Pride and Prejudice
The narrator of this novel portrays to the reader a view of 18th century upper class English society and displays the social values that were considered important at the time. These are shown through the scope of love and marriage, and the different attitudes toward each. It is clear that the most important factors in finding a suitable match included class, reputation, money and the possibility of social advancement in Napoleonic England through marriage.
The opening line “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” stands out as one of the most famous in literary history and introduces the reader to society’s preoccupation with socially advantageous marriages. By stating this, the narrator also implies that the same must be equally true for a single woman whose social and economic options are limited.
Mrs. Bennett states, “If I can see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield, and all the others equally married, I shall have nothing to wish for.” This confirms the idea that the most important pursuit for a young woman at the time was considered to be finding a husband. It is when her daughters begin their search for a husband that we can identify the values and beliefs of their society. This quote from the excerpt from Chapter 3, “Mr. Bingley was good looking, and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners” shows one of the most important factors, that he was a gentleman. This means he was well dressed, had a good strong upbringing from a reputable family, and that he acted with decorum. The introduction of Mr. Darcy and the subsequent reports of “his having ten thousand a year” stress that not only were looks and manner revered, but also finances were considered to be most important. Society looked upon Darcy as the richest man; therefore he was the most eligible bachelor because of his wealth. The narrator does not share these opinions however and the realization of true love between Darcy and Elizabeth despite the social obstacles between them implies that Austen views love as something independent of social forces. Austen sees love as something that can be captured only if an individual is able to escape the warping effects of hierarchical society. Austen also uses Mr. Collins’s manner toward Lady Catherine de Bourgh to satirize the class nature of society at the time.
... towards love, marriage and successful courtships throughout the text. Austen society had rigid moral codes and deemed marriage into a wealthy family important. Austen ... prejudice can be overcome through the realization of love and that social status, financial security is worth nothing if ... large, attractive and strong. He is elevated on the social hierarchy just as his house is elevated physically. ...
This was a patriarchic society that believed women to be inferior and that women should behave in a certain way. They essentially believed that all females should be elegant and non-independent. This is highlighted when Elizabeth walks for several miles in the mud alone and Miss Bingley states “It seems to show an abominable sort of conceited independence… a most blatant indifference to decorum.” This belief is confirmed once more when Mr. Collins describes Elizabeth’s rejection of his marriage proposal as being down to her “delicate femininity”. The continued description of women stepping outside of the accepted realms of behavior appears to show that the narrator disagrees with the concept of gender hierarchy. This is exemplified in Lydia’s decision to live with Wickham outside the benefit of marriage, something that could have been extremely damaging for the entire Bennett family. This can also be linked toward society’s importance of reputation because in doing this, Lydia risked the reputation of her whole family.
The narrator, to highlight the snobbery of the upper classes, describes the attitudes of the more illustrious Darcy and Bingley families toward the behavior of Mrs. Bennett ironically. The importance placed on manner and decorum by them illustrates further the values of society but not those of the narrator.
We usually define the word "family" with a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household but to many sociologists, this definition is narrow and is not a very accurate way of describing a family. According to Murdock (1949) the family is a "social group" which is identified by common "residence", "economic" and "reproduction" whereas Giddens (1993) states that the family ...
Therefore the main values of society in 18th century England were those of class, reputation and financial stability. For women these could only be obtained through marriage to a suitable man. Marriage also provided the opportunity for social advancement and the majority of people saw marriage as merely a vessel for this. However the narrator is more romantic than this and believed in marrying for love, regardless of social standing or pressures. The narrator displays a disregard for accepted customs, at times ridiculing them, showing her own attitude to be quite different to ‘normal’ ideals.