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How does Jane Austen show her views on marriage in Pride and Prejudice?
In the book "Pride and Prejudice", Jane Austen uses her characters as a vehicle to show the reader her views on marriage, as we see with the various relationships in the story. Her depictions of the relationships between the characters are somewhat cynical of the popular beliefs on marriage, and through other relationships, she shows her beliefs on what marriage should be about. One of Austen's main aims was to criticize the contemporary norms of her time on marriage.
Austen does not show us perfect marriages from the start, but begins by giving a humorous insight into loveless or un-happy marriages; "You are mistaken, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least." Here Mr Bennet is being sarcastic towards his wife in a subtle manner, rather than outlandishly, because he is bitter about the fact. Mr Bennet is a man who prefers peace and quiet, and this is a large contrast to his wife who his loud and talkative. This brings the reasons of their marriage into question, but as Austen is pointing out throughout the story, marriage is rarely based on love, and this concept is introduced to us straight away. Mr Bennet shows in the first page of the book that he has no intimate care for his wife as he is un-interested in her affairs and wishes, and answers with short, difficult answers: "How so? How can it affect them?" So he allows her to continue talking whilst he is otherwise pre-occupied. Again, this is showing the lack of intimacy between them, and Austen is showing her view on the state of marriages that have been around since before her time and have still continued. As we see, she points out that not much has changed. We also see the differences between Mr and Mrs Bennet reflected in the daughters they favour- Mr Bennet favours his older daughters, especially Elizabeth, due to their sensible approach to life: "...but Lizzie has something more of quickness than her sisters", whilst Mrs Bennet prefers the younger girls who are more like her and does not agree with Mr Bennet about Elizabeth "Lizzie is not a bit better than the others...nor half so good humoured as Lydia." Austen continues to satirize the mother in this way by showing how the follies of her younger daughters are reflected in her, causing us to pity Mr Bennet: "and the man whom she could not bear to speak of the day before, was now high in her good graces." Here, Austen is pointing out how fickle a character she is, to her detriment.
As the story progresses, we see the marriage between Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins, but only after he has switched from attempting to court Jane to courting Elizabeth: "...and it was soon done". Here, Austen is clearly mocking Mr Collins for his approach to marriage: he is not seeking to marry someone he loves or feels attracted to, but rather what may be to his advantage. In this case, it is deciding to abandon hopes of marrying Jane to marrying Elizabeth not because of attraction, but because Jane may soon be married and Elizabeth was eligible; she was moderately attractive, from a good family and would fulfil the role of a wife suitable to Lady De Bough. Austen is showing the ridiculous nature of people like Mr Collins who are seeking for wives for social status or gain rather than because of any real attraction.
Charlotte's decision to marry Mr Collins is shown to be a disappointing event: "Charlotte's kindness extended farther than Elizabeth had any conception of..." Charlotte wants to marry Mr Collins because as she is a much older woman, she is almost certain to become a spinster, as the social norm at the time was that women who did not marry by around her age were to be "shelved" as they had little hope of being married. Charlotte tries to encourage Mr Collins to marry her, despite the short-comings of his character, because she wants the hope of money and stability that she would otherwise not get once her parents died and she was alone. We are led by the reaction of Elizabeth to pity Charlotte's decision, despite how sensible it was: "Elizabeth would wonder, and probably would blame her" Austen shows how she dislikes how women are forced into chasing loveless marriages with un-desirable men just to look for some sort of future security. She again scorns the character of Mr. Collins by sarcastically saying: "she [Charlotte] did injustice to the fire and independence of his character". By saying this, she is reminding the reader how the marriage is silly as Mr Collins is not a strong character and not independent at all, and encourages the reader to pity the situation of Charlotte.
After Elizabeth's disillusionment with Wickham, with whom at one point she thought she may have loved, we suddenly see Wickham and Lydia elope. This causes heavy distress to the family, as Elizabeth alludes to the fact that such an even would cause the social and eligible status of the daughters of the family to fall drastically, when she comments on her inference of Darcy's distant nature: "Her power was sinking; every thing must sink under such a proof of family weakness..." At the time, if one of a number of sisters ran off with an undesirable man without the consent of parents to an unknown location, it caused the reputation of the other sisters to plummet as it is believed that they share in the sin. Austen does not seem to blame the involvement of the parents to be a problem, as the crisis implies that it is their role to prevent their daughter from marrying an undesirable, but Austen is criticizing how the actions of one sister should so horribly harm the social status of the others. As by the time this event occurs, through Austen's portrayal of them, the reader has begun to admire the characters of Jane and Elizabeth, and they share in the shock that they should suffer because of the foolish actions of the sister. Austen does however, show the dangers of eloping with people, as it is implied that Wickham had no reason to elope with Lydia except for lust, as he is perhaps a "bad" man who takes advantage of Lydia's infatuation without regard for her character and reputation, and as a good reason to escape from Meryton as it is said "that he left Meryton greatly in debt", despite the damage it may do to Lydia's, and by extension the Bennet's, reputation. Austen is showing that whilst people in love should marry, they should marry under the right conditions such as the love genuinely being returned, as other people may hold knowledge that would cause you to re-consider such as knowing the tendencies and actions of the undesirable suitor, so in that way Austen is not so radical in her approach to marriage. The situation is resolved when they are found and Wickham is forced to marry Lydia. Although Lydia believes Wickham to be the "one man in the world I love, and he is an angel", he shows no real interest in her and he did not want to marry her in the first place. The word "angel" implies the ignorance Lydia has of the true nature of Wickham and is misty-eyed in infatuation. Again, Austen is showing that marriages based on infatuation with no real knowledge of the other person is dangerous, and will lead to an un-happy and unsuccessful marriage. When the marriage day comes, Austen reflects cynically on the fake marriage and satirizes the affair by saying "with an alacrity that shewed no doubt of their happiness."
At the end of the book, Austen gives us an epilogue showing the outcomes of all the marriages. We witness the outcomes of the marriage of Lydia and Mr. Wickham, but by this time, we already know the state of their marriage: "I do not think we shall have quite money enough to live upon without some help". Austen is for the last time showing how the desperate nature of some men for money, due to them having poor-paying jobs and gambling problems, drives them to marry innocent and un-intelligent girls to get their money. Although it was never his intention in the first place to marry Lydia, and he would not have cared what he would do to her reputation, he seizes the opportunity for more money. Wickham is trying to take advantage of the possibility of money from rich relatives, a trait he has displayed frequently. Very soon after the marriage, we know that problems are arising as Wickham struggles to keep a hold of money, and Lydia suffers too, although she resolutely has faith in him despite her ignorance to his real nature. The epilogue shows how the marriages based on love and sensibility are heading in the right direction whilst the marriages not so based are not happy, in trouble and in general, un-successful. She also shows that money can be a very big driving factor in many marriages, and is what causes their un-doing. Austen is using this to show how the marriages she has portrayed as the way they are supposed to be, have come out on top in the end.
The marriage between Mr and Mrs Gardiner is one of the few marriages that seem to be good, although Austen does not expand on their role much: "One enjoyment was certain- that of suitableness as companions." Their part in the story shows goodwill towards Elizabeth, at convenient times at the book, and there is no hint of quarrelsome nature between the Gardiners. Although not much is said about their love for one another, their part in the story helps Elizabeth on her journey in a happy manner, and the Gardiners are only ever mentioned in good light, indicating the state of their marriage. Elizabeth loves them for their smart counsel, especially from Mrs Gardiner, and this gives them credence. For example, after receiving a letter from the aforementioned, she "sat down on one of the benches, and prepared to be happy."
The marriage of Jane and Mr Bingley, and the events that lead to the marriage, indicate how a good, happy marriage may take place in the time of the books writing: "...that she was the happiest creature in the world". Over the course of the story, we have seen how events that may have disrupted a possible marriage did not stop Bingley and Jane from marrying each other, due to their nature and affection for each other. This is in the case of how it becomes likely that Bingley will propose, before moving elsewhere, but still returning after a while and marrying Jane. Their marriage seems typical, but in a good way, and Austen is indicating how marriages ought to be, rather than like the undesirable marriages pointed out earlier.
The main story arc of the book concerns the relationship between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth. All though this story arc may seem unrealistic, Austen displays what she thinks would be the ideal marriage: one born out of trouble and strife, but ultimately brings two people together. At the beginning, initially thought to be eligible, Darcy is made out to be an undesirable character, after his comments on Elizabeth: "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me". From here on, the character of Darcy continues to plummet as stories of his character are demeaning and Elizabeth is told that he had cheated Mr Wickham out of his inheritance. At this point, Elizabeth reaches a point of detesting Darcy, whilst her affection for Wickham increases: "Attention, forbearance, patience with Darcy, was injury to Wickham." Elizabeth is developing a prejudice against Darcy based on what she has found out from certain people.
However, at the point where Darcy seems to be such a detestable character, Austen begins to dig Darcy out of the hole she had thrown him in. Elizabeth is invited to stay with the Lucas's at their parish in Kent. The parish includes the home of Lady Catherine De Bourgh, a condescending and pompous lady who happens to be the aunt of Darcy. When he visits, and proposes to Elizabeth, she accuses him of the sabotage of Jane and Mr Bingley, and the state of Wickham. However, Austen has Darcy write a letter that explains his actions, as he responds to the Elizabeth last night "laid to my charge". This is the pivotal moment of the story where Austen uses the letter to change our own and Elizabeth's opinion of Darcy, and sets into motion the events that would lead to their marriage. The letter lucidly explains why Darcy did what he did, and justifies it: "This, madam, is a faithful narrative of every event...you will, I hope, acquit me henceforth of cruelty towards Mr Wickham," and through this device Austen is able to turn around the instilled view of Darcy, partly through its contents, and partly through how Elizabeth reacts to the letter. He reveals how Mr Wickham was the criminal in the story, which causes Elizabeth to begin doubting Wickham; "Her feelings as she read were scarcely to be defined". Elizabeth begins reading the letter with heavy amounts of prejudice against Darcy, but she slowly sees the errors of her ways. Austen guides the reader through every change of feeling that Elizabeth experiences, and this in turn helps the reader to share in those feelings; "Astonishment, apprehension, and even horror oppressed her...she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd." Her view of him is drastically changed, against her will: "How differently did everything now appear in which he was concerned," and Austen is showing how the prejudice between people of different classes and views from their first impressions are usually based on falsehood and misunderstanding. She is showing the follies of these, and how people so alike, from different backgrounds, have the potential to be good couples. Also, we must note that as Austen has portrayed Elizabeth as a likeable heroine throughout the story and allowed us to share in how she feels on a personal level, Austen's depictions of these serious concepts of classes and prejudice are not akin to a heavy-handed sermon, which allows the reader to better understand and agree with her views on marriage. By guiding the reader through how she reacts and how she feels, the reader becomes emotionally involved, which is an effective way for Austen to convince the reader to accept her views.
Darcy's image begins to improve as the story goes on, as the convenient trip arranged by the Gardiners shows him in a new light from different people. Elizabeth listens to stories of benevolence and of good qualities when the servants at Mr Darcy's home speak of him, and her reaction is: "This was praise, of all others extraordinary, most opposite to her ideas." The rest of the book is devoted to Darcy showing himself to be completely different to Elizabeth's first impressions, and inevitably results in their marriage, much to the surprise of others. Again, Austen is showing her view that people should fully know each other before marrying, and that marriage is something to be taken seriously, but in the right way, rather than for monetary or social gain.
In this book, Austen is constantly showing her views on marriage. She uses satire to mock some of the marriages, and in doing so she mocks the social norms of marriage at the time. From the beginning, Austen is satirizing the views of marriage, with the famous line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single in man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." She continues on by saying that "he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters". She pokes fun at how the local gentry will treat any eligible man, and she sets the tone for the book about her take on marriage. At the time, Austen would have been considered radical for these views on marriage, but she clearly believes that marriages should be based on love and a knowing of each other. Austen's portrayal of Elizabeth allows the reader to side with Elizabeth and respect her, and this means that through Elizabeth's actions and sharing her emotions, Austen can share her views on marriage in a way that won't irritate the reader. This in turn allows the book not to be didactic as Austen is trying to show how what she has written is merely the ways of the times, exposing the follies of time, and encourages the reader to come to their own conclusion about modern marriage, even though she knows exactly what conclusion they will reach. Had it been too didactic, it may not have remained popular for so long, and the book tries to clothe the seriousness of the message in humour largely based on her satirical take on the current ways of marriage. The good and the bad marriages are an example of the juxtaposition Austen has employed to show the two extremes, but points out that one is reality and one is rare and uncommon. It is not a "frothy" romance, as there are twists and turns, and the main romantic story arc begins badly. However, people still chose to read it because they found themselves relating to the story in that they began noticing these follies in the world around them. Austen demonstrates the morals that can be applied to marriage in a clever way, and she expresses her view on how the marriages based on love and knowledge of each other are more likely to succeed and be happy.