Given my last article about Disney Princesses and living “happily ever after,” I wanted to come back to reality, but still use literary and cinematic examples.
Next to fairytales, Jane Austen books like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion, appear to the masses as romantic novels where the female protagonist gets happily married in the end to someone she loves.
However, many of us do not consider the real-world trepidations that are found within the subplots of Austen’s novels. Since Pride and Prejudice is a widely known book and movie, I will go over some of the more “frightening” implications of marriage on which Austen touches.
First, is the relationship between Lydia and Wickham. At that time, not only were there social consequences of running off with a soldier, but there were also huge lifetime consequences. Rushing to get the two of them married certainly did not solve all their problems, which is a scary reminder that marriage is not always the solution for promiscuous girls and deceitful men. Although Lydia was young and easily swayed, her marriage to Wickham – give his untrustworthy character in the book – was probably not the happiest or most faithful.
The relationship of Elizabeth and Darcy was a rare one. Yes, it was very happy, as the book’s ending implies, but the reader should also remember that young girls’ fates at that time depended on money over love; security over happiness; reputation over joy. Elizabeth got both of each, but Lydia was not so lucky. Additionally, Elizabeth and Darcy married on terms of equality, which Austen makes clear is the better marriage:
He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.
The other relationship to consider is between Mr. Collins and Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte Lucas. Elizabeth paints a less-than flattering picture of him:
My dear Jane, Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man…
Austen explicitly shows the other side of marriages at the time – when a woman chose marriage to a unpleasant man over being a poor, low social-standing maid. Charlotte Lucas knew she was running out of options and settled.
The point of this article is not to take the enjoyment out of Pride and Prejudice, but rather to enhance Jane Austen’s points in the novel. Keep in mind the relationships of all the characters in order to appreciate and seek out the equal, loving, and lifelong happy marriage like Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy.
To convince you that I absolutely love Pride and Prejudice and do not want to take your enjoyment from it, I will leave you with a sappy quote from the book:
Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he told her of feelings, which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable. They walked on, without knowing in what direction. There was too much to be thought, and felt, and said, for attention to any other objects.
Also, I encourage you to check out the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice if you are a fan of the novel. It follows the book very closely and is more accurate in setting than the newer version with Keira Knightly.