Pride and Prejudice: The Cost of Marriage

19th century England had serious social problems from the heyday of Royalty and Nobility. One of the most significant of these was the tendency to marry for money. A person sought a partner based on the dowry receivable and their allowance. This process went both ways: a beautiful woman might be able to snag a rich husband, or a charring and handsome man could woo a rich young girl. In these marriages, money was the only consideration. Love was left out, with the thought that it would develop as the years went by.

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen comments that marriage in her time is a financial contract, where love is strictly a matter of chance. This is clearly evident from the very first line of the novel: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” (Austen, 1). Lady Catherine states the fact that happiness in marriage is strictly a matter of chance. This holds true in the conception of marriage held in the novel. All of the marriages in the book formed under the bonds of money, rather than the bonds of love, end up unhappy or unsuccessful.

The whole novel outlines attempts to dance around love for the combination of a wealth and attractiveness. It is thought that in, the world of this novel, marriage is a market, and the young women are its merchandise, (Money & Marriage). The first line of the novel is interpreted to mean that a wealthy man either actively pursues a wife based on his knowledge that no one would turn down a wealthy suitor, or attractive women use their beauty to their benefit to attract a wealthy husband.

Confident in his knowledge of his own wealth and magnificence, Darcy’s less than romantic first proposal to Elizabeth is a good example of the first of these truths. Darcy marches into the room, and after stating all the reasons why a wealthy man such as himself should never marry a socially inferior person such as Elizabeth, he proposes to her. He is totally confident in the knowledge that no woman would turn down marriage to a person as rich as himself, no matter how obnoxious he is.

Darcy is shocked when Elizabeth refuses him. This refusal shatters his conception of reality, showing him that money is not all-powerful and perhaps his view of the marriage market is false. Pompous, shallow, ignorant, boring and self-satisfied, Mr. Collins, in terms of his financial position and Elizabeths prospects, is a good catch,” and this is what seems to throw him head over heels in love with Elizabeth (Money & Marriage). Mrs. Bennett is the embodiment of the second part of the rule.

Her marriage was based on the principal of financial gain, and she desires her daughters to be the same. She was able to attract Mr. Bennett, a seemingly sensible and self-controlling man, by, keeping her mouth shut and smiling a lot. Basically stated, she entered their marriage under false pretences. She had no real love for him, only a desire for financial gain. Every action taken by her in the novel is directly intended to undermine her daughters marriages, guiding them toward financial gain (Laski, 68).

She is furious when Elizabeth turns down Collins, as her marriage to him would mean the estate would stay in the family. She found Darcy rather unpleasant, but would have been furious if Elizabeth had told her that she had turned Darcy’s marriage proposal down. Charlotte Lucas represents the group entirely left out of this equation. She has neither extreme beauty nor wealth (Brooke, 156). She cannot even attract a husband through her wit as Elizabeth does, and so she is basically without hope for inclusion.

While Charlotte is speaking to Elizabeth about her sister, she expressed her opinion as to Jane’s relationship toward a gentleman. She says it is probably better not to study a person because you would probably know as much after twelve months as if she married him the next day. Charlotte even goes as far as to say that, it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life, (Austen, p. 21).

Elizabeth is astonished when Charlotte accepts Mr. Collin’s marriage proposal, as she does not understand fully Charlottes predicament. “I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collin’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state,” (Austen, 95). She cannot hope for a wealthy and handsome husband like Elizabeth and Jane can, as she does not have their particular assets. Rather, she can hope at best for security and a degree of comfort.

Elizabeth is not particularly romantic either, however unlike Charlotte, Elizabeth has a certain picture of an ideal marriage in her mind and, therefore, would never marry for reasons other than love. It can be assumed that since Elizabeth is the main character, this is how Jane Austen sees marriage. Since Elizabeth would not marry without love, we can also assume that Jane Austen sees what Charlotte does as immoral. Elizabeth also feels that marriages formed by passion alone are just as bad as marriages formed without love.

In conclusion, the essential statement made about marriage in Pride and Prejudice is that a marriage for money will end up unsuccessful. At the same time, a marriage based purely on the means of passion and love alone will also be doomed to failure. A balance must be met. Balance doesnt necessarily have to be equal, but must be present in order for a marriage to be successful. This is proven in the novel Pride and Prejudice, by examples of unsuccessful marriages formed for money, and successful marriages formed by a combination of love and security.

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