Discuss how Austen's attitude toward marriage is Neoclassical and analyze how one marriage in the story reveals this view of love and marriage.

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Pride and Prejudice is in keeping with accepted literature forms of Jane Austen's era without becoming overly romantic. She inspires her readers and creates vivid images but they are mainly reflective of natural beauty and it's ability to rouse the spirit rather than nature in its wildest form or love in its most passionate form, as would be expected of novels in the Romantic period. Readers expect balance and a reasoned or, at least, rational approach. Jane Austen's own views and her Neoclassical style are evident in the characters she creates; often representative of a social fault or human weakness, such as the dishonest Mr Wickham. 

In establishing Lady Catherine, a more complex character, Austen ensures that it is possible to  step outside the accepted gender structure, where Lady Catherine would have had no claim on her father's wealth but would have to rely on a "good" marriage. Lady Catherine reminds readers that Sir Lewis de Bourgh  saw "no occasion for entailing estates from the female line," by excluding his female heirs. Having thus attained a powerful social position, Austen is careful to ensure a well-rounded, if perhaps pompous and over-bearing, character, revealing her own attitude towards marriage and which she reinforces in Elizabeth's choices and reasons for refusing marriage to Mr Collins and ultimately accepting Darcy's proposal.  

Jane Austen reveals a logical understanding of marriage which is both romantic - marry for love - and pragmatic- marry for a purpose.  The discussion between Charlotte and Elizabeth and Charlotte's acceptance of Mr Collins proposal exemplify Austen's realization that, often, expectations and social confines override other considerations. Austen accepts that, for some, marriage can only be a practical consideration. Take Charlotte's marriage:  Charlotte has no expectations in her marriage to Mr Collins and believes that, to make a marriage work, it is preferable " to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life." Surely, it is better to face the opportunities presented to you from a "good" marriage than to face the solitude and dependence that would necessarily come from remaining in her father's house. The difference between Charlotte and others who marry for social reasons is that Charlotte's marriage is for the purpose of ensuring her own happiness, not her wealth: "I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state."

This confirms Austen's neoclassical view and ensures a structure and a purpose, not an ill-considered, romantic view. Her strong-willed female characters are tempered by her practical understanding of life in the nineteenth century. 

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