In 19th century England there was a tendency to marry for money, rather than love. In ‘Pride and Prejudice’, Jane Austen shows that marriage at that time was a financial contract, where love and happiness was strictly a matter of chance. This is evident from the first line of the novel which is ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’. Love and Marriage are prominent themes in Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen brings together four couples in this novel and through the vast range of characters, she helps us to see the reasons behind the marriages. The four couples are Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, Jane Bennet and Mr Bingley, Lydia Bennet and Mr Wickham and Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins. I am going to consider each marriage in turn and then conclude by deciding which marriage is the most successful.
Jane and Bingley take a liking to each other as soon as they lay eyes on each other. Bingley says that Jane is ‘the most beautiful creature he has ever beheld’ and Jane thinks Bingley is ‘sensible, good humoured and lively with such happy manners’. The couple are very similar people; unprejudiced and always see the best in people. Their marriage is rather typical of the time, however their social classes are on different levels. Jane’s poor connections and low position in society does not affect the way in which Bingley feels about her at all as we see in chapter 8 when Bingley says, “If they (the Bennets) had uncles enough to fill all Cheapside it would not make them one jot less agreeable.” Jane is beautiful, polite, conservative and modest and these adjectives could be used to describe Mr Bingley too.
Unfortunately the need for them to be so polite and courteous prevents an open exchange of feelings. Their feelings towards each other are constant throughout the novel with only one small obstacle in their path to marriage. This is when Bingley suddenly packs up and leaves Netherfield and with ‘no intention of returning’. Jane thinks their relationship has come to end but Elizabeth is optimistic, as she questions Miss Bingley’s letter. Further into the story, we find out that it was not Mr Bingley’s choice at all to go to London, and his feelings for Jane have remained the same the whole time.
In chapter 55 Bingley proposes to Jane, almost immediately after his return from London. Jane claims she is ‘the happiest creature in the world’ but in typical Jane style, she says, “I do not deserve this. Oh! Why is not everybody as happy,” I believe that Jane and Bingley are ideally matched as they enjoy each others company and can satisfy each other needs for love and affection. Their future, in my eyes, looks very bright indeed.
The marriage between Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins is purely based on convenience. Mr Collins first lays his beady eyes on Jane, when he pays a visit to Longbourn. When he hears that she is involved with Mr Bingley, he moves on to her younger sister Elizabeth. When Elizabeth refuses his marriage proposal, he wastes no time and moves on to her best friend Charlotte. Charlotte Lucas possesses neither Jane’s beauty or Elizabeth’s confidence and charm. She is a sensible and intelligent woman but is regarded as a disappointment to her family, especially if she does not marry in the near future. Mr Collins makes it perfectly clear that he is a very narrow minded and shallow man, when he moves from one girl to the next so hastily.
He also makes him reasons for marrying very clear in his proposal to Elizabeth in chapter 19. He says, “my reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it is a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set an example of matrimony in my parish. Secondly I am convinced it will add to my happiness and thirdly, it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness.” His reasons for marrying do not include adding to his wife-to be’s happiness, nor that he cares for or loves Elizabeth. Mr Collins is desperate for a wife, no matter who they are and he does not care about love or beauty. He basically came to town to buy a wife. When he meets Charlotte, it is clear that they can satisfy each other’s needs.
Mr Collins needs a wife to present to his patron and personal heroine, Lady Catherine De Bourgh and Charlotte is in danger of becoming an old, lonely maid who will be a failure in society. Their marriage involves no physical attraction, genuine love or happiness. Instead it provides stability and company. Unfortunately, their marriage is typical of the time as people tended to marry for money rather than true love. Charlotte readily admits this is chapter 22 when she says, “I am not a romantic you know. I ask only of a comfortable home, and considering Mr Collins’ 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.”
I do not believe that Charlotte and Mr Collins are in love at all and, although they can satisfy each other’s needs, they do not seem to enjoy the company of each other. I can tell this in chapter 29, when Charlotte says that she encourages Mr Collins to work in his garden as much as possible. It is clear to us that she prefers to be alone, than with her husband. I can also tell this because when Mr. Collins said any thing of which his wife might reasonably be ashamed, which certainly was not unseldom, Elizabeth would involuntarily turned her eye on Charlotte. Once or twice she could discern a faint blush Mr Collins and Charlotte’s marriage is surprising but it is obvious to us that they marry for money and stability, not at all for love.
The marriage between Lydia Bennet and Mr Wickham also comes as a shock to us, bur again, I can see the reasons behind it. Lydia is the youngest member of the Bennet family who is devoted to a life of dancing, fashions, gossips and flirting. She is naï¿½ve, fun loving, noisy an extremely flirtatious. Marriage for her is no more than an opportunity for ‘very good fun’ (chapter 51), and she does not understand what she is getting herself into. George Wickham, on the outside, is charming and sensible, but we soon learn that he is a liar and a spendthrift, who exploits women for personal pleasure. Lydia and Wickham have no real love for each other and neither can provide anything that the other needs.
Lydia has an infatuation with handsome officers in general and I think that when Wickham shows her some attention, she tells her herself that she really does love him. She marries him for romance and lust and he marries her for money. When the couple elope, Lydia thinks of it as an adventure, without realising the distress and shame she has brought upon her family and reputation. She is easy prey for Wickham and he thinks of the elopement as a bit of temporary fun. Then, Mr Darcy pays him to marry Lydia, for the sake of the Bennet family. Mr Wickham agrees to the deal, as he has many debts that he will be able to pay off.
Although little is told of how Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet got together, it can be inferred by their conversations that their relationship was similar to that of Lydia and Wickham – Mr. Bennet had married a woman he found sexually attractive without realizing she was an unintelligent woman. Mrs. Bennet’s favouritism towards Lydia and her comments on how she was once as energetic as Lydia reveals this similarity. Mr. Bennet’s comment on Wickham being his favourite son-in-law reinforces this parallelism. The effect of the relationship was that Mr. Bennet would isolate himself from his family; he found refuge in his library or in mocking his wife. This also reminds me of Charlotte and Mr Collins’ marriage because she too isolates herself from her husband, in one quiet room in the house.
I think that Lydia and Wickham are poorly matched. They have nothing in common and their marriage is a recipe for disaster! It is also very unreasonable, as Lydia likes Wickham a great deal more than he cares for her.
The marriage between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy appears to be ideal. They are equal in intellect and they have companionship, financial security, and a mutual respect for one another, romance and above all, genuine love for each other. Elizabeth’s first impression of Mr Darcy is the same as the rest of the Meryton society. Jane Austen tells us that ‘he soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien’. Physically he is perfect and the women’s’ desires for him grow even more when they hear he has ten thousand a year. However, soon after the assembly has begun, Elizabeth’s views on him have changed. She overhears Darcy say coldly, “she (Elizabeth) is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me”.
Elizabeth and her family immediately decide that Mr Darcy is ‘the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world’. This opinion is so firmly rooted throughout the novel, that she fails to notice when his attitude towards her begins to change. Her prejudice blinds her to the reality of his developing passion for her. We notice Darcy’s interest in Elizabeth from early on in the novel, in chapter 6 when Darcy ‘wishes to know more of her’ and he also tells Miss Bingley that he had been ‘meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.’ Mr Darcy’s fondness for Elizabeth increases rather rapidly but on the contrast, Elizabeth’s dislike for him is increases.
Darcy is unaware of her strong feelings and he makes a proposal of marriage to her, in chapter 34. In his proposal, he tactlessly reveals his pride when he speaks of her ‘inferiority-of its being a degradation-of the family obstacles that were very unlikely to recommend his suit’. Elizabeth refuses his proposal due to his ‘arrogance, conceit and selfish disdain of feelings for others’. Even though Darcy was rather unsubtle in his proposal, I can see that he truly has fallen for Elizabeth, for he writes her a letter the next day, deeply apologising for his rudeness, and explaining his true feelings.
I think Darcy’s letter is the turning point of the novel. It helps Elizabeth to see him in a completely different light, now that she knows the truth behind the affair concerning Mr Wickham and Darcy’s reasons for separating Mr Bingley and Jane. Elizabeth becomes ‘absolutely ashamed’ of herself and she realises that she has been ignorant, biased and prideful, driving ‘reason away’. From this chapter onwards, Elizabeth’s feelings for Darcy begin to level out with his for her. We can see her respect for Mr Darcy grow once again when she visits Pemberley with her aunt and uncle. Here, she hears the housekeeper speak of him as ‘the sweetest tempered, most generous hearted boy in the world.’
Elizabeth is shocked at how different this description is to her previous thoughts of him. The letter, and now this visit to Pemberley have already changed her views on Mr Darcy and she wonders if she completely misread him originally. Mr Darcy’s undying love for Elizabeth continues, despite her refusal and he does not give up hope. He does not even try to hide his feelings anymore, shown in chapter 45, when he says to Miss Bingley, “She (Elizabeth) is one of the most handsome women of my acquaintance”.
He also proves his love for her when he goes to the extreme of paying his enemy (Mr Wickham) to marry Lydia, just so he is able to marry Elizabeth, and to save the Bennet’s reputation. I believe that Elizabeth’s love for Mr Darcy reaches a climax when she discovers this shocking revelation. She realises she has been blind to the love that has been right in front of her. When on a walk together, Darcy reveals that his proposal offer is still open and so she accepts the offer and claims that ‘they will be the happiest couple in the world’.
Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage definitely shows the most promise, in my eyes. They have overcome a number of obstacles in their path to marriage and this shows how strong and stable their marriage will be. It is clear that the pair genuinely love each other, and they know each other’s character very well, having been through so much together. Their marriage, in conclusion, is the most successful one in ‘Pride and Prejudice’.