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Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

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What is the portrayal and role of women in Pride and Prejudice?

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The portrayal of women in Pride and Prejudice is centered around their societal roles and the necessity of marriage for financial security and social standing. Women from various classes are depicted, but all face the universal challenge of securing a suitable husband as their primary "career" option. Characters like Charlotte Lucas pragmatically marry without love, while others, like Elizabeth Bennet, strive for a balance between financial security and genuine affection. The novel highlights how economic considerations are deeply intertwined with romantic relationships in women's lives.

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The women we see portrayed in Pride and Prejudice range from the upper-middle and gentry classes to aristocrats like Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Elizabeth defends herself to Lady de Bourgh as a gentleman's daughter, and we note that her father owns an estate big enough to support hunting, a gentleman's hobby. We don't see what life is like for women in the servant or lower classes.

The women Austen depicts are united in being focused on their only career option (or their daughters' only career option), which is marriage. Marry they all must, or they face the humiliation and uncertainty of ending up old maids, dependent on fathers and brothers for support. In the case of the five Bennet sisters, the situation is dire: they have no brother to depend on, and after their father, who is not young, dies, the income and estate they have depended on will pass to Mr. Collins, the next male in line to inherit.

The book explores the various ways women try to cope with the race for a husband. Some, like Charlotte Lucas, are hardheaded and businesslike, marrying without illusions of love and happiness. Others, like Lydia, run off with the man they have a passion for in a soft-headed and foolish way that threatens ruin. Others, like Elizabeth, learn to fall in love with the man who also offers a financially prudent match. But all the women, one way or another, find that money plays a major role in the affairs of the heart.

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In the novel, there are many, many specific quotes that discuss exactly what lhc said in post #2.

Some of them are:
Chapter One: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters."

Chapter 10: "Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger."

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Women in England in the 1800's, which is when Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is set, had one primary function, which was to marry, and marry well.  The Bennet girls have a temporarily comfortable life, for in the absence of sons, when their father dies, his property will be inherited by their cousin, Mr. Collins. For this reason, the Bennet's mother is usually in a frenzy trying to orchestrate the marriage of her daughters.   Elizabeth Bennet, her third of four girls, is a delightful young lady who refuses to lose her individualism and personal identity in a society that encourages women to do exactly that. However, much like her father, Elizabeth doesn't take too seriously her mother's flighty schemes to get her married. The role of women, especially upper crust women in England at the time is to look beautiful, speak only of pleasantries, and marry quickly, preferably to someone with some wealth at his disposal.  On this eve of the Industrial Revolution, this world stands in stark contrast to the one that will soon evolve in Britain, where women's roles will transform into something completely different.

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In Pride and Prejudice, women are portrayed through the different characters that inhabit the novel.  Take for example, Elizabeth Bennett, she is not your typical woman of the period, she should be set on getting married. She is in a difficult situation with her home being passed to her father's next male heir, Mr. Collins, yet when he proposes, she refuses.  Clearly, she is intelligent, strong minded and independent.  Jane, on the other hand, is considered the beauty of the family.  When Mr. Bingley comes to the country, she is a perfect candidate for his affections.  She is demure, socially acceptable, but, poor.

 Lydia is crazy and wild.  She doesn't seem to follow any of the social rules of her day and lacks a sense of morality.  Mary is quiet, most likely to remain unmarried.  She is content to stay with her books.  Kitty is too young to judge according to this standard.

The book allows us to observe women who are rich, Lady Catherine Debourgh and women who are poor the Bennett sisters and women who are desperate, Charlotte Lucas. Jane Austen's women characters are three dimensional, they are not paper cut-outs. Her women possess different characters, temperments and value systems. She is saying women are not one dimensional, not just decoration on a man's arm. But  valued members of society.

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Women are portrayed in many different ways in Pride and Prejudice. The main unifying characteristic they have is that they are economically dependent on men. Whether fathers, brothers, or husbands, women must have them to be socially acceptable.

Beyond that, though, there is little continuity. There are proud and silly women (Lady Catherine de Bourgh), there are silly and crude women (Mrs. Bennet), there are kind women (Jane) and there are women who are so smart they crackle (Elizabeth!).

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What is the role of women in Pride and Prejudice?

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. 

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What is the role of women in Pride and Prejudice?

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.

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How are women represented in Pride and Prejudice?

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How are women represented in Pride and Prejudice?

Certainly Jane Austen lived and wrote during an era when women were not considered intellectually, politically, nor socially equal to men.  This is perhaps one reason she was not famous until after her death - she chose to publish her works anonymously- perhaps with the thought that they would be better received without a name at all than with that of a woman.

That said - Austen certainly gives all of her female characters an opportunity to be a little more than her own society gives them credit for.  Generally speaking, Austen is not overt about women's equality and rights.  She does not, for example, have only unrealistically strong, outspoken, and intelligent female characters.  Certainly some females (Mrs. Darcy and Lydia included) were written to clearly live up to exactly the frivolous, silly, and somewhat ditzy characteristics that women were stereotyped under at that time.

But brilliantly, Austen does this for a point of comparison to her real feminine heroines.  In a world where they cannot inherit their father's land - these women are at the mercy of a suitable marriage arrangement - yet they have the courage to be picky.  In a world where women were expected to paint still life and play music, these women are witty and speak up for themselves.  These women are intolerant of ignorance and even if patient enough to put up with it on a social level - won't stand for it in close personal relationships and certainly not marriage.

In short, Austen paints women as individuals who have minds of their own, thoughts and opinions equal (and possibly superior) to the men in their lives, who deserve to get what they want.

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How do the roles of women in Pride and Prejudice differ from that of women today?

I agree with sherif1993 in the focus on the importance of marriage and how easily this is misunderstood today. Back in Austen´s times, really marriage was the only future for women who wanted some form of autonomy or limited independence. Obviously Mrs. Bennet is a caricature of a mother who is completely obsessed by marrying off her daughters, but it does reveal the grain of truth behind this exaggerated character by stressing the importance of marriage. This is why Charlotte Lucas was so willing to make the compromise of marrying the ridiculous Mr. Collins. To her, as a 27 year old (and thereby nearly classified a spinster without hope of marriage), Mr. Collins represented her last hope to have her own house and gain the social status that married women had at that time. Again and again in the novel, the fate of not marrying is referred to, such as when Mr. Collins rather insensitively alludes to Elizabeth maybe not having any further hopes of marriage if she refuses him. In many ways it was a brutal world for women, who had severely restricted choices and options open to them, wheras today, women can be single, can marry, can work, can have their own lives and not be censured by society.

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What do the characters in Pride and Prejudice reveal about the role of women in society?

I assume you are referring to the society in which Jane Austen was writing. Well, I think one of the major issues that this text reveals is the way that being a woman was all about marrying well, and then once you had married, having children and then making sure that they marry well. Of course, you might want to think about this through considering the delightful character of Mrs. Bennet, who is a flat character who, now she is married, only lives to try and marry off her daughters to any suitable (and unsuitable) gentleman that has the misfortune to come into her path. Note the way that Mrs. Bennet is described after the wedding of Jane and Lizzie:

Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited mrs. Bingley and talked of Mrs.Darcy may be guessed.

Of course, all this points to the rather limited sphere that women could occupy. Their place was the sitting room, the ball room, paying visits to neighbouring families and, if they were lucky, going on holiday to places such as Brighton and Bath. However, at the same time, marriage for some of the characters in this novel is shown as an escape from dependency and spinsterdom, such as Charlotte's interesting choice of a husband. Either way, women occupied a restricted position in society which revolved around the question of marriage.

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