Nearly two centuries after Jane Austen penned Pride and Prejudice to paper the attribute that most grabs your attention is the wonderful familiarity found in the characters. You know these people. You are already acquainted with these characters because you see mirrored in Austen’s characters the very men and women you come into contact with every day. You yourself have lived through the similarities of relationships such as those that come to life within the pages of this novel. This is all too familiar territory.
Pride and Prejudice is simply a look at marriage and elationships as they actually were in Jane Austen’s society, a view that still holds true today. Of the five main marriages presented in this novel each relationship is unique yet realistic. These five marriages have their own contrasting qualities which reveal some insight into the thoughts and opinions of Austen on the subject of marriage and relationships.
Clearly Jane Austen views the marriage between Jane Bennet and Mr.
Bingley as one of two examples of a successful relationship. Austen expresses this opinion through Elizabeth in Chapter 55 of Pride and Prejudice by writing: “Elizabeth really believed all his [Mr. Bingley] expectations of felicity, to be rationally founded, because they had for basis the excellent understanding, and super-excellent disposition of Jane, and a general similarity of feeling and taste between her and himself. ” (328) However, Austen does see a minor flaw in their relationship. She points out that both characters are too good hearted and too trusting to ever act strongly against anything. (Douthan, 3)
Also found in Chapter 55 of this novel, Austen writes of this situation through Mr. Bennet stating: “You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income. ” (329) The union between Lydia Bennet and Mr. Wickham is a portrayal of a poor marriage. The foundation of their marriage is solely based on appearances, youthful exuberance and vanity. Their marriage is based on a foundation that crumbles once these qualities are no longer visible in one by the other. This becomes apparent when the relationship begins to slowly fade.
Lydia and Mr. Wickham’s marriage gradually becomes “indifferent” and Lydia becomes a regular visitor at the homes of her two elder sisters when “her husband was gone to enjoy himself in London or Bath. ” (366) Clearly Austen illustrates through this example that marriages which are hastily planned and are based on shallow qualities often lead to unhappiness. Even though there is little said as to how Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet met and became married, it can be gathered by their various conversations that their relationship may have been similar to that of Lydia and Mr. Wickham.
One similarity between Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship and the relationship of Lydia and Mr. Wickham appears in the favoritism Mrs. Bennet shows toward Lydia. Mrs. Bennet’s comments regarding how she was once as lively as Lydia are further proof. (30) It can also be presumed that Mr. Bennet married a woman who he found to be sexually attractive without giving regard to her intelligence or their similarities in personality and compatibility.
This is a fate that he evidently did not want to fall upon his daughters. His feelings on this are revealed with his comment to Elizabeth in Chapter 20 when he addresses her regarding the proposal of Mr. Collins and Elizabeth’s decision to refuse this proposal. In this occurrence Mr. Bennet tells Elizabeth “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do. ” (109-10) With this occurrence Austen divulges her stance, giving reason to believe she feels it is necessary to use good judgment when selecting a spouse and provides insight into her feelings about true love and its place in a successful marriage.
Another marriage found in Pride and Prejudice, quite different in nature that the other marriages of this novel, is the marriage between Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins. Theirs is a marriage based on economics rather than emotions or appearance. Austen successfully portrays Charlotte as many women of Austen’s time period were, as one who believed that she had to marry to gain financial security even at the risk of being miserable. (Pemberley. com) Inequality between genders appears to be embellished somewhat by Austen and gives the idea that those women who submit themselves to this type of marriage often times will suffer in painful silence.
A tormented silence that Austen points out Charlotte experiences in Chapter 28: “When Mr. Collins said any thing of which his wife might reasonably be ashamed, which certainly was not unseldom, she [Elizabeth] involuntarily turned her eye on Charlotte. Once or twice she could discern a faint blush; but in general Charlotte wisely did not hear. ” (154) With this statement Austen reveals Charlotte’s silent misery and furthermore gives credibility to the idea that her marriage was not based on mutual feeling and admiration. The last example of marriage is that of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.
Theirs is a relationship that unveils the attributes that form a truly successful marriage and the second such marriage of this novel. One of these attributes is the absence of prejudice in a relationship. The development of the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy proves that feelings cannot be created due to appearances and must progress steadily between two people as they come to know one another. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were, at first, detached from one another due to their own initial prejudices that were formed up their first encounter. Austen, 13-14) Through time, however, they were given the opportunity to overcome their first impressions, understand one another and re-evaluate their feelings for the other. (Douthan, 2-3) Thus, the foundation of their successful relationship is a result of their mutual understanding and affords them a happy and lasting marriage. With the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, Austen exposes another attribute necessary in a successful marriage and that is the importance of taking the time to become fully acquainted with a person and being certain of your feelings and compatibility before marrying.
These five marriages contribute to the idea that Jane Austen felt it takes time to build a foundation for a successful marriage and that any successful marriage should be based on mutual feelings, understanding and respect. Clearly, in Pride and Prejudice, Austen condemns the social elements of marriage that she found objectionable such as marriages that were impulsively entered in to as well as those based on superficial qualities and economic reasons, but she also described those relationships in a manner that was true to life.
Sir Walter Scott said it best when he wrote these words about Jane Austen: “That young lady has a talent for describing the involvements of feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. ” (Bender, et. al. , 125-26) Perhaps this is why Austen’s characters seem to come alive to readers, this is not a story driven by agendas or politics; it is a story about people, drawn from true reality and one that commemorates all the chaotic details of real life and real relationships… then and now.