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Theme of Marriage in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen is the most famous novel and it may be considered as a classic of English literature. The novel, like the most part of Jane Austen’s novels, discloses the theme of marriage. Thus, the first sentence of the novel reveals its whole idea: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in a want of a wife” (Austen, 1). The sentence also implies the opposite statement that can be regarded as the “universal truth”, namely: a single woman of that time is, probably, in desperate want of a husband. In the novel, Jane Austen depicts how women in Georgian England reconcile themselves to their fate of being dependent on status and decorum in society. The problem of gender and behavior is disclosed throughout the whole novel that greatly contributes to a deeper representation of the topic of marriage in the novel since the nineteenth century Georgian England restricted women’s choice of marriage and doomed them to an obscure spinsterhood.

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Young unmarried women of the nineteenth century had socially predetermined options in terms of their future. The problem of marriage for a woman of Georgian England was the most significant. In this period, marriage for the daughters from the middle and upper classes was the only way out to become financially independent from their parents and relatives. Despite the fact that young women had the possibility to obtain an education, they did not have access to a profession such as law or medicine, and, therefore, marriage could save them from poverty and humiliation. Therefore, they used to learn languages and some sciences in order to impress their future husbands. Hence, it was in vogue for the society of that time to organize the so-called “domicile sociability” which was the main part of the cultural and social life of elite classes, especially for women (Russel, 20). Women were likely to spend more time visiting some occasions organized around the performance of music or theatricals. It is natural that these levees were aimed at establishing new contacts and enlarging the social circle and, thus, it was not regarded as mere entertainment. So, these events enabled a single woman to make herself known and to find a compatible significant other for marriage. In the novel, the levees visited by the heroines were interpreted as the marriage market. The parents of five daughters are represented as the traders who were trying to make a bargain with Collings by “thinking of his marrying one of them”.

The women of the Georgian period paid significant attention to their tone and manners in order to make the necessary impression while attending those “marriage markets” (Russel, 20). However, politeness and gentility were the prerogatives of the lower social classes, and the women of lower position were forced to be “civil” and polite to have a genteel effect in case they saw the potential marriage partner (Vicker, 13). Unfortunately, since politeness was the attribute of the lower strata of society, it was rather difficult for a woman to marry well.

Gender inequality was also revealed in the novel. The advantageous position of the well-being of men allowed them to treat women rudely and impassionedly. Thus, Mr. Darcy’s prejudiced attitude to Elizabeth was due to her poor social status. It can be brightly illustrated by his behavior at the ball when he coldly assessed Elizabeth: “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men” (Austen, 20). From this abstract, one could understand to what extent the high position in society spoiled the manners of males. Thus, the possibility to marry a poor but accomplished and pretty woman narrows since the priority is frequently given to the first impression.

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen is a guideline both to male and female behavior. The writer expresses her indignation towards the prejudiced stereotypes created by society. Hence, the novel faces assumptions about gender stereotypes. Moreover, “Pride and Prejudice” is a kind of protest against modeling the romantic relationships between a man and a woman. According to Austen, women do not have the right to desire and possess whereas a man can both want and possess (Frese, 33). Jane Austen gives gender distinctions that can be viewed in the following extract: “However little known about the feelings or views of such a man may be, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some or other of their daughters” (Austen, 2). As it can be seen, a man is compared with the “property”, the object of desire of all “daughters”. In their turn, women are considered as potential “wifes” but not “singles”. Anyway, by gender, the author implies a lack of individuality due to the fact that all the characters in the novel are objectified.

Taking the above-mentioned into consideration, marriage is considered to be “the universal truth” but not the outcome of love and respect. The marriage does not imply any individuality. Instead, it is a formal method for achieving some personal goals. However, the only way to become an individual is to fit the public expectations.

The clichés can be also traced in Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth and her further refusal. The reaction of Collins to the proposal is typical for that time since it reflects his prejudiced attitude to the institute of marriage and stereotypes in society concerning the stages of the proposal. Thus, he states “that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man they secretly mean to accept when he first applies for their favor; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time.” (Austen, 74). Collings’ declaration in form only proves the fact that his vision on marriage fully coincides with the idea of the first sentence in the novel. He selects Elizabeth at random and his primary goal is to choose a wife but a woman whom he would love.

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Elizabeth’s refusal, on the other hand, constitutes her reluctance to follow the prejudices. In his respect, she is striving for individuality by breaking the images of marriage. Her outbreak against the “universal truth” is revealed through her answer:

I do assure you, Sir, that I have no pretension whatever to the kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man … to accept [your proposal] is absolutely impossible My feelings in every respect forbid it. Can I speak plainer? Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but rather a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart (Austen, 75).

By this, Elizabeth wants to overcome the frames established by society and fight the right to be individual. Her refusal can be interpreted as a silent scream for help. She strives to set herself free from the dominating importance of gender in male-female relationships though realizing that her acknowledgment as a “rational creature” is impossible. The model proposals deprive her of the possibility of being a personality.

After a thorough analysis of the protagonists and the problem of gender and behavior in the novel, it is obligatory to mention, that throughout the novel Austen intended to show the uselessness and absurdity of the marriage market that took place in Georgian England. Especial attention she pays to the difficult situation of women involved in this meaningless game. All the characters in the novel are reduced to the strict frames of gender stereotypes and are forced to follow the rigid principles of society. In addition, the main idea of the novel lies in breaking the model marriage and the unjust attitude to the “polite” classes of Georgian society. In addition, the writer tries to study the nature of the sexist stereotypes of women and the extent of the prejudices against them. However, Elizabeth Bennet is the one who cannot be referred as to a typical woman of that time since she managed to express her own strong views and desires.

References

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. US: Courier Dover Publications, 1995

Frese, Pamela R. Transcending boundaries: multi-disciplinary approaches to the study of gender. US: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1991.

Russel, Gillian. Women, sociability in Georgian London. US: Cambridge University Press, 2007

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Vickery, Amanda The Gentleman’s Daughter: women’s lives in Georgian England. US: Yale University Press, 1999.

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StudyCorgi. "Theme of Marriage in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen." November 7, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/theme-of-marriage-in-pride-and-prejudice-by-jane-austen/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Theme of Marriage in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen." November 7, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/theme-of-marriage-in-pride-and-prejudice-by-jane-austen/.

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