Marriage in society
View of women
Role of women in marriage
Status of women
Pride and Prejudice
Pride and prejudice was written by Jane Austen in 1813. Austen was a
romanticist novelist in Britain whose works were largely influenced by
societal social norms. Thus, her work was a reflection of the society.
The book focuses on a character called Elizabeth as she tries to find
herself in a society that is deeply conservative. The focus is on
morality, education, manners, marriage, and upbringing. The novel is a
sharp contrast of the society’s values at that time. Austen’s work
in Pride and Prejudice reinforces the conservative values of society.
She brings out the conservative values held by society especially
through Elizabeth’s mother. Additionally, Elizabeth’s character and
that of her sisters indicate the value held in a woman marrying a rich
Marriage in society
To begin with, Mrs. Bennet desires one of her daughters to marry
Charles Bingley, a rich young man. Bingley becomes known to the Bennets
through Mrs. Bennet who notices the man due to his immense wealth. In
ancient England, the social standing of a woman was based on her
husband’s wealth. This saw parents desire to have their daughters
marry rich young men for them to be socially recognized (Quindlen,
38-42). The parents of rich young men also desired their sons to marry
from rich families with a socially accepted standing in society. Thus,
the society was very conservative, and social classes prevailed and were
maintained through marriage ties.
In 19th century England, wealth was mainly acquired through marriage.
This meant that people who did not come from wealthy families desired to
marry those who were from rich backgrounds in order to attain wealth.
This is shown in Mr. Wickham’s character who attempts to marry
Georgiana so that he can become wealthy. Georgiana was from a rich
family and was entitled to an inheritance which meant that she was rich.
Mr. Wickham, having lost his wealth, sought to marry her so that he
could regain his wealthy social standing. This is because once a lady
got married her wealth was transferred to her husband.
Austen also brings out the conservative value of family involvement in
marriage. This is shown in Mrs. Bennet’s character when she asks her
husband to visit Bingley, when he moves to his new mansion near the
Bennets. This is meant to foster a close relationship between the family
and Bingley so that he can take interest in one of the daughters. Darcy,
Bingley’s friend notices that the Bennets are materialistic when Jane
and Bingley start to have a relationship. This causes his to warn
Bingley about his relationship with Jane because he reckons that Jane is
not necessarily in love with Bingley. Traditionally, girls would marry
rich young men with the blessings of their families (Quindlen, 38-42).
View of women
Austen also brings out the conservative nature of ancient British
society in viewing women as shallow and ignorant. The women in society,
like Mrs. Bennet, were preoccupied with beauty and had no time for
information and understanding of the world. Mr. Bennet says that
although Jane and Lydia are beautiful, they are silly and ignorant like
other girls (Austen, 2). This is the reason he gives, for his preference
of Elizabeth to marry Bingley because she is the complete opposite of
her sisters, despite her lack of attractiveness. Mr. Bennet seems to
like Elizabeth more because she is intelligent and more reasonable than
other women in society. In conservative British society, the women were
ignorant because they believed in marrying rich men to raise their
social status. Thus, the women concentrated on beauty in order to
attract rich young men. Intelligence was of no use because they would
not use it anyway.
Role of women in marriage
The other conservative value was the practice of women to try and
introduce their daughters to prospective rich young men. This is because
the women were preoccupied with finding suitable, rich men to marry
their daughters or nieces. When Elizabeth tells her mother that Mrs.
Long will introduce them to Bingley, her mother objects. She says Mrs.
Long has two unmarried nieces and would, therefore, not introduce the
Bennets to Bingley (Austen 2). Austen (1) also said that Mrs. Bennet
preoccupied herself with trying to get good husbands for her daughters.
The mothers tried to have their daughter dance with prospective husbands
during the occasional balls and strived to have their daughters noticed
by the men.
The men in the nineteenth century Britain were also expected to be
gentlemen. This was evident in their behavior by, for example, throwing
dance parties. As Austen (3) notes, Bingley was easy and had good
manners, according to the expectations of society. An eligible bachelor
was supposed to be a gentleman and have a positive image in society,
just like Bingley. This is why Mrs. Bennet admired him in the first
place and wished that he would marry one of her daughters. Additionally,
Darcy, Bingley’s friend was the ideal man of society. He was fine,
tall, handsome, and with a noble mien (Coyle, 1-10). This was, in
addition to his immense wealth, which made him very admirable. However,
Darcy was proud and condescending, and this made people dislike him,
despite his immense wealth.
Austen also explores class in society, a factor that was very important
in conservative England. The Bennets are from the middle class while
Darcy and Bingley are from the upper class. This makes Darcy look down
on the Bennets as it was in conservative England. When Bingley asks
Darcy to dance with Elizabeth, Darcy declines saying that they are not
of the same social standing. He also adds that this makes her have
unrefined manners, contradictory to Bingley’s sisters who are from a
higher social class (Spacks, 1).
Mr. Wickham is also willing to do anything to raise his social class.
He even attempts to elope with Darcy’s sister. Mr. Wickham had lost
all his wealth through gambling and wanted to recover it so that he
would regain his social standing in society, a factor that was very
significant in conservative British society. Eventually, Mr. Wickham
married Lydia so that he would be entitled to her father’s wealth
because Lydia had no brothers, yet men were the inheritors of wealth.
Thus, Mr. Wickham regained his social class through marriage.
Austen also endorses conservative values when she talks about Sir
William Lucas, who had risen to the status of being a knight. Sir
William was forced to move to a more affluent neighborhood when he
acquired the status of knighthood as expected of him by society. This
was also contributed by the fact that everybody in his former town paid
attention to him, much to his dislike. He, therefore, moved his family
to a more affluent town where nobody paid attention to his wealth.
Wealthy people lived in certain towns based on their wealth. This is
because they considered the attention given to them in less affluent
neighborhoods as a bother.
Austen also accepts the conservative values of the society when she
talks about Ms. Bingley’s attempt to woo Darcy. Her mother confronts
Elizabeth, asking her to reject Darcy’s marriage proposal because she
is from a lower social class. This shows that Austen recognizes that
social classes in society dictate marriage patterns. People from an
upper social class were not supposed to get involved with those from a
lower social class especially through marriage. This shows that Austen
recognizes this limitation. However, Elizabeth refuses to accept the
threat and goes ahead to marry Darcy. This is, however, negated by the
fact that Darcy thought that Elizabeth has agreed to his aunt’s
threat, which made him determined to marry her (Coyle, 1-10).
The society also had a tradition of holding dances by the rich in
society. This is clear from the many dances held throughout the book.
Sir William is also concerned that Darcy does not want to dance yet he
is from the high society. It is expected that everyone from high society
must know how to dance and must enjoy dancing. Thus, it is surprising
that Darcy does not want to dance. The numerous dances held are also
social gatherings that enable the rich to interact as they only interact
during social gatherings (Stafford, 16). Thus, the Austen is endorsing
the conservative values of society by displaying such gatherings, which
were considered important societal functions. Such functions were also
exclusive as depicted in the book.
Additionally, Austen endorses the conservative societal view that wealth
and class could only be acquired through inheritance or working as a
militia, a lawyer, or a mayor. There was limited social mobility and one
could not acquire wealth in any other way (Le Faye, 56). This meant that
the acquisition of wealth was limited to a few people in society. Thus
the militia men, the clergy, the mayors, and lawyers were held in high
regard in society. This made men in such ranks very admirable, and they
thus attracted many young women who sought social mobility. Thus, Austen
endorses the conservative limited social mobility that was only
accessible to a few people in society. It should be noted that it was
not easy for a person to become a militia, clergy man, or even a lawyer
if the person belonged to a lower social class. Thus, one’s social
class of origin determined his social class in the long run.
Reputation was very important in conservative England. This is why Mrs.
Bennet is pleased that her daughter got to dance with Bingley, as this
would have a positive image on her daughters in the neighborhood.
Additionally, the Bennets are worried that their daughters may never get
married especially to good men, when Lydia elopes with Wickham. This is
because the family would have a bad reputation. In conservative England,
men and women were not to live together while unmarried (Stafford, 16).
This affected the reputation of the whole family and no young man was
willing to marry from such a family. Thus, social norms and values were
deeply rooted in society, and nobody dared go against them.
Status of women
The conservative society was also deeply tilted to the disadvantage of
women. This is because women carried any social stereotypes while men
did not. For example, when Lydia elopes with Wickham, the embarrassment
is upon her and her family. There is no mention of embarrassment on
Wickham, yet he also contributes to the eloping. This makes the Bennet
family very concerned because the rest of the daughters my never get
married. The embarrassment is, however, not replicated in Wickham’s
family. In demonstrating the shame on the Bennets Austen simply accepts
the social prejudice of that time and the social stereotypes. This is
also clear when she says that Darcy paid for the proper marriage of
Lydia to Wickham, in order to remove the shame from the Bennets and
marry Elizabeth. This shows that Austen accepts the social stereotypes
present in society.
Marriage is also viewed as a very important aspect of society
especially to young women. Every woman’s desire is to have her
daughters marry, and marry a rich man. The young women also live for
marriage. This preoccupation with marriage is the center of their
actions and thus, they spend more time looking good than anything else.
Austen portrays this well in Mrs. Bennet’s character with her
preoccupation to find suitable men to marry her daughters. Lydia and
Jane also spend time worrying about their beauty as this is what will
enable them to attract suitable young men to marry. Conservative England
held marriage in very high regard, and it was a disgrace for a girl not
to get married. This is why the women in Austen’s book are all
preoccupied with marriage.
Women held a lower position in society at that time. Men were the final
say in society, and most descriptions had male characteristics. Austen
refers to women as being handsome as opposed to beautiful. This is
because society was broadly patriarchal and thus, most desirable
characteristics were defined in masculine terms (Spacks, 1). This shows
acceptance of a lesser role in society by women and an acceptance of the
same by Austen. Thus, Austen endorses conservative values by describing
women as being handsome. All desirable things in society were meant to
be male by nature.
Jane also tries to hide her love for Bingley. This is because women
were not allowed, to openly show affection to men as it was viewed as
being too agreeing. Thus, Jane always tried to hide her love for
Bingley, as expected by society. Charlotte says that if she openly shows
her affection, he may stop being attracted to her (Austen, 15). However,
Lizzy complains that this may make him believe that she is not in love
with him and thus, drive him away from her. Charlotte says that she
cannot openly show her affection because they are always in public. She
says that affection is to be shown in private. This shows conformity to
the society where women who openly displayed their affection were
considered immoral. Open display of affection was also considered
uncultured (Le Faye, 56).
Austen also endorses conservative views of women’s financial freedom.
This is because Charlotte marries Collins so that she can become
financially stable. Women did not inherit their parents’ wealth and
did not work. For this reason, their only way to financial success was
through marriage. This saw many women marry for financial reasons and
not for their interest in men. When Elizabeth asks Charlotte why she
married Collins after he had proposed to her, Charlotte explains that it
was for financial reasons. Elizabeth seems satisfied with this
explanation and even visits them, when they move to London (Austen 25).
Women in conservative England were not entitled to an inheritance from
their father. A man’s inheritance would be held by a nephew or
transferred to his sons- in- law. Austen endorses this social norm when
she points out that Mr. Bennet, sadly, had no heir of his own. His
fortune could not be transferred to his daughters, and thus, he had no
heir as he had no sons. Even when the women got married, they were
entitled to a little fortune which, in any case, was transferred to
their husbands (Friedenberg, 22). This was the case for Mrs. Bennet who
together with her sister received a little inheritance from their
father. The biggest proportion was transferred to her brother who
established a respectable business.
However, Austen still brings out a contrast to the conservative nature
of the society. This is done through Elizabeth whom she describes as
being intelligent. Elizabeth is also displeased with her family’s
preoccupation with Bingley. She does not like the fact that the main
reason why her family wants Bingley to marry Jane is because of his
wealth. Additionally, she does not seem very interested in marriage and
does not go out of her way to attract men. However, the biggest portion
of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice focuses on the society’s
conservative norms which form the highlight of the book.
In conclusion, Austen’s work in Pride and Prejudice reinforces the
conservative values of society. This is mainly depicted in the
importance of marriage as an important aspect of social mobility by
women. The work is focused, on the attempts of women to marry rich men
so that they can be financially stable. Additionally, men are
preoccupied with accumulation of wealth and are willing to do anything
to get wealthy. This is shown in the character of Wickson who wanted to
elope with Darcy’s sister so that he could inherit her wealth. The
importance of a man in society is also equal to his wealth as is the
case of Darcy and Bingley. Those who were rich in society also
socialized through balls which were also dancing avenues. Women were
also supposed to keep themselves beautiful so that they could get the
attention of men. The women were also to conduct themselves with
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. London. N.p, (1813)
Coyle, Connie. “Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen” Lone Star
College System. Montgomery: LSC-Kingwood Library. Print
Friedenberg , Edgar Z. “Pride and Prejudice” The New York Review of
Book. New York: NYREV, Inc, 23/01/1964. Print
Le Faye, Deidre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. New York: Harry
N. Abrams, 2004. Print
HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Quindlen” o “Anna
Quindlen” Quindlen, Anna . “Introduction”. Pride and Prejudice. New
York: HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Library” o
“Modern Library” Modern Library , 1995. Print.
Spacks, Patricia Meyer. “Review of Pride and Prejudice: An
Annotated Edition” Jane Austen’s World. United Kingdom: Shapard and
Spacks, 25/09/2010. Web
Stafford, Fiona. “Notes on the Text”. Pride and Prejudice. Oxford
World`s Classics (ed. James Kinley). Oxford: Oxford University Press,
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