It is universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
These are the words of Jane Austen, and like many people of her time, she believed very much in the importance of finding a wealthy husband for young women.
Jane Austens novel reflects the importance of marriage to many people around 1775. Although events such as the industrial revolution were sweeping the country, these were ignored and the life of a few middle class families in a country village were depicted. Marriage at this time was a way of securing a happy livelihood and relative happiness; love was not really a factor, marriage was a source of financial security. Being more of a convenience than a romantic affair. However this was beginning to become a factor as traditions slowly changed around this period. Still many women married to their advantage; there was still a very rigid class system although a new middle class was beginning to emerge. The alternative was life as a governess, which was not one of great social status. Jane Austen believed that marriage was
The only honourable provision for well educated young woman of small fortune.
This wasnt a romantic union; it was a contract.
A character that does value the importance of marriage for her daughters is Mrs. Bennet.
The business of her life was to get her daughters married.
This is because her current home, Longbourn estate, is entailed to a cousin Mr. Collins. This means when Mr. Bennet dies Mr. Collins is heir and the Bennet sisters would either have to rely on the hospitality of their male relative or become a governess. This soon becomes apparent to Mrs. Bennet and she sees it as imperative that her daughters are married off.
In Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet receives two proposals of marriage the first from her cousin the bumbling Mr. Collins. The Bennet family had received a letter prior to his arrival; the impression put across is that Mr. Collins is long winded and all over a bit of a fool. This letter prepares the family and the reader for the arrival of a pompous egotist. Mrs. Bennet is excited about his arrival, as it is clear he is passing on marital business, causing great interest among the sisters and above all Mrs. Bennet. At the Netherfield ball he makes a complete show of himself as he lacks decorum and etiquette. His inability to dance is a cause of amusement to the characters and the reader.
The first two dances, however, brought a return of distress; solemn, apologising instead of intending.
He unwittingly introduces himself to Darcy and recieves a cold reception
Whilst joining in the festivities, it becomes clear that Collins greatly admires Lady Catherine De Bourgh, his groveling adorations add to his foolery. He continues to examine every inch of the house comparing it directly to Rosings, in a very rude manner.
Just as Collins tedious absurdness reaches its height, Elizabeth begins to fall for Wickhams charms and stories of hate against Darcy and Collins proposal is unexpected and very unwelcome.
Mr. Collins proposal to Elizabeth is a model of comical wit, and cannot be taken seriously, the very way he approaches the matter is ridiculous.
My reasons for marrying are¦
Not romantically orientated at all, it is hardly going to win any womans heart, least of all Elizabeths. He breaks down his reasons, numbering them. And although Collins is sincere, the element of comedy is never lost as he is excessively formal and at great length tries to explain his reason, which is clearly unnecessary.
¦Made Elizabeth so near laughing.
The sheer length reflects Collins long winded nature. He even manages to mention Lady Catherine De Bourgh. As he draws to the end of his speech Collins does attempt a little romance, but all in vain:
¦The most animated language of the violence of my affections.
Elizabeth becomes a little alarmed and rightly so, as Collins thinks it impossible for her to refuse.
¦You are too hasty, sir.
But Collins wont brook a refusal and continues with his stilted speech until Elizabeth has had enough and forcefully rejects him. Mr. Collins assumes this is the usual behaviour of young woman and that Elizabeth is simply being coy. His ignorance adds to the comedy. It takes 5 firm rejections before he seems to accept her answer. This refusal was very brave of Elizabeth .So much so that it may even be considered foolhardy. She cannot be guaranteed another proposal of marriage. Leaving her future hanging in the balance. Mrs. Bennet is understandably distressed when she hears of Elizabeths decision. Mr. Bennet is more relieved. One can hardly see Elizabeth married to a character like Collins.
Her intelligence would be stifled. Elizabeth shows spirit and a fiery independence. But she does risk a lot by turning Collins down. However, someone who felt they couldnt afford to risk no other proposal was Charlotte Lucas. She sees their marriage as a practicality, she needs her home comforts and the security Collins provides. She is already 27 years old and in need of a stable future. This is a direct example of how romance is only beginning to creep into marriage. It is obvious to Elizabeth that there was no romance in Collins proposal as he almost instantly moves on and his affections change.
When Darcy proposes, it seems unlikely that Elizabeth would dare refuse a second suitor. But as much as Elizabeth couldnt stand Collins, she despises Darcy. This prejudice is fuelled from a remark Darcy made at the Netherfield ball,
She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.
This sparks a great dislike that continues to grow as the book progresses, by the time Darcy decides to propose, Elizabeth has been told by Wickham of his dealings with him and the interference of Bingley and Jane. Like Collins, Darcy is the last person Elizabeth would like to marry at the moment in time. Apart from the prejudice the timing is very off and she is already very agitated. Her prejudice and his pride combine to make the most incompatible two characters, however he is unaware.
And in the same way that Collins lacked romance, Darcys opening line is hardly a compliment,
In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed.
Darcy goes on to describe her inferiority and low connections. Despite this rather confident approach, the proposal is flawed from the start. He proceeds to insult her and her true feelings are soon revealed.
I have every reason in the world to think ill of you.
Despite Darcys obvious feelings, Elizabeth makes her long standing dislike quite plain. When Elizabeth confronts him about the Wickham incident he doesnt deny involvement but replies in a sarcastic manner,
Yes, his misfortunes have been great indeed.
By the time Darcy leaves Elizabeth is reeling, she cant believe his feelings. Astonishment leads to anger, as he showed no sign of denying his involvements with the break up of Jane and Mr. Bingley. To turn down one marriage proposal was risky but to do so again must have been foolish, most women would have thrown themselves at Darcys feet. He is a wealthy handsome young suitor. However Elizabeth cannot be married to some one she despises. She makes it perfectly clear to Darcy that however he had proposed she wouldnt have accepted,
¦You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it.
There is a rather ironic link that both men that propose are the only two men on earth Elizabeth wouldnt dream of marrying. This is a great show of strength and courage. With a mother such as Mrs. Bennet it would be difficult to find any one who would be happy to take on such a family connection and Darcy makes it clear that to marry Elizabeth would be a degradation but nothing will deter him.
The two marriage proposals are very different and very different outcomes; whether Elizabeth was foolhardy to decline two or not is debatable, but it is true to say she shows great independence considering her financial insecurity and social status. In turning down these proposals, was she ruining her chances of ever having a decent future?