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

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen
Start Free Trial

What is the role of women in Pride and Prejudice?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is a question that there are many different responses to, depending on who you ask. The very first sentence would have the reader believe that the soul function of women in this book is to marry, and not just to marry, but to marry as well as they can in order to gain wealth and social status for themselves. This is certainly something that both Mrs Bennet and Charlotte Lucas would agree with. Note, for example, what Charlotte says to Elizabeth about how Jane should be acting in order to capture Mr Bingley:

Jane should therefore make the most of every half-hour in which she can command his attention. When she is secure of him, there will be more leisure for falling in love as much as she chooses.

She feels that Jane should show more affection that she actually feels, because marrying a man like Bingley, who is described as something of a "catch," is far more important than her own feelings about him. Of course, this puts her into conflict with Elizabeth, as she, like Jane, feels that the role of women is not just about marrying as best as they can, but it is about marrying for love as well as marrying wisely. This is why Elizabeth is happy to acknowledge that in spite of her liking of Wickham, she knows they can never marry because of her lack of wealth. The role of other women in this novel concerns the matchmaking of their youngers. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Pride and Prejudice the roles of women follow the same roles that women were expected to follow back in Regency England, which was Jane Austen's time.

First, women had to be married to become formal citizens, basically. If a woman did not marry she would literally become a destitute, or an annoying spinster expected to live in the house of one of her brothers or sisters.

Second, women were to be the epitome of good manners, prudence and nurturing. A woman was to be her husband's "everything".

Third, women were expected to come into a marriage through a dowry. A dowry is like a "down payment" made by the bride's family to officially combine the finances of both parties. The larger your dowry, the higher the possibilities to make a good marriage. Good, in this case however, refers to financially stable.

Finally, women were to surrender everything to the home, be home keepers, entertainers, mothers, counselors, AND wives. It was no simple task.

Posted on