Study Guide

Pride and Prejudice Marriage

Marriage

Chapter 1

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (1.1-2)

Historical Context Snack: men may have had it a little easier than women when it came the whole marrying thing, since they wouldn't be ruined without it. But they weren't supposed to stay swingin' singles forever, either. There was a lot of social pressure on men with money and/ or estates to marry and have children—it was their duty. Austen is bringing the snark here, but it works for a reason: it kind of was a universal truth that rich, single men needed to marry.

Chapter 6
Charlotte Lucas

"Though Bingley and Jane meet tolerably often, it is never for many hours together; and, as they always see each other in large mixed parties, it is impossible that every moment should be employed in conversing together. Jane should therefore make the most of every half-hour in which she can command his attention. When she is secure of him, there will be more leisure for falling in love as much as she chooses." (6.5-6)

For Charlotte, there's no "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Mr. Bingley pushing the baby carriage." Instead, it's "First comes marriage, then comes the baby carriage"—and love is just a bonus.

Chapter 19
Mr. Collins

"My situation in life, my connections with the family of de Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in my favour; and you should take it into further consideration, that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females." (19.17)

It is literally impossible for us to understand why Mr. Collins' helpful pro-con list didn't convince Lizzy to marry him immediately.

"My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish; secondly, that I am convinced that it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly—which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness.  […] But the fact is, that being, as I am, to inherit this estate after the death of your honoured father (who, however, may live many years longer), I could not satisfy myself without resolving to choose a wife from among his daughters, that the loss to them might be as little as possible, when the melancholy event takes place—which, however, as I have already said, may not be for several years. This has been my motive, my fair cousin, and I flatter myself it will not sink me in your esteem. And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection. […]" (19.9)

Mr. Collins' marriage proposal just keeps going on and on and on. It's all practicality. And it's the worst marriage proposal we have ever heard.

Chapter 20
Mr. Collins

"Pardon me for interrupting you, madam," cried Mr. Collins; "but if she is really headstrong and foolish, I know not whether she would altogether be a very desirable wife to a man in my situation, who naturally looks for happiness in the marriage state. If therefore she actually persists in rejecting my suit, perhaps it were better not to force her into accepting me, because if liable to such defects of temper, she could not contribute much to my felicity." (20.4)

Notice how it's all about Mr. Collins' felicity, and not about his prospective wife's? Yeah. Good luck with that, Charlotte.

Chapter 22

Charlotte herself was tolerably composed. She had gained her point, and had time to consider of it. Her reflections were in general satisfactory. Mr. Collins, to be sure, was neither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome, and his attachment to her must be imaginary. But still he would be her husband. Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative she had now obtained; and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it. (22.3)

Charlotte and the narrator lay it out for us here: marriage is Charlotte's only option. Even being married to Mr. Collins is better than having to live with her parents or as an unwanted and permanent houseguest with her brothers (think about Miss Bingley, who's still unmarried and living with her brother). We can't say we blame her.

This was very amiable, but Charlotte's kindness extended farther than Elizabeth had any conception of; its object was nothing else than to secure her from any return of Mr. Collins' addresses, by engaging them towards herself. (22.1)

Apparently the rule about not marrying your best friend's ex didn't apply in the nineteenth century. To be fair, Elizabeth assumes that no one could possibly want to marry Mr. Collins. You might even say she's too prejudiced to see it.

Charlotte Lucas

"I see what you are feeling," replied Charlotte. "You must be surprised, very much surprised—so lately as Mr. Collins was wishing to marry you. But when you have had time to think it over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins' character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state." (22.17)

As Socrates once said, the secret to happiness is having low expectations. (Or something like that.) Charlotte doesn't expect fireworks and earthquakes from her marriage; all she wants is a house to keep and, presumably, kids to raise. (Ugh, a houseful of tiny Collinses.)

Chapter 34

He concluded with representing to her the strength of that attachment which, in spite of all his endeavours, he had found impossible to conquer; and with expressing his hope that it would now be rewarded by her acceptance of his hand. As he said this, she could easily see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security. (34.6)

What does Darcy's boneheaded proposal have to do with marriage? It shows us exactly why he's not ready to tie the knot. He hasn't learned to respect Elizabeth yet, much less think about her feelings. A happy marriage takes a lot more work from both partners.

Chapter 42

Had Elizabeth's opinion been all drawn from her own family, she could not have formed a very pleasing opinion of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort.  Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her.  Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown. […] To his wife he was very little otherwise indebted, than as her ignorance and folly had contributed to his amusement.  This is not the sort of happiness which a man would in general wish to owe to his wife; but where other powers of entertainment are wanting, the true philosopher will derive benefit from such as are given. Elizabeth, however, had never been blind to the impropriety of her father's behaviour as a husband.  She had always seen it with pain; but respecting his abilities, and grateful for his affectionate treatment of herself, she endeavoured to forget what she could not overlook, and to banish from her thoughts that continual breach of conjugal obligation and decorum which, in exposing his wife to the contempt of her own children, was so highly reprehensible.  But she had never felt so strongly as now the disadvantages which must attend the children of so unsuitable marriage, nor ever been so fully aware of the evils arising from so ill-judged a direction of talents; talents, which, rightly used, might at least have preserved the respectability of his daughters, even if incapable of enlarging the mind of his wife. (42.1-3)

There's a lot going on here. First of all, it seems that Lydia and Wickham's marriage might turn out to be similar to Mrs. Bennet's—Lydia has very little going on for her other than her youth. Second, the Bennets have a terrible marriage, and Elizabeth sees a giant "What Not to Do" sign flashing next to her parents. Lastly, a bad marriage will hurt the kids.

Mr. Collins

"My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish; secondly, that I am convinced that it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly—which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness. […] But the fact is, that being, as I am, to inherit this estate after the death of your honoured father (who, however, may live many years longer), I could not satisfy myself without resolving to choose a wife from among his daughters, that the loss to them might be as little as possible, when the melancholy event takes place—which, however, as I have already said, may not be for several years. This has been my motive, my fair cousin, and I flatter myself it will not sink me in your esteem. And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection. […]" (19.9)

Who needs love sonnets when you can have a numbered list? Here, Mr. Collins enumerates the reasons he wants to marry—and when those are checked off, then it's time to use "the most animated language," i.e. actually tell Lizzy he loves her. Which he obviously doesn't. Ugh, has anyone seen our barf bag?

Had Elizabeth's opinion been all drawn from her own family, she could not have formed a very pleasing opinion of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort. Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown. (42.1)

If Lizzy lived in the 21st century, she'd be from a broken home. Instead, she's from an unhappy home, because her father married for all the wrong reasons: lust, i.e. youth and beauty. And notice what's wrong with the marriage—there's no respect, esteem, or confidence. Marriage isn't about undying love or great sex: it's about respecting and trusting your partner.

But she had never felt so strongly as now the disadvantages which must attend the children of so unsuitable marriage, nor ever been so fully aware of the evils arising from so ill-judged a direction of talents; talents, which, rightly used, might at least have preserved the respectability of his daughters, even if incapable of enlarging the mind of his wife. (42.3)

Bad marriages aren't just bad news for the spouses—they can destroy the kids' lives, too. And in the case of Darcy, the stakes are even higher. He doesn't just rule over a family of five daughters; he's the landlord of a huge estate. If he makes a bad marriage, he could ruin the lives of all his tenants. See? We told you this was serious stuff.

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