Women’s Rights in Pride and Prejudice
Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart.”(Austen 94). Woman’s rights have been a popular and important topic for the past three centuries, and will continue to be in the future. Jane Austen is widely known and praised for her controversial ideas and opinions in her literary fiction novel,Pride and Prejudice. Much before the time of the fight for women’s rights, Jane Austen brought the concept to the attention of her readers. Through the portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Bennet, Charlotte Lucas, and Lydia Bennet, and their differing perspectives on love and marriage, Jane Austen illustrates the social and economic expectations and inequality of women in nineteenth century England. In order to comprehend the ideals Jane Austen suggests, it is imperative to understand the characters within the story. In a world that revolves around the idea that marriage is the only possible way to fulfill a successful life, The Bennet family holds a particular struggle to marry out each of their five daughters. Mrs. Bennet constantly tries to make her daughters “more desirable” all the while making not only a fool of herself but her family as well.
The lackadaisical Mr. Bennet essentially lets his wife do as she pleases, ignoring the fact that it is indeed affecting his daughters’ reputations. Each daughter expresses a different personality making each relationship they present important to Jane Austen’s main idea. The oldest daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, are less influenced by their mother and the more sensible of the five. Although Elizabeth is more outspoken and wittier than her sister, both value love other money or social standing, which angers their mother extremely. Then there is Mary, the extremely quiet and introverted sister, she is often viewed as a bit of an outcast within the family, and lastly the two youngest daughters, Lydia and Catherine. Lydia and Catherine are obsessively attracted and interest to the soldiers in town and, much like their mother, hoes to find a future husband in one.In the novel we learn what marriage really means for women, and how Mrs. Bennet must raise her daughters to be essentially cheese pieces in the game of marriage. The girls must be well mannered make themselves appear valuable from the mans standpoint. The Bennet girls, lacking the needed characteristics of cooking and housekeeping, are expected to obtain men of wealth and high social standing, yet the Bennet girls’ have no way of securing a husband with no assets to offer, their future is dependent on the off chance that each will attract a wealthy gentleman, against his better judgement, will propose marriage (Wylie).
Each member of the family holds different values and viewpoints on what is truly important in marriage, causing conflict within the household.The other part of the equation that is the men within the story. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Charles Bingley, George Wickham, and William Collins are they key male figures we encounter in the novel, each bringing a different attitude, a different background, and different values as well. Fitzwilliam Darcy, a wealthy gentleman who would later become the love interest of Elizabeth Bennet, is at first described to be overly proud or arrogant but reveals his softer and gentler nature further on in the novel. A wealthy and good-hearted gentleman, Charles Bingley, is the character that falls in love with Jane Bennet. Although a very kind man, Bingley is very influenced by those closest to him, particularly Mr. Darcy and his sister, Caroline. Mr. Collins, the Bennet’s cousin, is seen as annoying, odd, and perLady Catherine De Bourgh’sadvice, istrying to acquire a bride from the Bennet family. Although he is unsuccessful with Elizabeth, he eventually proposes and marries Charlotte Lucas. Lastly, Austen depicts the handsome and somewhat irresistible to woman, George Wickham. Originally attracted to Elizabeth Bennet, Wickham eventually causes bigger problems for the family when he runs away with Lydia Bennet and they are forced to wed in order to not ruin the family’s reputation. The attitude, ideals and actions of each man, and woman, supports or refutes Austen’s idea of inequality of women, and women empowering themselves.Each of these relationships exhibit different view-points and reasons for participating in them.
Though multiple different characters and perspectives, Austen women were often made to think and aspire of only one thing, that being marriage. Women’s lives were empty and only fulfilled by marrying into the upper classes and becoming financially sound (Wylie). One of the first relationships and ideas we fee comes from the marriage of Charlotte and Mr. Collins. WhileCharlotte marries Mr. Collins purely out of mercenary self-interest, denying any romantic feelings at all, and the narrator makes this point very clear, Charlotte accepts Mr. Collins “solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment,” labeling marriage the “pleasantest preservative from want” (Stasio). Mr. Bingley and Jane Bennet’s relationship shows similar characteristics of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in the way that they are actually fond of each other, it isn’t simply a financial agreement between the two. Jane is one of the first daughters to find a happy relationship and fall in love for love, but her relationship with Bingley consistently lacks depth a marriage should experience.
While their marriage was bonded around their love for each other, making it all the more favorable than perhaps Charlette and Mr. Collins, but less ideal than Lizzy and Darcy due to the lack of connection on a phycological level. The most comedic and ironic relationship is the marriage of Lydia and Mr. Wickham.First, during the nineteenth century, the results of running off and getting married were drastic and didn’t go away overnight. Lydia and Wickham’s rash decision to runaway together and elope didn’t help solve any of their original problems, and only festered more for their family to solve.Being senseless and immature, Lydia made a decision that based on her mother’s mindset, she thought would be right, but only hurt her and her family’s already torn reputation.The idea of women marrying simply to be taken care of may be frowned upon by today’s standards, Austen presents the opposite idea with Elizabeth and Darcy,after watching Mr. Bennet distaste for his wife and the careless neglect of all of his daughters, and the fact that Darcy at first demonstrates rudeness and discontent with The Bennet family as a whole, but later on, his ways change and he shows his more generous and gentler side, causing Lizzy to fall in love with him (Wiley). Darcy’s ideals shift throughout the novel, most likely due to his fondness of Elizabeth, he is seen at first believing in the superficial things women must have to be wives,”All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.” (Austen 51).
Also,Elizabeth rejects Darcy’s first proposal to her due to the fact that it lacks sincerity and emotion and feels as if he is simply “settling” with her. She recognizes she would be putting herself in a marriage much like her mother and father’s, one filled with unhappiness and lack of respect for each other (Stasio). This idea, opposite to what the views were during that time period, put her happiness first, instead of putting financial and social status. Elizabeth, having no other suitors at the time, made a dangerous choice for that day in age, sacrificing your chance of ever living in comfort and with the safety net of money, to possibly find a husband who she loves and actually wishes to spend her life with. Each of these marriages conveys a different opinion of Jane Austen and real marriages and situations that occurred during the nineteenth century.Each of the marriages above describe the lack of options and choices in deciding their own path in life women have. Austen constantly uses context to convey how women even recognize the lack of choices they have and their jobs is to be good wives.
Here Miss Bingley describes what characteristic women must possess:”Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no [woman] can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.” (Austen 89)Why can’t women during the nineteenth century be accomplished in their job, or in college, instead of at home or in the kitchen? Jane Austen recognizes this topic, and through the highly ironic and occasionally humorous, dives into the idea of women being judged off of what kind of wife they would be instead of what kind of woman they are. The outrage in crossing class lines and marrying outside of what you are used to, even in today’s world sometimes, was drastically taboo. Tamar Lewin said that marriages that cross class lines, in a subtle way, are moving outside their comfort zones into the area of their partners that may have a different level of education, wealth, and social concepts, this puts them at a higher probability of divorce (Lewin 135-136).
All of this information ties back into Jane Austen’s main idea inPride and Prejudice;marriages should be based off of love, depth, physiological connection, not for the safety of a husband’s income, to raise yourself into the next social class, or from a man’s point of view, to have a woman to raise the heir to his fortune and legacy. Austen, through the characters presented in her novel, wanted her readers to recognize the lack of equality women were receiving, and essentially how marriage and society should be responding to this issue.Austen uses her novels and literary works to convey her political thoughts and opinions, in Pride and Prejudice, this means feminine inequality. Through the relationships of characters, relationships between the narrator, and message conveyed between the reader and narrator, and context hidden in the text, Austen enfolds political concepts into the explicit concerns of the novel. Not only doesPride and Prejudiceeducate us on the issues Austen faced in the 1800s, but the issues of gender and inequality we continue to struggle with (Kneedler).Through the portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Bennet, Charlotte Lucas, and Lydia Bennet, and their differing perspectives on love and marriage, Jane Austen illustrates the social and economic inequality of women in nineteenth century England.