Essay, Research Paper
In Jane Austen s novel, Pride and Prejudice, marriage is a very serious topic, it determines a woman s class, their happiness for future life or even if they will have a life at all. Marriage Forms alliances between families as land, income and title are extremely fruitful topics.
“Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony”
– Jane Austen, letter of March 13, 1816
In Jane Austen’s time, when Pride and Prejudice was written, there was no real way for young women of the “genteel” classes to go out on their own or be independent. Professions, the universities, politics, etc. were not open to women, thus Elizabeth’s opinion “that though this great lady [Lady Catherine] was not in the commission of the peace for the county, she was a most active magistrate in her own parish” is ironic, since of course no woman could be a justice of the peace or magistrate. Few occupations were open to them — and those few that were such as being a governess, i.e. a live-in teacher for the daughters of a family, were not highly respected, and did not generally pay well or have very good working conditions.
Therefore most “genteel” women could not get money except by marrying for it or inheriting it and since the eldest son generally inherits the bulk of an estate, as the heir, a woman can only really be a heiress if she has no brothers or any other living male relative. Only a rather small number of women were what could be called professionals, who though their own efforts earned an income sufficient to make themselves independent, or had a recognised career
And unmarried women also had to live with their families, or with family-approved protectors — it is almost unheard of for a genteel youngish and never-married female to live by herself, even if she happened to be a heiress; Lady Catherine: “Young women should always be properly guarded and attended, according to their situation in life”.
When a young woman leaves her family without their approval or leaves the relatives or family-approved friends or school where she has been staying, this is always very serious — a symptom of a radical break, such as running away to marry a disapproved husband, or entering into an illicit relationship, as when Lydia leaves the Forsters to run away with Wickham.
Therefore, a woman who did not marry could generally only look forward to living with her relatives as a `dependant’, so that marriage is pretty much the only way of ever getting out from under the roof of their parents– unless, of course, her family could not support her, in which case she could face the unpleasant necessity of going to live with employers as a `dependant’ governess or teacher. A woman with no relations or employer was in danger of slipping off the scale of gentility altogether. And in general, becoming an “old maid” was not considered a desirable outcome, so when Charlotte Lucas marries Mr. Collins, her brothers are “relieved from their apprehension of Charlotte’s dying an old maid”, and Lydia says “Jane will be quite an old maid soon, I declare. She is almost three and twenty!”.
Given all this, some women were willing to marry just because marriage was the only allowed route to financial security, or to escape an uncongenial family situation. In Pride and Prejudice, the dilemma is expressed most clearly by the character Charlotte Lucas, whose views on marrying are voiced several times in the novel: “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.” She is 27, not especially beautiful, according to both she herself and Mrs. Bennet, and so decides to marry Mr. Collins “from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment”.
In addition to all these reasons why the woman herself might wish to be married, there could also be family pressure on her to be married. In Pride and Prejudice this issue is treated comically, since Mrs. Bennet is so silly, and so conspicuously unsupported by her husband.
Similarly, according to Mr. Collins: “This young gentleman [Darcy] is blessed with every thing the heart of mortal can most desire, — splendid property, noble kindred, and extensive patronage”. And when Lydia is to be married, Mrs. Bennett’s “thoughts and her words ran wholly on those attendants of elegant nuptials, fine muslins, new carriages, and servants”. And on Elizabeth’s marriage she exclaims: “What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have! … A house in town! … Ten thousand a year! … I shall go distracted!” .
Jane Austen expresses her opinion on all this clearly enough by the fact that only her silliest characters have such sentiments, while Mr. Bennet says “He is rich, to be sure, and you may have more fine clothes and fine carriages than Jane. But will they make you happy?”. However, Jane Austen does not intend to simply condemn Charlotte Lucas, who finds consolation in “her home and her housekeeping, her parish and her poultry, and all their dependent concerns”, for marrying Mr. Collins — Charlotte’s dilemma is a real one.