Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was written and set in 19th century England, and the time periods views about marriage are reflected heavily in the novel. This is a novel which explores many variants on marriage and how it influences the actions of the characters in the novel. Austen reveals the relevance of marriage to the novel as in the first line as she states ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortunes, must be in want of a wife.’ This immediately reveals to us that the novel will revolve around the importance of marriage in the regency period. This sudden juxtaposition of the certainty of ‘a truth universally acknowledged’ and the uncertain ‘feelings or views of such a man’ in the next sentence, reveals that it is not in fact a universal truth but something fixated in the minds of a society that values status and marriage over everything.
We are also introduced quickly in the first chapter to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, whose marriage is an example to the bennet sisters, and perhaps influences their views on what marriage should be. We are introduced to the pair arguing about the arrival of an eligible bachelor, Mr. Bingley, showing us that this fixation on marriage does not end once married, as Mrs. Bennet has an obsession on marrying her daughters off, regardless of real affection or attraction. This warped sense of love and marriage is projected onto her daughters, mixed with Mr. Bennet’s real lack of interest. This is shown particularly in Kitty and Lydia, and proves to have near catastrophic consequences for Lydia due to her learned infatuation over men, and consequence her eloping with Mr. Wickham. However, this view on marriage is produced in a social climate where your class and status dictates your life, so Mrs. Bennet’s obsession over getting her daughters married could be justified, as it’s really a product of a sexist society in which a woman must marry for any stability in her life, due to her inability to own property or produce her own income. It is interesting Jane Austen manages to produce such an authentic novel on marriage despite never marrying herself, which perhaps alludes to how ingrained expectations for marriage were in the regency period. She depicts marriage as a comic business, which juxtaposes with her characters preoccupation with it, she also however, shows it as a cruel business as it causes great hardship.
The first proposal which brings out the comic aspects of all these thoughts on marriage can be seen in Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth. It is interesting to note that Mr. Collins first shows interest in Jane but after learning of her situation with Mr. Bingley he soon moves on to Lizzie. He says to Lizzie, ‘as soon as I entered the house I singled you out as the companion of my future life’, this is comical as it is a blatant lie, which reflects perfectly the way people married in the regency period. If Lizzie were to accept his proposal it would be a marriage of convenience, and Mr. Collins is fully aware of this. He is not interested in compatibility or love, and this complete lack of passion is shown in the way he proposes by saying, ‘My reasons for marriage are’, this methodical, structured way of proposing shows that he only sees Lizzie as a list of benefits to him. Amusingly he speaks more passionately about his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. By saying ‘You will find her manners beyond anything I can describe; and your wit and vivacity I think must be acceptable to her’, it juxtaposes a gushing compliment to Lady Catherine and a back hand compliment to Lizzie. It also implies that Lizzie will only be acceptable to him, if she’s acceptable to his patron, and a lady of a higher class. This illustratres that this would be a marriage based on status alone, as if she married him, he would satisfy his patron and be seen as a respectable member of the parish, as a Vicar he is expected to uphold the example of matrimony. This demonstrates how superficial and one sided this proposal is as it is only an example for others to follow. Austen portrays Mr. Collins as pompous, self-deluded and ignorant, however proposal based off practicality alone was common and expected for many people, so although Lizzies denial of his proposal is admirable It could also be perceived as selfish as she is risking her family’s future.
The second example of marriage shown to us is that of Charlotte and Mr. Collins, ironically, we learn Mr. Collins proposed to Charlotte three days after proposing to Lizzie. This emphasises even further that for Mr. Collins, marriage is purely pragmatic. While it is obvious that Austen looks down on this variant of marriage, she also is aware of its importance for many women of time. Charlotte understands this as well as she says, ‘I ask only for a comfortable home; considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections and situation I life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is a as fair, as most people can boast on entering the marriage state’. As Charlotte is 27 her chances of proposal were unlikely, so in order to have a comfortable future she accepted, the alliteration of the letter ‘c’ creates a harsh sound which emphasises her reliance on the hope of a comfortable home, connection and a chance of happiness. Referring to marriage as a state also shows Charlottes lack of interest in romance of excitement in her marriage, she sees it only as a condition in life, like being asleep or awake. Lizzie cannot comprehend how Charlotte could be happy with Mr. Collins as she reflects that ‘it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen’. This is somewhat ironic as one of the reasons Charlotte gives Lizzie as to why she is marrying Mr. Collins is that her ‘chance of happiness is fair’, however Lizzies pride prevents her from seeing anyone happy unless in a situation she deems desirable.
The next proposal we encounter is that of Mr. Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth