An essay by John Totten 13th of June 2018
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife’.The concepts of marriage, fortune, certainty, possession, and gender are immediately addressed by Jane Austen from the beginning of Pride and Prejudice. The book is saturated with references to marriage. Marriage is something which is an ‘obvious focal point and interest in Jane Austen’s world’. In order to discuss her heroines preferring to marry for love rather than money, it would be a good methodology to understand her heroines better and also give consideration to the time and setting of Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps marrying for money rather than love is something which is reflective of Jane Austen’s own personality through her writing. Maybe something deeper has motivated her to write this book which can be explored.
Jane Austen, the youngest child of seven was born in 1775 at a rectory in Steventon, Hampshire. Her parents moved there in 1768 when they decided that they had been ‘living beyond their means’. There were signs of sisterly concern in Austen’s real-life similar to the ‘dialogue between Lizzy and Jane Bennet’ in First Impressions (the original title of Pride and Prejudice).
The heroines and the hero in the book are not always apparent at first which adequately gives substance to the original title and evokes questions about the importance of ‘First Impressions’.
Etiquette is addressed often throughout and there are tones of chivalry. This could be a result of the French Revolution and the war with England. Regarding the war in general and the family, it might be worth considering that Austen’s heroines contemplated marriage with a man who would behave patriarchally and eradicate some responsive emotions to war. A war against the traditional hierarchal state could have been helplessly regarded by Austen’s heroines as a threat towards ‘the theoretical basis of patriarchy in the family’.When taking this into account it seems easy to understand how some women of this time might be drawn easily to a man like Wickham. Security of patriarchy within the family might have seemed more important than marrying for money at times.
At the beginning of the book, it is evident that Elizabeth’s character is that of a pragmatist. She is realistic that she should be marrying to have a place in society but had difficulty achieving this with her first encounter with a marriage proposal. Mr. Collins was the heir of Longbourn. Elizabeth’s family home had no male siblings. There would have been concern that he would be the next male to inherit it. Although this match in one way might have been favorable as Elizabeth could stay in her home, she could not accept the proposal as she could not tolerate Mr. Collins as he is self-centered and she refused him a number of times. In this instance, Elizabeth wants to marry for love rather than money, hence why she could not go through with the marriage. She could not marry someone that she could not respect, this is something Elizabeth knew from the beginning.
Later in the book, Elizabeth is proposed to by Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy is the friend of Mr. Bingley who has shown a keen interest in Elizabeth’s elder sister Jane. Mr. Darcy tries to sabotage this advantageous match as he believes Jane’s feelings to be indifferent and he doesn’t believe Jane to be good enough for his friend. Elizabeth is aware of all this and is shocked when Mr. Darcy should propose to her. It was completed unexpected as she knows Darcy believes that he would be lowering himself to marry her. She refuses his proposal but it has major effects on both these characters. The refusal shows that Elizabeth again is unprepared to marry purely for money. Darcy is extremely wealthy but she refuses him due to his manner and that he does not feel it would be an equal marriage. Elizabeth said that Darcy was ungentlemanly like which annoys him and Elizabeth learns a little more about love through this proposal, and thus it actually begins her process of loving Darcy as she realizes the extent of his feelings for her.
As Elizabeth’s love for Mr. Darcy starts to grow, she visits his estate ‘Pemberley’ with her aunt and uncle. It is clear from this visit that she loves the prospect of being mistress of the estate. Highlighting her want to marry for money. She reiterates this when talking to her sister Jane and when asked when she first fell in love with Darcy she wasn’t sure but said she could date it back to when she first saw Pemberley. It should also be known that Darcy was worth £10,000 per year and therefore a very eligible match for Elizabeth. In today’s economic climate this would be the equivalent of around £720,000 per year. Although his money is not overly commented upon by Elizabeth there are aspects of the book that highlight she does want to marry advantageously. Elizabeth begins to see the sacrifices and lengths that Darcy would go to protect her and her family. For example, when her youngest sister Lydia eloped with Wickham it was Darcy to found them and made them marry. He settled Wickham’s debts and would have been financially fractured to a sum of 10,000 pounds. When Elizabeth found out about this, she grew more in love with Darcy. Even when Darcy’s aunt visited and tried to make Elizabeth promise to never marry Darcy, Elizabeth did not promise it. Again, proving that her love was growing towards him.
Darcy and Bingley came to visit, at this point, Darcy had given his blessing for Bingley to marry Jane, they were now engaged and Darcy and Elizabeth went for a walk. Elizabeth thanked Darcy for all he had done to save her family from ruin, he had reminded her of the awful things she had said about him and how she could never be prevailed upon to marry him. Elizabeth was disgusted at what she had previously said which gave him hope. They then went on to marry. In this instance Elizabeth married for love, the bonus was that Darcy was also wealthy so she had the best of both worlds. In this instance, it is evident that although Jane was marrying for love, this union would strength her family in both wealth and status in the community.
Jane’s character is different from that of her sister Elizabeth. Jane is very trusting, loving and sees the best in everyone. She wanted to marry for love from the outset. She had a sweet nature whereas Elizabeth would have been more realistic than Jane. However, Jane was beautiful and it wasn’t long before Mr. Bingley became interested in her. Mr. Bingley was a gentleman of good fortune but things but their relationship was not able to develop due to the interference of Bingley’s sisters and his friend Mr. Darcy who did not believe Jane was good enough for Bingley. This broke Jane’s heart, but she still tried to see the best in everyone. When Bingley returned to Netherfield at a later stage he proposed to her, she could not believe that she could be this happy. Elizabeth believes that this is the ‘happiest, wisest, most reasonable end’.
Mrs. Bennett is a prominent figure in this book and her marriage to Mr. Bennett shapes Elizabeth’s thoughts towards marriage. Mrs. Bennett married for a position; Mr. Bennett married someone for beauty. Their marriage has no romance and they merely tolerate each other. This is something that Elizabeth realizes and it impacts her thoughts on marriage and why she doesn’t want to marry for money. Mrs. Bennett has five daughters and no sons. Her main aim is to ensure all her daughters are married and settled, there is an heir to their family home and when she couldn’t get Elizabeth to marry the heir she focused her attention to gaining suitable financially beneficial matches for her daughters. She tries to influence her daughters to marry for money rather than love but it doesn’t work as all daughters marry for love.
Lydia is the youngest of the five daughters and she is immature, foolish and trusting. She falls in love with Mr. Wickham an officer who has considerable debt. She elopes with Wickham without a thought for her family or her status. Wickham does not marry her immediately, Lydia does not see this as an issue but Wickham has to be forced to marry Lydia and Darcy in order to save the family from ruin pays Wickham’s debts. When they are married Lydia thinks that she has the most handsome husband. Wickham does not seem so infatuated with Lydia. In this relationship, Lydia has married perhaps out of lust rather than love, she is young and foolish and passionate. She has definitely not married for money as Wickham has debts and they have to move away for him to start work in a new regiment. She is removed from everyone she knows and loves and has to make major sacrifices for Wickham. She seems happy in her relationship.
I don’t personally believe that any of Jane’s heroines married for money. I think her values regarding money and love are recognized mainly through Lizzy.
Jane Austen was a romance writer. ‘Romance is both a product and a function of gender politics, and in some undeclared ways’. The suggestion that Austen’s heroines in Pride and Prejudice prefer marrying for money rather than love is an illusion. This is a way of Austen revealing her intelligence and integrity. The comparison of the acts of integrity exhibited by the character Darcy reveals what Austen values. It also shows that the character Lizzy was searching for something more than money.
Similar to gothic romance but in a subtler way to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where a being is created who is ‘rejected because of the horror his appearance’, Austen makes a less visible monster out of the character Wickham, or a villain at the very least, in the melodramatic use of the word.
Contrary to stories like that of the character of Don Juan created by Lord Byron which suggests that women are seducers of men,Mary Wollstonecraft, who had an early respect for modern feminism concluded that women be made ‘rational creatures and free citizens’.This places an emphasis on the independent thinking of women outside of traditional norms in Jane Austen’s time. When the characters Lizzy and Mr. Darcy become married they continue to ‘treat each other as equals with respect and honor’.I strongly believe that when all these are taken into account it provides supporting evidence that Jane Austen’s heroines in Pride and Prejudice, especially Lizzy, did not prefer to marry for money rather than love.
Austen, Jane, Pride & Prejudice (London: Penguin Group, 2006)
Austen, Jane, Pride & Prejudice (London: Pocket Penguin Classic, 2006)
Butler, Marilyn ‘Austen, Jane (1775-1817),novelist’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2010: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/904 (accessed 15 November 2017)
Durston, Christopher, The Family in the English Revolution (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1989)
Franklin, Caroline, Byron’s Heroines (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992)
Quilliam, Susan, Penguin Study Notes Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen (London: Penguin Group, 1999)
Saunders, Corinne, A COMPANION TO ROMANCE FROM CLASSICAL TO CONTEMPORARY (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004)
Teachman, Debra, Student Companion to Jane Austen (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000)
Wollstonecraft, Mary, A Vindication of The Rights of Woman (London: Orion Publishing Group, 1995)
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (London: Pocket Penguin Classic, 2006), p.3.
 Susan Quilliam, Penguin Study Notes Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen (London: Penguin Group, 1999), p.87.
 Marilyn Butler, ‘Austen, Jane (1775-1817),novelist’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2010
 Christopher Durston, The Family in the English Revolution (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1989), p.162.
Susan Quilliam, Penguin Study Notes Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen (London: Penguin Group, 1999), p. 8-9.
Susan Quilliam, Penguin Study Notes Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen (London: Penguin Group, 1999), p.39.
 Jane Auston, Pride and Prejudice (London: Penguin Group, 1996), p.185.
Susan Quilliam, Penguin Study Notes Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen (London: Penguin Group, 1999), p.54.
 Corinne Saunders, A COMPANION TO ROMANCE FROM CLASSICAL TO CONTEMPORARY (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), p.252.
 Corinne Saunders, A COMPANION TO ROMANCE FROM CLASSICAL TO CONTEMPORARY (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), p.247.
 Caroline Franklin, Byron’s Heroines (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), p.149.
 Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of The Rights of Woman (London: Orion Publishing Group, 1995), p.204.
 Debra Teachman, Student Companion to Jane Austen (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000), p.64.