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Jane Austen is positioning and preventing us the importance of marriage and social rank within the world of the Regency period with a limited social mobility, showing many aspects of marriage and demonstrating how one can make the most of their life regardless of the circumstances. With this cultural and social context, the author uses a number of couples in order to expose and saterise societal values of the XVIII and XIX centuries and to explore the nature of the ideal marriage. We will see a world full of different marital situations, revealing many aspects of marriage, but with one thing in common; they all show that they are unique in their own way.
The plot, as the first sentence of the novel, is mainly about marriage and social class. Jane uses the characters' relationships in order to saterize and make a comedy of the idea of marriage, contradicting the convencional ideals and beliefs of the society in that age. For this reason, she writes about a number of important courtships in different situations, such us the relationship of Mr and Mrs Bennet; Lydia's scandalous and disgraceful elopement with Mr. Wickham; Mr. Collins's attempt, and finally Jane and Bingley's timid associations. These couples are the backdrop to the central romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. In Austen's time, courtship was a central and absolutely necessary act for the society, in which family and marriage created a public and central position in the social and economic classes. It was common that women looked for husbands before their parents died in order to keep the continuation of the family heritage and if was possible, to get a rich husband for reaching the high class, due to most of women were practically born poor, and stayed poor, and lived well only by their husband's money. Jane shows marriage as a constant pursuit of husbands, money and better life style.
The author uses Elizabeth Bennet in order to represent her values and attitudes on the importance of getting married for love and not other reason. We often see the story through Elizabeth's eyes in order to positionate and empathize with her ideals of getting married for love. Elizabeth is almost the only woman who is looking for a man without paying attention on his wealth and differs from her daughters and mother to be wed with a man to whom does not love. The character of Elizabeth does not fit this generalization. Although she makes some mistakes because of her pride and prejudice attitudes, she can realize them and learn from her errors. Without a doubt, she is the heroine of the story and the pioneer for sexual equality.
The first of the couples is Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Although little is said about how they met and got together, it is possible to infer from their conversations that this couple was a bad one. He had married a woman sexually attractive, without realizing that she was not smart. Mrs. Bennet's special attention on Lydia and her comments about the common things between her daughter and she before getting marry, reveals this similarity. On the other hand, Mr Bennet's comments on Wickham being his favourite son-in-law reinforces this parallelism. Furthermore, the disagreements and argues between them, whether to give permission or not to their daughter for getting marry as soon as possible with the first rich man that appears, where she saw the perfect chance to automatically place a few of her five daughters into the rich community. Marrying off her daughters serves as the main purpose in Mrs. Bennet's life and her obsession. Meanwhile, Mr. Bennet isolates himself from his family, finding refuge on his huge library, which in the end, recomes his only happiness. These characters show to the readers the anger, loneliless and the insanity of two people who are wed without love.
Lydia and Wickham's Marriage is other example of Austen's idea of a bad marriage. It was based on good looks, false love, appearances for the society, sensual or sexual pleasures and youthful vivacity. When none of them can see the in relationship the other's qualities, the marriage will solemnly fade away. Along the novel, this kinship gradually disintegrates. Lydia comes to visit her daughters frequently, with the justification that her husband is enjoying himself in London or Bath, avoiding to stay alone at home. As a result of this, both characters appear to be miserable with their married life and constantly try to escape. Through this couple, Austen shows that hasty marriages based on false love and superficial qualities, do not last much time and only looks and leads to unhappiness. These two characters help to satirize the ideals of marriage by going against them and showing a contrast to the relationships of Jane and Bingley and Elizabeth and Darcy.
The marriage between Jane and Bingley is an example of successful marriage. Elizabeth expresses her opinion of this couple 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.".
However, there is a plan in their relationships. The flow in that both characters are too gullible and too good-hearted to ever act strongly against external forces that may attempt to separate them. Mr. Bennet says: "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." So, their marriage is in between success and failure. However, they have a natural compatibility for one another. They have real feelings and learn to value aech other more and more due to their difficult courtship. They have no feelings of selfish desires or others, just the feeling that they are truly in love. "It was generally evident, whenever they met, that he did admire her; and to her it was equally evident that Jane was yielding to the preference which she had begun to entertain for him from the first, and was in a way to be very much in love."
Jane and Bingley both have a personal attraction towards one another. They have dignity and both are very sensible. Unfortunately, the interference of outside forces causes trouble in the kinship. His sisters and Darcy relieve that Bennet family is too far down in the social ladder to deserve such love and attention from him. Jane and Bingley's relationship serves to demonstrate the reverse of the caring upper class. The Regency Period was a time for limited social mobility, where the upper classes were reluctant in dispersing their wealth among those who were not born with this privilege.
Mr. Collins comes to the Bennet's home in order to get a wife. He first lays eyes on Jane but she was already engaged. However, his attraction immediately turns towards Elizabeth. His proposal to Elizabeth is not a pleasant one, although he is too ignorant to notice it. She finds his wealthy cousin, Mr Collins, a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man. Elizabeth's rejection of Mr Collin's marriage proposal was a revolutionary landmark in the context of the novel. Although it is quite obvious that rejecting a man who you do not love is a common fact today, in 1813 it was a less obvios matter. He could provide Elizabeth a house, a good life style and a long-term stability for her family. Despite of this, she realized that it was impossible to love such a man. It shows her courageousness to make decisions based on her own conventions and desires, and not the wants of society As readers, we are influenced to agree with Elizabeth decision-making and attitudes on getting marry only for love and correct purposes, and not on the ground of appearances. In spite of been rejected by Elizabeth, his attention is rapidly transfered on Charlotte Lucas. The marriage between Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins is a comical and even devastating relationship. He could not possible be in love, taking into account that one week before he had loved Jane and Elizabeth. However Charlotte , old and silly, marries Mr. Collins in order to get financial stability and social security. She is under the pressure of her mother and the social class, seeing Mr. Collins as her only option. Charlotte says, "I see what you are feeling, you must be surprised, very much surprised, so lately as Mr. Collins was wishing to marry you. But when you have had time to think it all over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am no romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and, considering Mr.Collin's character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.". Nevertheless, she soon realizes that he is an intorelable man, and often finds herself embarrassed to be married with him. However, Charlotte continue accepting this disreputable man because he is the only alternative to poverty and social isolation. She yields to society and she accepts the loneliness of her marriage with Collins because to her it seems better than the alternative of social isolation.
Austen again shows us with this new example, the consequencies of getting marry without knowing the partner and with no love for one another, having a complete life with no happiness.
Finally, and the central romance of the novel, the marriage between Elizabeth and Darcy. This couple represents the characteristics of a successful marriage. One of these characteristics is the feelings that are not based on appearances. Although in the beginning they were distant each other for the misunderstandings and prejudice of the first impressions (it was the first name of the novel). He insulted Elizabeth by refusing to dance with her. He said where she could hear him, that he was in no mood the prefer young ladies slighted by other men. However, he began to admire Elizabeth in spite of himself, and after further contact with Elizabeth, he realizes that she is the most intelligent, discerning, and virtuous woman he has ever met. He begins to fall in love with her, but his pride prevents him, at first, from lowering himself to her social class. Nevertheless, she becomes his obsession and admiration until he can not bear it longer. He informs his feelings and affection for her and proposes marriage. Elizabeth is sorprised, but she rejected his proposal. He sets out to prove his love publicly to the dismay of his high society and royal connections. After all, they could go through the problems due to the series of events they both experienced, which gave them the opportunity to understand one another and the time to reconcile their feelings for each other. So, their mutual understanding is the basement of their relationship and will lead them to a peaceful and lasting relationship. This example reveals the importance of getting to know each other and having real feeling for the other person, which Jane tries to highlight that the only way to succeed in a relationship is love. So, Elizabeth and Darcy's marriage is a couple with understanding and we all know that this component is very important in helping to jugde positive and negative points of each other. Darcy and Elizabeth are among the few couples within the story that marry for love. They are also among the few characters who find happiness. In this way, this is a successful marriage. Jane uses this example for representing her beliefs about love and also for proving that happiness in marriage can be reached just if there is love for one another.
Society today puts an important value on marriage, being sure that the reason for getting marry is truly love. Austen throughout her novel, describes the societal state of 19th century in England with awareness of the social issues that affect her society, where marriage is based on economical reasons and social background rather than compability and love. Austen writes about the effects that class have on marriage, and marriage on class. With great irony and satirist, Jane shows how people are influenced by social rank and wealth, and marriage is the status that all women strive to achieve. The author satirizes the convention of marriage in her novel placed on an acquisitive society, demostrating that the mere personally liking, wealth, and class factors can produce only misery, shame, unhappiness and isolation. The juxtapositioned kinship between the characters of Elizabeth and Darcy show the audience that happiness can only be reached if both of them marry for anything else than true love. Going deeper in pride and prejudice, it shows us the power of money and the importance of social rank in past, and gives us an opportunity to analyze also our society and to have some kind of relations between past and now. For this reason, Pride and Prejudice may never gets old because it is easily noticed today the importance of money and social rank. It continues in its own way and maybe it will continue happening like a endless circle. However, her commentary on the fixed social structure provides a solution for the social problems of the time; that even the restrictions and distinctions of class can be negotiated when one rejects false first impressions.