By comparing and contrasting the marriage proposals of Mr Collins and Mr. Darcy, examine the attitudes to marriage explored by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice. You should:
- Consider Jane Austens use of language;
- Consider social and historical contexts;
- Comment on any moral dimensions explored in the text;
- Discuss key characters;
- Comment on central themes and ideas
During the eighteenth and nineteenth century marriage is a state to which every lady was expected to aspire: ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’. The first sentence of the novel introduces two of the most important aspects of life at the time; marriage and wealth. During the time of Jane Austen, marriage was about money, power and appearance. These components were essential for what would be deemed, a ‘good’ marriage. Marriage was for reasons of increasing the couples, and their families’ social and financial ranking. The opening sentence does not provoke any images of love but only to have security of marriage which aids both families both socially and for wealth purposes.
Mr. Collins proposal to Elizabeth is strange to say the least. Not only is it clear that he has his proposal ‘speech’ ready made, he refuses to take no for an answer. He has even prepared a rejection ‘speech’ to try and win her back. We can relate to Elizabeth from the beginning of the book, her rational thinking it what she may consider her greatest trait. She is described as having ‘something of quickness than her sisters’ which is completely true. This quickness is shown when she argues back to Mr Collins, and later in the novel,someone of far higher ranking which was socially unheard of.
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Mr. Collins proposal is humorous in the sense that he clearly does not know Elizabeth and her personality. Jane Austen use of irony appears often in Chapter 19 as she mocks him in a kind nature without insulting him too greatly. Mr. Collins is formal in his proposal and having ‘no feeling of diffidence’ he is sure that he will not be refused. His proposal is structured like a speech or a sermon in his case, and amuses us as the reader and Elizabeth herself as she finds it difficult not to laugh. The use of rhetorical devices such as numbering his points and punctuating his proposal with terms like ‘thus’ adds to the hilarity of it. Mr. Collins tries to flatter her by talking of her ‘perfections’, a use of hyperbole. He also describes her as a ‘natural delicacy’. Mr. Collins tells Elizabeth that he has been told ‘Mr Collins, you must marry’ by his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lady Catherine believes he ‘owes it to himself and to all his family’ to marry Elizabeth.
Mr Collins talks of the death of Elizabeth’s father, Mr. Bennet. An odd topic to bring up when proposing to a lady. Elizabeth rejects his efforts but he rapidly continues as if he will not leave until hear gets the ‘yes’ that he wants to hear. Elizabeth argues back because he is not accepting the fact that he has been refused. Again he has a counter argument for her rejection: ‘it does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance’. Elizabeth starts to be rude to him to see if that will work. He insults her and her family by reminding her that she is not wealthy: ‘your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your lovingness’, he also says that ‘it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you’. Mr. Collins is intelligent enough to realise that the Bennet sisters have little chance in the unforgiving marriage ‘market’ of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Mr. Collins’ makes it clear that as far as he is concerned, respectability is the most important attribute in a wife; he values this more highly than wealth or beauty. This is a sensible decision due to his profession; a clergyman must be respected so he requires a respectable wife. Despite his proposal seeming definitely passionless and quite cold hearted it develops to become rude when he is refused but at the same time , amusing because of Mr. Collins being such a foolish man. Like Mrs. Bennet, Mr Collins is in the novel for comical value.
Mr. Collins gives a series of practical and completely unromantic reasons to marry Elizabeth. During the time that Jane Austen wrote this novel, marriage was often arranged for practical reasons and Jane Austen includes in her novels situations that may occur in everyday life, she did not write about fantasy worlds. Jane Austen was a realist author. Jane Austen is extremely effective in conveying how Elizabeth deals with this proposal as Jane Austen was said to have based her novel on close observances of real people and situations similar to the ones described in the book. She was familiar with these situations.
Mr. Collins feels he should marry one of his cousins, because if he doesn’t they will be left homeless and penniless on the death of their father. He feels it is morally important to marry one of them. When Elizabeth hears of Charlotte’s engagement to Mr. Collins she is rather disparaging of their engagement. This shows that despite Elizabeth’s quickness of mind and intelligence, she may be being too idealistic. We sympathise with Charlotte’s position because she has taken an informed pragmatic decision and has accepted Mr. Collins offer of marriage. She has agreed to marry him for the ‘pure and disinterested desire of an establishment’. This is a typical marriage because it is based on the grounds of practicality. This marriage is not romantic or fuelled by love, most marriages of the upper class were just like this during the eighteenth century and may be the reason many gentlemen of the time had mistresses. Due to the fact that they were highly ranking members of society, their reputation remained intact despite having two women in the house.
Mr. Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth is a huge contrast to Mr. Collins’. Darcy speaks with emotive language telling Elizabeth how his feeling cannot be ‘repressed’ and that he ardently admires and loves her, despite her background. The adverb ‘ardently’ suggests he passionately loves her. ‘Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression’; this is a perfect
example of Jane Austen’s economy of expression showing Elizabeth’s surprise. Despite telling her that he loves her, it is almost ruined by his first comment which tells us that ‘in vain have I struggled’. meaning that he has struggled not to love her but he can’t help it. Elizabeth blushes as she could not be ‘insensible to the compliment of such a man’s affection’. Her feelings towards Darcy are conflicted, which shows an early sign of possible love, she may be attracted to him without knowing it but she quickly looses ‘all compassion in anger’. She was not angry with Mr. Collins proposal, she just found it amusing but Darcy’s proposal is different. Mr. Darcy is over confident that she Elizabeth will love and accept him immediately. Elements of pride are found in this section of the novel. Mr. Darcy is one of the proudest characters in the novel. He is extremely wealthy and his manners are exemplary but there is a certain air about him that makes him seem snobby and this makes him slightly unlikeable. He creates a reputation for himself, when at the ball, he considers himself far too good to dance with any of the local girls. He knows his social position and superiority. By doing this he has insulted the entire neighbourhood and Elizabeth takes the insult very personally because she overhears him saying that she is not beautiful enough for him. Though she is not as pretty as her sister Jane, she is still pretty by the neighbourhood’s standards. So in showing his self-pride he has damaged Elizabeth’s and she tries hard not to show it.
Mr. Darcy’s proposal is similar to Mr. Collins due to the fact that he suggests to Elizabeth that she is “less in rank” than himself and that marrying her is ‘a degradation’. It was socially daring at the time for someone of such a high social rank to marry below themselves despite Elizabeth being a gentlemen’s daughter.
Elizabeth eloquently expressing her feelings towards the unexpected proposal and refuses his best efforts of securing an engagement. Darcy is a man who is not used to denial of something so he is shocked at her refusal. There is narrative tension as we wait for a reply from Darcy. They have an argument and Darcy storms out after hearing enough of Elizabeth’s clever and well thought through replies. Elizabeth cries for ‘half an hour’ as she goes over what had happened in her head. Jane Austen use of exclamation marks epitomises the agitated state of mind of Elizabeth. Jane Austen’s use of free indirect speech is effective in conveying characters thoughts to us as the reader and is necessary in Chapter 11 (Volume 2). it is neccesary to us during this chapter because it tells us what thoughts are conflicting Elizabeth. It is the most effective way to convey he thought processes.
Lydia Bennet’s elopement was seen by society very badly. She was not yet a lady and after she eloped with Wickham she had very little chance as being viewed as a lady in the future. Lydia running off and living with Wickham without the benefit of marriage had ruined her reputation and damaged the reputation of her entire family. She would be considered a loose woman, and no man of a good family would ever consider marrying her. Wickham certainly had no intentions of marrying her. This is what provoked the letter from Mr. Collins telling Mr. Bennet of his opinion on Lydia’s elopement, societies view and Lady Catherine’s view. Wickham took Lydia away with him to Scotland because he could and Lydia had fallen desperately in love with him. He was self-indulgent and would never deny himself any pleasure in his power. He knew that Lydia would be good company because he could easily persuade her to ‘sleep’ with him. Lydia was very attracted to Wickham, he should have known better and had the self control and decency not to allow her to have sex with him.
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Mr. Collins’ tone in his letter is a very serious one telling Mr. Bennet that it is his last chance to preserve his families reputation. He is warning that Lydia is compromising the other Bennet girls chances, and that he should ‘throw off’ his affection for her and ‘leave her to reap the fruits of her own heinous offence’. This is a very severe action to take. Mr. Collins is telling Mr. Bennet that if he wants to keep his reputation intact, he must stop loving his daughter. This view that Mr Collins has, reflects the views that eighteenth century society would have had.
The Bennet’s do not have a ready supply of money, they are relatively rich in land and assets but not in money so Wickham has no intentions of marrying Lydia. Therefore, Darcy paid Wickham to marry Lydia. Mr. Darcy arranging for Wickham to marry Lydia preserved not only her reputation but also her sisters’ reputations. He removed the disgrace from the Bennet name.
In Volume 3 Chapter 14, Elizabeth realises she was wrong in her judgement of Mr. Darcy. She travelles to Pemberley to rescue her sisters reputation and speak with Mr Darcy. She is confronted by Lady Catherine who tells of Mr Darcy’s supposed engagement to her daughter. Lady Catherine de Bourgh makes clear her opinion on Elizabeth marrying Darcy and warns her off. She sees the marriage between Elizabeth and Darcy as socially unusual as it is the joining of two people from different social classes and financial background. Lady Catherine is displeased to say the least that her nephew Mr. Darcy is not intending on marrying Lady Catherines daughter. If Darcy and Lady Catherine’s daughter did marry, then two very large fortunes would be joined, increasing the financial status of both families. But there is one person getting in the way of Lady Catherine’s ideal marriage, and that is Elizabeth. Lady Catherine makes very clear she wants Darcy to marry her daughter. I believe Mr. Darcy is unwilling to marry Miss de Bourgh as he is in love with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth dares to stand her ground in her argument with Lady Catherine. Once again Lady Catherine gives a threat: ‘I am not to be trifled with’. Elizabeth stands up to the snobbery of Lady Catherine. As Elizabeth is a match for her, she resorts to insults by saying Elizabeth is ‘a women of inferior birth, of no importance in the world’. Lady Catherine is part of a slowly diminishing generation in which old opinions were dying with the generation. Lady Catherine’s views on marriage were traditional and society was changing.
Despite the attempts, warnings and insults of Lady Catherine, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy get engaged in Volume 3 Chapter 16. Their engagement has been long anticipated by the reader and it finally comes at the end to finish with a happy ending just like Jane Austen’s other novels. Darcy refers to Elizabeth as ‘dearest, loveliest Elizabeth’. Jane Austen makes clear that Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are the perfect love match. This is affectionate language used by Mr. Darcy.
There are many different attitudes towards marriage expressed in Jane Austens’ Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Collins and Charlotte could be seen as a good couple, despite the lack of love, as they both have the belief that marriage is for practical reasons. Lady Catherine believes marriage is for wealth and power; and Elizabeth got her wish of marrying someone who is deeply in love with her. Elizabeth’s marriage to Darcy was to set a trend over the next centuries, more people married for love and now in the 21st century nothing’s changed. Jane Austen’s clever novel still has readers gripped two centuries since it was written.
The marriage we hear about which isn’t entirely based on this principle is the joining of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. Elizabeth goes through most of the novel disliking Mr. Darcy but this is mainly as she has not seen his full character and this is odd for Elizabeth as she is usually good with judging character. She likes to watch people and how they behave. Elizabeth learns that she has been mislead by Darcy’s character and had she known the truth, she would love him just as he loves her. Darcy leaves the countryside only to return to a different Elizabeth. They work out their misunderstandings and agree to marry.
All this is after Mr. Collins prepared proposal to Elizabeth in chapter 19 where she declines his proposal. Charlotte Lucas who is Elizabeth’s best friend agrees to marry him as she fears she may not get another offer. Elizabeth remains close friends with her, despite the fact that she is married to the awful Mr. Collins. Charlotte is relatively happy as she has security financially and socially as Mr. Collins is a pastor. He is high in social rank but not as high as Mr. Bennet or Lady Catherine De Bourgh who is his patroness.
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