How does Jane Austen use marriage in Pride and Prejudice to present the nature of an ideal relationship? With a social and cultural context where marriage was assumed to be of great importance, Jane Austen uses a number of marriages to expose and satirise societal values of the age, and to explore the nature of the ideal marriage. Austen portrays a true and ideal marriage to be one where economic and social compatibility is encompassed with love and the union of minds. In the novel, all marriages, except Elizabeth and Darcy?s, appear to be deficient in the values necessary for an ideal marriage.
The marriage of the Bennets is an imprudent one, a union of a reasonably intelligent man with an inane wife. The suggestion that the initial attraction was purely physical elucidates that the relationship is based on superficial grounds. Mr. Bennet?s lack of satisfaction in his marriage leads him to shut himself from reality, failing to procure the masculine control ...view middle of the document...
By stepping outside the social norms of her society, Lydia makes herself vulnerable to ostracism, and by breaking the rules of society (that Austen herself supports), their marriage is doomed to fail.
In the novel, Charlotte Lucas presents a pragmatic view on marriage, declaring that ?happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance?. Her marriage to Mr. Collins is to gain in establishment and acquire social standing and economic stability. It is through Charlotte Lucas that Austen illustrates the dire economic and social plight faced by unmarried women in the eighteenth century. The superficial nature of Collins? love is made abundantly clear by Austen through his earnest desire to appease his patroness, by the ease with which he is able to transfer from one marriage object to another, and the absurdity of his emotions. While the Collins? relationship has social standing and economic security, it is entirely deficient in the affection and intellectual union that Austen regards as quintessential in a true marriage.
The marriage of the Gardiners is superior to that of the Collins in terms of affection, intelligence integrity as well as economic stability. However, Austen?s realistic appraisal of eighteenth century society finds their relationship inferior due to its lack of rank and status.
Similarly, Jane and Bingley [at the end of the novel] come to enjoy affection, position and economic security. However, their relationship is delineated to be lacking in depth of feeling and intelligence, and is a union of less intelligent minds, less self-awareness and Bingley?s weak irresolution. By comparison with all other marriages in the novel, Elizabeth and Darcy?s is the ideal by Austen?s standards - meeting the highest criteria of love, character and fortune. Theirs is a relationship of mutual respect and love, based on moral integrity and an understanding of each other as well as themselves, while possessing economic wealth and status.
The marriages in Pride and Prejudice thus portray and advocate patriarchy within the economic system, social standing and society as a whole. Jane Austen therefore portrays marriage as a patriarchal institution where economic, social and intellectual compatibility as well as love must be present for the relationship to succeed.