Pride and Prejudice

Feminism in Pride and Prejudice?

Before Pride and Prejudice I read A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen. One of the main themes of that particular play is feminism. Consequently I wondered what this Jane Austen novel had to say about this.

How does this novel portray women? Are they dull helpless beings that need men and marriage for support? Is a woman's only purpose in life to find a suitable husband?

Can one consider the protagonist, Elizabeth, a feminist? Why and why not? Please provide examples.

How does Pride and Prejudice approach feminism? Is it for it or against it? Or does it not relate to the topic at all?

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Austen is critical of the gender injustices present in 19th century English society. The novel demonstrates how money such as Charlotte need to marry men they are not in love with simply in order to gain financial security. The entailment of the Longbourn estate is an extreme hardship on the Bennet family, and is quite obviously unjust. The entailment of Mr. Bennet's estate leaves his daughters in a poor financial situation which both requires them to marry and makes it more difficult to marry well. Clearly, Austen believes that woman are at least as intelligent and capable as men, and considers their inferior status in society to be unjust. She herself went against convention by remaining single and earning a living through her novels. In her personal letters Austen advises friends only to marry for love. Through the plot of the novel it is clear that Austen wants to show how Elizabeth is able to be happy by refusing to marry for financial purposes and only marrying a man whom she truly loves and esteems.


P&P is essentially a feminist social commentary of the late 18th-early 19th century which Austen lived in. During that era women's roles were limited, having little of the independence that the modern women enjoy. Instead, they often had to resort to marriage in order to advance themselves socially or even just survive.

'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife' is related to this idea. What Austen is saying isn't really that all wealthy bachelors are in need of a wife, but that women always assume a wealthy, single man to need a wife- i.e. themselves, or their daughters. It is, as other replies have mentioned, a jibe at Mrs Bennet who consistently strives to get her daughters married, but also a jibe at society in general.

In the context of the novel this quote is significant, because Elizabeth (the female protagonist) as well as her sisters are representative of the dependent young women who MUST marry well in order to remain respectable, or even to progress upwards on the social ladder. The quote therefore is also a confirmation of Austen's belief that women in her society were very much dependent on marriage and this has progressed to such an extent that women have thus ended up looking upon all wealthy bachelors as prey. Hence, the assumption that "all wealthy bachelors MUST be wanting to get married" actually disguises the truth, that it is in fact the women who are desperate for marriage.

There's really not much else to say on this, because it's a quote that's been examined and beaten to death by so many critics. As for why it's so famous, well, it's probably because it's a very insightful comment regarding society during Austen's time.


No, I don't believe that Austen was a feminist or that she intended Elizabeth to be a feminist. What Austen believed in was independence and choices. That's a far cry from burning bras and sexual freedom/ promiscuity.

I know this thread is older, but I just wanted to comment and refute Jill D's statement. Feminism is believing that women are equal to men - in every way. Burning bras was a protest against men's sexualized ideals of women. The sexual freedom was more along the lines of the hippies who were just as, I don't really think the word "popular" is right, but just as well-known as the Women's Liberation movement.

I believe that a lot of what Jane Austen wrote about in Pride and Prejudice can be similarly compared to Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women. She too wanted marriages to be based on companionship, not wealth or a woman's need to find a wealthy husband. An important aspect to Elizabeth is that comes off as being well-educated. She is witty and can carry on a dialogue with Mr. Darcy as well as other men in the book. It actually seems that she outshines Mr. Darcy a few times, educationally. During this time, women were only educated if A.) their families could afford to or B.) their families could educate the girls themselves. I really think that that is a big feminist ideal, especially considering the time she was writing in.


Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

"No, I don't believe that Austen was a feminist or that she intended Elizabeth to be a feminist. What Austen believed in was independence and choices. That's a far cry from burning bras and sexual freedom/ promiscuity."

Very interesting please tell me more.