Happy Birthday to Pride and Prejudice!

by Bethany Grayland-Leech

On this day, 206 years ago, Pride and Prejudice was first published. Despite there being many themes in the novel such as class and reputation, the most prominent and recurring theme, is marrying for love.

In the Georgian era, there were very few educational and employment opportunities for women. You were a governess, a wife, or a spinster. Even Austen herself stated in a letter to Fanny Knight that, “Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor- which is one very strong argument in favour of Matrimony.” Austen also provides a social commentary in her works, one example being Pride and Prejudice, where Elizabeth Bennet’s friend, Charlotte, says, “…marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.” (Austen, 1813)

The above implies that women were very lucky if they married for love, and it was more important that women marry for security. However, despite this, Jane Austen held the belief that marrying for love was important and this is reflected throughout Pride and Prejudice using Elizabeth Bennet. She is proposed to by Mr Collins, who is described as arrogant and vain due to “early and unexpected prosperity.” By marrying Mr Collins, the Bennet family would have been able to keep the property within the family as he is the closest male heir who is entitled to the family home. Despite this, she refuses his proposal multiple times.

Jane Austen never did marry and chose to become a spinster instead of marrying for money or security. She did, however, have some opportunities for marriage so here is a little bit of information on our beloved Austen’s love life and two of her suitors:

Mr Wither

Mr Wither was a wealthy man, 6 years her junior. Although she initially accepted his proposal (presumably due to social expectations and the desire to bring fortune to her family) she called it off after realising that she would not be marrying for love. She deemed him ill mannered and quick tempered. He was described by Jane’s niece as “very plain in person- awkward, and even uncouth in manner- nothing but his size to recommend him.” (Le Faye and Austen-Leigh, 2004)

Tom Lefroy

Jane and Tom met at a ball. After three balls, they were dancing together enough to imply that there was a romance between them. In a letter to Cassandra, Austen’s older sister, Jane states that she “…expect(s) to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening…” However, Jane learns that Tom was to depart to London to study law. He never proposed to Jane and ended up marrying a wealthy woman. In a letter from Lefroy’s nephew to Austen’s great-nephew, it is said that Tom Lefroy “…said in so many words that he was in love with her…” (Le Faye and Austen-Leigh, 2004).

 

Bibliography

Bailey, M. (2015). The Marriage Law of Jane Austen’s World » JASNA. [online] Jasna.org. Available at: http://www.jasna.org/publications/persuasions-online/vol36no1/bailey/ [Accessed 26 Jan. 2019].

Le Faye, D. and Austen-Leigh, W. (2004). Jane Austen, a family record. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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