As the eldest and most beautiful of the Bennet sisters, the expectation to marry is especially placed upon Jane. Though born into landed gentry, the Bennet family’s economic standing is quite vulnerable: “Mr. Bennet, who’s property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed in default of heirs male, on a distant relation; and their mother’s fortune, though ample for her situation in life, could but ill supply the deficiency of his”(Austen 19). Jones asserts “single women with little money must be in want of husbands with ample fortunes, especially if they had no male relatives to support them”(Jones 10). Thus, Mrs. Bennet’s excitement for Mr. Bingley settling at Netherfield Park is understandable, as “with his four thousand a year she see’s in him an insurance policy against future privations”(Jones 10).
Fortunately, Jane’s beauty is able to capture the attention of Mr. Bingley and he immediately takes a liking to her, as she was “the only creature in the room who he asked for a second [dance]”(Austen 9). This greatly pleases Mrs. Bennet, who becomes eager to make the match official. Austen especially conveys this when Mrs. Bennet sends Jane to Netherfield on horseback. She writes, “[Mrs. Bennet’s] hopes were answered; Jane had not been gone long before it rained hard. Her sisters were uneasy for her, but her mother was delighted”(22). As a result, Jane “[who’s] strong sense of duty and obedience to her mother’s wishes”(Jones 10) was forced to reside at Netherfield, further establishing a relationship with her suitor as well as his family.
A marriage between Jane and Bingley would likely save the economic state of the Bennet family as, “the advantage to families of a good match could be considerable”(Jones 20). Jones states, “Mrs. Bennet relies on a match between Jane and Bingley for the same reason; her younger daughters will move in a higher social circle and mix with rich, eligible bachelors”(20). Though advantageous to the Bennet family, the legal union of Jane and Bingley proves unfavorable to the Bingley estate. Caroline Bingley expresses her disapproval of this connection early into the novel when she says, “But with such a father and mother, and such low connections, I’m afraid there is no chance of it”(Austen 25). She goes on to criticize the Bennet family for their lowly relations in Cheapside, and though Bingley remains unbothered by this, Mr. Darcy adds, “But it must very materially lessen their chances of marrying men of any consideration in the world”(Austen 25). Here, Austen highlights the harsh realities faced by single women in a marriage market so heavily dictated by uncontrollable societal factors. It later becomes apparent that the Bingley sisters wish to legally ally themselves with the Darcy family through the marriage of their brother to Georgiana Darcy, who no one equals in “beauty, elegance, and accomplishments”(Austen 80). Forming such a strong connection would strengthen their family name and fortune, further elevating them into society.
Jane’s lack of fortune and connections are not all that hinder her chances with Bingley. Her reserved nature also puts her at a disadvantage. Charlotte Lucas warns Elizabeth of this early into Pride and Prejudice when she suggest that in order to secure a husband, “a woman had better show more affection than she feels”(Austen 15). Darcy admits that he too doubted Jane’s affections for Bingley. Jones writes that women during the eighteenth century, “could only give or withhold encouragement, but the advice given, although eminently sensible, expects rather too much in the way of cool evaluation on the part of an inexperienced young woman, in love perhaps for the first time”(14). Although women were expected to uphold a level of propriety while being courted, Jane’s composure is mistaken for disinterest. Jones states, “[Austen] shows that concealment could also have potentially disastrous consequences. Elizabeth, reflecting on Jane’s circumspect behavior towards Bingley, is satisfied that she will not be the object of gossip, but Charlotte makes the sensible point that if Bingley himself remains blind to Jane’s affection, there will be little comfort in the rest of the world being ignorant of it also”(18). It is likely that Austen means to draw awareness to the “exceptions and reflect the contradictions in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth- century approaches to marriage”(Jones 5).
Regardless of Jane’s lack of fortune and connections, Bingley opposes the wishes of his family and marries her for love. Despite Charlotte Lucas’ belief that “happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance”(16), Austen challenges societal norms and expectations by endorsing the notion that affection should be an important factor in selecting a mate. Jones affirms, “No Jane Austen character marries for money: affection is always part of the equation- yet the recognition that romance alone would neither keep body and soul together nor sustain marital accord is a crucial element underpinning all of her writing”(5).
By Celeste Hutchinson
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2001. Print.
Jones, Hazel. Jane Austen and Marriage. London: Hazel Jones. 2009. Print.