Read about the key Pride and Prejudice themes
Mrs Bennet may be a figure of fun but the situation in which ladies with daughters find themselves is no laughing matter, and that tension between marriage and money is the main concern of the novel. The opening sentence reflects that voracity among the mothers in the community. It is funny but deadly serious at the same time.
At the time in which the novel is set, and in that particular social class, women were entirely dependent on men, whether it be father, brother or husband. In the case of the Bennets, the Longbourne estate has been entailed to a distant cousin, who is to inherit it in the absence of a male heir. The Bennets have five daughters and no sons. Mrs Bennet sees her sole purpose in life as finding husbands for her daughters.
The theme of marriage is played out in several relationships – the faded marriage of Mr And Mrs Bennet; the marriage based on love at first sight, represented by the marriage of Jane Bennet and Mr Bingley; Charlotte Lucas’ marriage of convenience to Mr Collins; the shot gun marriage of Lydia and Mr Wickham, and finally, the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy, based on a growing mutual regard and a mature approach to life, love and marriage.
In Pride and Prejudice, and all Jane Austen’s other novels, money and marriage are inseparable. And social class is very much tied up with that pairing. The opening sentence shows the mouth-watering prospect of the young man who is about to descend on the community being a valuable commodity. Jane Austen works that through in the novel while exploring the bearing of social class on that prospect.
While all the characters are members of a narrow English class – the landed gentry, a group of country families who don’t work but live on the income from the estates they have inherited, even in that narrow band where everyone is comparatively rich – there are rich, richer and richest, and class distinction within that group is based on the criterion of wealth. The Bennets are at the bottom end of that scale. If the sisters do not find husbands, or at least one of them doesn’t find a rich husband, they will become destitute on the death of Mr Bennet.
Hoping for rich husbands is particularly problematic for the Bennets as in addition to the money question there is the question of manners and breeding. That boils down to a family’s reputation, based to a large extent on the behaviour of its female members. The Bennets do not score highly in that regard. The mother is silly – but that’s something that can be overcome. The two youngest sisters openly flaunt their sexuality among the militia officers, which is frowned on but would not necessarily stand in the way of true love somewhere else in the family. However, Lydia’s elopement with Wickham and living with him “in sin” is the kind of thing that ruins a family, which means that no-one will have anything to do with them – even their old friends. The eventual marriages of Jane and Elizabeth Bennet are wholly dependent on Wickham marrying Lydia. With that marriage effected, the family’s honour is restored, paving the way for the other sisters being able to marry.
That’s our take on Pride and Prejudice themes. Make sense? Any questions? Let us know in the comments section below!