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We have all associated romance with great and unforgettable couples, such as Paris and Helena, or Lancelot and Guinevere, and Orpheus and Eurydice whose legends trickle out of their aged bindings, and linger within our hearts. These couples have splattered our imagination with hopes of love, and have ignited desperation within ourselves to find a love that will overthrow kingdoms, cause uprisings, and sweep us off our hypothetical feet of security and reasoning. Throughout time, romanticism has been an interesting highpoint for audiences to read about, but through the examples in literature, is it healthy for audiences to base their own love life off of a romance in a fiction novel? Are these romances obtainable in real world application? In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, these different themes of
wealth, love and attainability are explored through the relationships of Jane and Bingly, Charlotte and Mr. Collins, and Elizabeth and Darcy. In this essay, these popular themes will be explored; also contrasting of the circumstances seen in the 18th century that are incorporated into the book will be addressed.
Jane Austen states in the very first sentence of the novel the circumstances of the times, "It is a
truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife," (Chapter 1). In this sentence, the author deconstructs the time period, and the fact that wealth was the equivalent to power and popularity. In a single sentence, the author has established the tone of the piece, which has a satirical underlying theme throughout the work of fiction, a theme which Austen is famous for in all of her novels. Also, in this sentence Austen has declared the main subjects of the piece, which are to be courtship and marriage. Although the novel "Pride and Prejudice" was written in the 18th century, its wist and steady humor have kept it fresh for readers, and the author's personal connection to her characters has helped to classify her books as romantic.
Usually in the course of marriage during the 18th century, the man gained a companion as well
as his new wife's dowry, and the woman gained security in the fact that she had a home and financial support. Women and young girls were constantly fed these aspirations of living merry lives once they found a husband, but there was no time taken to instruct that good relationships don't just happen; good relationships take work and dedication from both parties involved. This common misunderstanding can even be seen today. In Jane Austen's world, marriage was "the only honorable provision for a well educated young woman of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want" (Austen 163). Changing circumstances in the times are evident when contrasting today's social views with those seen in the novel. During the 18th century, women were merely viewed as pawn pieces, establishing security of riches, and owned the sole purpose of child bearing (preferably sons to carry on the family name). Even in Jane Austen's time however, there were examples of both successful and unsuccessful marriages.
The marriage between Jane Bennet and Bingley is an example of a successful marriage. Austen,
through Elizabeth, expresses her opinion of this in the novel: "....really believed all his [Bingley]
expectations of felicity, to be rationally founded, because they had for basis the excellent
understanding, and super-excellent disposition of Jane, and a general similarity of feeling and taste
between her and himself." (Chapter 55) However, unlike Darcy and Elizabeth, there is a flaw in their relationship. The flaw is that both characters are too gullible and too good-hearted to ever act strongly against external forces that may attempt to separate them: "You [Jane and Bingley] are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income." (Chapter 55)
It can be argued that Jane wasn't one for arguing and seldom allowed her meekness to be
overcome by her true passions. She never showed emotion because people discouraged her from doing so. This almost lost her an eternal happiness to Bingley. However, through perseverance and quite possibly rank and status, they ended up living happily together. Based on modern day studies, most marriages that end in divorce come from the higher class and have higher income. Because of Jane and Bingley being together, the reader can question their motives behind their relationship. Love was hardly ever the first thing that was sought after in Jane Austen's time. Jane and Bingley used a combination of love and wealth to find their way into a successful relationship. Today in a world where security is desired, a relationship such as this would thrive. In the economy we live in, assured security is not an immediate factor in whether or not a marriage will work, but it helps determine what situations will be
faced later on that could end up making or breaking two people. The male presence in the novel mirrors that of the time period. Charlotte Lucas was a 27 year old woman, who was plain, poor and unmarried. "The marriage between Mr. Collins and Charlotte is based on economics rather than on love or appearance. It was a common practice during Austen's time for women to marry a husband to save herself from spinsterhood or to gain financial security." (Dean, Jenny) In Pride and Prejudice, Austen "dramatizes gender inequality and shows that women who submit themselves to this type of marriage will have to suffer in tormenting silence" (Dean, Jenny) as Charlotte does:
"When Mr. Collins said anything of which his wife might reasonably be ashamed, which certainly was not unseldom, she [Elizabeth] would involuntarily turned her eye on Charlotte. Once or twice she could discern a faint blush; but in general Charlotte wisely did not hear." (Chapter 28)
Elizabeth and Darcy are what would be considered a very rare find in the time of Jane Austen,
and in any time period. "The marriage between Darcy and Elizabeth reveals the characteristics that constitute a successful marriage. One of these characteristics is that the feeling cannot be brought on by appearances, and must gradually develop between the two people as they get to know one another."(Moore, Melissa) Their marriage included the aspect of love which was hardly ever seen in any relationships during this time. Marriage was usually used as a combination of fortunes or used as security, but in these situations wealth was usually desired. "In the beginning, Elizabeth and Darcy were distant from each other because of their prejudice. The series of events which they both experienced gave them the opportunity to understand one another and the time to reconcile their feelings for each other."(Moore, Melissa) Throughout the novel, the reader can sense the rising tension of love between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy the most modern of the three relationships, due to Elizabeth picking what she
wants rather than marrying into what somebody else thinks she needs is a big factor of this. Elizabeth represents an independent woman who thinks and feels based on her own accord. She feels that she can choose a husband based on what her standards are rather than that of the worlds. Woman today base their choice of a future husband off of what they want rather than what society wants. It takes much more courage to rise above the world's standards and create one's own need basis. "Their mutual understanding is the foundation of their relationship and will lead them to a peaceful and lasting marriage. This relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy reveals the importance of getting to know one's partner before marrying."(FASTSTATS)
It is true that with reading of these relationships, that we do allow ourselves to feel a twinge of
jealousy. By examining these three relationships, it can be said that these examples are outdated and, therefore, obsolete. Rather, these examples have stayed solid through time and even to this day, the morals exemplified in Pride and Prejudice are still recognized today. "In Pride and Prejudice, Austen has denounced the elements of marriage and society that she found distasteful. These are the conclusions of her observation of the people in her world. However in her writing, Jane has also reflected her own enjoyment in life among these people with and without their faults."(Polish Translation) Based on the examples of woman who find security in a comfortable standard of living and those who find complete
serenity with somebody else, the three main types of relationships in this novel of Pride and Prejudice