Marriage proposals in Pride and Prejudice - Essay

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The three proposals in Pride and Prejudice to Elizabeth Bennet, or Lizzy, vary greatly in their motivation. They are all involving the upper middle class of the 19th century that Jane Austen had knowledge of. Jane Austen never married, and you can see the kind of person she would have liked to be in Elizabeth. Jane Austen read such books as Mary Wolstencraft's 'The Rights of Women', and although she does not go as far to criticise women's status, most of her books are about their place in society; this novel being no exception. 'Pride and Prejudice' is about marriage and manners in country society, that women wanted to marry into good fortune, and rich men wanted to marry pretty women. The first sentence in the book sums up the attitude expressed in this book well: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

Marriages in the period in time this book is based, between the upper middle classes, were often practical. The women needed security for future life, the men wanted children to continue there family and this was the kind of marriage that Mr Collins proposes. He is not proposing out of love, but that he feels he should, and he is sure of Lizzy's acceptance. He does however manage to convince himself he does in fact like her: "before I am run away with my feelings" is one of his first lines during the proposal. The proposal itself is stated in a very long-winded way, however, as soon as Mr Collins has asked for time alone with Lizzy, she knows what it is for; she thinks, "it would be wisest to get it over with as soon and as quietly as possible." This is reflected in how she reacts to Mr Collins' repeated pleas. All through it he is still convincing himself and trying to convince Lizzy that he is in love, or making any other excuses he can for marrying her. We know he does not love her, as, however, earlier in the book it is said "Mr Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth - and it was soon done."

The proposal was very formal and long; Mr Collins often seems to be speaking a monologue, emphasized by Elizabeth trying to stop him and the complete use of direct speech. These are all similar to the first proposal by Mr Darcy, even if the motivation behind it was very different. They are both certain they will be accepted because of an advantage to Lizzy. It is clear that Mr Collins and Mr Darcy do not know Elizabeth well enough when they propose, as neither chose to ask her a way that she is likely to accept.

The second proposal is different in motive from the first, but it's manner is similar in many ways. After his early expression of love, which is surprising and awkward: "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." Darcy regains his confidence and begins a long explanation of why he loves her. However, what he says is misunderstood by Lizzy as she says "with so evident a design of offending and insulting me". Mr Darcy is in fact attempting to explain that he loves her despite her position and connections.

Lizzy may have accepted, or been more likely to accept if his timing had been better however, he asks her at a time where she has just recently found out that Darcy was to blame for her sister's troubles, and is very angry with him: "Mr Darcy's shameful boast about what misery he had been able to inflict". It is not only the timing, if he had known Lizzy well enough he could have guessed the reception she would give to the method of his proposal. This is a similarity to the first proposal, from Mr Collins, but very different to the last.

It is only after Mr Darcy has left that Elizabeth realises how much she has overreacted to what he has said to her, and also how ready she had been to believe what anyone had said about him. These feeling are then reinforced after she receives his letter explaining how mistaken she has been about many of his accusations. After thinking over and re-reading the letter several time, she starts to realise she does in fact not hate Darcy as much as she first thought, and even starts to have feelings for him, in spite of what he has done to her sister. This is further exaggerated as Elizabeth discovers he has provided for her sister to get married after she ran away with Mr Wickham. His intentions behind this are clear: if he had not, he would not have been able to marry her, as she would be disgraced. Darcy realises that she may have feelings for him still, after Lizzy refuses to tell Lady Catherine de Bough that she will never marry Mr Darcy and decides to return to Netherfield with Mr Bingley, who he has recently convinced to love Lizzy's sister, Jane again. Elizabeth was hoping he would come, but was almost scared too and was expecting that he would stay away and send a "letter of excuse".

The third and final proposal in the book has little in common with either of the others. It is quick, instead of long winded and this is even more emphasized by the use of reported speech instead of direct. It is however the same in motive to the first proposal by Mr Darcy - love. The difference being that this time it is felt in both directions. It is also quite unexpected, though hoped for by them both.

Darcy is unsure of how to ask Elizabeth, so she encourages him by taking him for his help with her sister's marriage. This probably caused him to finally believe he may stand a real chance with her and so then proposes. He does so in a way which shows how much better he knows her because it is an equal conversation instead of one or the other thinking themselves superior. It is also far more informal and shows us ways in which they both have changed. Lizzy is less confident, and for once not sure of herself whereas Mr Darcy has realised that to be liked he should not act superior and stubborn.

The three proposals received by Lizzy in 'Pride and Prejudice' are contrasting in some ways and are similar in others however, there is nothing or very little in common between all three. The progression in the book is from what Jane Austen believed was the worst kind of marriage, of the kind Mr Collins proposes, to what she believed was best and hoped for herself - a fair and equal meeting.