Courtship is relegated to the periphery of Sense and Sensibility, but it re-assumes a very central position in Pride and Prejudice. The subject is introduced by the novel’s famous opening sentence: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’ (3). And it remains in the forefront throughout the first chapter which is given over entirely to Mrs Bennet, ‘the business of [whose] life was to get her daughters married’ (5). The novel’s major plot threads are set in motion by the arrival of four strangers in the village of Meryton, and the fabric is not completed until each is married—Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet, Bingley to Jane Bennet, Wickham to Lydia Bennet and Mr Collins to Charlotte Lucas.1 The choosing of partners is not simple, however, and seven unsuccessful courtships litter the path to the altar. Mr Collins is rejected by Elizabeth; Wickham tries to elope with Georgiana Darcy, pays attention to Miss King, and becomes briefly involved with Elizabeth; Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam are prevented from pursuing a mutual attraction by financial considerations; Darcy is involved with Caroline Bingley and, at least in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s mind, is the suitor of Anne de Bourgh. At the centre of this web of courtships is that of Darcy and Elizabeth, for it is through the development of their relationship that the novel makes its main statement. The other love affairs are subordinate and their function is largely exhausted once they have fulfilled the role of expanding or modifying the issues raised between hero and heroine.
KeywordsMiddle Class Mutual Attraction Young Lady Love Affair Social Vision
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- 1.For a discussion of the significance of the arrival of ‘four strangers’ see Joseph M. Duffy, ‘The Politics of Love: Marriage and the Good Society in Pride and Prejudice’, The University of Windsor Review, 11 (1976) 6.Google Scholar
- 2.A number of critics would not agree with this statement, especially as it relates to Elizabeth Bennet. However, they do not discriminate between Elizabeth’s relationships with the Meryton world and with Darcy. Among the best of these less sympathetic accounts of Elizabeth Bennet are Babb, pp. 118–24; Susan Morgan, ‘Intelligence in Pride and Prejudice’, Modern Philology, 73 (1975) 54–68; Tave, pp. 116–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 6.Murray Krieger, ‘Postscript: The Naïve Classic and the Merely Comic: Pride and Prejudice’, in The Classic Vision: The Retreat from Extremity in Modern Literature (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1971) pp. 221–43, also sees a tight relationship between theme and form in Pride and Prejudice. However, he believes that ‘trimness of structure’ helps impose a false ‘unity’ on the society under examination (242–3).Google Scholar