In her Pride and Prejudice, Austen is almost pre-occupied with the theme of marriage. Marriage is a crucial issue of a woman’s life. But it was more crucial for the women of her society, when women mere largely dependent on their male counterparts. So, women sought financial as well as social support through marriage. But Austen did not approve of it. In her novel Pride and Prejudice gives preference to a marriage which is based on love. In her novel, Austen presents several contrasting attitudes to marriage.The five Bennet sisters - Elizabeth, or Lizzie, Jane, Lydia, Mary and Kitty - have been raised well aware of their mother's fixation on finding them husbands and securing set futures.
There are mainly four attitudes to marriage are presented in the novel: the marriage for money, marriage for the satisfaction of bodily desires, marriage based on the physical look and marriage for love.
Marriage of Mr. Collins and Charlotte:
At first, “marriage for money”- this attitude is presented through Mr. Collins and Charlotte. Both men and women of Austen’s society had internalized the idea that women were financially and socially dependent on men. Women of that time sought men above her station only for financial security. Men also understood it.
In this regard Mr. Collins is a true production of this society. He wants to “make amends” to the Bennets girl for the entail on the property by marrying one of them. It is very ridiculous that in such a matter of marriage, he is considering only the “property” not his own prudence whether the Bennet girl is fit for him or the marriage will be a proper one.
When we look at another character of this novel namely Charlotte Lucas, we see that she is also going on the same path of the society. The union between Charlotte and Mr. Collins is a good example of this marriage that brought about entirely for economic reasons. Charlotte is pessimistic about finding happiness in marriage anyway and believes she may as well marry to guidance her financial security. To her, a woman without fortune, this is an attractive basis for marriage. She, opinion on marriage and money is cleared when she advises Elizabeth not to appear unpleasant to a rich man like Darcy, a man of ten times, for a relatively poor one like Wickham. However, she contrasts greatly with Elizabeth on this issue. Whereas Elizabeth thinks that marriage depends on mutual understanding, to Charlotte “happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.” So, when Collins offers her, she without a second thought takes it thinking that he can give her “a comfortable home,” although she does not love this ridiculous clergyman.
Marriage between Darcy and Elizabeth
Finally when we observe the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth we see Austen’s own views on money and marriage. When Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth, he presumes that she is not in a position to reject him, for his standing in society has made him quite an eligible husband. Alternatively, Elizabeth clearly has a very different thought to him: “You could not make me happy.” Actually it is Elizabeth through which Austen’s on views on marriage are clearly expressed. As Elizabeth believes that the basis for marriage should be happiness and love, not money. She is uncertain of the lasting qualities of passionate love and convinced that it is not a strong enough basis for marriage. It is based on mutual esteem, respect and gratitude, and it arises from a clear sighted understanding of the other’s character. So, she does not care about Collins’s wealth and thinks that their marriage would be a bad one because they are not attracted to each other. From Darcy and Elizabeth’s character we understand that this two people are very different, and their relationships are “rationally founded”, based on “excellent understanding” and “general similarity of feeling and taste.”
Lydia and Wickham's Marriage
Lydia’s attitude to marriage is solely based on passion and physical attraction. She elopes with Wickham. It is the basest among the attitudes of the other characters. She is totally controlled by her bodily desire and passion. She neither sought social security, nor a blissful inter-assured married life. So, her attitude can be compared to the attitude of a delinquent. When we consider Wickham’s character, we find another view on money and marriage in Austen’s time. He is such a man who can easily transfer his affections from Elizabeth to Miss King, an heiress of 10,000.
Even Wickham is not going to marry Lydia until economic settlement is happened. Later we know from Mrs. Gardiner’s letter that Darcy has to pay Wickham’s debts which are more than 1000 pounds and another 1000 pounds to settle the marriage. So, we see that money matters a great deal in the marriage between them and it is without any real passions.
As in the novel, Lydia and Wickham's marriage gradually disintegrates. Lydia becomes a regular visitor at her two elder sisters’ home and “her husband was gone to enjoy himself in London or Bath."
Marriage of Jane Bennet and Bingley:
When the news comes that Mr. Bingley, a young gentleman with an annual income of 5,000 Pounds will be their new neighbor; Mrs. Bennet immediately plans to pair him with her favorite oldest, prettiest daughter-Jane. Eldest daughter Jane, serene and beautiful, seems poised to win Mr. Bingley's heart. However, unlike Darcy and Elizabeth, there is a plan in their relationships. Jane and Bingley have made their wise choice, and though their courtship has suffered temporary, they are very happily married. Of course, economic security also is there.
Marriage of Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet:
Although little is told of how Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet got together, it can be inferred of their conversations that their relationship was similar to that of Lydia and Wickham. Mr. Bennt had married a woman he found sexually attractive without realizing she was an unintelligent woman. Mrs. Bennet's favouritism towards Lydia and her comments on how she was once as energetic as Lydia reveals this similarity. Mr Bennet's comment on Wickham being his favourite son-in-law reinforces this parallelism.
The effect of the relationships was that Mr. Bennet would isolate himself from his family, he found refugee in his library or in mocking his wife. Mr Bennet's self-realization at the end of the novel in which he discovers that his lack of attention towards his family had lead his family to develop the way they are, was too late to save his family. Austen says about Mrs. Bennet: "she was a woman of mean understanding, little information and uncertain temperament, the business of her life was to get her daughters (P-7) marry.
Through these different attitudes to marriages, Austen tries to give us an important moral lesson. The lesson is that marriage based on other things except love cannot give us a good result. Out of the five marriages of the novel, only the marriage between Elizabeth and Darcy and Jane and Bingley bring true happiness. On the other hand, the other marriages only bring sufferings and humiliations for both husband and wife.