Pride and Prejudice

A reflection of the 18th century ideas about marriage

volume I chapter 22

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This is a pretty broad topic. The account of Charlotte's engagement to Mr. Lucas provides the reader with one of the two competing views of marriage which recur throughout the book. Charlotte has a conventional and pragmatic view of marriage. She is resigned to the fact that as a woman without an independent income she will need to marry in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle, and has no particular hopes of actually finding a husband whom she loves. This view is best expressed in the narrator's comment about Charlotte "Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want." Austen thus uses Charlotte and her pragmatic view of marriage as a contrast to Elizabeth's resolve to marry on the basis of love. Charlotte acts as the prototype of a typical upper class young woman in Austen's time, while Elizabeth is the exception. She is willing to sacrifice the assurance of being comfortably married in the hopes of obtaining greater happiness by marrying someone whom she actually loves. The irony is that in the end Elizabeth ends up not only with a marriage based on mutual affection but also with one that is even more financially advantageous than Charlotte's.