To what extent do the characters in Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering heights consider social class to be the most important factor in marriage?
Both Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights were written during a time when status of women in the British society was very different from what it is now. Unlike the contemporary times, the only means of social mobility for women was to marry a rich man. As compared to the boys, very few girls could get proper formal education. There were almost no respectable jobs available for women. Even freedom to choose a life partner was not given. Dowry and settlements were important parts of a relationship. In such a phase of insecurity, marrying the right man was the only choice and goal of women who wanted a better life. Even divorce was taken seriously as after that abandoned women would have no good source of income.
“I ask only a comfortable home…” (Charlotte Lucas)
Jane Austen portrayed these prevalent views on marriage during her time with much humour and satire in her novel Pride and Prejudice. Though there are couples like Elizabeth and Darcy, and Jane and Bingley who marry out of mutual love (though their relationship too suffers a great deal because of this class system), we see Charlotte decides to marry Mr Collins (who is full of disgust, pride and foolishness) only because he is rich. Also for Wickam, marriage with Lydia is just a means to acquire money and property.
“It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him…” (Catherine Earnshaw)
In Wuthering Heights too, we see cases of unvalued marriages a lot. Even though Catherine Earnshaw madly loves Heathcliff (She says “I am Heathcliff”…) she explains Ellen Dean that she has decided to marry Edgar Linton only because this would give her social status and even means to help Heathcliff.
Marrying for economic and social rise is wrong, silly and unfair. Most of the Victorian novels had marriage as the central theme of the plot. Both Austen and Bronte were extraordinary women of their times who understood the weight of this issue and depicted it beautifully in their novels.