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Themes

From our 21st century perspective, the concerns of Pride and Prejudice might seem trivial. Who cares if the Bennet girls ever get married? Can't they just go on living their fabulous single lives as unaccountably wealthy journalists or gallery owners?

Well, no. In the early nineteenth century (and in most parts of most centuries in most parts of the world), marriage was the only option for respectable young women. There was no such thing as moving out of your parents' house, no such thing as building a career in your twenties and worrying about marriage later, and (importantly) no such thing as divorce, except in really extreme, unusual circumstances. (How extreme? Divorce required an act of Parliament—like having the Senate vote on whether or not you could break up.) Marriage was literally the most important decision a woman could make. It could ruin you (Lydia, Mrs. Bennet); set you up for life (Jane, Lizzy); or condemn you to a mediocre but independent existence (Charlotte). It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, except you might accidentally end up with Mr. Collins instead of falling into a pit full of venomous vipers.

Questions About Marriage

  1. Mrs. Bennet's and Lydia's marriages seem to have some elements in common. What are they? Would there be any way for Lydia to make a good marriage, or is she just constitutionally incapable of having a happy marriage? (In other words, is marriage more about the individuals than about the couple?)
  2. What good marriages do we see in the novel? What seems to make them good?
  3. Did Charlotte make the right decision in marrying Mr. Collins? Why did she make it? What was she giving up? What was she getting in return? Would you have made the same decision?
  4. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Why does the first sentence begin this way?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Pride and Prejudice argues against the idea of love at first sight and suggests that the better kind of love develops slowly.

Although both Jane and Elizabeth have happy marriages, the narrator approves more of Elizabeth's.

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