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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: A Reflection on Marriage in the 1800s

Lee is a Social Anthropology graduate with a master’s degree in Management who has a penchant for the written word.

This article discusses the portrayal of marriage in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

This article discusses the portrayal of marriage in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

What Is Pride and Prejudice About?

Pride and Prejudice is the story of the Bennet family, particularly of the love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Set in the early 1800s in the English countryside, it explored\s why Mrs. Bennet's sole goal in life is to see her daughters wed.

In the process, Austen creates vivid imagery of the social dilemma that most women faced during that era: the importance of marriage and the prevailing dichotomy between the elite and the commoner, the country folk and city dwellers, and the educated and uneducated.

Jane Austen's Personalities and Use of Vivid Imagery

Austen’s writing style explores the different stereotypes of women during that period through the unique personalities of each character. Strong, educated, a woman who speaks her mind, Elizabeth is not the average woman. Her wit and outspoken personality more than compensate for her plainness in terms of physical beauty.

On the other hand, Jane is personified as the typical beauty that only has her looks to show off. Their mother and Charlotte were the epitomai of the mindset for a commoner: Charlotte, who has to marry out of servitude, who no longer wants to be a burden to her parents, and Mrs. Bennet, whose ways are so blatant it is already embarrassing for Elizabeth.

It is this type of attitude that the elite frowns upon as a sign of lack of intelligence or decency. And the elites and city dwellers—the Bingley sisters and Lady Catherine de Bourgh are the typical snobs who view country folks as less educated and below their stature.

Austen defines the social and moral fabric associated with marriage firmly. It is a time when marriage is an integral institution highly regarded by both common people and the elite. It is institutionalized to serve as an alliance between affluent families, an escape for some and a means to social and economic stability, an obligation, and for the few—a declaration of love.

Aspects of Marriage in the Novel

The following are 5 different aspects of marriage that Austen portrays in the novel.

1. Marriage as an Alliance

Marriage as an alliance between two influential and wealthy families serves as security—for one, it ensures that the wealth does not ‘spillover’ and stays within the children and their heirs. Secondly, it guarantees the continued economic power, influence, and status among the daughters of wealthy families. Because despite being born rich, women are still dependent on men to literally take care of them.

Though unsuccessful in the novel, such alliances are shown by Austen in the desire of one of the Bingley sisters to have a keen interest in Darcy. Another is the supposed pre-arrange marriage between Darcy and Lady de Bourgh’s daughter.

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2. Marriage as an Escape

For all women, marriage is seen as an escape from the uncertainty of the future. Being married means having a man to take care of you in terms of basic and social needs. In a way, it showed how women are, at least in my opinion, still second-class citizens of the community. They are helpless, and the only way to empower them is through marriage.

It is only through marriage that a mother can guarantee a promising future for her daughters. Such is the gravity associated with marriage that Mrs. Bennet made it her business, her only business, to see that all her daughters are wed, especially that she does not have a son as a fallback to take care of her daughters.

3. Marriage as Means to Social and Economic Stability

For both the commoners and the elite women, marriage is an avenue for social and economic stability. Social stability meant that the wealthy women could continue living with the prestige and influence they were accustomed to by marrying their own kind. While for common women, it is an opportunity to secure a promising future.

This is most evident in Charlotte’s case, whose marriage to Mr. Collin was intended to guarantee a sense of economic stability. Though Collin is not wealthy and perceived by the Bennet’s as pompous, he could best provide for the needs of Charlotte.

4. Marriage as an Obligation

Because women are almost entirely reliant on men, marriage was also portrayed as an obligatory duty. Mr. Darcy, for instance, was to marry Lady de Bourgh’s daughter as an obligation to honor the prearranged wedding. However, he opted to marry out of love.

Mr. Collin, also out of obligation as the only male heir, decided to marry one of the Bennet’s sisters under obligation to ensure that the Bennets’ could enjoy living in their estate. With no male heir, the Bennet sister could not inherit the estate. It did not work out with any Bennet sisters, and Collin married Charlotte.

5. Marriage as a Declaration of Love

For the heroes and heroines, marriage as a declaration of love is hard to come by. Few could afford the luxury of marrying out of love. It was this principle about love that Elizabeth clings onto when she finally admits and reciprocates the acknowledgment of love for one another with Mr. Darcy. This amorous emotion also made Jane do all sorts of things to ensure that Mr. Bingley noticed her.

I could imagine how difficult it is for women to be restricted by propriety to confess their love for a man since it's viewed as a social taboo. Again, we could see the solid moral fabric among women and the strict adherence to social norms.

Pride and Prejudice Is a Holistic Perspective on English Culture

Pride and Prejudice is a very engaging read because it portrayed a holistic perspective of England’s society and culture during that era. Underneath the love stories are the personification of social aspects integral to understanding the dynamics of the social and moral fiber that holds England at the turn of the 19th century.

The novel was compelling enough as a literary portrayal of the English social structure and prevailing culture. What is more, it becomes fascinating because it is packaged in such an engaging love story that only upon reflection would the reader realize that it could view early 19th century England through the perspective of a woman.

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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