Question Of Marriage in Pride And Prejudice
In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen examines society’s focus on the superficiality of marriage. Many readers assert that the engagement between Elizabeth Bennet and William Darcy diminishes the message of the satirical novel. However, Austen utilizes the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet and William Darcy to underline how marriage needs to be based on passion and admiration.
In the novel, Elizabeth Bennetand Darcy’s relationship represents the ideal relationship that people in Victorian society should attain for. In the novel, Austen satirizes the relationships of the secondary characters to highlight how wealth and status define a marriage. For example, Charlotte’s desire for a comfortable secure living situation led to an unfulfilling marriage: “I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s 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” (Austen 87). Joshua Rothman assertshow Charlotte’s desire for financial stability and unrewarding marriage was influenced by society’s stringent rules in marriage and social rank:
Charlotte’s been thinking about marriage for years, and she’s developed for herself a code of conduct for marriage, a set of rules that recognize the reality of her situation and direct her toward a solution. Long ago, she recognized that she was trapped in a social web; rather than ignoring her predicament, she set about understanding it…Charlotte, therefore, is too wealthy, educated, and upper-class to marry a working man—that would be a kind of social demotion for her family—but too poor and average-looking to attract a truly wealthy one. She can’t marry up or down—she can only marry sideways. She knows and understands all of this. Collins, awful as he is, is actually her social equal (Rothman).
Charlotte’s situation was very similar to a situation Austen had personally experienced. Austen did receive a proposal from a man who was very similar to Mr. Collins who was, “very plain in person—awkward, and even uncouth in manner… [but] marrying him would have given Austen a family life of her own, as well as financial security…” (Rothman). Even though Austen accepted the proposal that night, she experienced a “revulsion of feeling” and called the wedding off the next morning (Rothman). Austen utilizes the character Charlotte to underline how young women felt the heavy influence of society of making financial stability a priority in marriage. Even though Elizabeth felt this weight on her shoulders, she remained adamant about not marrying Mr. Collins.As Julia Brown asserts, while Elizabeth’s actions of declining the marriage to Mr. Collins, “is not ponderously portrayed as an act of courage,” Austen does highlight Elizabeth’s “exceptional spirit” due to her on financial situation (Brown). Through Elizabeth’s actions, Austen emphasizes how one’s happiness cannot be defined by wealth.
Elizabeth’s choice to choose happiness over wealth is also demonstrated when she turned down Darcy for the first proposal. Joseph Wiesenfarth discussed how Elizabeth had “a chance to make a mercenary marriage and refuses to take it: ‘You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it’” (Austen 131).However,after a change of heart, Elizabeth accepts the second proposal from Darcy:
She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man, who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was a union that must have been to the advantage of both; by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved, and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance. (Austen 208-209)
Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet have a genuine connection that is not based on social rank or wealth, but on intrinsic qualities. Austen underlines how a strong foundation is vital in a marriage. Austen ridicules the relationships of secondary characters to highlight how many relationships in the Victorian era were malleable and focused on superficiality. Austen utilizes the relationship of the protagonists to highlight how people should desire a marriage that is based on respect and compassion.
The marriage between Elizabeth and Darcy also highlights essential character development for both protagonists in order to emphasize how people must continue to challenge their spouses in marriage. When Darcy first proposed to Elizabeth, Elizabeth was disgusted by Darcy’s actions since he did not act like a gentleman: “You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner” (Austen 131). These words had a profound impact on Darcy and eventually, he saw the error in his ways:
Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: `had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.’ Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me;—though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonableenough to allow their justice. (Austen 247)
The time between the first proposal and the second proposal marks extraordinary growth for both characters about their own values. Susan Kneedlerstates how Elizabeth Bennet’s reaction to Darcy’s first proposal pushes him to change his outlook on their relationship: “Such faith that if need be she can outlive her affection for Fitzwilliam Darcy is based on the new idea that he will be unworthy if he cannot continue to love…” (Kneeder). In addition, Kneeder argues that the second proposal is the answer to the vital question of whether Mr.Darcy can justify her affection. Austen underlines how people in a marriage need to challenge their spouses in order to grow as individuals. Austen argues that a marriage based on intrinsic characteristics than superficial qualities will lead to respect between the two individuals.
Austen highlights how respect and compassion are vital in marriage through Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet’s engagement. Ina Victorian society where wealth and social class dictated marriage, Austen demonstrates how a relationship that is focused on more than superficial qualities will improve the development of an individual.
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