I finally finished the book this evening. Although I enjoyed the story, I think I’m too feminist to read it. Mrs. Bennet’s character annoyed me immensely. And Lydia’s once she was married. And Collins’. I was rather disappointed the story did not actually focus on Elizabeth and Darcy – it was a whole soap opera of pride, prejudices (thus the title!), drama, and long drawn out scenes with hard to read, detailed, long sentences that really slowed the pace of the story down for me. I’m all for romance novels, but I just never connected with the story. It’s a shame, I was excited to read it. I am still excited to read the next book Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery.
Social status governed the lives of everyone in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The acquaintances a person holds reflects back upon him/herself and they affects the social status of the individual, their family, and the acquaintances the person already has made. In Austen’s novel, there are two characters, Charlotte Lucas and Lydia Bennet, who marry less than ideal matches. Each girl married for different reasons and the consequences of their marriages affects their social circles differently. Why did Charlotte accept Mr. Collins’s proposal? Why did Lydia run off with George Wickham? And the final question: which match would Austen herself disapprove of more than the other? Based on Austen’s own life experiences, she would have disapproved of Lydia’s marriage more than Charlotte’s marriage.
Charlotte Lucas was close friend of Elizabeth Bennet. Elizabeth was rather shocked and surprised when three days after Mr. Collins had proposed marriage to her, he proposed to Charlotte Lucas, who readily accepted. As Charlotte expresses herself, “I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only for a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is a fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state,” (p.125). This statement implies that Charlotte is not currently in love with Mr. Collins, but she is not marrying for love as most people at the time did not marry for love. She simply wants a good, happy life and she believes based upon Mr. Collins character and social standing that he will be able to provide that for her. After she is told of the entailment of Longbourn, her status with the Bennets becomes suspect until Elizabeth visits Charlotte after her marriage. The social circle around her and her family is content with the match, but Elizabeth knows Charlotte could have found a better match.
Lydia Bennet is the youngest of the Bennet women. She acts upon her emotions rather than suppressing them and following the socially accepted order of events. She is rather selfish in indulging her desires to walk to Meryton nearly every day to see the regiment in town. Lydia’s reputation was ruined by her elopement with a man in financial and honor debts. In order to preserve the family’s reputation and ensure good matches for the remaining unwed daughters, the Bennets were forced to make a choice: Lydia was casted out of the family. Lydia married George Wickham because she was in love with him, but he was not in love with her. Lydia was used by Wickham to settle his debts in Meryton, Brighton, and London. Once again Mr. Darcy bailed out his selfish childhood friend, but this time it was in hope of winning Elizabeth’s heart. Although Lydia was aware of Wickham’s gambling debts, she ignored them. Quickly, Lydia’s behavior reflected Wickham’s, becoming a leech on everyone she knew.
Austen surely did not approve of either of the two marriages, but most likely she disapproved of Lydia’s marriage more than Charlotte’s. Although Austen died young at the age of 41, she was briefly engaged to a man named Harris Bigg-Wither (Fullerton). He is described to be similar to Mr. Collins in physical appearance. The morning after his proposal, however, Austen withdrew her acceptance. Similar to Charlotte, Austen accepted Bigg-Wither’s proposal based upon what benefits it could offer her and her family. Charlotte carried through on the engagement and married Mr. Collins, of which Austen would have disapproved. Lydia, on the other hand, married Wickham because she was in love with him. This would have pleased Austen, but the shame brought about by running off with Wickham created more of a discord within Austen. Family, along with her writing, was most important to Austen. She too was from a large family and accepted social norms. The devastation of a sister eloping with a gentleman of such unworthiness would have devastated Austen. Thus, Austen would have disapproved of Lydia’s marriage more than Charlotte’s marriage.
In Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, family and social acceptance governed the lives of everyone. Charlotte Lucas, a longtime friend of Elizabeth Bennet, entered into a marriage of status and to secure a good future for herself. Austen almost did the same, but withdrew her acceptance the morning after she gave it. Austen would have been pleased on Charlotte’s reasons for marrying Mr. Collins, but would have disapproved of not marrying for both love and a secure future. Lydia Bennet did marry George Wickham for love, but he did not care for her with the same intensity. Their marriage was a business deal. Austen would have disapproved of Wickham’s reasons for marrying Lydia as well as Lydia’s indulgence in selfishness. Austen was a passionate person, evident in her novels, she loved her family and her writing, and she would only marry someone with those same passions who reciprocate her love with the same intensity.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York. Barnes & Noble. 2004.
Fullerton, Susannah. “About Jane Austen – her life &her novels”. Jane Austen Society of
Australia. Web. 14 April, 2010. http://www.jasa.net.au.