The Theme of Marriage Presented in Pride and Prejudice
One of the main themes in Pride and Prejudice is that of marriage and its close relation with money and social status. The novel’s oft-quoted opening sentence: “It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” shows views on marriage in Austen’s time. It further illustrates the palpable nexus between propertied male and property-less female who have to do the role of a wife in order to have any access to fortune. The way that society controls and weakens women helps to explain in part Mrs. Bennet's hysteria about marrying off her daughters, and why such marriages must always involve practical, financial considerations. Marriage is basically their only option for attaining wealth and social standing.
Marriage, it is argued, is the only fortunate event that can happen in a woman’s life. The Bennets animatedly discuss the arrival of a new tenant in their neighbourhood. The Lucases, the Longs, Mrs Bennets and her daughters were all seen to be busy vying with each other to corner the attention of Mr Bingley, the eligible bachelor. The eligibility, of a gentleman of course, is directly related to his income. It is significant that in Pride and Prejudice each man comes with his own price tag.
Mrs Bennet immediately plans to pair Bingley with her favourite oldest, prettiest daughter Jane. “A single man of large fortune, four or five thousand a year” defines Bingley. Similarly, Darcy is introduced as a young man having “ten thousand a year”. This is a society where marriage and money goes hand in hand.
Pride and Prejudice depicts five marriages in all. Charlotte Lucas, Jane, Elizabeth, Lydia and Mrs Forster are the brides and all of them marry to their advantage, elevating themselves socially. If Jane and Elizabeth have escaped Charlotte’s fate, it is because of their beauty which gives them a somewhat wider choice in the marriage market. Charlotte is 27, not especially beautiful and without an especially large “portion”. It is therefore her advancing age that hastened her engagement to Collins “solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment”. When marriage as an institution has been commodified, she observes that it is not sensible to marry for ‘love’. Thus, to Charlotte, marriage is an economic transaction undertaken in self-interest.
It is generally accepted that Elizabeth succumbs to Darcy’s image of power, when she first visits Pemberley. Elizabeth wishes to be a part of this power structure. It is worth noticing that money is not unrelated to her mind too as she ruminates looking over Darcy’s estate, “And of this place I might have been mistress!” Wickham-Lydia scandal can be taken as another instance to illustrate that money is of overwhelming importance in marriage. Their promiscuous elopement is all together seriously looked down upon in society. But Darcy saves the reputation of the Bennets by bribing Wickham into marrying Lydia and then buys him an officer’s rank in the army.
There are also some description about other people’s different opinion on money and marriage. For instance, Lady Catherine wants her daughter Anne to marry her nephew, Mr Darcy, to make a union of the two estates. Caroline Bingley also wishes to marry Darcy for wealth and status. She also hopes that her brother can marry Georgiana, Darcy’s sister. Also Wickham’s seduction of Georgiana was her fortune, which is thirty thousand pounds.
In Pride and Prejudice, Austen puts marriage into all kinds of social and economical relationship from beginning to end, which makes the novel have great practical experience. She uses the relationships of the characters in Pride and Prejudice to actually satirize the convention of marriage and money. The romantic relationships in Pride and Prejudice show the alliance of the love-interest and the material interest, albeit in a self-consciously ironic manner.