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An example of a woman who's actions are governed by dependency upon men is Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte is 27 years old, has never been considered attractive, and her father, although a knight, does not have a large fortune. In fact, Sir William knew he would be able to give very little to Charlotte. Hence, in order to prevent herself from becoming an old maid and a financial burden to her family, Charlotte understood that she must marry. In fact, Charlotte believed that marriage was the only honorable way "well-educated young women of small fortune" could expect to be provided for (Ch. 22, Vol. 1). Charlotte's financial dependency upon men drove her to entice Mr. Collins and accept his offer of marriage, even though she and her family both agreed that Mr. Collins was a ridiculous man (Ch. 22, Vol. 1).
One example of a woman who acts independently of men is Mary. Mary is plain, brainy, and does not do things in order to attract men, especially the way the two youngest sisters do, with respect to their frequent flirting. Everything Mary says and does is to show off her mind. Every remark she makes is an attempt at an astute observation. She does not join in on dancing or walking to Meryton, she prefers to be by herself.
Marriage is an important theme in all of Austen’s novels because at this time middle-class women have few economic prospects outside of marriage. To a great extent this means independence from men is impossible. Charlotte Lucas is an intelligent articulate woman but considers marriage to the awful Mr Collins to be an excellent opportunity. Elizabeth and Jane Bennet have few options if they do not marry. For the most part, then, the strong female characters in Pride and Prejudice may be able to think independently (Elizabeth, Jane, Charlotte, Mrs Gardiner) but are not financially independent and have no hope of becoming so. The one exception to the rule is Catherine de Bourgh, who can only be characterised as a tyrant who misuses her influence in every way.
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