Pride and Prejudice-Satirical Essay: The Limitation of the Choices of Women in Marriage, Property, and Independence Over the years the role women have occupied in society has drastically changed. In present times women are at the liberty to accomplish virtually any ambitions they have for themselves. However in prior time periods women were not allowed such freedom in their aspirations of the future. Nineteenth Century England, known as the Regency Era, is an example of one these time periods in which the choices of women were restricted.
In response to this restriction of rights, many nineteenth century novels dealt with the criticism of the limited choices women were offered with regard to marriage, property and independence. In her novel Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen takes a more humorous approach to the subject by writing a satirical novel of manners. Most authors use conflict to drive the theme of their story, but as Pride and Prejudice has no major conflict; Jane Austen uses her characters to satirize the issues of Regency England.
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Austen, a woman who herself didn’t get married during the Regency Era, believed that the whole importance people had concerning a woman’s marriage was completely inane. This conviction is expressed through the characters in her book; as they render issues that were held in the highest regard at the time seem senseless. The first character introduced to us in the story is Mrs. Bennet who plays the role of the typical Regency mother who is trying to get her daughters married off. “Oh! Single, my dear to be sure!
A single man with large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls! ” (Page6). Jane Austen begins her satirical novel by introducing the sort of mother most Regency women had, ones that were marriage-crazed and eager to find appropriate suitors for their daughter(s). Most mothers, similar to Mrs. Bennet, had the idea that if a man was single and wealthy, he must be searching for a wife. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of someone or other of their daughters” (Page1). This ‘universal truth’ was the common thought for most middle class parents as it was a goal for them to have their daughters married up to a higher family, thus climbing the theoretical “social ladder” to a more desirable position. This helps define for us the life mission of Mrs. Bennet: to get all of her daughters married off to well-off families while her husband is still alive.
Playing on the cliche mother, Austen creates a complete joke out of the character of Mrs. Bennet. Although she clearly has a grasp on correct social conduct, Mrs. Bennet is seen most of the time being caught up in some harebrained scheme with the intention of getting one of her daughters hitched which usually result in her humiliation. For example she has Jane ride a horse to Netherfield upon invitation, rather than taking an equipage, in the hopes of her becoming sick and therefore allowing her to remain at the estate for a longer period of time.
She does this in the anticipation that it will further bud the romance between Jane and Mr. Bingly. This act illustrates the lengths to which Mrs. Bennet is willing to go too just to get her daughter married. Another example of a scheme gone awry is the conversation between Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Darcy upon the similarities and differences between country and city life and the beauty of Jane. In the discussion Mrs. Bennet ends up refuting her own arguments and over flattering her own daughter, which makes her seem imperceptive and also reveals her ulterior motives.
Jane Austen uses Mrs. Bennet to satirize the limitations women had in marriage; if there was no pursuit made by their mothers some daughters would never get married. For it is by the endless and relentless pursuits made by their mother’s that most women found their spouses during the Regency Era and Mrs. Bennet is exactly the kind of women who would be willing to do anything to find a suitable man for each of her daughters. Charlotte Lucas is another character Jane Austen uses to satirize women in Regency England. The focus of this is based upon her choice to marry the pompous Mr.
Collins. “I am not a romantic, you know… I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chances of happiness with him is as far as most people can boast on entering the marriage”(Page108). Here the Regency marriage process is brought fully to light. It wasn’t an occasion based on the union of two people in love, or any emotion at all for that matter; it was, in essence, a business deal. One can tell by Charlotte’s tone that she is not even partially emotional about her decision to wed Mr.
Collins, she simply puts it as her “best chance of happiness”(Page108), as if happiness is a secondary factor whose precedence in marriage is viewed as a bonus, or a happy accident. The last part of the quotation highlights the fact that love and happiness in a marriage is sheer happenstance, “my chances of happiness with him is as far as most people can boast” (Page108), meaning that the perks that come with Mr. Collin, or any man for that matter, outweigh the clear and apparent flaws he (or they) possess.
This shows a women’s limitation in marriage as they are simply to dive into it and hope for the best. Property inheritance is another subject which Austen satirizes by using the situation of the Bennet family. In Regency England property was entailed, meaning it was passed down through a family, usually following the patrilineal line. “Mr. Bennet’s property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed, in default of heir’s male” (Page77).
Here it is shown how a family estate was passed down, here in the Bennet’s case, as is it with most families, the estate was passed down to the next male in the family. This would mean that after Mr. Bennet died his daughters would have to leave their home and hand it over to the next male relative (Mr. Collins). This is the motivation behind Mrs. Bennet’s need to marry off her children before the death of her husband. This paradigm created by entailment limits both property and independence of women as it robs them of their immediate family inheritance and also causes them to hasten in finding a suitor.
Both circumstances impose restrictions upon women because in both cases women lose the opportunity to do what they desire to and are forced to leave their own homes. Having been written in the nineteenth century, Pride and Prejudice is a satirical novel of manners that focuses on criticizing the limitations faced by women at the time in areas of life such as marriage, property, and independence. Satire is used mainly in the actions and words of the characters to help offset the social practices of and towards women of Regency England as preposterous.