are determined that their homes be founded upon mutual love and respect, and mutual respect between partners depends upon the partners’ having dignity in the sense of respectability”. This is evident in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as Elizabeth Bennet receives marriage proposals from two men, Mr. Collins and Fitzwilliam Darcy, and it is only on the second proposal that Mr Darcy makes to Elizabeth that she accepts his proposal and they are married. With the example of the proposal from Mr Collins, despite the lack of money in the Bennet family, and that their original residence, Longbourn, should go to Mr Collins on the event of Mr Bennet’s death, Elizabeth refuses the proposal from Mr Collins as she does not love him: “You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who would make you so” (Austen, 2004b, p. 82). This proposal refusal suggests that if wealth and houses were the main factors of Elizabeth’s interest for marriage, she would have accepted this proposal. This is further supported by Gao who states: “Her refusal of Collin’s pompous proposal is a mirror, which reflects, for the first time, her perception and character and her attitude towards love. Apparently, these external material conditions such as wealth and social status can’t win Elizabeth’s heart. Elizabeth, actually Austen, insists that love is the fundamental base of her ideal man” (Gao, 2013, p. 386).

Although a marriage to Mr Collins would keep Kellynch Hall in the family, this alone is not significant enough for Elizabeth to marry Mr Collins, love is more important than wealth to Elizabeth. This is a convincing point and can support the argument that a house embodies wealth and a way of life, as Elizabeth Bennet despises Mr Collins so much that regardless of the wealth and house ownership this marriage would provide Elizabeth, she does not want to lead a way of life with Mr Collins in a loveless marriage.

This being said, Elizabeth does show the importance of wealth and way of life embodied in a house through the proposals and eventual marriage with Darcy. When Elizabeth first becomes acquainted with Darcy at the Netherfield ball, the narrative, using focalisation to describe Elizabeth’s view of Darcy, states: “His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again” (Austen, 2014b, p. 7). Elizabeth still believes this of Darcy when he proposes to her the first time and she doesn’t love him, hence she refuses his marriage proposal. It is argued that it is only when Elizabeth visits Darcy’s house of Pemberley that she sees Darcy in a different light: “They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” (Austen, 2014b, p. 185). This argument is supported by Markley (2013, p. 79) who states: “While many critics have suggested that this transformation (from a seemingly arrogant prig to a romantic hero) occurs as much in Elizabeth’s mind as it does his manners, her view of Darcy changes only when she realises how being master of Pemberley, his large Derbyshire estate, shapes his character”. This is a believable argument as when asked when Elizabeth fell in love with Darcy, she tells her sister Jane Bennet “It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley” (Austen, 2014b, p. 286). In addition, Gao (2015, p. 387) who states: “Pemberley stands for wealth and family status. Even Elizabeth herself also admits that property and social status plays a significant role in their ideal marriage”. These arguments provided by various critics are strong evidence to argue that “the house embodies the wealth and the way of life the woman is marrying” (Watson, 2015d, p. 173) and further confirms that the importance of houses is significant to marriage plots in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ due to Pemberley’s influence on Elizabeth’s views of Darcy. It is only after the visit to Pemberley that Elizabeth accepts Darcy’s second marriage proposal. It is, however, important to note that at the time of Darcy’s second marriage proposal, Elizabeth does feel that she is in love with Darcy, as opposed to his first proposal (and the proposal of Mr Collins) when she was not in love, so she accepts.

There are contrasting approaches to marriage in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ which can be seen through the marriage plot of characters Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins. Charlotte’s requirement for love is very different to Elizabeth’s. Charlotte Lucas seems to marry for economic reasons and values wealth more than love in the way of life and house she enters into through marriage. This is demonstrated when Charlotte tells 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 him is as fair, as most people can boast on entering the marriage state” (Austen, 2014b, p. 286).

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Toner (2015) argues “This social comfort, this belonging to a community of affection and regard, is for Austen the very heart of a good home”. Although an absence of the importance for love, in contrast to Elizabeth Bennet, it is still evident that the house embodying wealth and a way of life are also significant to this marriage plot in ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

In contrast to ‘Pride and Prejudice’, the significance of houses embodying wealth and the way of life is not as evident in ‘Persuasion’ for Anne Elliott. As stated by Melissa Sodeman (2007) “Anne Elliot’s displacement from multiple homes and her frequent rambles render her domesticity both more mobile and more developed that the more stationary domesticity portrayed in Austen’s earlier novels” (Anderson and Vonderbecke, 2015). This argument is further believed by Julia Prewitt Brown (2015) cited in Toner (2015) who argues that due to the “focus on rented spaces and the itinerant nature of navy life, in ‘Persuasion’ Austen bids an unsentimental farewell to the ideal of bourgeois domestic stability and it appears Anne has no difficulty in imagining domestic happiness in temporary lodging’. Throughout the story, Anne’s journeys take her from the original family residence of Kellynch Hall, which her family were forced to leave due to her father’s financial problems, to stay with her sister at Uppercross in Bath, on a trip to Lyme, back to the Musgrove’s home in Uppercross and then back to various residences in Bath. Captain Wentworth leads a life of travelling too due to his career in the navy. As stated by Anderson and Vonderbecke (2007) ”Travel is inevitable in the life of a naval officer and, therefore, must be accepted by his spouse. Always on the move, Anne is already prepared for this reality’ and ‘Anne appreciates sailors’ sacrificial, physically demanding lives, and she indirectly identifies with that life through her habitual rambles’. Anne also defends the navy and this way of life to her father “The navy, I think, who have done so much for us, have at least an equal claim with any other set of men” (Austen, 2004a, p. 21). This is convincing evidence that the physical aspect of houses is not as important in the novel of ‘Persuasion’ as in ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

A way of life and a sense of belonging, which could be achieved through marriage, however, can be argued to be of importance to Anne in ‘Persuasion’. Toner (2015) argues: “Anne lives on the periphery, at the center of no circle; she is not loved by many, belongs to no community of affection and regard”. In the novel, Anne is described as being “nobody with either father or sister; her word had no weight, her convenience was always to give way – she was only Anne” (2014a, 2004, p. 11). When travelling to Lyme, through the people that Anne spends time with, it seems she finally finds a place to belong. Toner (2015) also argues that “Anne Elliot finds affection and regard in the circle of friends she enters at Lyme. We can say that she feels “at home” with them; we cannot say has found her home with them, for she cannot remain among them with permanence”. This is also supported in the novel when Anne spends time with Wentworth’s friends again: “The others joined them, and it was a group in which Anne found herself also necessarily included” (Austen, 2004a, p. 149). It is argued that “Anne realises, for her any more complete and permanent entry into in (group of friends) would have to be through marriage” (Toner, 2015). When Anne thinks she may lose this circle of friends, the narrative states: “These would have been all my friends,’ was her thought; and she had to struggle against a great tendency to lowness” (Austen, 2004a, pp. 82-83). This is all strong evidence to suggest that marriage to Wentworth would provide Anne with a way of life she yearned for; a sense of belonging.

Jane Austen uses a third person, supposedly omniscient, narrator in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Persuasion’. Watson (2015c, p. 155) disputes the omniscience of the narrator and states that the narration is more focalisation rather than omniscient as ‘however ‘omniscient’ third person narration may be in theory, in practice the narration of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is largely asymmetric, promoting Elizabeth Bennet to heroine in large part by concerning itself with her state of mind rather than anyone else’s’. This approach is also used by Austen for the narration of ‘Persuasion’ and includes a shifting point of view, but again though focalisation. As stated by Wiltshire (2006) cited in Towheed (2015b, p. 206) “’Persuasion’ is a ‘novel about the inner and the outer life’ told through Austen’s careful and sophisticated use of voice, omniscient third person narration, and shifting points of view”. Austen also uses free indirect speech in both novels. Towheed (2015b, p. 207) claims that this is a “narrative device that Austen, more than any other novelist before her, made her own”. This device allows the reader to access the inner thoughts of the characters. Towheed (2015a, p. 243) also states that Austen’s use of both voice and narration is ‘brilliantly original and sophisticated.

In addition, Austen makes use of irony in both ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Persuasion’; a tone stated from the beginning of both novels. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ opens with the statement “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Austen, 2004b, p. 1). This opening statement sets the theme of the novel and as argued by A. Walton Litz (1965) cited in Watson (2015c, p. 138) “As the action develops the implications of the opening sentence are modified and extended, until by the end of the novel we are willing to acknowledge that both Bingley and Darcy were ‘in want of a wife”. Similarly, in ‘Persuasion’ there is a presence of irony. According to Gay (2010, p. 64) “Austen directs her irony at many targets in this novel’ and it has a ‘robust satire of the contemporary fad for health resorts and the capitalist speculation associated with them”. ‘Persuasion’ also opens with an ironical statement about Anne’s father, who is frequently satirised: “Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage” (Austen, 2004a, p. 9). Gay (2010, p.64) suggests that “the proper book for such activities is, of course, the Bible”. Gay (2010, p. 64) also states “Sir Walter lacks affection for anyone but himself – his rooms are full of mirrors, as Admiral Croft remarks with astonishment”. Gay (2010, p. 65) also suggests that “even Anne herself, however, is at times subject to the novelist’s ironical eye for self-indulgence”. Markley (2013, p. 95) argues “suitable marriages – financially, socially and romantically – are essential for them (the protagonists) to be heroines rather than becoming objects of our comic (Mary Bennet) or satiric (Caroline Bingley) laughter”.

In conclusion, the arguments and evidence provided are convincing that “the house embodies the wealth and way of life the woman is marrying” (Watson, Book 3, p. 173) in ‘Pride and Prejudice’. This is clear through the marriage plots of Elizabeth Bennet / Fitzwilliam Darcy and Charlotte Lucas / Mr. Collins. Although Elizabeth requires love in the way of life that she enters through marriage, but Charlotte does not, the house embodying the wealth and way of life is clear. Although the importance of houses is not as significant in marriage plots in ‘Persuasion’ through protagonist Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, the way of life through marriage is clearly a draw for Anne. The concept of domesticity is different in ‘Persuasion’ to ‘Pride and Prejudice’, due to Captain Wentworth’s association with the navy, as residences are more temporary, but a sense of belonging through marriage is very important for Anne. Austen uses a third person narrator in both novels with narrative techniques such as focalisation and free indirect speech to elevate the heroines of her novel whilst allowing readers to see the inner consciousness of her characters, although the truth of the narrator being omniscient is unclear. The houses, wealth, way of life and social status through marriage are certainly relevant issues in Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Persuasion’.

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The Concept of Domesticity and Marriage in Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Persuasion’. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-concept-of-domesticity-and-marriage-in-jane-austens-pride-and-prejudice-and-persuasion/
“The Concept of Domesticity and Marriage in Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Persuasion’.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-concept-of-domesticity-and-marriage-in-jane-austens-pride-and-prejudice-and-persuasion/
The Concept of Domesticity and Marriage in Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Persuasion’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-concept-of-domesticity-and-marriage-in-jane-austens-pride-and-prejudice-and-persuasion/> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2022].
The Concept of Domesticity and Marriage in Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Persuasion’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2022 Dec 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-concept-of-domesticity-and-marriage-in-jane-austens-pride-and-prejudice-and-persuasion/
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