The path to marriage initiates in the very first paragraph of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This courtship novel begins with the premise that “a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife” (pg. 5) Throughout the competition for the single men, characters are naturally divided by the norms of their social standing. However, the use of social conventions and civility further divides them. The characters in need of the most moral reform remain unchanged, leaving a path for the reformers to travel to each other’s company. Austen uses the stagnant characters and their flaws as a line that needs to cross in order to achieve a dynamic marriage of mutual respect.
Three of the Bennet daughters get married in the novel. Only two are in need of moral reform, Miss Elizabeth and Miss Lydia. Elizabeth is quick to judge others and has a harsh wit that accompanies that judgment, while Lydia is a flirt. Before Lydia’s expedition with the Forster’s, her flaws are exposed by Elizabeth to her father, “If you, my dear father, will not take the trouble of checking her…Her character will be fixed; and she will, at sixteen, be the most determined flirt that ever made her family ridiculous” (226). Hints of her flirtations are present throughout the novel, but not so eloquently stated. Elizabeth attempts to keep her family from a lower reputation and needs her father to assert some parental control. Luckily for her, Mr. Bennet’s nature does not allow him to be sensible, and he lets Lydia remain unchecked. The men with faulty morality clear Elizabeth’s path to growth and marriage.
Mr. Wickham, Mr. Collins, and Mr. Darcy are all possibilities for matrimony. Each has a respectable profession and some characteristic of attraction. Wickham is charming, Mr. Collins will possess Longbourn, and Darcy owns much of Derbyshire and lives in Pemberley with a vast fortune. They are not without their faults of demeanor. Mr. Collins readily and regularly displays his lack of propriety by acting overly self-important and excessive flattery; especially with regard to Lady Catherine de Bourgh (67-68). Mr. Darcy is characterized with arrogance, conceit and a selfish disdain of the feelings of others (191). Finally, Wickham’s inclination to seduce young women for their money and his flighty convictions towards the church and law come forward in the letter Darcy writes to Miss Elizabeth (198-200). These faults create the barrier between complacency and growth. Darcy must change in order to move past the other men on Elizabeth’s path.
The most important characters that remain unchanged come together by marriage. Their consequence for their constant lack of civility is a marriage of convenience; a version neither Darcy or Elizabeth desire. Mr. Wickham and Miss Lydia Bennet juxtapose Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth in their absolute refusal for moral reform. The marriage that results between them is direct evidence of their static nature. The flirt followed the...