The intricate nexus of marriage, money and love in Jane Austen’s society is unfolded through the development of plots and characters of her novel Pride and Prejudice. In the nineteenth century’s rural England, marriage was a woman’s chief aim, both financially and socially. Financially because of women’s dependent position marriage was the “only honourable position”, infinitely preferable to the dependence of precarious shabby-genteel spinsterhood.
Money was, therefore, a very significant aspect of Austen’s society, especially when marriage was concerned. “A single man of large fortune” was naturally considered as “a nice thing” for the unmarried girls. Partners were chosen for what might now seem unemotional reasons: fortune and connections, similar to, but preferably better than one’s own. By representing a series of marriages, Austen in this novel unearths and elucidates different aspects of the role of marriage, money and love in her society.
Austen was a realist and painted her time as they were. In this novel, love and money-based Darcy-Elizabeth marriage is the most successful one whereas the marriage of Elizabeth’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, is one of the faulty ones. Mr. Bennet married his wife being “captivated” and tempted by her “youth, beauty” and physical appearance. He forgot that the first appeal of a pretty face does not last long unless serenity of mind and sweetness of temper provide more enduring powers of attraction. Moreover, Mrs. Bennet inherited no property. So, form every point of view, this marriage is a failure. Mr. Bennet, therefore, always has to endure her “weak understanding”, vulgarity to such and extreme degree that he has nothing to revel in except confining himself to his library all the day, and thus eluding the necessary rituals of family and society.
Charlotte’s loveless matrimony for financial security with the pompous Collins is another interesting marriage. Being twenty-seven and plain looking and realizing that it is her last chance, she accepts the grotesque Mr. Collins, to whom the role of romance and love in life is beyond the reach. He only wants a wife, because in the eyes of the society it is time for him to settle and be married.
Charlotte knows that apart from some kind of security and happiness, marriage gives a woman a position. She has few hopes of happiness in marriage beyond the material comfort it can give and so she marries Collins who is inferior in intelligence, only for the ‘home and position’ he offers, as she believes “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance”.
The marriage and money theme operates in a baffling way when Elizabeth herself comes to marry. When she sees Pemberly, her ‘prejudice’ against Darcy begins to be ‘subdued’ and later by accepting him she makes the most glorious match of and of Austen’s heroines. The fact that Darcy has then thousand pounds a year is not to be ignored; it emphasizes the perfect adjustment between personal and social ambition achieved by Elizabeth. [Actually Jane Austen understood better than any other of her contemporary English novelists the degree to which social and personal behaviors and even emotion depend on the economic framework of the society.]
Moreover, in her marriage with Darcy, affection and understanding, financial security and social engagement are juxtaposed. But to achieve all these material things she has never turned herself into a “husband-hunting butterfly” despite her mother’s inducement. Although she is aware of the fact that in her society a senile spinster, without any fortune, is faced with the prospect of a bleak future full of deprivation and humiliation, still she is the bold heroine who at first showed courage to refuse two marriage proposals.
To Austen, sexuality was far less vital to relationships than its counterpart, affection. Therefore, Lydia’s ex-based marriage with the seductive but penniless Wickham later turns out to be an unsuccessful ones. Wickham’s plausible appearance even overwhelmed Elizabeth once. His former interest in Miss King and her ₤ 10,000 dowry alludes to the role of money in marriage. He only takes Lydia to London only for physical enjoyment. As a consequence, their marriage ends in his going “to enjoy himself in London” and Lydia’s patent failure in managing her household financially despite Darcy and Elizabeth’s continuous help.
The Bingley-Jane marriage is another example of good marriage, like the Darcy- Elizabeth marriage, where mutual understanding, romance and financial stability are combined. Their affection-based marriage works as both are perfectly amiable, modest and gentle.
The established marriage of the Gardiners is too shadowy to have a dramatic role. We are only dimly aware of it as a satisfactory relationship between two apparently similar type of persons.
In “Pride and Prejudice” we experience different marriages in the light of one another. Austen presents all the material for an al-round understanding and view: Jane and Elizabeth, combing love and marriage, Charlotte marries for safety, Lydia repenting at leisure. The married couples are equally varied, from well-matched like the Gardiners to ill-suited like the Bennets.
The novel says in effect that the real object of love and marriage is not only financial security or physical passion or romance, but also the self-development that true relationships bring about. A marriage can only become an institution when it provides for the fulfillment of both men and women’s aspirations, sanctified by love and validated by prudence that both Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Collins can live on, the former drinking deep draughts of life’s fullness, the later continuing to sip its littleness. The richness of Pride and Prejudice lies in that exploration of life and marriage by Jane Austen.