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Marriage in Pride and Prejudice: Explanation & Examples

Instructor: Elisa Goldman

Elisa has taught K-6 grades and has two master's degree in Instructional Technology and Education.

In this lesson you will learn about the trials and tribulations of marriage in the novel, 'Pride and Prejudice'. Learn about expectations of marriage in the Regency Period, including reputation, marriage for necessity, and marriage for love.

A Truth Universally Acknowledged

'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.'

The beginning lines of the novel Pride and Prejudice, by British author Jane Austen, help the reader to understand the zeitgeist of marriage that took place in the time it was published in 1813. A rich man, either ill favored or handsome, becomes the target of all the society mothers' attempts to get their daughters married off.

In Pride and Prejudice, the scheming matrons include Mrs. Bennett and Lady Catherine De Bourgh. And it's not just the mothers who are pushy when it comes to securing a husband. Throughout the novel, Caroline Bingley throws herself into the path of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy right and left. Her goal is to show her superiority of accomplishments and character, and to demean Elizabeth Bennett, the woman Mr. Darcy is really interested in.

But in the novel (and at that time in England), women weren't just seeking out marriage as some sort of prize; there was real societal risk involved in not securing a husband. Pride and Prejudice explores the real risks women faced in regards to their reputation and what could happen if they wound up in a poor match -- or alone. It also showed that it was possible, despite these risks, to marry for love.

Pride and Prejudice Original Title Page
Pride and Prejudice Original Title Page

Reputation

During this time period, a woman's (and a man's to a lesser extent) reputation was worth its weight in gold. This is especially true of the young and unmarried. It is stated in the text that once a woman's reputation is lost, it's lost forever. Lydia Bennett and her sister Kitty act in a wild, unmanageable manner with the officers of the militia. When Lydia runs off with Mr. Wickham, she would be seen as a fallen woman if he was not induced by Mr. Darcy to marry her.

Marry in Haste, Repent in Leisure

Mr. Bennett married Mrs. Bennett because at the time, she was young and attractive, traits she shares with her daughter Lydia. In hindsight, Mr. Bennett sees the woman he married as an annoyance. He tells Elizabeth to hurry back from a trip because without her and Jane Bennett, he would 'not hear two words of sense put together' until they return. The couple do not seem to have anything in common. He spends all his time in his library while she complains about how she is being 'ill-used' by everyone.

Marry for Money or Necessity

Lady Catherine married for a large estate and title. Her marriage was made out of pride and love of power. Mr. Collins, the sniveling, Lady Catherine-worshiping reverend, wheedled his way into Charlotte Lucas's favor only a short time after his proposal was rejected by Elizabeth. Charlotte married him because she was an 'old maid' of 27 and didn't want to be a burden to her family.

Marry for Love

There are also several examples of couples who marry for love in Pride and Prejudice. The main characters of the novel, Ms. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, find themselves in a comedy of errors. He is too proud of his family and place in society. She is prejudiced because of a series of overheard insults and slights he makes about her. Mr. Darcy finds himself head over heels in love with Elizabeth but refuses to think of her as a potential mate because she is only the daughter of a country gentleman. His change of heart leads him to a disastrous proposal. More antics occur, and they both discover in the end that each had demonstrated poor judgement at times. At the end of the novel, they get married.

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