Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in
possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife"
Jane Austen used this quote to open her second book, 'Pride and
Prejudice', which was first published in 1813. This is a story of the
attitudes towards love and marriage in the nineteenth century, through
the eyes of a number of people in different family situations and
levels of society. It explores what was socially acceptable and
disgraceful at the time, as well as the author, Jane Austen's,
personal opinion on the matter. This is shown mainly through the
character of Elizabeth Bennet, the second of five daughters of Mr and
Mrs Bennet, inhabitants of the Longbourn estate. At this time, it was
very important that young girls of around sixteen and above should aim
to marry as soon as possible to avoid becoming destitute and unable to
support themselves after the inevitable death of their father, whose
estate would usually be inherited by the next male heir in the family.
In the case of the Bennets, this is a distant cousin with whom they
had not been in contact with for some time. His name is Mr. Collins...
Another worry for young women at the beginning of the nineteenth
century was how high a reputation they had. It was unorthodox for a
female to admit, like Lydia does when in Meryton, that she had come
into town to find a man, because she would seem very eager and this
may result in people looking down on her. On the other hand, if a lady
acted as though she didn't like a man so that he wouldn't think she
was chasing him, the man might think that she really disliked him and
decide to admire another woman instead. Life could be very
complicated around the 1800s, so it was quite a good job that there
was not much else for women to do, like going to school or work. This
theory, however, is slightly contradicted by Mr Bingley when he is at
Netherfield, when the family and Elizabeth are having a discussion
about Mr Darcy's sister and women's talents,
"It is amazing to me how young ladies can have patience to be so very
accomplished, as they all are"
As well as keeping to complicated social standards, a lady was
expected to have a wide range of useful skills, such as playing the
pianoforte and doing embroidery.
One of the reasons for marriage which is explored in great detail in
'Pride and Prejudice' is for material success or gain. The main
example of this which is given to us by Austen is is Charlotte Lucas
and Mr Collins' relationship. Charlotte is in a very different
position to Elizabeth Bennet; she is not exceptionally pretty, nor in
a position to have almost any man she choses, and at the ripe old age
of twenty seven is starting to become an 'old maid'. He future is at
stake because if she does not find a husband quickly, she will be
forced to live with her parents for the rest of her life, and her
reputation in society in society...