Family in Pride and Prejudice: Explanation & Examples

Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Jane Austen's 1813 novel ''Pride and Prejudice'' remains incredibly popular even today. Learn about one of the biggest themes of the work, family, and test yourself with a quiz in this lesson.

Background on the Novel

Way back in 1813, Jane Austen published her most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice. The story follows Elizabeth (or Lizzie) Bennet, second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, semi-well-to-do owners of a small country estate. Elizabeth, twenty years old at the start of the novel, is of marrying age, as is her older sister, Jane. Elizabeth is much snarkier than her older sister. She's also intelligent and quite independent. Finally, and most importantly, Elizabeth regards the idea of marrying for status as something to be ridiculed.

Mrs. Bennett's only goal, it seems at times, is to locate men for her daughters to wed, then deploy her daughters on these chosen gentlemen like heat-seeking missiles in dresses. Through this portrayal of Mrs. Bennet's character, Austen could be seen as critiquing her culture's obsession with marriage and family names.

An illustration of Elizabeth Bennet.
Elizabeth Bennet

Marriage and the Family

The family unit was of utmost importance in the 1800s. As can be seen in Pride and Prejudice, young women of society were often educated in the home, prepared for marriage in the home, and were courted in the home. To the rich population at the time of the novel, a family name was everything, and it was maintained through proper breeding, so making the right match in marriage mattered a great deal. You wouldn't want your daughter marrying a man whose family didn't own land, or whose family came from nothing. You wouldn't want your son proposing to a young lady whose family didn't have good breeding, or who wasn't educated properly.

The young men and women of Pride and Prejudice are often forced to make marriages of wealth and class, rather than marriages of any feeling. It's this idea that Lizzie Bennet abhors and mocks throughout the novel; it's not that she's wholly against marriage, but she's against the idea of marrying for status and family prestige. Mrs. Bennet, on the other hand, is all about pushing her daughters to marry wealthier men, regardless of how the girls feel.

Weddings of the 1800s were no nonsense affairs
Wedding

Bennet Family Relationships

The relationships at work within the Bennet home showcase the society's ideas of family. Elizabeth is very close with both her father and her older sister, Jane. Her father is often described as being the most proud of his Elizabeth than any of his other daughters. He admires her more rational, cynical approach to the world, and they have a shared love of literature. Though Mr. Bennet prefers to stay out of social scenes, he comes to terms with Elizabeth's marrying for love at the end of the novel. This would have been rare in 1813. A man of Mr. Bennet's social position would've typically taken great interest in the love lives of his daughters, as they impacted his status.

As for Elizabeth and her mother, they have a far more tense relationship. Mrs. Bennet is gung-ho about marriage for social rank, and disapproves of basically everything her second daughter does. Lizzie declines her cousin's proposal because she doesn't love him, and Mrs. Bennet is devastated. Lizzie disapproves of her younger sister's elopement and marriage to the charming, yet predatory, Wickham, yet Mrs. Bennet will not stand for that nonsense.

Perhaps Lizzie's most valued relationship is with her older sister, Jane, who is far more popular, much sweeter, gentler, and rarely speaks her mind. When she does give voice to her concerns, it's usually only to her sister. Lizzie's often concerned with Jane's emotional safety, whether she'll get her heart broken, and Jane's overall happiness. It's a very loving, supportive bond, and here the reader sees Lizzie at her most vulnerable.

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