The 1800s was a period of not only land expansion and telephone creation but also a time when women’s lives were controlled by men – society took over women’s ambitions and goals in life and gave them the sole purpose of just finding a husband. As women began living by these standards, they started to lose their voice in society and relationships. In a society run by patriarchal rule, it was looked down upon when a woman was to go against the standard traditions.
Elizabeth Bennett, the main protagonist in the novel Pride and Prejudice, follows what she believes and acts in a way that was once considered foolish and impolite. In the novel Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen portrays various character relationships to highlight the different roles and treatments of women in marriages, ultimately revealing the success of marriages built upon true love. From the very beginning to the end of the novel, Austen takes readers on a journey of Mrs.
Bennett’s search for husbands for her five daughters. Jane Bingley is introduced as the oldest and prettiest Bennett sister. Her husband, Mr.Bingley, is similarly praised as a “[fine] single man of large fortune”(Austen 6). Mothers, such as Mrs.Bennett, had three points in mind when searching for the right men to marry their daughters: class, wealth, and looks. In the 1800s, these three features trumped everything else. Jane and Bingley both exhibit a much more light-hearted relationship compared to that Elizabeth and Darcy.
Jane is passive and has no prejudices against Bingley but still genuinely loves him.
Additionally, she is put through tremendous mental strain before she ends up marrying Bingley. When he leaves for Netherfield, “she cannot contact him or ask for any explanation” (Francis). She automatically falls into the passive women role and patiently waits for him to come back; Austen portrays Jane as weak and submissive: commonplace personality traits for women. Despite Bingley and Jane’s happy ending, their relationship, just like any other, consisted of highs and lows. The main reason Bingley left for Netherfield was that he believed Jane had no feelings for him; however, it was all a misunderstanding as Jane felt the need to repress her feelings. Her ideology was that once “she [was] secure of him, there will be leisure for falling in love as much as chooses” (Austen 23). Austen criticizes the pressure on women to display subdued personality, especially in a relationship or marriage; however, she also portrays Jane’s marriage as extremely successful and this is due to Bingley’s judgment of women beyond wealth. He marries Jane out of genuine love. Not every Bennett sister experiences the same love journey: Lydia is constantly chasing after boys and eventually runs off with Wickham to get eloped.
Due to her obliviousness, Lydia is unable to see Wickham’s negative reputation. Little does she know that her actions place her and her family’s reputation in jeopardy; they will ruin the chances of the rest of the Bennett sisters getting married. In Lydia’s situation, she was taken advantage of and used, however, the blame for the family’s reputation is still upon her. It is expected that Lydia returns with disappointment and shame, yet “Lydia returns unashamed to her father’s house after her marriage to Wickham… Lydia was Lydia still; untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless” (Hirsch). Shown by the consequences of Lydia’s actions, the societal rules on women during the time of this novel were extremely harsh. Women would be shunned if they were caught sleeping with a man they weren’t married or engaged to. Out of all the marriages in Pride and Prejudice, Lydia and Mr. Wickham are characterized as the most unfavorable—Austen uses the relationships to critic the imbalance of standards and rules placed on both genders, fundamentally acknowledging the adversity a woman must face for committing an unethical act. Wickham and Lydia have different wants in the marriage: Wickham is looking for money, while Lydia is looking for a fun soldier; neither is looking for authentic love marriage. Charlotte Lucas, who is Elizabeth’s best friend, gets married to the man Elizabeth has rejected in a manner of three days.
Her extreme level of willingness to give up her individuality in return for long-term financial stability is depicted as she marries a man whom she barely knows. To her, “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance” (Austen 24). Charlotte was raised not realizing the value of true love in marriage because society has embedded the principle of marriage as gaining wealth and security, rather than emotional comfort and happiness: she came into the marriage as “not romantic” and expecting only “ a comfortable home” (Austen 133). Additionally, Charlotte is seen establishing her life while closing up her feelings and judgment: “When Mr. Collins said anything of which his wife might reasonably be ashamed, which certainly was not unseldom, [Elizabeth] involuntarily turned her eye on Charlotte who wisely did not hear” (Austen 156). She purposely filters out Mr.Collin’s words, ultimately being able “to forget Collins altogether” (Hirsch). Charlotte Lucas lets go of her independence and goals for long-term financial stability by marrying a narrow-minded man she attempts to avoid. Elizabeth, the main Bennett sister Austen focuses on, is truly an independent woman who strives by pursuing her hopes and wishes. She defines Jane Austen’s definition of a successful woman and what it takes to have a happy marriage.
Elizabeth, unlike the other women characters, is not afraid to reject men despite their wealth and class. Unlike the other women “who [never] take active control of their lives” (Francis), Elizabeth embodies the one woman who does take control. Nonetheless, Elizabeth’s prejudice towards men is a cause of her pride and results in the novel’s main conflict. Although her assumptions against Darcy were wrong, Austen focuses on Elizabeth’s unique approach to interacting with men— she does not choose to conform to society’s standards. As a result of her accusations, Dary desires to explain the confusion through a letter (Stovel). Elizabeth maintains her self-pride and doesn’t allow herself to get engage with a man she does not admire. In our modern-day, we see rejection as normal and commonplace; many people get rejected and many reject others. However, in the 1800s this was not the case as it was looked down upon for women to reject men and show superiority. This explains Mrs.Bennett’s outrage when Elizabeth declines Mr. Collins’s marriage proposal. Haiyan Gao simply states “Elizabeth does not want to marry a man whom she dislikes” (384).
Elizabeth exerts liberal feminist ideals of marriage. Similar to Elizabeth’s beliefs, Austen highlights the importance of feelings, connections, and affection in marriage to ensure happiness and success, as portrayed by Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship. Jane Austen writes the novel while contradicting her 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” (Austen 2). In the novel, it is the women who need a husband, though the men are in want of one. If this quote were to be true, then Mrs. Bennett could save herself the act of searching for husbands for all five of her daughters. This first line’s idea goes against all other events in the novel. Elizabeth’s untraditional ways of approaching marriage are what makes her marriage so successful. Jane Austen criticize the traditional way of perceiving love and marriage in the 1800s and how marriage was built upon the wrong v