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Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

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Compare and contrast male and female attitudes towards marriage in Pride and Prejudice.

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Austen develops her characters quite profoundly, so it would be erroneous to assume that all males and all females feel the same way about marriage based on their gender alone. To get more detailed view of how marriage is treated in the novel, look for the book by Hazel Jones Jane Austen and Marriage (2009) where the author explains all that was wrong in Austen's Regency marriages. Since we cannot just categorize all characters under one same opinion of marriage, let's focus on some of the characters who had a lot to say about marriage from a very specific point of view. Mrs. Bennet's view of marriage is the easiest to identify because she is 100% transparent about it.

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We could analyze this from a very broad perspective by simply adhering to the first sentence in the novel, which is given by the narrator:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

However, as...

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universally acknowledged as this truth may be, the reality is that thecharacters in the novel have their own views of marriage.

The male and female attitudes about marriage vary from character to character in the novel Pride and Prejudice. Austen develops her characters quite profoundly, so it would be erroneous to assume that all males and all females feel the same way about marriage based on their gender alone. To get more detailed view of how marriage is treated in the novel, look for the book by Hazel Jones Jane Austen and Marriage (2009) where the author explains all that was wrong in Austen's Regency marriages.

Since we cannot just categorize all characters under one same opinion of marriage, let's focus on some of the characters who had a lot to say about marriage from a very specific point of view.

Mrs. Bennet

Mrs. Bennet's view of marriage is the easiest to identify because she is 100% transparent about it. In her most honest opinion, marriage is about sending off a daughter to be taken care of by her husband. The richer the husband, the happier the wife, and the higher the prospects of a happy life. Love, courtship, and friendship should be a part of the deal, especially if the husband comes from a well-to-do background where manners have been taught. In her eyes, marriage is simply looking for the highest bidder.

When Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins, who is the heir of the Bennet's estate as a result of the laws of the time that benefited only male family members, Mrs. Bennet is up in arms, because rejecting Collins is basically rejecting the family estate staying in the family.

I tell you, Miss Lizzy—if you take it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husband at all—and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead.

The situation of Regency women was quite impossible. They were socially weakened by limitations and zero prospects to become self-sufficient. As a result, all they could do was wait in the trenches for a man to take care of them and, like Mrs. Bennet says, avoid becoming a burden to the rest of the family.

I shall not be able to keep you—and so I warn you. I have done with you from this very day. I told you in the library, you know, that I should never speak to you again, and you will find me as good as my word. I have no pleasure in talking to undutiful children.

Not only does Mrs. Bennet care very little about her daughter's personal choices, but she also blames Elizabeth for not wanting to marry Collins. She goes as far as calling Elizabeth ungrateful, or "undutiful." Sure, for the modern reader these accusations may look outrageous, but the mentality back in this time period was not too far from that of Mrs. Bennet's. An unmarried woman would eventually have to be taken care of by somebody. Hence, the concept of the "spinster" is born.

Mr. Collins

Mr. Collins, who feels that he is quite grand and has achieved a lot in life, looks at marriage as the next logical step for a man "of means" to be completely happy. He would agree 100% with the first quote of the novel, about the universally acknowledge truth about marriage. To people who thought like he did, marriage is sort of like a right of passage, and surely the same thought was in the minds of many men of the period. It is what a man with a job and "connections" would do next.

his veneration for [Lady Catherine] as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his right as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.

Therefore, Collins really thinks of himself as a great gift to any woman. This is why he is so hurt when Elizabeth rejects him. He really, truly thought that any woman of his generation would see in him exactly what Mrs. Bennet was looking for in a husband for her daughters: connections, a good job, income, and property.

Charlotte Lucas

The one woman who does say "yes" to the annoying Mr. Collins is Charlotte Lucas. However, even she admits that she only did it for the need of having "an establishment" and for the fact that she is fully aware that this may be her one and only chance at it. When Elizabeth came to speak to her to ask her about the engagement, Charlotte's words said as much:

I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.

So, in other words, Charlotte is in it for what is available to her by way of marriage. She is neither in love or interested in Mr. Collins. Her chances for happiness with him are as "fair" as "most people" can boast in a marriage state.

We could analyze pages upon pages of information regarding how each character in Pride and Prejudice views marriage. However, these examples help you see how each character, regardless of gender, has a different background experience to bring to the table and, as a result, each of their views of "the marriage state" vary from one another.

We would still need to explore Mr. Bennet's careless approach to marriage, Mr. Darcy's strange first declaration of love to Elizabeth, Jane's super romantic approach to marriage, or Lydia's reckless approach to it. There are lots of views and opinions to consider.

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Compare and contrast between the two kinds of marriage in Pride and Prejudice.

Members of the social class of the Bennet sisters, and particularly in Jane Austen's time, women married for financial security, to have a home of their own, to secure their future beyond their father's home. In the case of the Bennet sisters, they will have no home once their father dies, they have no brothers, so the home will pass to the next male heir in the family, Mr. Collins.  That is why Lizzie's rejection of Mr. Collins is so profound, she will not sacrifice herself to protect the family home.

The two types of marriage that are depicted in Pride and Prejudice are marriages made for long-term security, and marraiges made for love.   An example of a marriage of security is that of Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins.  A marriage made between a woman with no prospects who accepts a proposal because she needs financial security and a home of her own. 

Charlotte does not marry Mr. Collins because she loves him, it appears to be just the opposite, she does not love him, but she does respect him.

Both the Bennet sisters want to marry for love, and they both do in the end.  However, they are also given the added bonus of becoming financially wealthy as well.

Jane Bennet, at first, appears to be making a good match with Mr. Bingley for both love and financial security.  This works out in the end, but for a time it appears that Jane will not be so lucky as to be able to marry for love, with the bonus factor being that she will also be very rich.

Lizzie Bennet does not want to marry for security, she wants to marry for love.  Both Lizzie and Jane are lucky in Pride and Prejudice to be able to marry for both love and money. Jane Austen was in love with a young man and ultimately had to give him up because he was not permitted to marry her because of her social class.  The young man ended up marrying a girl who was wealthy and Jane Austen remained unmarried.  But she had brothers who protected her and her sister while they lived in the family home looking after their mother.

Lydia's marriage falls into another category.  She is a silly girl who makes spontaneous decisions without thinking.  She ends up married to Wickham because of Darcy, it is a necessity that they be married in order to save the Bennet family reputation.    

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Compare and contrast between the two kinds of marriage in Pride and Prejudice.

It might help if you would clarify what those two types of marriage are.  I will try to guess, even though I think there are probably more than just two types of marriage.   But in general, let's say that there are marriages of convenience or practicality, and then marriages of love.  We can group Charlotte and Lydia's marriages under the first group-marriages made out of the need to be practical, and Lizzy and Jane's marriages under the category of love.  To compare the two types of marriages, we can state that first of all, they are marriages after all.  And, they both have elements of convenience; the marriages will take the daughters out of the Bennet and Lucas household so that their parents don't have to support them anymore.  Both types of marriages put the women in charge of their own homes, and will hopefully give them satisfaction on some level; Liddy will be pleased with the travel and socializing afforded an officer's wife, and Charlotte is pleased with running her own household and being in charge of things.  So, those aspects of marriage will be given to both groups.

The two types of marriage are totally different in their motivations.  Lizzy and Jane married for love, the other two because it was convenient, or a way out of a more difficult situation.  Jane and Lizzy will probably, as a result, have much more happiness.  The men they married also conveniently had a lot of money and wealth in the world; nice how that worked out, no?  There could be quite a bit of thought given to that one and what Austen could be saying about wealth and happiness in this novel.

I hope that those thoughts help a bit; it's an interesting question!  Good luck!

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