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Published by: romy_1825120 on Jun 19, 2009
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The Irony of MarriageBrandi Fox“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife (Chapter one).” The opening of 
 Pride and Prejudice
sets the major theme and toneof the novel. It introduces the arrival of Mr. Bingley and entourage, the event which stirs the locals intoa frenzy, and this statement also foreshadows one theme of the entire plot. The pursuit of “single menin possession of a good fortune” by most of the eligible female characters in the novel is a main themeof 
 Pride and Prejudice
. The engrossment with favorable marriage in nineteenth-century English societyis apparent by claiming that a single man “must be in want of a wife.” The irony in the statement isrevealed by the subtle insinuation that in actuality a single rich man will be chased by women whowant to be his wife. The theme of marriage in
 Pride and Prejudice
is contrary to the sociallyacceptable idea of marriage, and demonstrates the ability for couples in a love match to overcome their misunderstandings of each other to reach marital contentment.Irony is applied in
 Pride and Prejudice
in the critique of society and human nature. Austenanalyzes social relationships through the perspective of a country neighborhood and analyzes themwith an ironic and droll eye, such as the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Their dispositions are firstshown through their different manners of conversation; Mrs. Bennet prattles on while Mr. Bennetreplies only when absolutely necessary with mildly sarcastic statements, the tone of which Mrs.Bennet doesn't pick up on. The first view of marriage that is presented is one of a mismatched couplethat is unable to communicate, and it is ironic that the two happiest marriages that develop in the novelare comprised of their two oldest daughters.Jane Austen's family lived in Steventon, a small town in south-central England, where her father was a minister. Jane and her sister, Cassandra, enjoyed the slightly limited but interesting roundof country parties described in Austen's novels. Thus, the excitement felt about Bingley’s arrival is
 
shared by the small community, as it would have conceivably done in Austen's community, giving aglimpse of the nature of country society in nineteenth-century England. Gossip escalates with eachglimpse of the newcomer, and when Bingley leaves to bring more new acquaintances intoHertfordshire, rumors about the number of people in his entourage are constantly changing until he andhis party make their debut at the ball. This is the first encounter between Darcy and Elizabeth, and itseems as if marriage is the most unlikely outcome for the mismatched pair.Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth’s close friend, says, “His pride does not offend
me
so much as prideoften does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, withfamily, fortune, every thing in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a
right 
to be proud,” in reference to Darcy's behavior at the ball (Chapter five). Charlotte’s evaluation of Darcy’s pride is a representation of a perspective on wealth and privilege that was considered natural inaustere nineteenth-century England. Charlotte is a depiction of societal norms in
 Pride and Prejudice
and she repeatedly expresses the views of society in regards to money and marriage.Elizabeth’s view of marriage and reaction to Charlotte’s ideas on marriage are contrary to her  personal advantage, considering Elizabeth’s status and prospects. Perhaps Elizabeth’s objections toCharlotte’s perception of marriage are actually objections to her own parents’ relationship, since her  parents don't necessarily seem to even like each other. However, Elizabeth's idealistic view of marriageis dangerous, because Elizabeth will have a severely limited income when her father dies and the estate passes to Mr. Collins. Young women of similar status in nineteenth-century England might wish tomarry for love, but most would realize the necessity of marrying for security, as Charlotte does.Concerning marriage, Elizabeth represents an ideal view of the nineteenth-century world, whileCharlotte represents the more pragmatic reality by marrying Mr. Collins. Elizabeth disapproved of their marriage of convenience, but when she visited her friend at Hunsford it showed her that althoughCharlotte lacks love and respect for her husband (something modern readers would think necessary),
 
she is happy with her security and situation. While a marriage of convenience may not be Elizabeth'sideal, it can be made to work, at least in Charlotte's case.Lydia’s marriage to Wickham is another critique of nineteenth-century societal rules. Unlikewhat Elizabeth and Jane are searching for in a marriage, Lydia and Wickham do not run off together outof mutual respect and love; they elope out of obsession, infatuation, and lust. Wickham seems to beattempting to escape some gambling debts and took advantage of Lydia’s infatuation to potentially getsome money and entertainment. Lydia may believe herself to be in love with Wickham, but that is only because she is young and intoxicated with the idea of being grown up. When Elizabeth envisions their future marriage, she wonders “how little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who wereonly brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue (Chapter 47)?” Austen’s perspective on Lydia’s type of marriage seems to be that a marriage based upon lust and monetarygratification will eventually lose its appeal, and society would definitely agree.It is important to realize how severely nineteenth-century British society belittled a woman who“lost” her virginity before marriage. Even the appearance of a loss of virginity, such as in Lydia's case,was enough to damage a woman’s good name, which ruins her future and shames her family. SinceLydia and Wickham lived together for two weeks before they were found, the assumption is that theyhave had sex and Lydia's virtue is lost, unless Wickham marries her, which after her previousindiscretion with him he would be socially disinclined to do so. Such a viewpoint explains why thenews is such a devastating secret for the family and why Mr. Collins writes his letter to advocate thatLydia be disowned. Although his view is unforgiving, it was not unthinkable for families to take suchaction in order to save the reputations of the family. Consequently, even though the family disapprovesof Lydia and Wickham’s behavior, they are relieved when the two wayward “lovers” are found andWickham agrees to marry Lydia. When he consents the whole family’s reputation is saved as well asLydia's good name.

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