Pride and Prejudice is a novel that deals primarily with the theme of marriage. Through the course of the plot, four weddings take place; between Lydia and Mr Wickam; Charlotte and Mr Collins; Jane and Mr Bingley; and Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. Some of these marriages are seen as more ultimately positive than others. Jane Austens society was one that declared marriage as the status all women should strive to achieve and the opening statement, It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. is therefore fitting (even if quite ironic).
It also introduces the idea that aspects such as social class, property and money were extremely important in marriage, generally more so than love. During the 18th Century, connections needed to be respectable for one to have a chance of marrying well. This causes quite a predicament for the five Bennet girls who have an extremely vulgar, embarrassing mother and uncles residing in Cheapside, as well as no money to attract suitors. Because of this, they all have to rely solely on their charms and beauty for a decent marriage.
The first marriage seen in the novel is that between Mr Collins and Miss Charlotte Lucas and is probably the most typical marriage of the time. As Jane Austen states in the novel, It was the only honourable provision for well educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. The marriage is not based on any physical attraction or true love between either party but different requirements from both sides. At twenty-seven and with little beauty or money to recommend her, Charlotte sees marriage as her best chance of securing a reasonable standard of living, good marital status and attaining financial security.
Miss Lucas accepted him solely from the pure desire of an establishment (page 103). As we had already learnt from Mr Collinss proposal to Elizabeth, he only has three reasons for matrimony; he would like to set a good example as a clergyman to his parish, he is confident it would add to his happiness and Lady Catherine advised him that he should marry (twice!). It is obvious Mr Collins does not care about beauty or love, since we are told Charlotte has little beauty and only three days before his proposal to Charlotte was his request of the hand of Elizabeth. The marriage is convenient to Charlotte and Mr Collins and the requirements of both are satisfied. It is therefore more of a business arrangement than anything else.
Elizabeths earlier refusal of Mr Collins proposal illustrates that she will not marry in the same way as Charlotte simply for financial security. Mr Collinss reaction shows he believed that because of his money and connections he wouldnt be turned down even though he is irksome; this proves to him, like many other people status was more important than love.
The reader finds out how Charlotte deals with the marriage through Elizabeths visit to her friend. Charlotte attempts to ignore her husbands silliness, in general Charlotte wisely did not hear and she also encourages him to do the gardening in order to keep him out of the way this shows how she learns to cope with her husband. We additionally learn that she is tolerably happy in the marriage, when Mr. Collins was forgotten there was really a great air of comfort throughout (page 131). At this point Charlotte could be compared to Mr Bennet. By reading alone in his library, Mr Bennet keeps apart from his barely endurable partner and obtains some peace just as Charlotte does by supporting Mr Collinss gardening pastime.
I feel that in many ways this marriage was successful because the couple fulfil each others requirements. Also they can be accepted in society, they are financially stable and, (especially in Mr Collinss opinion,) they have good connections. The lack of love does not seem too important in this case because even before the union, Charlotte, not being particularly romantic, was not expecting this emotion to be part of the marriage equation.
The next marriage to take place was that of Miss Lydia Bennet and Mr Wickam after their elopement. This is important in demonstrating how vital marriage was in those days. It is visible simply from everyones reactions to the elopement how awful it was to go off and be alone with a man if you are not married to him. Whatever actually goes on, the worst is assumed and it was this problem that distressed Elizabeth and her family because as well as ruining Lydias reputation, it would ruin theirs too within society.
This is especially perturbing to Elizabeth and the reader alike because in contrast to the rest of the Bennet family, they know Mr Wickams true character. He intended to elope with Miss Georgiana Darcy, because she has a fortune of thirty thousand pounds and he lied to Elizabeth and many others over the real nature of Mr Darcy. Then his affections for Elizabeth change to those for Miss King, when he learns she has just inherited a large fortune of ten thousand pounds. Elizabeth states correctly about Wickam after hearing news of the elopement, he has neither integrity or honour. He is as false and deceitful as he is insinuating (page 230).
The problem with Lydia is that she is foolish and reckless and sees nothing wrong in her elopement with Wickam. She acts in a way that will ruin her sisters chances of marrying well, in addition to causing society to shun her if no marriage takes place. Although the marriage has no foundation because Lydia and Wickam are not suited to each other, it is the best option in the situation. The alternative would result in the whole Bennet family losing any respect and status within society.
Once they are married, the relationship between Lydia and Mr Wickam closely parallels that of Mr and Mrs Bennet; it was based on excitement and lust, not love, and what was there soon fizzled out. His [Wickams] affection for her soon sunk into indifference; hers lasted a little longer; and in spite of her youth and her manners, she retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her (page 311). The main difference is that Wickam has no intention of marrying Lydia but has to leave Brighton because of his many debts and he takes advantage of Lydias willingness to join him. The marriage is only due to Mr Darcy (whose incentive is saving the Bennets the embarrassment) as he bribes Wickam into it with a large sum.
The way the Wickams deal with their financial situation can also be compared to the Bennets both couples were heedless of the future. We learn Lydia and Wickam were incessantly in debt and often moved from place to place, constantly squandering their money and primarily being sustained by the help of others. Whenever they [the Wickams] changed their quarters, either Jane on herself [Elizabeth] was sure of being applied to, for some little assistance towards discharging their bills. This marriage is in no doubt the least successful because as well as owning a bad reputation, the couple have neither love nor money; at least with Mr and Mrs Collins each fulfil the others need for security and their financial situation is under control.
The third marriage is probably the first genuinely positive one, giving a sense of happiness to the reader. After meeting both Miss Jane Bennet and Mr Bingley, it is instantly obvious that they are well suited to each other because they are both good, kind, optimistic people and as soon as they meet at the Meryton Assembly, he shows a lively interest in Jane, dancing with her twice. Throughout the novel it becomes apparent there is a base of true love (not lust) and affection between them. Jane is the perfect example of what a young woman was expected to be during the 18th Century; polite, rational, conservative, social and beautiful (in fact the most beautiful of the five Bennet sisters) and all this would have attracted Mr Bingley to her.
What is special about this relationship is the simplicity of it. Although others see faults in it such as Mr Darcy, due to a misunderstood belief that Jane is indifferent to him, and Mr Bingleys sisters disparaging view of Janes low connections, the strong affection between the couple is constant. When adversity faces the relationship and Jane and Mr Bingley are kept apart for many months, neither of them rush into another marriage and the other is never forgotten. Elizabeth notes how Jane seemed slightly different and obviously missed Bingley during this time, whilst later on he remembers exactly when he last saw her, It is above eight months. We have not met since the 26th of November when we were all dancing together at Netherfield (page 214). This shoes true love and affection between the couple.
Mr Bingley proposes to Jane almost instantly after he returns to Netherfield and we are told it was a happy marriage. I feel this was an exceedingly successful marriage because they both have the same optimistic and kind attitude towards everything and the couple are financially secure. You can be confident they will be sensible with their fortune when Jane reassures her father imprudence or thoughtlessness in money matters would be unpardonable to me, (page 280). In addition, the marriage is acceptable to society and not as unusual as Elizabeth and Darcys because the economic and social gap is not as large the Bingleys had new money. What lastly makes the marriage particularly successful is the way Jane and Mr Bingley manage to overcome an obstacle (being apart for so long) with love and affection for each other that should last throughout their relationship. The marriage is much more preferable to that with the false happiness of Mr and Mrs Collins.
Probably the most successful marriage is the one between Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. At the beginning of the novel this union seems the most unlikely because Elizabeth has a sincere dislike towards Mr Darcy; this is reinforced when she hears what Mr Wickam has to say about the proud man. In the same way, at the Meryton Assembly Mr Darcy isnt particularly keen on Elizabeth either, she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me, (page 13).
However, one could compare Elizabeth and Mr Darcy at the beginning of the novel to Shakespeares Beatrice and Benedick from the opening of Much Ado About Nothing. Although both Elizabeth and Beatrice claim to detest Mr Darcy and Benedick respectively and the same can be said for the men; similarly to Shakespeare, Jane Austen shows Elizabeth to be very conscious of Mr Darcys opinions and the reader knows this would not be the case is she truly despised him.
What is so important about the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy is the way they learn to respect each other. When Elizabeth finds out the truth about Mr Darcy (which differs radically to the story Mr Wickam offered) from his letter; and builds a different, improves picture of him from the housekeeper when she visits Pemberley with her aunt and uncle, the reader can see how she begins to love him. In the same way as Mr Darcy overcomes his pride against her family and connections which he had at the beginning of the novel, and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger. (page 46), Elizabeth realises her prejudice against him was wrong and looks at him in a new light. Both acknowledge their own errors, conquer their prejudices and recognize the truth about each other.
In addition, Darcys protective attitude to Bingley (not wanting him to marry Jane because he thought shes indifferent) is the mirror image of that of Elizabeths over Jane (upset about hearing from Colonel Fitzwilliam that Mr Darcy was boasting about his having rescued Bingley from an unsuitable match Jane). They both share their temperaments, assumptions about life, and core values making them a good match. Also making the marriage successful is the fact that it is for true love. There are many situations during the novel that insinuate Elizabeth will only marry for true love.
She turns down both Mr Collins and Mr Darcy when they propose, both of whom (in particular Mr Darcy) offer financial security and social acceptance yet Elizabeth refuses because she is not partial to either (- at the time anyway.) Elizabeth is perhaps mindful of her fathers mistake in marrying her mother another reason why her only incentive for marrying may be love. The reader of the novel can tell that Mr Darcy too, wants to marry Elizabeth solely for affectionate reasons. One would expect him to marry a wealthy lady of high class, with many accomplishments, with excellent connections, etc. He has a large choice of women that would marry him yet explains to Elizabeth during his first proposal that he cares for her despite her awful family and the large drop in society. This shows he must truly love her.
Societys rules cause many barriers for Elizabeth and Mr Darcy and Lady Catherine De Bourgh specifically reproves of the marriage. She has difficulty accepting it, visiting Elizabeth in person and questioning, Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted? (page 288), thus implying Elizabeth and her connections are so low they will contaminate the wonderful building only fit for those of a much higher class.
I believe that overall the marriage between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy is the most successful. When at last they are together they are financially secure and are accepted by most of society eventually by Lady Catherine as well. The couple triumph over many original misunderstandings and conquer all their pride and prejudices against each other in Mr Darcys case also against her social class. The victory over numerous obstacles seem to have brought them closer together and genuinely in love, They were able to love each other, even as well as they intended. Elizabeth and Mr Darcy are both straightforward characters that are intelligent and honest as well as caring and loving and they make an extremely compatible couple.
Additionally, they continue to have equality within the relationship (it was often common at the time for the male to have a more dominant role) and as Georgiana is astonished to find, the couple constantly get along, always having something to discuss, she [Georgiana often listened with astonishment . . . at her [Elizabeths] lively, sportive manner of talking to her brother.
This marriage turns out to be the strongest and Jane Austen leaves nothing that could be criticised about the union.