Pride and Prejudice: The Status of Women

in the 18th  Century

 

 

 

 

 

By

 

Alessandra Marciano da Silva - 100178147

Rafaela Olivio Zukier - 101100838

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper Presented to the

Professor Vera Lima;

English Literature III

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faculdade de Letras/UFRJ

2004/01

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

 

1- Author's Biography

 

 

2- Pride and Prejudice: Characters

 

 

3- Pride and Prejudice: Plot

 

 

4- Development of the essay

 

 

5- Conclusion

 

 

6- Bibliography references

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Single woman have no dreadful propensity for being poor, which is

 one very strong argument in favor of matrimony"

( Jane Austen, Letter of March 13, 1816)

 

1- Author's Biography

 

            Jane Austin was born in 1775 in Stevenson, Hampshire. Her family was not rich but she received some education from tutors and from her father. At twelve, she began to write for the amusement of her family. In the beginning the book was called "First Impression", and then called "Pride and Prejudice" but she could not publish till 1813. She published her novel as an anonymous person and she only became famous in the beginning of the 20th.  She wrote this book during the middle of the Romantic Period of Literature. She died in 1817.

 

2- Pride and Prejudice: Characters

 

            Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are the parents of five girls. The oldestone is Jane Bennet. The second daughter is Elizabeth, the protagonist of the novel who believes in marrying for love rather than money. The third one is Kitty and the fourth daughter is Mary. The youngest daughter is Lydia. We also have Fitzwilliam Darcy who is Mr. Bingley's Friend, Caroline Bingley and Charley's sister and Lady Catherine the Bourges who is Mr. Dacry's aunt.

 

3-Pride and Prejudice: Plot

 

 Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is a light story about love and marriage in  18th century England. Since Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have no son and, in case of Mr. Bennet's  death, all possessions go to  his nephew. Because of this, Mrs. Bennet wants to marry her daughters as soon as possible. Jane, the oldest daughter, is Mr. Bingley's love interest and Mrs. Bennet best shot of marrying one of her daughters. Mr. Darcy, a very lively young man, is brought into the country by Mr. Bingley and he takes a particular interest in Jane.  Mr. Collins is the cousin of the five girls. His father had always been at ear against Mr. Bennet. Mr. Collins wants to change this situation by marrying one of Mr. Bennet's daughters. When Mr. Collins hear that Jane is going to be engaged soon, he asks for Elizabeth’s hand, she refuses and he decides that her best friend Charlotte could be a better choice in marriage.

 

4- Development of the Essay

 

           The thing that called our attention was the women's condition in the eighteenth century because, as we can observe, it is completely different from nowadays. In Jane Austen's time there was no way for the young women of poor classes to strike out on their own or be independent. Most women could not get money, except by marrying for it or inheriting. The Eldest son generally inherited it because he was the heir.

            On that time, an unmarried woman had to live with her family and, if her parents were dead, she as a young single lady could never be the head of a house. Women in those conditions should hire a respectable older lady to be a companion. If a young woman left her parent's house without their approval, this was a very serious deal. We can notice it in Lydias'act, because she leaves the Foresters to run away with Wickham and shocked all her family.

            This was almost the same situation that Jane Austen went through because she never got married and lived her whole life with her family and friends. There were important events occurring during the time she wrote such as the French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars and the Industrial Revolution, although she did not write about it. We also do not have references in her novels to the historical events of literary movements occurring in the world around her. She wrote about things she knew better as ordinary people, their feelings and the condition of women at that time

           The opening sentence of the book is "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife". It meant that in that time wanted a man with fortune. An example in the text was Charlotte Lucas because she accept to marry Mr. Collins, a man she did not love or respect. She said: "considering Mr. Collins's character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state" ( Austen 165-66)

             In the story, as Mr. Bennet had no sons, Mr. Collins was the one who could inherit the Bennet's state. This could let the Bennet women homeless and in order to avoid it, Mrs. Bennets thought that her daughters should marry and their marriages would protect them in case of Mr. Bennet's death. At that time, marriage was the only escape route to financial security.

            As marriage was so important in that time, we have in the text some examples of good and bad marriages and we think that maybe it could reveal Jane's opinion about the topic. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth marriage is an example of a successful one because they were distant in the beginning because of their prejudice but the events they experienced gave them opportunity to understand each other. Janne and Mr. Bingley is also an example of a successful marriage. On the other hand, Lydia and Wickman's marriage was a bad one because their relationship was based on appearances. Although we do not have a lot of information about Mr. and  Mrs. Bennet, we can infer by their conversations that their relationship was similar to their daughter Lydia and her husband. The marriage between Mr. Collins and Charlotte is based on economic reasons. It was a common practice during Austen's time (marriage to obtain financial security). At that time what mattered was the condition of being married. One would get married just for the sake of being married even knowing that marriage was probably not a very good idea. It seems that Jane Austen concept of an ideal marriage is very similar to Elisabeth’s: Marrying someone out of interest in stead of love was not part of Jane Austen’s plans as  she herself refused a marriage proposal     

 

 5- Conclusion

 

          By reading the novel we can grasp some facts about the eighteenth century society. Back then the world was dominated by men and, women had no rights whatsoever. They had no chance in getting inheritance money, for it could only be passed on to male heirs. Marriage was the only thing that could offer some kind of stability in their lives. Jane Austen managed to write about five different marriages contrasting each and every one of them as a way of, perhaps, showing her own thoughts and conclusions about marriage itself and the condition of women in eighteenth century England.             

          We can conclude that Jane Austen's novel  shows her opinions and  points of view about the situations she faced, the people  she lived with and the society she lived in. She has her own thoughts about marriage  and people in her world. The story shows and criticizes in a very precise manner the situation and status of women in the eighteenth century. Although it is a very serious subject, it seems like she deals with it in a very ironical tone with no intentions of being serious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Bibliographical references:

 

·        http://quote.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride_and_Prejudice

·        http://www.glencoe.com/sec/literature/litlibrary/pdf/pride_and_predjudice.pdfv

·        AUSTEN, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. (1ªed: 1813). 1ª edição. London: Penguin Books,                               1994.

·        Vera Lima’s booklet on English Literature III, 2004.

·        MACMILLAN English Dictionary. Macmillan Publishers Limited 2002.

·        CAMBRIDGE International Dictionary of English. Cambridge University Press 1995.