Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Pride and Prejudice question 27

I enjoyed all your posts yesterday. You've pinpointed yet another example of Jane Austen's independence of spirit and refusal to give in to what was fashionable at the time. Her refusal to allow sentimentality to cloud her characters' relationships sets her aside from earlier writers such as Richardson, whose works were a mix of lustfulness and morality, and from the Gothic writers of time, with their fainting and terrified heroines beating off evil villains, and from the Brontes with their brooding dark heroes, and even from those of our contemporary romances "teeming with throbbing passion" as Elizabeth B puts it. If Elizabeth and Darcy are soul-mates, it is only because they have changed and learned to adapt to each other, as Laura's Review points out, not because they are consumed by passion. Or, as kt says, Jane Austen isn't concerned with the "drama" of love, she's concerned with the practicality of it.

My question today springs directly from what you have said. Feel free to object strongly to the question.

Pride and Prejudice question 26

What is Jane Austen's concept of marriage? She describes in some detail the economic status of each of the eligible gentlemen, while she says very little about their physical attributes. Is that an indication of her own view or society's? Would Pride and Prejudice work as well if Darcy were poor? Does the practical streak she brings to love go so far as to have a woman reject a suitor if he couldn't support her?

3 comments:

  1. I've just been thinking about this! I think Austen and all of her "heroines" were definitely confined to marrying within their own social sphere. Elizabeth could consider a "poor" Wickham because he was on a career path to better things, similar to Captain Wentworth's argument in asking for Anne's hand at nineteen. And, yet, Anne rejects his proposal because he is deemed by Lady Russell to be unworthy, just a poor nobody! Emma dissuades Harriet from marrying Mr. Martin because he is a farmer -- beneath their social circle. Austen repeats this over and over. The Bennetts would remain spinsters if the scandal of Lydia's elopement had not been smoothed over. Well, why couldn't they marry the baker's son or the grocer's son? Society's rules prevented this and Austen lived by these rules. She understood them and accepted them. She just gave her women the chance to marry for love, something she didn't have.

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  2. Well, think of Elinor and Edward; the narrator says, dryly, that they're not "so much in love" as to think they can live on a few hundred pounds a-year. Elinor doesn't refuse him, though; they just have to wait. Then there's Mrs Gardiner on Wickham - Elizabeth should try to avoid falling in love w/ him because there'd be no money. If she had, though, it'd be a different story.

    As for Darcy, I would say - well, no, because it'd be an unnecessary complication. He would still come of a great family, his relations would all be noble, he just wouldn't personally have money. In that case, he'd have all the same objections as in P&P itself (where he cares only about birth and connections - he's indifferent to the point of oblivion about money), plus he couldn't afford to marry her anyway. I doubt he'd ever propose. Leaving us with, um, no story.

    It might be interesting if Elizabeth had money and he didn't, but otherwise the social situations were the same. Evidently JA thought so too, since - um - Persuasion.

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  3. Sadly, I would have to say that although Elizabeth loved Mr. Darcy, she would have rejected him if he couldn't support her. Or she would have accepted him and had a long engagement until the point came in which he could support her.

    All of Austen's novels deal with money matters in one way or another. For women of that time, it was very important to find a partner that could support you. If you happened to love him, it was a bonus. With the limited career potential of a woman at that time, it just made common sense to deal with your head instead of solely with your heart.

    There are many, many examples of this throughout Austen's work. My favorite is Mansfield Park. Mrs. Price married for love and ended up a poor wife, with many kids, and a not very happy life. Her two sisters married "suitably" to men with some amount of money and lived a type of life totally out of her sphere.

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