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“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen Argumentative

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Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813 during the Regency period. From a woman’s point of view, marriage was seen as “the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune”. Marriage was seen as the only way of securing a home and a decent living. If a woman wasn’t married she would have the life of a spinster, and depend upon a family who may not always support her. The only other choice was to become a governess, where once again a woman would be dependent on a family. So, considering these options, most young women were obliged to get married.

Most marriages were based on physical attraction, financial security or love and affection; of all these, financial security was the main reason for marriage. Women married for financial security because it established a secure livelihood and a definite home. Another reason for marrying a man in a higher social class was that, if the eldest sister married well, the rest of the family would be of a higher status than previously. To marry for love and affection was quite rare at this period in time, as money played a big factor. For example, in another Jane Austen novel – Persuasion – the heroine, Anne Elliot falls in love with Captain Wentworth, but, as he is penniless, they are forced apart.

From a man’s perspective the reasons for marriage were very similar. A man married to bring status, wealth, estate and prestige. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” This quote confirms the assumption (of the period) that any man with an estate would marry. In order to keep the estate in the family a man would have to marry and produce a son. Men tended also to marry within their social class as it kept a respectable reputation and possibly increased the wealth within his family. If a man was very wealthy and owned a large estate he would be very sought after. When Darcy is first observed it was because of “his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance of his having ten thousand a year.” So within his first arrival everyone had established a definite attraction to him if not for his appearance, then for his money.

However, Austen has used the social symbolism of the marriages to show the gradual merging of social classes. The marriage of Elizabeth to Darcy and Jane to Bingley shows that there was a fuse forming between the aristocracy and bourgeois social ranks.

Marriage in the Regency period can relate to marriages today because in certain cases women (and men to an extent) marry for financial stability. Although most people would prefer to observe this as an act of true love, vowing yourself to another can create the security to make someone feel safely established for the rest of their life.

One example in the novel of a marriage for love and mutual affection is the wedlock between Jane and Bingley. Both partners in this relationship show a constant loving devotion for one another. Jane is unwilling to see fault in anyone, which leaves her vulnerable at times, as she is not prepared to fight for ‘love’, which is typical of women of Austen’s time. She has no ambition and is prepared to leave any hurtful situation as it is, such as when Bingley and his family move away. Her tender character is also what leaves her defenceless against Bingley’s merciless sisters while she is in London. Jane’s family circumstances mean she is dependent upon a decent marriage for security, however she would rather marry for love and from an early beginning finding herself extremely attracted to Bingley. “He is just what a young man ought to be,” are her words after the Meryton ball.

Bingley is described as “sure of being liked wherever he appeared”. This is because of his friendly, trusting character, which makes him positively compatible with Jane. Both Mr and Mrs Bennet see Bingley as “a good catch”, Mrs Bennet in financial and social terms, for Mr Bennet because he can see that Bingley is suited to Jane and can foresee an untroubled marriage by financial worries or incompatibility of character. Only Darcy’s and Bingley’s sisters’ interference prevents their engagement earlier.

Austen views their marriage as perfect as it is for all the honourable reasons i.e. love (in Austen’s view) and in a way she rewards Jane by giving her a financial and social advantage.

A contrast to Jane and Bingley’s love is the wedlock of Charlotte Lucas to Mr Collins. Their marriage is one of financial security and convenience. Charlotte is “a sensible, intelligent young woman” who’s very practical and realistic. She is nearing the age of twenty-seven, which in the Regency period would be approaching the age of an “old maid”. Charlotte’s views on marriage are expressed when talking to Elizabeth about Jane and Bingley, “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.” Charlotte’s idea of marriage is to gain someone who will be able to financially support her throughout her life and, if love comes, then it is an added bonus. She also adds “it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”

This statement clearly proves that she would rather know as little as possible about her husband, so that she can avoid his imperfections for as long as possible. Even today some women marry for security, but because of all the aggravation (financially and emotionally) caused by separations and divorces, women choose someone who they ‘love’ in the least of terms before they marry. She has a realistic view on marriage and admits herself to Elizabeth, “I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr Collins’s character, connections and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair, as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.” She definitely makes the most of her opportunities, as she takes advantage of Elizabeth’s hurtful rejection and deliberately sees him as she knows in his wounded state, he will propose to her. Charlotte copes with married life by avoiding her husband as frequently as she can and preferred to ignore him rather than listen to him, “in general Charlotte wisely did not hear.”

Mr Collins is a “mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility”. He is not a man of aristocracy yet acts as though he is. Without being formally introduced he takes it upon himself to familiarize himself with Mr Darcy in, what is seen as, an exceptionally uncivilised manner. The descriptions of his actions are, “he left her to attack Mr Darcy, whose reception of his advances she eagerly watched, and whose astonishment at being so addressed was very evident.” The expression “attack Mr Darcy” proves Austen’s view of Mr Collins as a character who blindly acts in an improper fashion by attacking those in higher social groups than him. Mr Collins is “indebted” to his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and anything she advises him to do, will be done.

It’s almost as if he needs her to make his decisions for him, and perhaps this is a factor which makes Lady Catherine believe she may control anyone of a lower rank than herself. Lady Catherine is the primary reason for Collins even thinking of finding a wife. According to Collins, Lady Catherine declares, “Mr Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry.” The reasons he gives to Elizabeth upon his proposal to her proves that he isn’t the slightest interested in love, but marrying for convenience and to satisfy his patroness. “My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish. Secondly, that I am convinced it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly – which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness.” Their marriage is going to survive as an emotionless, distant relationship, as both characters share no ‘love’ for one another, and have more interest where their partner is not concerned.

Marriage based on physical attraction is what remains. Within the novel there are two cases of this sort of matrimony. The wedlock of Lydia to Wickham and the marriage of Mr and Mrs Bennet. Lydia, the youngest of the Bennet girls, is an exact replica of her mother (note she is also Mrs Bennet’s ‘favourite’). She’s described as having “high animal spirits, and a sort of natural self-consequence”. She’s extremely flirtatious and is interested in nothing more than fun, clothes, men and dancing. She is ruled by a romantic temperament, which encourages her to fall in ‘love’ so hastily with Wickham. Lydia’s characteristics are true of some young women today, but unlike the Regency period, a young woman today wouldn’t be putting such a ‘social scandal’ upon her family, and would be able to learn from her mistakes and progress. Lydia ignores the inevitable social scandal, which will reflect upon her family (and cause unhappiness for her sisters, regarding Bingley and Darcy) and views her escape with Wickham as a “joke”. She has no regards for the position she leaves her family in, and once returning to Longbourn after her public disgrace, “Lydia was Lydia still; untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless. She turned from sister to sister, demanding their congratulations,” this clearly proves she’s almost proud of herself and shows no shame to what she has done.

Wickham is a completely different character to Lydia, as he openly demonstrates no intention of marrying her. Wickham is undoubtedly stylish, attractive, credible and therefore extremely desirable to young ladies. He exhibits “all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address”. He is an opportunist; he needs to find a distinguished match to sustain his lifestyle and uses a combination of manners, politeness and good looks to disguise his genuine personality. Evidence of his fortune hunting is his pursuit of Miss King and ultimately, the need to be bribed into marrying Lydia. It is clear that if he hadn’t received such a large sum from Darcy that he would not have accepted Lydia as a wife. His nature serves to warn that appearance, social graces and courteousness can hide much that is unpleasant. Even today there are people with the same characteristics that Wickham shows.

The Bennet’s marriage is an insight into the future for Lydia and Wickham. Their marriage also originated on physical attraction but has left them both emotionally tired of each other. Upon their wedlock Mr Bennet was, “captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour, which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind, had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her.” Their union has now become tiresome and financially difficult. “Respect, esteem and confidence, had vanished forever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.” Mr Bennet shows lack of admiration for Mrs Bennet, which can be seen by his sarcastic comments towards her. Mrs Bennet is a social embarrassment, small-minded and snobby and concerned more with marrying her daughters into money rather than their happiness, “though the man and the match were quite good enough for her, the worth of each was eclipsed by Mr Bingley and Netherfield” which is supported by the historical period in which they are living.

Austen disapproves of both these marriages as is evident by punishing the characters’ reason for matrimony, by supplying them with financial difficulties and life partners whom they can’t tolerate.

In contrast to those marriages, Austen views Elizabeth and Darcy’s wedlock as the ideal match for every possible reason. Throughout the novel Austen’s views are seen through Elizabeth (as with her disbelief of Charlotte’s marriage to Collins), so it is inevitable that Austen’s personal opinions on the reasons for marriage would be the same as Elizabeth’s. As with the way she punished Charlotte and Lydia, and rewarded Jane, Austen has once again awarded Elizabeth for declining Collins and following her heart, by giving her the most passionate, financially rewarding marriage in the novel.

However, Austen doesn’t make it an easy journey and sets a number of obstacles to delay their love. The earliest and one of the most important barriers is Darcy’s initial impression of Elizabeth at the Meryton ball. “She is tolerable; but not as handsome enough to tempt me”. As the reader sees this statement through Elizabeth’s eyes, we share her first impression of him as remote, arrogant and insensitive. Both Elizabeth and Darcy pre-judge each other, and only when they start to understand one another’s true character do they develop feelings.

Because of his high social status, Darcy would be expected to marry from a similar background – such as Miss De Bourgh. During the Regency period a wealthy, aristocratic man would have to contemplate carefully family and background when choosing a wife. Some were even betrothed at birth. Lady Catherine tells Elizabeth about the betrothal of Darcy and Anne De Bourgh, “The engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy, they have been intended for each other. It was the favourite wish of his mother, as well as of hers. While in their cradles, we planned the union: and now, at the moment when the wishes of both sisters would be accomplished in their marriage, to be prevented by a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world, and wholly unallied to the family!” This proves that Darcy, being of such a superior social class, would have been expected to choose from his social circle. In certain cases, this is still true today, such as with royalty and the very high aristocratic society, who must marry within their rank.

To avoid this problem, Darcy even tries to fight his attraction, as he knows early on, that he will have a social price to pay if he falls in love and marries Elizabeth. “He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention. He wisely resolved to be particularly careful that no sign of admiration should now escape him, nothing that could elevate her with the hope of influencing his felicity; sensible that if such an idea had been suggested, his behaviour during the last day must have material weight in confirming or crushing it.” At first he considers himself safe, as she is too inferior, “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.” Even when he is admitting his love to her in his first proposal he admits to trying to fight his emotions, “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Elizabeth needs to marry for security, but she is unwilling to marry unless she believes herself to be in love. She understands why people marry solely for financial security – as with Charlotte – but it is something she will not do. However, for a woman in her position in that period of time, she may eventually have no choice, as she couldn’t earn a living. Elizabeth regularly uses her first judgement to establish feelings for people, as is visible with her fondness of Wickham. And, although she dislikes Charlotte’s pursuit of financial security, she has understanding for Wickham’s engagement in Miss King.

Elizabeth’s feelings and opinion of Darcy change once she has read his letter explaining Wickham’s true character. She realises her mistake and, “She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. – Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.” And she definitely changes her mind once she sees Pemberley, she realises Darcy’s genuine nature and realises she has a growing fondness towards him. She is grateful for his generosity to Lydia and Wickham, and is prepared to admit she was wrong about their personalities. Although one of his setbacks was to intervene with Bingley and Jane’s love, Elizabeth recognises this as protection of his vulnerable friend. This shows that Darcy is very caring to those close to him, and hates to see them hurt long-term.

Both Darcy’s proposals to Elizabeth have a lack of passion but there is clear evidence of love and respect. Before his second proposal Darcy declares of the first proposal, “What did you say of me, that I did not deserve? For, though your accusations were ill-founded, formed on mistaken premises, my behaviour to you at the time had merited the severest reproof. It was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence.” He has realised her reasons for denying him, which in some way has made him pursue her furthermore. They both declare how they have learnt from their feelings and from the actions they’ve taken towards one another. Elizabeth explains of the letter, “what its effect on her had been, and how gradually all her former prejudices had been removed”. And Darcy claims, “What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled.” It is clear from this gradual proposal that both these characters learn from one another and the experiences, which they share. Their marriage is clearly going to be a meeting of two minds as well as hearts.

It is such a shame; therefore, that there type of marriage wasn’t one of very many in the Regency period. Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage is seen as ‘ahead of their time’, and most marriages today would be seen as being based on similar reasons to their marriage. Compatibility and strong, passionate love are seen to be the greatest reason for marriage, this is also Austen’s view, as she rewards Elizabeth with the most loving, devoted husband, who also has the greatest wealth. For marriages, which she disapproves of, such as Charlotte and Collins’ wedlock, she punishes by giving Charlotte a disagreeable and irritating husband. However, Austen realises that Charlotte had almost no choice, as of her situation. The couples that Austen entirely disagrees with are those who married for lust and physical attraction. She punishes these hasty marriages by declining them a happy married life, financially or emotionally. By punishing these couples, she has shown her view that if you marry for the right reasons, in her opinion, love, then you’ll have the most prosperous marriage.

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