Pride themselves have received minimal education” (Adkins

Pride
and Prejudice, written by Jane Austen in 1813, is a novel
about a young woman named Elizabeth Bennet and the struggles she faces due to
the pressure from society to find a suitable husband. Throughout the novel, we
see how marriage at this time was not based on love, but mostly based on
increase of wealth and status. We also see how women had limited opportunities
because of their lack of education and how marriage was seen as their only
option. In the time this book takes place, marriage was the center of the life
of a young women. Pride and Prejudice gives
us a good description of the custom of marriage in the 19th century.

Women
in 19th century England had very little freedom or independence. A key
contributor was their lack of access to education. In modern times, education
has been considered important in English society. Even in the 19th
century, it was known that education gave people more opportunities. In Roy and
Leslie Adkins’ book Jane Austen’s
England, they write, “education, particularly the ability to read and write
was a prized asset” (Adkins 60). Schools at this time were very different than
school is now. “Either at school or at home, children were taught to write on
slates with soft slay pencils” (Adkins 60). Boys and girls had very different
access to education. Boys had more access than girls. “Once they were breeched,
boys of the middle class and above, started their education” (Adkins 59).
However for girls it was not nearly as easy to be educated. “Education for
girls was a luxury” (Adkins 65). Girls were expected to learn more practical
skills such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children (Adkins 65). Most
were also taught to read and write. “While boys might be sent to school, girls
were generally taught at home -if at all- by governess or their mothers, who
might themselves have received minimal education” (Adkins 64). Boys had the
opportunity to receive a much better education from teachers. Girls also
typically finished their education when they were quite young. “By the time
Jane Austen was eleven years old, her formal education was over” (Adkins 66) Education
gave people opportunities and since women did not have good access to
education, it limited their opportunities in life. With little knowledge beyond
basic reading, arithmetic, and practical skills women were forced to depend on
their fathers and then husbands. In Pride
and Prejudice, reference to the education of women focuses on what it mean
to be an accomplished woman. Several times throughout the novel characters give
their opinions on what it means for a woman to be educated. Darcy states, “he
cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance,
that are really accomplished.” (Austen 39) Different character focus on
different qualities being important for accomplishment. They give examples of,
singing, playing the piano and dancing, but marriage is used as the example of
the greatest accomplishment a woman can achieve.

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            During the 19th century, the role of women in
society was very different than it is today. In most circumstances, women were
considered incapable and were forced to rely on their husbands for survival. Julia
Prewitt Brown wrote, “a women’s choice of husband is given a level of rational attention
that, however was repugnant to the romantic, was necessary if she was
interested in her survival,” (63) in her 1985 novel, A Reader’s Guide to the Nineteenth Century English Novel. Middle
class wives were considered useless except for taking care of the children and
watching over the house. “Industrialization changed the position of
middle-class wives, rendering them economically useless” (Brown 20). One of the
reasons that women were seen this way was because, “professional options for
middle-class women were very slow to increase,” (Brown 15). Women were, “denied
access to work and professions, so they placed their hopes for personal
fulfillment not in love but in the social, moral, and intellectual challenges
they can get from marriage,” (Brown 20). “As women had fewer responsibilities,
they became a greater burden to their working husbands,” (Brown 71). Women and
men were never seen as equal. Men were seen as a lot more valuable to society.
In Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth
Bennet says, “He is a gentleman. I am a gentleman’s daughter,” (Austen 337) Elizabeth
pointed out that she was a good match for Mr. Darcy because she was a gentleman’s
daughter raised to be a gentleman’s wife. This was where her perceived value
came from. Women were often seen as possessions, treated unfairly and seen as
worthless.

            A major issue that affected women’s lives was the fact
that women could not inherit property from their relatives. When their
relatives passed away only men could inherit. Women were not able to own
property under any circumstances. “English matrimonial law stipulates that
through marriage the husband became the owner of all property including the
real estate of his wife” (Brown 23). In Pride
and Prejudice, the inheritance of the Longbourn property completely
excluded the five Bennet daughters (Austen 60). In the novel, Mr. Bennet has to
figure out who to give his property to once he dies because all of his closest
relatives are women. He has to identify a distant male heir. He decides to
leave his property to his cousin Mr. Collins even though he has never met this
man. He tells his family, “Mr. Collins, who, when I am dead, may turn you all
out of this house as soon as he pleases” (Austen 60). This upsets his daughters
and wife. Mr. Collins comes to visit to discuss Mr. Bennet’s will. Mr. Collins
feels bad “and nothing can clear Mr. Collins from the guilt of inheriting
Longbourn” (Austen 61). Even he knew that the Bennet daughters should be the
ones inheriting. To help ease his guilt, Mr. Collins decided to propose to
Elizabeth. Mrs. Bennet thinks this is the
solution to all of their problems and pressures Elizabeth to accept.
However, Elizabeth was not a conformist to the customs of the times. She
did not want to marry only for stability, she also wanted to marry for love. “Accept
my thanks for the compliment you are paying me, I am very sensible of the honor
of your proposals, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than decline
them.” (Austen 104) Elizabeth’s actions were out of character for a young woman
of her time, to go against her mother’s wishes and to turn down a proposal from
a man of higher status. Even though the laws would not allow women to inherit
and forced them to rely on their fathers or husbands to own their property, some
individuals did see these rules as unfair.

            Women had no place in society without a husband or
father. There was a lot of pressure on them to be married. Marriage was a way
to increase a woman’s wealth and status. “Women in Austen’s novels select a
husband the way that women today select a college,” (Brown 63). One of the most
attractive things to women at this time was land because it was a sign of wealth.
Daniel Pool writes, “Land was socially prestigious and it also produced rent
from tenant farmers that was probably the major source of income for most of
the landed gentry and nobility of much of the 1800s,” in his book What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens
Knew. Another thing that was important to know about a possible husband was
his yearly income. “Jane Austen tells us that the income of her hero, Darcy is
£10,000 a year,” (Brown 8). Mr. Darcy is quite wealthy. “Darcy’s income
suggests only a part of the power that a man in his position wielded. He not
only has access to high political office if he wanted it; he controlled the
lives and incomes of hundreds of people in estates” (Brown 9). He had a huge
amount of power. However, Mr. Darcy is not referred to as a Duke or Marquise,
which is a sign of high status (Pool 50). The reputation was also very
important to a woman and her family when choosing a husband. Many people considered
Mr. Darcy to be an ill-tempered man (Austen 77). This might hurt his chances of
getting a wife. Another good quality is if the man is an older son. “Younger
sons cannot marry where they like (Austen 179). The older sons inherit their father’s
money, so they were more suitable husbands. Marriage, during the time of Pride and Prejudice, was seen as a way
to increase a woman’s wealth and status and was not typically about love.

            At the time of Pride
and Prejudice, families were very involved in the marriages of their
children. “Until 1823, a man or woman under the age of 21 could not marry
without parental permission” (Pool 184). Because there was so much pressure for
women to get married at a young age, this law was prevalent in most marriages.
There was even more pressure on the mothers of young women. They were expected
to find their daughters suitable husbands. In Pride and Prejudice, the business of Mrs. Bennet’s life was to get
her daughters married (Austen 7). Mrs. Bennet’s behavior is a good example of how women behaved in 19th
century society. It was a mother’s responsibility to help find her
daughter a suitable husband. A large part
of
the novel is about how Mrs. Bennet approves of certain men and disapproves of
others. She sees Mr. Bingley as a suitable man and hopes that he will propose
to one of her daughters. She approves of him enough that, “he scarcely needed
an invitation to stay for supper” (Austen 326). However, Mrs. Bennet does not
approve of Mr. Darcy, she thinks that he is not polite and has bad manners.
This makes it hard for Elizabeth when she starts to fall in love with Mr.
Darcy. Elizabeth observes, “How seldom they spoke to each other, how formal and
cold their manner was” (Austen 321). When Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth get engaged,
Elizabeth is extremely worried to tell her family because of how important
their approval was. However, she is reassured when she tells Jane, her sister,
and Jane ends up being happy for her (Austen 352-353). Lydia Bennet was also
very worried that her family will not approve of her engagement with Mr.
Wickam. She ends up running away and her family find out when a letter informs
them that she has gone off to Scotland with Wickam (Austen 260). The need for
family approval adds another dimension of pressure on young women. Most
marriages where arranged by their families and they often had little or no
input into the partner that was chosen for them.

            Jane Austen begins her novel Pride and Prejudice with the line, “It is a truth universally
acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in
want of a wife.” (Austen 1) setting
the theme of marriage right from the start.
The novel focuses on the story of one young woman and her family, but also
opens up discussion about the roles of women and marriage at this time. It
touches on how women did not have opportunities outside of marriage. They had
no way to make money on their own because of their lack of education, lack of
job opportunities, and inability to inherit money and property. They could only
rely on their husband to support them and got their wealth and status from
their husband. This put a lot of pressure for young women to find suitable
husbands who had wealth and high status. Pride
and Prejudice shows that during the 19th Century women in
England were not seen as valuable to society. The only contributions they could
make were as wife and mothers. Men were clearly seen and treated as superior.