An analysis of the six relationships/marriages in the novel entails a discussion of priorities in courtship and marriage. Through her characters and relationships, Austin shows the complexity that brings people together, and how the wrong reasons for union can lead to marital emptiness.
Elizabeth takes an instant dislike for Darcy, who she sees as a proud and superficial man. She dislikes him even more when she finds out that he has ruined Wickham's prospects in the past. But after Darcy proposes and explains himself to her, she realizes that she may have been wrong about him. (Ch.6) Here we see the theme of initial prejudice, which Austin shows can get in the way of courtship.
Elizabeth's second thoughts continue as she sees Darcy behave as such a gracious host at his estate, and she notices how admired he is by those who work for him. Darcy and Elizabeth eventually apologize to one another for the pride and prejudice that carved an initial distance between them. Prejudice was on her part, while pride was on his, since he initially behaved very arrogantly toward her.
The problem here is respectability, which is a powerful theme in Austin's novel. Darcy feels that it is not respectable to himself to marry someone under his social class, so he can only marry rich women. Rich women, however, are so obnoxious that he cannot have them in his life, because he cannot respect their lack of integrity. At the same time, he is always being flattered and he despises the lower-class environment with contempt. This is why he insults Elizabeth initially. Yet he senses in her an integrity and dignity that he cannot find in his own social class.
Overall, Darcy is a person of integrity, although Elizabeth does not see this initially, since she sees only his pride. He ultimately has to sacrifice his pride because he loves her. In this way, she cancels out his pride, while he cancels out her prejudice. Love, therefore, plays against societal positions in this case. Love transcends social status. In this particular relationship, societal position is downgraded. Austin uses this relationship to show that if people only followed societal positions, there would be no integrity or real love. There would be only pride and prejudice. Elizabeth's positive feelings about Jane and Charles' union says much about her own union. (Ch.55) In the end, she admits her great love for Darcy. (Ch. 59)
Jane and Charles were truly attracted to one another from the very beginning. Their love is totally dominated by propriety and real mutual attraction. Charles breaks the prospects, however, because he feels he can marry better in a societal sense. Once again, societal status comes into the story. This is exactly the reason why Elizabeth is so angry in the beginning of the novel. Jane, meanwhile, does not behave correctly either, since she does not show her great love. She should be more open in allowing Charles to see her feelings, perhaps in the way many women show Darcy.
Jane is reserved by nature and this is her downfall, and thus Darcy does not see her love. This is why he appears to interfere in her courtship with Charles, since her behaviour is so foreign to him, seeing that women are always fawning themselves over him. Jane's natural dignity is misunderstood by Charles, who does not think that she is interested.
In many respects, the relationship between Jane and Charles is initially weak, since other people are able to have influence over it. Because of their characters and complexes, they cannot show their love for one another right away. In the end, Jane must become more open and Charles must subordinate his views on social class.
This relationship has few redeeming qualities. Unlike the above relationships, this marriage does not involve a struggle, basically because both individuals’ characters are so weak and shallow. Lydia and George become the runaway couple who have no reason to think through what they are doing since neither of them really care. Wikham despises the society altogether; he has desire to live like the higher classes but does not have the means. He behaves above his station, which makes him extremely unattractive.
The elopement is an example of the vulgarity out of which Elizabeth and Jane have come but are able to surpass. Lydia, however, cannot surpass the superficiality. These two are together for every reason except love. They end up just barely tolerating each other. Sexual attraction brought them together but ultimately will not be able to sustain them. The attraction will, obviously, gradually disappear, leaving them with nothing in common. In this relationship, we see the example of how passion and irresponsibility can lead to an empty marriage.
Mr. Bennet does not say very much; that is because he and his wife have gone their separate ways. One can sense some tragedy in this relationship, although it is subtle and hidden. He has a dry calmness, which appears to be the result of him having withdrawn from the marriage altogether. At one time, one could guess that these two were probably attracted to each other in the physical and sexual way that Lydia and Wikham were. They did not think through their long-term objectives and goals. Mrs. Bennet, meanwhile, shows her unhappiness by running around trying to fill all of her voids with an absurd busy-bodiness. Having five girls and no boy, apparently, has added to the tension, so connected as it is to societal status and inheritance.
Charlotte marries only for the sake of an establishment, the small Bennet estate. In other words, she is everything that the novel appears to subtly stigmatize. Collins is a very unlikeable churchman, but that does not seem to matter to Charlotte. She is not looking for love; she just wants a comfortable life with material rewards. It is inconsequential to her that her husband is an idiot; she is not mature or developed enough to seek a real intimate relationship, so she goes for the superficial. To her, a relationship is all about material goods and financial security. It is everything it is not for Elizabeth and Jane.
The Gardiner's appear to have married for the legitimate reasons of love and mutual respect. Through them comes the message that marriage must not be passionate and founded only on feelings. Through their eyes, we see that marriage must be entered in with caution, and a calculation of real valid principles and concerns.
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