The role of marriage in Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice'

Term Paper, 2004

14 Pages, Grade: 1,3


List of contents

1. Mission statement

2. Pride and Prejudice: Different kinds of marriages
2.1. The marriage of Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins
2.2. The marriage of Lydia Bennet and Mr. Wickham
2.3. The marriage of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy

3. The function of the “happy ending”

4. Conclusion

5 Literary Sources

1. Mission statement

Since it was my part to introduce Jane Austen in a paper on 18th century women writers I wanted to know more about the female writers at her time. I chose Pride and Prejudice because it is one of Jane Austen’s most famous novels. While I was reading it I soon discovered that marriage is the main theme of the novel. I want to compare the different kinds of marriages described in the novel putting emphasis on the marriage of the heroine and the hero. I want to show the importance of marriage in women’s eyes in the 18th century. In a further step I will take a closer look at the ending of the novel which has often been described as a fairytale ending on the one hand and as confirmation of patriarchal structures on the other. I want to show that the ending can be interpreted in a different way. I shall reveal that marriage in Pride and Prejudice is not only the essence romantic novels are made of but rather important to the existence of women in the 18th century.

2. Pride and Prejudice: Different kinds of marriages

2.1. The marriage of Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins

Charlotte Lucas is 27 years old and the eldest child of the Lucases. She is a very good friend of Elizabeth Bennet. Mr. Collins is Mr. Bennet’s cousin and a clergyman, who has recently been made vicar of a parish of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Kent. Mr. Collin’s first intention of visiting with the Bennets was to marry one of the daughters because he will inherit their estate. Mrs. Bennet, who wants to keep their home, finds pleasure in his plan and suggests to him to marry Elizabeth. From the proposal scene the reader learns that Mr. Collins thinks “that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time”[1]. But after Elizabeth has shown him that she is not that kind of lady, he turns to Charlotte Lucas who has always been willing to listen to him. Although Charlotte knows that his proposal is not out of love – as he pretends it to be – she accepts it in order to secure a proper standard of living. Acting rationally is a wiser decision to her than acting according to the truth of her heart. In her eyes marriage is “the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune”[2]. This attitude towards marriage is called “mercenary marriage” by Juliet McMaster[3]. The marriage of Charlotte Lucas reveals the necessity of being married at that time. Marriage was seen as a business, in which “sons brought money into the family, but daughters only took money out”[4]. Charlotte marries for the advantage of being financially secure, and Mr. Collins has fulfilled Lady Catherine’s advice to marry soon. Because there is no love between the couple both try the best to ignore each other and their relationship can be described as the most prudential one in the novel.

2.2. The marriage of Lydia Bennet and Mr. Wickham

Lydia Bennet is the youngest of the Bennet sisters and is devoted to a life of dancing, fashions, gossip and flirting. Mr. Wickham belongs to the Maliatia Regiment which is stationed at Meryton where Mrs. Bennet’s sister lives. After Mr. Wickham failed to marry Georgiana Darcy to acquire the money he believes he deserves, his attention is directed towards Elizabeth Bennet. But he changes his mind when Miss King inherits a fortune. As Miss King refuses him he convinces Lydia to run away with him and escape from his immense debts. When the Bennet family learns about the sinful escape of their daughter they try to force Wickham to marry her. This is only arranged because Mr. Darcy pays Wickham’s debts. Knowing Lydia’s marriage has financial reasons Mrs. Bennet is nevertheless proud of her favourite daughter who managed to marry before her elder sisters. After her marriage Lydia behaves very arrogantly and looks down on Jane and Elizabeth believing she is now worth more than they are. Because gossip has always been part of her life, she puts high value on the neighbour’s opinion and wants “to hear herself called Mrs. Wickham by each of them.”[5] But her marriage to Wickham is based on outward appearances and youthful vivacity. We learn from their marriage that it leads to unhappiness because it is based on superficial qualities which fade away soon. “His affections for her soon sunk into indifference; her’s lasted a little longer”[6]. The marriage between Mrs. and Mr. Bennet seems to be based on quite similar motives. Although Mr. Bennet is far more intelligent than Mr. Wickham, he seems to have married his wife because she used to be beautiful. Now her beauty has gone and he spends his time mocking her. “To his wife he was very little otherwise indebted, than as her ignorance and folly had contributed to his amusement”[7]. If he married her for beauty, she married him for his estate.

2.3. The marriage of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy

Elizabeth Bennet is the second eldest of five sisters and she is lively, sharp-witted and intelligent. When Mr. Darcy first meets her at the Meryton Assembly they are not attracted to each other. He offends her by saying to his friend: “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.”[8] She thinks that he is very proud and shares the prejudice of the neighbourhood who thinks that he is “the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and every body hoped that he would never come there again.”[9] But they soon meet again, when Elizabeth comes to Netherfield to care for her sick sister. Mr. Darcy is then first attracted to her because her individuality and her unique impertinence[10] make her different from all the other women. Influenced by Mr. Wickham – the man she fancies – she thinks even worse of Mr. Darcy believing he had betrayed him. From Mr. Darcy’s cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, she later learns that Mr. Darcy has prevented her sister Jane’s marriage. Based on this piece of information she is really surprised when he admits his love to her during her visit to Kent and angrily refuses his proposal. In a letter from Darcy she learns the truth about Wickham and his reasons for preventing his friend’s marriage with Jane. While reading and recognizing about her misjudgements, her character develops and she is obviously able to see her faults. “Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced and absurd.”[11] This scene in which she overcomes her prejudices can be seen as a turning point in Elizabeth’s and Mr. Darcy’s relation to each other. When they meet again at Pemberley not only Elizabeth has improved her opinion of Mr. Darcy. He appears to be very gentle and less proud than ever. But before they can admit their love for each other, their love story is interrupted by the message of Lydia’s escape with Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth leaves Pemberley knowing she loves Mr. Darcy and therefore feeling desperate since she thinks that he would not want Mr. Wickham – the man he hates – as brother-in-law. When Lady Catherine hears rumours about a possible marriage between her nephew Mr. Darcy whom she planned to marry off to her daughter, and Elizabeth, she visits her with the intention to prove this rumour wrong. Instead of obeying the noble woman, Elizabeth talks without any respect to her strengthened by the possibility of a second proposal. In Lady Catherine’s eyes, Elizabeth would pollute “the shades of Pemberley”[12] by being married to Mr. Darcy. This metaphor emphasises that Elizabeth belongs to a lower social class than Mr. Darcy and that her family – especially Lydia – would be a humiliating relationship after her wedding. Although Lady Catherine’s intention was to prevent the marriage, she proceeds with it. When Mr. Darcy confirms the truth of the rumours by his arrival at Hertfordshire, Elizabeth makes it easier for him to propose a second time. In contrast to his first proposal, Mr. Darcy appears less proud and does not want to hurt her feelings. To the astonishment of her family (except Jane) Elizabeth accepts his proposal. Her mother has always disliked Mr. Darcy openly, but when she learns about the marriage of her daughter and Mr. Darcy she cannot think of anything else than of his fortune. “Ten thousand a year, and very likely more! ‘Tis as good as a Lord!’”[13] Here the mercenary motive reappears. Elizabeth has never thought of Mr. Darcy fortune otherwise she would have accepted his first proposal. In contrast to her friend Charlotte, Elizabeth has a certain image of an ideal marriage in her mind and would never marry for any other reason than love. Her refusal to Mr. Darcy’s first proposal shows that both hero and heroine have had to overcome several barriers before their marriage becomes possible. These barriers are not only means of suspense, but necessary for the development of the main characters. From the ‘first impressions’ (original title) of each other of their marriage, both have to change a lot. What the reader learns is that one should not rely too much on one’s first impressions. Referring to the title Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are to blame for their pride and prejudices. This shows that Austen has not created perfect heroic stereotypes but real characters which also have false character traits which they learn to overcome. In reality “there can be no such thing as an individual consciousness without opinion and prejudice.”[14] This is a lesson the reader, who identifies mainly with Elizabeth, has to learn as well. Elizabeth overcomes her prejudices while she reads Mr. Darcy’s letter and Mr. Darcy’s character changes after Elizabeth has insulted him and has made him aware of his pride after his first proposal. In accepting the Gardiners, who are of lower social class, as frequent visitors at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy proves that he has adopted Elizabeth standards. Thus a happy and long-lasting marriage needs time to grow and furthermore it has to be based on mutual feeling, understanding and respect.


[1] Austen 96.

[2] Austen 111.

[3] McMaster, Juliet. Jane Austen on Love. English Literary Studies: University of Victoria, 1978, p.64.

[4] Thompson, James. Between Self and World. The Novels of Jane Austen. The Pennsylvania State University, 1988, p.141.

[5] Austen 280.

[6] Austen 344.

[7] Austen 209.

[8] Austen 9.

[9] Austen 8.

[10] Cf. Austen 338.

[11] Austen 185.

[12] Austen 317.

[13] Austen 337.

[14] Walder, Dennis and Pam Morris. “Reading Pride and Prejudice” The realist novel. Ed. Dennis Walder. London: Routledge, 1995, p.58.

Excerpt out of 14 pages


The role of marriage in Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice'
University of Münster
The Rise of the English Novel
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
397 KB
Jane, Austen, Pride, Prejudice, Rise, English, Novel, marriage
Quote paper
Katrin Schmidt (Author), 2004, The role of marriage in Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice', Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: The role of marriage in Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice'

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free