Marriage As A Social Contract In Jane Austen's "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". With these famous words, Jane Austen launched into what has come to be regarded by many as the greatest romance novel of all time. Written in late 1790's England, in a time of radical social upheaval and political change, "Pride and Prejudice" presents a mixed bag of social ideas relating to marriage, the meaning of femininity, love and the fluidity of class structure. The time of writing put "Pride and Prejudice" in the middle of a fictional war of ideas between female writers of the time, arriving as it does at a sort of middle ground between the feminist views of Mary Wollstonecraft and the more rural traditionalist views of Hannah More (Jones, V., "Introduction to "Pride and Prejudice"", (1996) London: Penguin). This lead to much confusion among critics as to exactly what Austen's views regarding marriage and feminism were, and in many cases continues to do so today. In this essay I will attempt to clear up some of this ambiguity, while closely examining the idea of marriage itself, the nature of the "social contract", and the social and historical background to the idea of marriage as a social contract.
In "The Sadeian Woman", Angela Carter states that "The marriage bed is a particularly delusive refuge from the world, because all wives of necessity fuck by contract" (Carter, Angela, "The Sadeian Woman", pg. 9, (1978) ). Unfortunately for Ms. Elizabeth Bennet, it cannot be denied that she is a "wife of necessity". Effectively disinherited through the fine print of their father's will, the Bennet girls and their neurotic mother are to become penniless on the death of Mr. Bennet, unless they can find themselves a rich husband. Elizabeth's initial disapproval of Mr. Darcy and his pride seems to undergo a radical upheaval on her visit to Pemberley, Darcy's ancestral estate, as she herself admits - when discussing with her sister the progress of her feeling's for Mr.