Pride and Prejudice
Whom does Jane Austen think she is fooling when she suggests at the end of Pride and Prejudice that happiness will abound in the marriage of Lizzie and Darcy? This novel is beloved for this ending, for the giant “Yes” that assuages the anxiety that had built in the latter half of the novel. There is a cultural craving, then and now, for that Yes-ness, the embrace of something outside and beyond the self that will calm the storm of the future. For someone like Elizabeth Bennet, the future was known. In a metaphysical sense of course we will never know the day nor the hour, but for those lucky enough to have secured survival by way of family wealth, the future contained nothing more or less than the perpetuation of that wealth, via marriage. For a woman in the early nineteenth century, marriage equaled survival. There was no other room for them on the marketplace of human affairs. To be a maiden beyond the age of say thirty was to be cast to the margins of society and, as a consequence, condemned to a life of relative poverty and isolation. The stakes were high.
Today of course, women can refuse marriage altogether, and survive. I have two daughters, and my vision of their futures is, I imagine, much different from my father’s vision for my sister, in that marriage and family are not integral to my vision as it was for his. What is integral is freedom and happiness. I do not have to secure relationships with peers (or competitors) that might facilitate a marriage for my children. I do not imagine their educational experience as being in part (in large part) a marketplace for a mate. Their dreams do not have to include weddings, dresses, children, or, worse, “romance.” They shape their own reality.
For Lizzie Bennet, to refuse Darcy was also to refuse the program. We see this in her earlier refusal of the ridiculous Mr. Collins. She rejects the formula, the program by which “matches” are made. When she rejects Darcy, she rejects his pride - the presumptuousness that accompanies the matchmaking program. She is able to see outside the illusion, much to the concern of especially her father, who understands all too well the consequences of refusal. He too sees outside the illusion, but what is outside is dark and cold for a woman of his time. Lizzie perceives freedom outside that program, which is worth the risk of refusal. She accepts Darcy, then, on her own terms. We misread her choice, I think, when we focus on romance. The silly girl awakens to love. No, amid the innumerable sequels to this book written by fans around the world, we must imagine a clear-eyed depiction of married life, which for someone like Darcy, includes the distance, coldness, pride, and quiet brutality that accompanies extreme wealth. How is it possible that Lizzie will not fall in as another of Darcy’s acquisitions, as property? When we triangulate this marriage with that of, say, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester (who plunders the Caribbean), we can perceive the ghosts of imperialism and colonialism stalking the hallways of Pemberley. Does Lizzie perceive this aspect of Darcy’s wealth? When the men are off on business, what are they doing? What are the women doing? What must be accepted in the name of “survival”?
Brian Chappell, Mouse Editor