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Jane Austen´s Representation of Marriage in "Pride and Prejudice"

Bachelorarbeit 2012 23 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Literatur, Werke



1 Introduction

2 Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Bennett: A functional marriage through ignorance

3 Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins: The Marriage for Convenience

4 Lydia Bennett and Mr. Wickham: The Catastrophe of Elopement

5 Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy: The Romantic Marriage

6 Jane Bennett and Mr. Bingley: Love marriages

7 The Marriages That Never Were: Motifs and Reasons

8 Conclusion


1 Introduction

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Austen 1813/1994: 5)

The famous opening sentence of the even more famous novel anticipates the majority of Pride and Prejudice ´s content.

This Bachelor thesis examines Jane Austen´s representation of marriage in her novel Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813 in England during the Regency Period.

Pride and Prejudice contains every sort of marriage a person like Jane Austen could imagine in those days: matched marriages, concerned of “making a good match”, the romantic love marriages including marrying under one´s social rank, and the disastrous incident of lovers eloping. A woman in those times and her position in life was defined by the father or husband. As wives they were expected to be “the unfailing stay, the kind friend, the indefatigable nurse, the faithful counsellor […] in sickness or health, in prosperity or adversity” (O´Donnoghue 1828: 77). Samuel Smiles asserts that wives are “spiritual and emotional guides” (Smiles 1828/2002: xxiii) for their husbands.

In Austen´s novels marriages are to be found everywhere, as “man is a social being, deriving his chief of earthly happiness from the delights of society, and the interchange of thought […]. His habits and his nature alike proclaim that it is not good for him to be alone” (O´Donnoghue 1828: 11).

Women were expected to behave modest, submissive, and, most important: incapable of independent thought. The protagonists of Pride and Prejudice are the exact opposite of this image, and are thus interesting to follow through their marriage adventures. Hallifield Cosgayne O´Donnoghue describes the ideal woman as “of good sense, sound discretion, elegant mind, cultivated understanding, generous feeling, amiable manners, and good principles” (ibid.: 43). She is willing to “adorn our prosperity, and console our afflictions; she will rise in our esteem, in proportion as outward considerations detach us from the insincerity and vanity of the world” (ibid.) - so much as to the expectations towards women seen through the eyes of a man. This thesis also deals with the sources of happiness and contentment women were able to exploit in the Victorian Age, primarily through marriage and family. Jana Gohrisch understands the construction of happiness as a process of emotional self- fashioning which aims at making the middle-class individual emotionally fit for both success and failure under the conditions of laissez- faire capitalism. (Gohrisch 2010: 108)

The heroines of Pride and Prejudice find themselves in the exact position Gohrisch examines, thus her revelations will be important for this thesis.

The 19th century was a reading age in which novelty and pleasure were the principal objects of interest and pursuit. Austen´s work Pride and Prejudice is a novel that unites the main possibilities of finding happiness through marriage, providing the reason why this novel is used for the thesis at hand.

Hallifield O´Donnoghue, a clergyman, offers a marriage conduct book for stability, perfection and social happiness in marriages, thus being of interest and finding use for this thesis.

The chapters of this thesis are named using the order of the woman first, the man following. This is done deliberately, as Jane Austen gives priority in describing the heroine´s emotions rather than describing the emotions of the heroes in her novels. If Austen had been to part society she would have divided it into aristocracy (represented in Pride and Prejudice by Lady de Bourgh), gentry (the Gardiners in the novel) and common people (like the Bennett family). Chapter seven shows marriages that could not be achieved for various reasons.

To prove the representative quality of the marriages in the said novel, conduct books are used to display the notion of marriage during the Regency Period and the following Victorian Age.

In the conclusion, the optimal and the unesteemed marriage are juxtaposed in opposition and it is valuated, in how far the marriages in the novel match this perception.

2 Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Bennett: A functional marriage through ignorance

Equally foolish is the importance attached, by many, to personal charms.

(O´Donnoghue 1828: 20)

Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Bennett are the first married couple the reader is confronted with. They married twenty-two years ago for the wrong reasons: “Captivated by youth and beauty” (Austen 1813/1994: 183) Mr. Bennett had “married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her” (ibid.). Mr. Bennett, an ironic and cynical man, shows little interest in his wife´s and daughters´ actions. He is content with dropping his remarks every now and then and teasing his wife by expressing good-natured amusement instead of taking action:

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 last. (ibid.: 6)

Mr. Bennett is described as witty, humorous and easy- going, possessing a “tongue-in-cheek cynicism” (Poscoe 2002: 41). At the same time he acts irresponsibly when allowing his daughter Lydia to travel to Bath although being warned by the older daughter Elizabeth, who anticipates the uprising catastrophe. He thus neglects the duties of a father, which is an offence against the notion of a good husband. When regarding Mrs Bennett, an assumption for the reason of her husband´s behaviour arises.

Mrs Bennett is described as an ignorant, vulgar person who is talkative and obsessed by the task of marrying off her five daughters. The biggest strain for her is the entailed state of their home, Longbourn. As she was not able to give birth to a son, Mr. Collins, a distant cousin, is to inherit the house, should she not be able to find a good match for her daughters. Her own inheritance is not sufficient to support her daughters. At the end of the novel the reader learns that Mr. Bennett has made no provision for not having a male heir and has thus been financially imprudent. When clergyman O´Donnoghue writes “the counsel, the wisdom, and the experience of the parents should operate to direct the judgement, and influence the decisions of the young lovers” (O´Donnoghue 1828: 28) he conceivably parents such as Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, whose decisions concerning their daughters turn out to be wrong repeatedly throughout the entire novel, were not meant.

Mr. Bennett´s solution of dealing with his exhausting wife and daughters is to ignore them by fortifying himself in his library, a man´s private place in those days. He frustrates his wife by showing no apparent interest in the eligible bachelor, thus the appearance of Mr. Bingley in the neighbourhood. Mr. Bennett often finds himself confronted by his wife with his alleged ruthlessness. Nevertheless, he sees traits of himself in his second eldest daughter Elizabeth, which is, for this reason, his favourite child. Throughout the years he has become an amused observer, who has to “bear” (O´Donnoghue 1828: 7) his wife with “unrepining patience” (ibid.).

3 Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins: The Marriage for Convenience

Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well- educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.

(Austen 1813/1994: 99)

Charlotte Lucas is the closest friend of Elizabeth Bennett. They differ slightly in character, but strongly in their perception of marriage. Charlotte is described as an honest, supportive person, reliable, but unimaginative and unromantic. When Mr. Collins, the clergyman and cousin of the Bennett sisters, is refused by Elizabeth who finds him absurd, pompous and conceited, Charlotte agrees to his proposal one week later. She does not see the necessity for romance or love in a marriage, and thus shows a realistic view on her possibilities in life: she is content. “The cheerful man makes a cheerful world” (Smiles 1859: 322) is Charlotte´s approach towards her situation in life. Her argument is that however well a couple know each other in courtship, it is “a matter of chance” (Austen 1813/1994: 20) whether they will lead a happy marriage. Charlotte is able to see clearly the inappropriate character of Mr. Collins, but for her the financial security outweighs any longings for affection or love:

I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only for a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins´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.”

(Austen 1813/1994: 101).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
473 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Hildesheim (Stiftung) – Institut für englische Literatur und Sprache
jane austen´s representation marriage pride prejudice



Titel: Jane Austen´s Representation of Marriage in "Pride and Prejudice"