Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Marriage

Jane Austen
Jane Austen

 

In Pride and Prejudice we are entertained by Austen’s unique ability to not only tell a story, but also to create an atmosphere where reality meets fiction in various aspects of humanity including the social and political sides of marriage. Jane Austen’s keen observation of human behaviour greets us in many guises through the institution of marriage, and we are the richer for it. Where the Bennets’ and Collins’ marriages can be entertaining, the Wickhams’ marriage reminds us of the waywardness of youth and how one mistake can lead to a lifetime of regret. The Gardiners’ ideal marriage demonstrates more through what is not said about the relationship, than what is said.

 

Beyond the eventual happy-ending marriages of Elizabeth and Darcy, and Jane and Bingley, the ideal marriage is portrayed by way of the Gardiners. Through Austen’s characterization of them we see, and assume, their relationship is successful. Mr. Gardiner is described as a “sensible, gentlemanlike man, greatly superior to his sister [Mrs. Bennet] as well by nature as education”, and Mrs. Gardiner is characterized as “amenable, intelligent, elegant woman, and a great favourite with all her nieces “ (Austen 118). Such descriptions of the couple give the reader a comfortable impression of their compatibility, and therefore, the suitability of their marriage. In contrast, we don’t get the same sense about the Bennets’ marriage.

Marriage of Convenience

In the opening chapter the reader is given an inside look into the relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. It seems to be one of forbearance on the part of Mr. Bennet toward Mrs. Bennet. Mr. Bennet’s statement “You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it” (Austen 5), intimates to the reader of Mr. Bennet’s disinterest in his wife’s all-consuming desire to have her daughters married. Mrs. Bennet’s exclamation “How can you be so tiresome!” (Austen 5) illustrates that the couple rarely sees eye to eye on anything. At the end of the first chapter Austen presents us with an author’s view on their characters. Mr. Bennet is described as having an “odd a mixture of quick parts” where Mrs. Bennet is “a woman of mean understanding … and uncertain temper” (Austen 7). Such diverse temperaments hardly give the reader hope for a relationship which cooperates and works toward the benefit of all. Similarly the Collins’ marriage seems unlikely to be ideal because of their diverse characters.

 

Charlotte Collins (nee Lucas) is described as a “sensible intelligent young woman … Elizabeth’s intimate friend” (Austen 18), whereas Austen portrays Mr. Collins as “A mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility” (Austen 61). Such a range of traits within the couple framework can only suggest eventual conflict, whether hidden or exhibited, in a future context. Where Charlotte seems at least sensible and perhaps the voice of reason within her marriage, there is no such voice within the Wickham marriage.

 

Lydia (Bennet) Wickham is characterized by her father in Chapter One as “silly and ignorant like the other girls” (Austen 6) when he groups her together with her sisters excluding Elizabeth. Wickham’s questionable character is perhaps hinted at shortly after his introduction in Pride and Prejudice by the effect he has on Elizabeth. While they converse together during a visit to Meryton, we see a side of Elizabeth that is not typical of her, but more like her mother. She gossips about Darcy to Wickham, and so encouraged he launches into a long, detailed story that even if true, proper, social decorum would dictate silence. With Lydia’s silliness and Wickham’s lack of discretion, the reader is given a sense of the impending disaster over a future union.

The house where Jane Austen lived and wrote most of her novels
The house where Jane Austen lived and wrote most of her novels

19th Century Reality

Jane Austen’s views on marriage through her fiction perform a kind of service for her reader and encompass many levels. Through her keen and observational talent we are given insightful examples of an institution and its possible roads. Although she gives us a happy example through the Gardiners, she also illustrates the all too frequent realities of marital life through the likes of the Bennets, Collins, and Wickhams. Here she demonstrates that quality of character or personality has as much to do with the success or failure of such a union. Lloyd Brown sums it up by stating “Hence the very unreality of a happy marriage … becomes a satiric reflection on the very real limitations of society and individuals” (42) where the plight of the nineteenth century woman gave her few options other than attempting to forge a profitable marriage.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1996.

Brown, Lloyd W. “The Business of Marrying and Mothering.” Jane Austen’s  

     Achievement. Ed. Juliet McMaster. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1976.

A watercolour done by sister Cassandra in 1804
A watercolour done by sister Cassandra in 1804

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Comments 12 comments

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon

I enjoyed your article and the cleanly-written academic style of your language. You are right that character and personality has much to do with whether a marriage is good or not! (I came to the same conclusions in my hub on Marriages in Jane Austen books too! We seem to have similar interests!)

Thank you for this great article!


E. Nicolson profile image

E. Nicolson 6 years ago Author

Thank you for your kind comments.


Kendall H. profile image

Kendall H. 6 years ago from Northern CA

I love to read anything on Jane Austen except those new books featuring Zombies or Underwater Creatures. I'll keep my Jane Austen books the way SHE wrote them thanks! Anyway your hub raises a question in my mind if more marriages now are love matches or marriages of convenience? Thanks again for the hub!


E. Nicolson profile image

E. Nicolson 6 years ago Author

I had no idea until I did a keyword search that the subject of zombies could be remotely connected to Jane Austen. But there it was! I agree with you -- Jane Austen needs no 'updating'. I appreciate your comments.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida

I first enjoyed the tale of Pride and Prejudice at twelve years of age, which led me into my Victorian literature phase. Still an avid follower of Austen's work, I appreciate your thoughts on this subject.


E. Nicolson profile image

E. Nicolson 6 years ago Author

Thank you once again, Immartin. Austen seems to travel well through the generations since its initial publication. Once you're hooked it's hard to let go.


cballi316 profile image

cballi316 5 years ago from USA

Austen is my favorite author and P&P is my favorite fiction. Sometimes I think it would have been fun to live then, but only if you ended up with Darcy and not Collins!


Winsome profile image

Winsome 5 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

Now I'm wondering if the "E" in your pen name stands for "Elizabeth?" Hmmmm.

I really enjoyed your views. I can see how you would think the Gardiners' marriage might be ideal, but I feel they are not as respectful of each other as I would like to see. The Darcy's, on the other hand, have had their growth period, have spoken freely, bared their reservations, dealt with them and have moved on to great respect and admiration--actually they have a deep and passionate love for each other that should stand the test of time. (I watched Mr. & Mrs. Smith again last night and felt they achieved the same result) Of course it is the dyed in the wool romantic in me that sees this, but I think it really is evident in her writing.

Thanks again for an entertaining read. =:)


renee21 profile image

renee21 3 years ago

Great hub... you do have a comma splice in it though. Where you say, "even if true, proper, social decorum" should be "even if true, proper social decorum". "Social decorum" is the noun, not just "decorum", so you don't need a comma between "proper" and "social". Overall, wonderful and interesting hub!


KiriLiz profile image

KiriLiz 3 years ago

Wonderful hub! You brought out some excellent points and made me think! I really enjoyed reading it! Of course, who doesn't like anything connected to Jane Austen! ;)


Patapapara 21 months ago

I'm a little suesriprd, but that's only because my kids know about Pride and Prejudice. Having read both of the above books, you will have a much greater appreciation for the Zombies version having read the original! It was a fun read!


Yaiir 21 months ago

I am not sure how I feel about the way they keep re writing the clsscias to make them more hip'. I love all the classic literature and just don't think zombies are needed in pride and prejudice.

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