Renowned for her romance, author Jane Austen used fiction to write volumes on her thoughts regarding marriage for money and comfort. Casual fans occasionally refer to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in passing when talking about Austen’s literature. Truly avid Austen fans remember the wide and varied side characters in her works, and from these characters do readers learn Austen’s thoughts. To clarify for the casual fan, I have listed below the reasons the romance author used to show why women should avoid marrying for anything less than love.
To Prevent the Oncoming of Spinsterhood
Loneliness often motivates young women to marry. Going to dinner, a company party, or a social gathering alone means having people treat the individual like a second class citizen. The same is true, to a lesser degree, about attending movie theaters and music concerts alone. However, there exists something worse than attending events solo: To be alone and lack the financial means to attend social events or entertainment venues. Women in Jane Austen’s time avoided this at all costs.
Here, the casual fan might ask how the Bennet daughters struggled to avoid spinsterhood. They married in their early twenties, after all! Think not of Eliza and Jane, but think of their friend, Ms. Charlotte Lucas. Aged at the tender age of 27, she claimed her situation was a burden to her parents. Given her lack of fortune, she desperately needed a husband to avoid loneliness and financial struggle. So when Mr. Collins proposed, all but the eldest Bennet daughters celebrated. According to Austen, Charlotte would lead a sad life.
To Avoid the Likelihood of Discomfort
Walking onto a Christian university campus will reveal hundreds, sometimes thousands, of young women who are desperately on the search for a mate. These women are usually in their late teens or early twenties, moderately to exceedingly attractive, possess good reason and sense, and have seemingly endless opportunities ahead of them. Any man would be lucky to have such a woman as a wife. Due to inbred insecurity, most young women think differently.
Young women during the Jane Austen time struggled with the same insecurity, possibly to a larger scale. The rich, married couples in the romance author’s literature treated single young women, especially poor, single young women, with a certain disregard…unless their sons or nephews favored the young women. To avoid this treatment, and to enhance their standard of living, these women with great potential settled for any man of great financial means, even if she didn’t love him. Maria Bertram settled similarly in Mansfield Park, and Austen made her misery known in her affairs with Henry Crawford.
To Ensure the Opportunity of Wealth
Each of the above situations that young women wished to avoid, loneliness and poor treatment, also involved the great desire to prevent living in poverty. Young women, as found in classic romantic literature, always tried to marry a man who could afford higher living standards. Hence why their mothers frequently spoke about the prospects in store for their daughters. Sometimes the situation reversed, and the men would only marry women with large dowries. Money is a strong motivator.
Jane Austen tried to show her readers how young women who married for money would lead miserable lives, and how marrying for love was pure joy. Those who married for love, such as Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse, usually possessed great sense. Though they would occasionally act without much thought or feeling, the men whom they would grow to admire were able and willing to correct them. Only the women who married without involving their hearts suffered, at least, so wrote Jane Austen.
- Lauren Henderson Jane Austen’s Guide to Dating. New York: Hyperion, 2005.