Illustration of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy with neutral expressions on their faces

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

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What views of marriage are portrayed in Austen's Pride and Prejudice?

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During Jane Austen’s time, women were not as independent and free as they are now. Very few women received formal education. Besides, there were not many respectable jobs for women, which meant financial insecurity and dependency.  The only way women could gain social mobility was to marry rich men. Hence, finding the right partner for marriage was a serious business for women. Women were supposed to learn dancing, singing, sewing, etc. to impress men. Very few marriages were born out of love.

In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins' marriage is an example of this trend. In Charlotte’s view, the purpose of marriage is just to get a good home.

"I am not a romantic. I ask only a comfortable home..."(Charlotte Lucas to Elizabeth)

Mr. Collins, as we know, wanted to marry Elizabeth first. However, Elizabeth doesn’t have this view of marriage, and hence she rejects Mr. Collins' proposal. She doesn’t fall for Darcy because he is very rich. She starts loving him when she realizes that she had been wrong in understanding him. Marriage between Jane and Bingley also occurs because of mutual love and attraction.

It is important to know that women didn’t have any right over ancestral property and whatever they had would become their husband’s possession after marriage. And so, women were in danger of falling for poor men, who wanted just their money. We see Wickham marries Lydia to make some money.

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What is the attitude towards marriage in novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen?

The attitude towards marriage depends entirely on the characters.

We can start by stating that the overall attitude was that marriage was a symbol of status and a rite of passage that women and men alike had to undertake in order to belong fully to society. Depending on the riches and properties, the marriage will be considered socially powerful, and will ensure benefits for both sides.

Men, when coming of age and acquiring property, were expected to look for a wife.

The women, however, had different views of it.

Elizabeth, who was independent and did not think of the criteria of the time, was focused in finding the love of her life. Her marriage would have to be for love.  In that she shares with her sister Jane, but Jane never specifically stated  her views of marriage in general, other than she loved Bingley.

Charlotte Lucas and Mrs. Bennet, however, represent the side of society which found matrimony as a way out of poverty and as a way for women to take a place in society. Charlotte went as far as marrying Mr. Collins knowing that she may learn to tolerate him, and because she just wanted the comfort of a home of  her own. Mrs. Bennet, as we know, was nearly obsessed with marrying her daughters so that (if their father dies) their entire property would go to Mr. Collins, as the nearest male heir in the family.

As of Lydia, Kitty, and Mary, we kjnow that the three are superficial in their opinion. Lydia eloped thinking that Wickham was in love with her and will  undoubtedly marry her. We know that it was not the case. He was forced to. Mary, since she had no chance due to her dull personality, would appear too virtuous. Poor Kitty could only follow Lydia, and without her she was not much.

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What factors were most significant in shaping a character’s attitude toward marriage in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice?

Fortune and status play a major role in shaping many characters' attitudes toward marriage in this text.  Consider Lady Catherine de Bourgh's high status and the way it affects her view of marriage: she longs to keep both her daughter's and nephew's fortune and status intact, and so she hopes they will marry one another.  Mrs. Bennet's lower status and fortune make her desperate to marry her daughters off, even to strangers, and to marry them off well (a.k.a. to men of fortune and status).  In any case, for many characters, including Caroline Bingley, the desire to retain or acquire fortune and status is the major factor in making a marriage match.

A character's sex (and the restrictions or opportunities provided by society for that sex) often plays a role in shaping their views of marriage as well.  For example, Mr. Collins wants to marry because he believes it will make him happy and is appropriate for a man of his profession.  However, his eventual wife, Charlotte, doesn't marry for happiness, but for security.  Her options, as a woman of 27, are extremely limited, and she fears becoming a burden on her family (something a man, who can make his own fortune, would be much less likely to fear).  Likewise, Mr. Bennet seems as though he couldn't care less about his daughters' marriage prospects, while the very same topic seems to occupy almost every one of Mrs. Bennet's waking thoughts.

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