In Want Of A Wife: Jane Austen’s Reaction To Marriage

1622 words - 6 pages

The romantic era in literature was characterized by many different authors, male and female. Jane Austen was only one of many authors in that era, and one of the longest lasting; through her many novels, she shows various views on love and marriage. In Jane Austen’s critically acclaimed novel, Pride and Prejudice, Austen spares no character, male or female, in her criticism of the understood custom that the only route to happiness was marriage.
Jane Austen never married which influenced her portrayal of marriage throughout many of her novels. Every character exposes different marital standards expected in the time period. In a biography about Jane Austen, edited by Jack Lynch, Rosemary Reisman explains that while neither Jane Austen nor her sister, Cassandra never married, both were engaged at one point. Jane’s engagement was not long lived, in fact it only lasted one night, and she rejected the suitor in the morning (8). Austen’s marital status and limited interaction outside her family led her to develop a keen sense of human interactions. Through her experiences “grieving and rejoicing with family members and friends, mothering nieces and nephews, worrying about the effects of her unstable times on those she loved” she is able to portray the time through her characters (9).
During the Romantic Era, very few occupations were open to women, as most were expected to run their husbands house. For the women who remained unmarried (whether by choice or by circumstance), their opportunities to earn money were very limited. One of the most common choices available for a young maid unmarried is to be a governess. Though this was never a first choice, it was one of the most readily available jobs for women and included a lack of respect, bad pay, and bad working conditions. In one of Jane Austen’s letters to Cassandra, she talked about the pity she feels for her Brother’s governess, and the hope she has of her “staying a whole twelvemonth […] I pity her though, they are my nieces” (Austen). Even if a woman found a job as a governess, unless she was a live-in, women were expected to live with their parents or approved relatives until they were married. Austen played on that fear, with her character Charlotte Lucas.
Charlotte Lucas is Elizabeth Bennet’s best friend and confidant, and the wife of Mr. Collins. Charlotte, together with characters, portrays different martial circumstances in Pride and Prejudice. With her portrayal of the character, Charlotte Lucas, Austen makes a social criticism of the societal belief that women need to be married to gain true happiness. One of the universal dreams for women was to be the head of their own house. Until a woman was married, she was expected to live with relatives who protected and provided for her as she lives out her life as an old maid. Austen portrayed Charlotte Lucas as a woman who never thought “highly of men or matrimony”, to her, “marriage has always been her object; it was the only provision...

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