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The plot of Pride and Prejudice revolves around two rich men, Darcy and Bingley who live near the Bennets family. The Bennets have five daughters with Jane and Elizabeth being the oldest. Messrs Bingley and Darcy are depicted in the novel as the very best of friends said to have moved to the Bennets neighbourhood in search of love. In their unstoppable quest for love, Mr. Bingley finds a perfect match in Jane whereas his friend Darcy falls for Elizabeth. The relationship between Bingley and Jane is relatively stable, occasionally faced by challenges brought about by Mr. Bingley's regular journeys out of town during the winter season. On the other hand, the companionship between Elizabeth and Darcy seems not to work out as expected due to Mr. Darcy's self pride and the prejudice nature of Elizabeth. Towards the end of the novel, the relationship and love between the two pairs works to their advantage and expectations.
Throughout the novel, Mrs. Bennet, the mother to Jane and Elizabeth makes tireless efforts to ensure her daughters get married to good husbands. In this case, she is comfortable with the relationship between Bingley and Jane. On the part of Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet wishes that she gets married to Collins, one of her daughters' cousins. From this brief overview, it is evident that the theme of this novel revolves around marriage. It is also clear that most women in this novel get married for several reasons, other than love.
The primary objective of this essay is to give a broad based comparison of the position of women in any given society, and in real life situation as depicted in the novels Pride and Prejudice and Emma. In order to facilitate clear understanding of the subject matter, the varying personalities and roles played by different characters within the novels shall be discussed and compared to practical life situations, especially in the fields of marriage, female education, the perception about single ladies. A brief discussion revolving around inheritance procedures shall also be highlighted.
The Position of Women in the Society
The Marriage Factor
The main characters and ongoing events in the novels makes it possible for one to analyse and draw out the position of women in the society as depicted by the roles and traits assigned to individual characters in the novels. From Jane Austen's novel, Pride and Prejudice, one can easily understand various aspects of marriage and how women feel or perceive the idea of their daughters getting married. Based on the novel, it is clear that Mrs. Bennet prayer is that all her daughters get married to good looking, wealthy and young men. Mrs. Bennet's perception of marriage is in essence a common phenomenon in the present day society whereby most mothers tend to influence their daughters on the choice of marriage partners. In most cases, those from the lower and middle class families try to influence their daughters into getting married to the high class and wealthy families. This nature and influence by most mothers in matters pertaining marriage usually faces the challenge of finding a suitable partner who would guarantee happiness to their daughters. In other words, a perfect match may be drawn from a lower class family without the wealth and prestige as wished by the parents. In the novel, Jane and Elizabeth finally get married to Bingley and Darcey respectively after going through several hurdles and challenges in their relationships. The Bennets support these two marriages based on two facts; one, their daughters are happy and comfortable, and secondly, their new sons-in-law are drawn from wealthy family backgrounds.
In the novel, it is also evident that most women get into marriage under varying circumstances. By way of example, Lydia, one of the Bennets daughters is eloped by Wickham who according to the author's description is neither handsome nor wealthy. This is contrary to her parents wishes but with time, her mother accepts the bitter fact and supports her daughter's marriage to Wickham. Happiness in this case is the underlying factor behind her mother's sudden change of heart. Most women all over the world identify with Lydia's story. The prevailing circumstances forced such women to go against their parents' desires in order to get married to their perfect matches in position to satisfy their needs through caring and guaranteeing happiness. This choice is often made by the women with little or no emphasis on their potential partners' social status, wealth or position in society.
Female Education and general Accomplishments
In Jane Austen's time, the system of education was not centrally organized, with minimum state support. The schools in existence were sponsored by missionaries and local charity organizations and could only be attended by children drawn from high and middle class families. By way of example, children drawn from well-mannered and refined family backgrounds opted for home-based schooling at an early age and services of tutors and live-in governesses were hired e.g. Miss Taylor in Emma.
Schools in Jane Austen's day did not enrol girls and the type of education offered highly depended on financial resources and preferences of individual parents. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice was drawn from a poor family background and is said to have accessed proper education after getting a helping hand from Darcy's father. To add on, it is quite evident that women were not expected to ascend career ladders and thus could not actively participate in certain community activities such as politics. This could be the reason why most women did not pursue higher education and instead preferred religious and practical oriented training to shape them for their domestic and other feminine roles. This point is clearly illustrated in the novel Emma based on the description of Mrs. Goddard's school which put insignificant emphasis on female education. In Pride and Prejudice, the five Bingley sisters attended the London Seminary which was relatively elegant during their time, and ironically with minimum emphasis on the academic circles. Most of the skills acquired by women in non-domestic education classes were aimed at attracting potential suitors and ended up being neglected after marriage. Some of the common skills and accomplishments included playing music, singing, sewing, drawing and speaking modern (usually non-classical) such as Italian and French. By way of example, Mrs. Elton's worst fear in Emma was that her musical skills and talent would fade away in marriage just like those of her peers. Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice clearly demonstrates her detached approach towards the otherwise trivial aspects of such common trends by loosing her interest in playing the piano, by minimizing her dedication towards sharpening the skill.
The above depiction of women in the two novels did not in any way mean that all women were ignorant. The fate of the girl child was basically dependent on the individual mindsets and perceptions of their parents and the self-determination on the part of the woman herself. In the Bennet family (as seen in Pride and Prejudice), girls were given equal attention and opportunity to compete with boys. In some incidences, intelligent girls excelled more than boys and were free to choose their own study fields without the influence of the classical curriculum in existence. In the novels, Darcy insists that women should get involved in more extensive reading so as to improve their minds, and acquire more knowledge in addition to the domestic and non-domestic skills acquired elsewhere.
The Depiction of Single Women
All unmarried women in the days of Jane Austen were expected to live with their mothers or other family-approved guardians. It was also unlikely for women who had the financial potential and resources to adequately cater for their needs to live independently by themselves. This point is clearly stressed in Pride and Prejudice by Lady Catherine who puts across the argument that young ladies ought to be properly attended to and guarded by their mothers, with reference to the prevailing circumstances surrounding their lives. The excessive authority vested on mothers occasionally forced theirs daughters to make attempts of escaping from such chains by entering into illegitimate relationships or getting eloped. In Pride and Prejudice, this is clearly portrayed when Lydia Bennet unexpectedly leaves the Forster family and settles into marriage with Wickham. Marriage was considered as the only way out for women to get out of their parents-roof. In Emma, single women had the option of working as maids at an early age. However, it was undesirable within the society for one to become an old-maid. Out of fear for being looked down upon in the society, the 27 year old Charlotte Lucas opted to marry Mr. Collins (in Pride and Prejudice) so as to establish a family and settle. This was a quite a good riddance and sigh of relief for the Lucas family who had developed fears that one of their own could die an old maid.
Inheritance and Entail
In the event of death, the eldest son had the right to inherit a greater portion of the family estate. Women could only inherit family property in the unlikely event that they had no brothers. An entail in this case refers to legal measures and procedures followed so as to minimize the chances of the family property being inherited by the female descendants. In Pride and Prejudice Darcy has an annual income of approximately £10,000 which translates to an average wealth of £20,000 in comparison to her sister's £30,000. Likewise, Bingley has an average wealth summing up to £100,000 compared to his two sisters who share a portion of £20,000 each.
From the above comparisons, it is evident that Jane Austen's intention is to bring out a clear image of the society, family aspects, general behaviour and overall expectations of members of the society in question. The female characters portrayed in books novels are presented following a different approach, and some few similarities in their roles, character traits and general perceptions. In her novels, Jane Austen presents heroines with outstanding character that clearly goes against the usual norms in within the society, e.g. resisting marriage proposals, etc. According to the two novels, little emphasis was also put on female education and most women wholly depended on their fathers (immediate family) to earn a living before finally getting married. Marriage was basically money-oriented and women drawn from high class backgrounds despised indulging themselves in other economic activities such as working as live-in governesses, maids or in trade so as to maintain their family image and reputation. When it came to inheritance, men stood a better chance of taking over the management of big family fortunes, adequate precautionary measures were put in place to minimize chances of women inheriting family fortune. In the present society, the manner in which women are treated in most parts of the world is almost similar to the one discussed above. However, with the changing times, women nowadays, indulge in practices, professions and activities initially reserved for men.