‘Pride and Prejudice’ is a novel fixated on marriage: throughout, all the ‘action’ occurs within scenes devoted to either the talk of marriage or actual proposals. This cannot be expounded more than within the very first line: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife’. Here, at the beginning of the novel, a definite, though somewhat sarcastic, statement introduces the main theme of the novel – marriage- and, possibly more importantly, not love.
The stark divide between love and marriage shown right the way through cannot be comprehended fully by the twenty-first century reader: in today’s society marriage and love are mutually exclusive - you very rarely get one without the other, and if you do it is a big controversy. In the nineteenth century, however, marriage was considered a business transaction, with feelings swept to the side. As women did not have control of their assets nor much in the way of career opportunities, marriage was the only way to gain financial security; if not, they were reliant on their male relations. This is illustrated through the predicament facing the female Bennets. The Longbourne Estate is entailed so upon Mr Bennet’s death, Mr Collins would inherit, rather than any of the daughters. It is due to this that marriage is such a prominent idea within the Bennet household: they, none more so then Mrs Bennet, are fully aware that their future depends on a swift marriage.
Within the novel four proposals to the Bennets take place, two of which are received by Elizabeth. The world is often seen through her eyes and as an audience we are positioned to empathise with her opinion on the absurdity of marrying for reasons other than love. Elizabeth is a free-spirited individual who differs substantially from the other female characters of the novel, namely in the fact that she refuses to be wed to a man whom she does not love. This is the reason both proposals are declined: Elizabeth is of a mind that she will not marry for social security or for money – only love could tempt her into matrimony.
The first proposal is from Mr Collins, a man to whom Elizabeth was not even his first choice; Jane, the eldest and most beautiful, was his first fancy, but when informed that she had been privately engaged, he swiftly switches to Elizabeth, who is ‘equally next to Jane in birth and beauty’. His introduction to Elizabeth is not a pleasant one, although he is too ignorant to notice; she finds him ‘a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man’. Her observation is quite correct, and illustrated to the greatest affect in his proposal speech.
Collins does not seem to possess his own conception of love: he intends to get married merely because it is the particular advice and recommendation of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, his patron and ‘first love’. He even goes so far as to explain this to Elizabeth within his proposal; ‘Mr Collins you must marry, Chuse…a gentle...