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学术论文
An Analysis of Women’s Social Status
来源:http://www.lunwenqk.com  日期:2014-01-27
Abstract
 
The opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice left the deep impression on readers almost two centuries ago. As the author of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen was one of the famous realistic writers in English literature in the nineteenth century. In Pride and Prejudice Austen wrote four marriage types: ideal Elizabeth and Darcy, realizable Charlotte and Collins, felicitous Jane and Bingley, unhappy Lydia and Wickham. She pointed out emphatically economic consideration is the bonds of wedlock and love. She said marriage is not determined by property and family status; it is unwise to marry without money, but it is wrong to marry for money; the marriage settled by love is happy and ideal.
 
The thesis made an interpretation of women’s social status from perspectives of marriage in the period when Pride and Prejudice is set. In the novel, Austen emphasized marriage should be of equal importance both by love and by economic consideration but love plays the guiding role. From the described marriages, the essential of bourgeois marriage system intensively, Austen expressed that it's combination of pecuniary bargaining and benefits. In that time, marriage to women has nothing to do with feeling; it is definitely a problem of economy and survival due to the financial dependence. 
 
Key Words: Pride and Prejudice; views of marriage; social status; 
 
1. Introduction
 
Jane Austen was a British woman writer. One of Jane's most remarkable traits was her observation of human character and nature. And Pride and Prejudice has won her the highest reputation. The original version of the novel was written in 1796-1797 under the title “First Impressions”, and was in the form of an exchange of letters.It mainly describes the development of the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet, an intelligent young woman and the daughter of a country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich and haughty aristocratic landowner. The title  ”Pride and Prejudice'” refers (among other things) to the ways in which Elizabeth and Darcy first view each other. 
 
In this novel, Jane Austen conveyed her objection to the marriage only for money and status as well as the marriage without consideration for the same background, which was totally odd at the time. She advocated the marriage for both love and economic consideration with love playing the leading role. Meanwhile, she also exposed that the essentials of bourgeois marriage are a deal of money and a combination of benefit under the patriarchy. The style of Pride and Prejudice is well ahead of the other novels of the time and it has a kind of fairly deep power of art. The selected language, wisdom and humor fully reflect women’s attitudes toward marriage and their social status at that time. 
 
2. The marriages in Pride and Prejudice
 
In Pride and Prejudice, Austen wrote many kinds of love and marriage of the genteel-class woman. She mainly depicted four marriage types: the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy is based on love and fortune; the marriage of Jane and Bingley possesses beauty, virtue and fortune; the marriage of Lydia and Wickham wants both sex and money; the marriage of Charlotte and Collins is rolling in wealth but no love.
 
All these marriages reflect people's life and fate of that time. The other young couples' marriages in the book are only comparison to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy's ideal marriage. It indicates their brave behavior that they dare to look down upon common customs-everything is decided by money; it highly praises that they have a correct knowledge of themselves and a sense of understanding the world around. It is considered that only this couple that attract each other by their own moral character and talent will get a happy ending.
 
3. Interpretation of women’s social status from marriages in Pride and Prejudice
 
3.1 The purposes of marriages in Pride and Prejudice
 
In Austen's fiction, the ultimate felicity of a woman is rooted in a happy marriage, hence marriage is always the focus of the author's attention, which is indicated at the beginning of the novel Pride and Prejudice, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." (Austen, 12) 
 
In fact, the truth is just the opposite -- a lady without a good fortune must be in want of a husband. In this sense, Mrs. Bennet must be admitted as the wisest person on this problem --  "The business of her life was to get her daughters married" (Austen, 22) -- as in the 18th century, getting married was "the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune" (Austen, 257) to gain financial security and decent life in the long future, otherwise they would either live in misery as a spinster or a governess, both of which were the objects of mockery and discrimination in society.
 
Under such woeful circumstances, few women could think deeply and seriously about the true meaning of marriage. Most young women pursued a match just for financial reasons or, for their "pleasantest preservative from want"; marriage became of itself the object. Charlotte Lucas is a representative for this situation. Although she knows clearly that Mr. Collins "was neither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome, and his attachment to her must be imaginary", she accepts and even encourages his proposal "solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment". And as things always were in that age, the whole family "were properly overjoyed on the occasion" -- her parents, as things always were, consented "with a most joyful alacrity" with the consideration that "Mr. Collins's present circumstances made it a most eligible match for their daughter, to whom they could give little fortune; and his prospects of future wealth were exceedingly fair"; "the younger girls formed hopes of coming out a year or two sooner than they might otherwise have done; and the boys were relieved from their apprehension of Charlotte's dying an old maid." (Austen, 361) The whole family, including Charlotte herself, all excludes the felicity of the would-be Mrs. Collins from their consideration, which was a usual deplorable situation for the female at that time and came in for much criticism of Jane Austen.
 
3.2 Traditional moralization of women according to Pride and Prejudice
 
The ideal feudal society is guaranteed by not only the responsibility of the ruling class but the traditional moralization of women. In the novel, virtuous women like Jane, Charlotte and Elizabeth are rewarded generous fortune and happy marriage like Cinderella while immoral Lydia is eventually punished. In doing so, the feudal patriarchal society can be defended and consolidated.
 
Elizabeth Bennet is Austen's favorite character and is endowed with intelligence and individuality. These qualities are rare in traditional women characters. But it does not mean Elizabeth deviates from the standard of virtuous women. She is rewarded the best for her moral growth and elevated from a daughter of the lower gentry to a Lady. According to the standard of virtuous women, Elizabeth embodies affection, selflessness and sensitiveness. Elizabeth thinks of others over herself. When she hears of Jane's sickness, she runs to Netherfield regardless of bad weather and takes care of her for nearly a week. She dares to disputes with Darcy for his separation of Jane and Bingley. When Lydia's scandal takes place, Elizabeth immediately asks for her uncle's help and endeavors to save Lydia's fame. Nevertheless, Elizabeth has a shortcoming that she is overconfident of her quickness in perception and is ready to make hasty judgments.
 
Opposite to Elizabeth, Lydia Bennet is a negative woman character that deviates from tradition. She has anarchic passion undisciplined and challenges any convention that restrains the power of female sexuality. "Once this power lacks social direction and control, it turns too easily to withdraw from society, or to irresponsibility and anarchy and it eventually destroys not only herself but others and society (Duckworth 100)". This is the reason why Austen lashes the severest criticism on Lydia's uninhibited self-expression. Lydia is the incarnation of anarchism and immorality. (Tyson, 89) She does not only get herself into notoriety but stain her family fame and reduce opportunities of her other sisters' marriages. According to the system of rewards and punishments, Lydia must be punished-though she marries to Wickham - and she is exiled to the notorious north and lives in poverty.
 
3.3 A way of living for women: marriage 
 
Jane Austen was a British realistic novelist. In her lifetime, Britain was at the period of transition from the earlier stage of Capitalism to Capitalist Industrialization. But the society developed rather slowly in the countryside. The aristocratic families and feudal hierarchies still possessed privilege and power. It was very difficult for women of the day to get education and employment. Young women of the genteel classes could not get money except by marrying for it or inheriting it. Even her family had a large fortune, she could not be the heiress. Few of them became governesses, a kind of servants. (Johnson, 76)
 
Austen was the English writer who first gave the novel its modern character through the treatment of everyday life. The range of the description in Austen's novels is limited; actually she described the society at the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth century where she lived. (Nicolson, 35) Austen was well connected with the middling rich landed gentry that she portrayed in her novels. Austen focused on middle-class provincial life with humor and understanding. She depicted the life of minor landed gentry, country clergymen and their families, in which marriage mainly determined women's social status. In all of Austen's novels her heroines are ultimately married. The characters in Austen's novels have something in common with her neighbors, friends and relatives. That is to say, Austen's writings are all about the people and the family matters of her time. At that time, the value of people counted on the possession of a fortune. The society was filled with the possession and the control of a fortune. Since men inherited all fortunes, women had to obey men and gained their happiness through proposals and marriages.
 
The main subject in Pride and Prejudice is stated in the first sentence: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man is possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." (Austen, 3) Actually, it should be said like this, totally the opposite - a single woman must be in want of a husband with a good fortune. "It was the only honorable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want." (Austen, 32) 
 
"The underlying theme of Jane Austen's social comedy is the predicament of being a woman in a man's world - a world ruled by men and run for their advantage, in which marriage looms as the central and decisive act of the woman's life, and where the prevailing view is that `Marriage has…no natural relation to love. Marriage belongs to society; it is a social contract'. Other than marriage, no career or occupation was open to her. Her education was a grooming for polite society, providing her with fashionable “accomplishments” to catch the eye of a future husband." (Austen, 45)
 
Marriage of Austen's time actually was a kind of foundation stone and its function was mainly the key to the connection of fortune, the decision of relation and the right of inheritance. (Wilkes, 84) What it valued was to be matched for marriage. The point of marriage of the time was not to offer a legal form of giving birth to children and taking care of children. At that time there were not so many people who wouldn't like to get married as we do now. Of course, there was no such romantic marriage that would bear no legal obligation and would break up at any moment. As a matter of fact, marriage is a kind of ritual that everyone should go through and a part of the way to normal life. However, the different share of work between objectively caused such kind of traditional marriage male and female. In the society of the time, labor productivity was not developed. Women were discriminated against in social employment and the division and the inheritance of fortune. Women were treated as the ones who could only give birth to children and serve men. They became poor appendage of husbands in the patriarchy. No matter what kind of family they were born in, rich or poor, they had to depend on marriage to change their way of life or maintain their own relatively good situation. Marriage is their only way to survive in the cruel world.
 
4. Conclusion
 
In Pride and Prejudice, Austen fully expressed her view of marriage. From the novel, we can get a comprehensive understanding of women’s social status in pre-Victorian English country society of the 1810s. What Austen's novels exhibit is a world that is reduced consumedly; the views of them are narrow; anyway, they are quite concentrated. What she focused on was morality and customs; strict rules of behavior and criterion, hence, what her novels talk about are traditional marriages. She paid more attention to the expatiation that marriage means prescriptive connection of fortune, decision of cognation and rights of succession. At the time when women could not have the equal opportunity as men for getting work of the same value and having the same heirdom, they were the minority weak groups and the appendage of husbands in the family structure of male. Austen tried to search for rational marriages for women through rational love. Actually she emphasized that women should take the initiative in marriages, expressing view of value that was different from male writers.
 
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