19th century England had some serious social problems left over from
the heyday of Royalty and Nobility. One of the most significant of these was
the tendency to marry for money. In this basic equation, a person sought a
spouse based on the dowry receivable and their allowance. This process
went both ways; a beautiful woman might be able to snag a rich husband, or a
charring handsome man could woo a rich young girl. In these marriages,
money was the only consideration. Love was left out, with a feeling that it
would develop as the years went by. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
comments that marriage in her time is a financial contract, where love is
strictly a matter of chance.
Lady Catherine states the fact that happiness in marriage is strictly a
matter of chance. This holds true in the conception of marriage held in the
novel. All of the marriages in the book formed under the bonds of money
rather than the bonds of love end up unhappy or unsuccessful. The whole
novel outlines attempts to dance around love for the combination of a wealthy
person with an attractive person.
The first line of Pride and Prejudice, "It is a universally acknowledged
fact that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a
wife", sets the tone for the rest of the novel. We interpret it to mean that a
wealthy man either actively pursues a wife based on his knowledge that no
one would turn down a wealthy suitor, or attractive women use their beauty
to their advantage to attract a rich husband. Confident in his knowledge of
his own wealth and magnificence, Darcy's less than romantic first proposal to
Elizabeth is a good example of the first of these truths. Darcy marches into
the room, and after stating all the reasons why a wealthy man such as himself
should never marry a "socially inferior" person such as Elizabeth, he
proposes to her. He is totally confident in the knowledge that no woman
would turn down marriage to a person as rich as himself, no matter how
obnoxious he is. He seems outrightly stunned when Elizabeth refuses him.
This refusal shatters his conception of reality, showing him that money is not
all powerful. This is what seems to throw him head over heels in love with
Mrs. Bennett is the embodiment of the second part of the rule. Her
marriage was based on the principal of financial gain, and she desires her
daughters to be the same. She was able to attract Mr. Bennett, a seemingly
sensible and self controlling man, by, "keeping her mouth shut and smiling a
lot." Basically stated, she entered their marriage under false pretenses. She
had no real love for him, only a desire to gain financially. Every action taken
by her in the novel is directly intended to undermine her daughters marriages,
guiding them toward financial gain. She is furious when Elizabeth turns down
Collins, as her marriage to him would mean the estate would stay in the
family. She found Darcy most disagreeable, but would have been furious if
Elizabeth had told her the she had turned Darcy's marriage proposal down.
Charlotte Lucas represents the group entirely left out of this equation.
She has neither extreme beauty nor wealth. She can not even attract a
husband through her wit as Elizabeth does, and so she is basically without
hope for inclusion. Elizabeth is astonished when Charlotte accepts Mr.
Colleen's marriage proposal, as she does not understand fully Charlottes
predicament. She can not hope for a wealthy and handsome husband like
Elizabeth and Jane can, as she does not have their particular assets. She can
hope at best for security and a degree of comfort.
In conclusion, the essential statement made about marriage in Pride
and Prejudice is that a marriage for money will end up unsuccessful. This is
proved by examples of unsuccessful marriages formed for money, and
successful marriages formed for love.
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