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This phrase probably remains many topics related to the English society that the novel "Pride and Prejudice" represented: The approval of the society, seek of wealth and well-being more than love, and the role of women. As the quotation says, all men in possession of a good fortune seek for a wife, for the reason that he wants the approval of the society, everything was about appearances. In the other hand, women did not have any options at that time, and the maxim goal or dream that they expected for their lives was to get married, if it is possible with a wealthy man in order to have a comfortable life. Marriage was a market, it was based principally in economical arrangements; where unfortunately, a woman did not have chance to decide for herself.
"Pride and Prejudice" is based specifically in the early 19th century under the Victorian Age. Even when a female representative was ruling the country, women did not have many options for their lives, they were seen as ideal, pure and saintsâ€¦ and as saints they had no legal rights. During this essay, role of 19th century women will be developed, but first of all I would to mention a bit of Jane Austen, who is the author of this fantastic and romantic novel. Secondly, life of English society in the 19th century will be discussed, talking about marriage and courtship. Thirdly, women role at that century will be developed, relating those with the different characters that we noticed in the book.
Jane Austen was an English novelist who lived among 1775 and 1817. It is possible to find Austen's works since they are very famous and important for English literature. Her novels still remain in our century, thanks to the adaptation of several novels into movies, which is the case of "Pride and Prejudice". That fact allows us, to new readers of her work, to feel closer to that time and century and to know how people used to live and confront life. We have to keep in mind that Jane Austen despite of all the historical events that England was going through, for example Napoleonic Wars, she inspired her work on women and her living conditions. Principally, that was all she knew about: how difficult was to be a woman, all the pressures, injustices and prejudices that women faced.
Pride and Prejudice was a novel about how love can go through many awkward, hard and difficult situations and still can win after all, which is reflected in the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Jane Austen made people believe that despite of many rules and prejudices of society there is always something that moves the world; there is always something inside of any human which is pure feelings such as love. Love is like an illusion and it completes the happiness of every human being. However, in this novel it is "likely" possible to see all the dark side of this male- centered society. I said likely, because this story is covered with romantic scenes and love illusions, facts that every girl would like, for example in the following quotes, where Mr. Darcy appears like a gentleman that every girl, after all, would be in love with:
"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."- Darcy to Elizabeth. (Jane Austen 1813:236)
"You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever." Darcy to Elizabeth (Jane Austen 1813:451)
Nevertheless, this story was under a male-centered society, where men were the biggest favored here: they could choose and take the decisions they wanted, they could earn money and have privileges if their wives were wealthy, they could study and make business and keep being successful. This type of thinking (male centered) kept happening even when a queen was in charge of the country. Anyways it is not many time ago that this situation started to change thanks to the bravery of women that wanted a change, but that is definitely another topic.
According to the society in the 19th century, ruled by Queen Victoria, was a society where appearances and social class were really essential. Money had the real power there: to classify people thanks to appalling social conditions. As it is possible to notice in the book and in the movie as well, it was everything about impressing the social order with the well being and money you had, in order to form a family and to be considered for the "society" as somebody important, to gain respect and honor as well. Regarding women, they were seeing as ideal for the most part of society: her bodies were pure and they were labeled as saints, cleanâ€¦her role was to raise children, to tend the house and they did not have legal rights, for example: women could not vote and could not own a property.
Talking about marriage, it can be said that it was more an economical arrangement than an institution where love was the principal issue. For many women, to get married it was the salvation to have a comfortable life thanks to the well being that a husband can provide. Pride and prejudice reflected this situation in Charlotte Lucas' case:
"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life." Charlotte Lucas. (Jane Austen 1813:27)
As Charlotte said, marriage was a matter of chance, to have a better life, since a woman for itself could not own anything. Love was not important as long as you live well and with the acceptance of society. That is why Mrs. Bennet wanted her girls to get married so soon, since the business of her life was to see all her daughters marriedâ€¦ for what? For maintain her, as well.
Nevertheless, all the possessions of a woman passed to her husband at the moment to get married. To be more specific, to be a woman was very difficult; you expected to be "perfect" and pretty and all that stuff but it was a situation where you can feel a prisonerâ€¦ a society prisoner. Furthermore, a woman depended, of course, of her husband and consequently, she has to obey him. It was a life little better than slavery, to say it in some way. When a woman was married and her husband was wealthy, she had to organize parties to meet new people in order to bring prestige to her husband and her family as well. Those social parties were the opportunity to establish new economical relationships. Another point about women and marriage, it was that they must have certain knowledge in different areas to help and educate children.
In addition women in Victorian Era were seen like this:
"Sweetness is to woman what sugar is to fruit. It is her first business to be happy - a sunbeam in the house, making others happy. True, she will often have "a tear in her eye", but, like the bride of young Lochinvar, it must be accompanied with "a smile on her lips." (Victorias past)
As it is possible to notice in the quotation, women seem to be happy and perfect, but what was happening inside it might be really different, regarding to the phrase "she will often have a tear in her eye". Women were really suffering, but in that harsh society nobody could ever hear them. A woman was expected to be perfect, but what about her life, her decisions, her thinking and her feelings?
Nevertheless, not everything was so bad for women; this era leaded some space to romanticism in term of courtships. Pride and Prejudice reflect that in its plot, a love story of a wealthy man and a poor woman. People in England are recognized as polite, so courtship was followed by codes. Love always was under moral codes, specific ways to treat people, rules of etiquette and so on. As I said rules of etiquette were very strict, and sometimes it seem like people attitudes' were not real, due to the fact that there were so many rulesâ€¦ you do not even know if they are serious or they are playing courtship. Consequently, a woman here plays the role of being so perfect and pure, just like jewelry, even more those women belonging to upper classes, but as I have explained beforeâ€¦ these terms are possible to notice in the book, and all that code and etiquette issue. According to Victorian Past:
"Queen Victoria and her family were role models in Victorian society. Subsequently, the 'perfect marriage' became the socially acceptable goal of courtship." (Victorias Past).
Talking about female characters of the novel and their relation with the role of woman in the society of 19th century, there is a lot that can be said. Regarding Elizabeth Bennet, she was the main character of Pride and Prejudice, being in my opinion, the bravest one. She did not mind what to say in order to express herselfâ€¦ no matter what. She and her sisters were under the pressure of her mother in terms on seeking a husband. Elizabeth understood all the stress and difficulty of her family if she did not find a husbandâ€¦ but despite of all the facts, she disagreed to go against her feelings, she wanted to be happy after all. When Elizabeth did not want to get married with Mr. Collins, her mother was so angry and disappointed of her, due to the fact that being single was a totally social disapproval. If a man was single, it was not seeing so badly as a woman single. At least a man could raise a business and find a wife so easily, but a single woman did not have options. Elizabeth was not very worried about it, but her mother was.
Consequently, Charlotte Lucas who was Elizabeth's best friend was worried about being single. As I mentioned before, she saw marriage as an opportunity and she was conscious about the little options she had at her age. She was not in love with Mr. Collins, but she knew that in some way love may come afterâ€¦ as long as she has a comfortable life and to feel accepted by the harsh society as well. She was very poor, and keeping with the idea, she did not have many options. Sometimes, you can feel that in these novels there is all about love, well in some way it could be, but not all the time. Love in this era was a secondary termâ€¦ since the society and the approval and appearances and having a respectable well being was the essential issue.
Women could stay single, but only those who were very wealthy. Lady Catherine was not single, but she was alone. Her husband died leaving her with a daughter. In the case if Lady Catherine was a poor woman, all her possessions would have been under a man hands. She was very powerful and wealthy; that fact allowed her to be totally independent. That was acceptable, for the society due to the fact of her social position. Everybody was worried about pleasing her; just take an example the behavior of Mr. Collins. By the way, we do not have to forget that Lady Catherine was also arranging a marriage between her daughter and Mr. Darcy. In that case marriage was not about loveâ€¦ it was just an economical relationship, just an arrangement. Nevertheless Lady Catherine, when she knew about Elizabeth and her relationship with which she wanted her daughter to get married Mr. Darcy, she was so angry, because Lady Catherine had the knowledge of the economical situation of Bennet familyâ€¦ she thought that Elizabeth was interested just in money and to save her life economically, just to say it in some way. Do not forget that Lady Catherine belonged to the upper class, where social standing and appearance was truly important.
If we talk about appearances it is essential then to mention Mrs. Bennet and Miss Bingley. Unfortunately, the role of many women was to be accepted by the society no matter how. In the case of Mrs. Bennet, she was always faking being in some ways educated and intelligent. She was very sillyâ€¦ she always used to say to her daughters to act naturally, but that was all a false; it was just to impress Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Benner had the need to show herself and her family as a probable and a noble choice for wealthy men in order to arrange marriages. According to Miss Bingley, she was very snobby; always worried about her image, her social standing and her prestige. She did not like the idea to be linked with people from middle class. This attitude toward life, and the fact of impressing was really superficial, she was not real at all if we compared her with Elizabeth Bennet, at least Lizzy was real. This behavior in women in 19th century was very common. Situations were demanding a lot of rules codes and etiquette, fake and superficiality.
Another topic which was very vital was the honor to the family. The family, despite of all the false that a marriage would be was very important. It was the base of the society at that time. It was not accepted at all, for example, that a single woman escapes with a man without being married. That was the case of the younger daughter of Bennet's family: Lydia Bennet. She committed a mistake that was very horrifying for her family, she run off with Wickham. Since, the English civilization was all male-centered, men could do anything they wanted, they could have many affairs or being free, just as simple as that. However, if a young girl acted like Lydia did, that fact would bring many bad consequences to her family. Bennet's family would have loss the prestige at all if people would know that one of the daughters escape with a man. Nowadays, that situation would not matter, because people's minds have changed, but in that eraâ€¦ people in general were all close minded.
Regarding Jane Bennet, what can be said, is that she was the "ideal woman". She was respectful, discrete, beautiful and she had grace. Even though Jane belonged to a middle class family, she never made a mistake that put into risk her family's prestige. She was in love with Mr. Bingley, a marriage which was seen for most of the people as something economical, but they really were in love. Jane's attitude towards life represented the romanticism that women lived in that era, even more if they were into a courtship. Even though, Jane as well as Elizabeth knew about the real intentions of her silly and snobby mother, Jane was real. She was in love at least, and she was very lucky to be engaged and to be married later with a wealthy man: Mr. Bingley. Mrs. Bennet was so pleased when she knew about this, because in some way she and her family were "safe".
In conclusion, Pride and Prejudice reflected the English society during Victorian ages. Money used to rule the world, in terms of shaping and labeling people into social classes. Appearances were really essential at the moment to establish different kinds of relationships. As a male-centered society, women were the basis of the family, but they did not have voice or vote. Her options were pretty limited by the rules code imposed by the people. Role of women were really different as we can notice actually. They were pure but with no rights. Life seemed to be really unfair for them and that was what Jane Austen wanted us to think about. Even when Pride and Prejudice was a novel about love and how it can go through many barriers, women had a very poor role. During the novel and the story reveled, we can see several type of women: single women, married, powerful and poor. All of them had something in common: how difficult was for them to face life in general. Sometimes society and codes restricted them to be real and to fight for a fair life. Jane Austen in some way also showed how false is people in several situations: when they tried to impress and to be accepted by the harsh English society, in order to have a comfortable and happy life. This novel make us think about women situation in nowadays, things have changed and show us that during time there were noble and brave women that wanted a change, and that women after all are strongâ€¦ they are the basis of the family and the basis of the society. However, nobody said that being a woman was a easy task but it is admirable how they face life.