Theme of mercenary or money marriage plays a significant role to the extent that without this theme; the novel is either incomprehensible or prosaic. Although the theme of mercenary resonates through almost all the major characters; we cannot take it to be Austen’s view point. She is against; not for mercenary marriages.
19th century England had some serious social problems left over from the heyday of Royalty and Nobility. One of the most significant of these was the tendency to marry for money. In this basic equation, a person sought a spouse based on the dowry receivable and their allowance. This process went both ways; a beautiful woman might be able to snag a rich husband, or a charring handsome man could woo a rich young girl. In these marriages, money was the only consideration. Love was left out, with a feeling that it would develop as the years went by. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen comments that marriage in her time is a financial contract, where love is strictly a matter of chance. Lady Catherine states the fact that happiness in marriage is strictly a matter of chance. This holds true in the conception of marriage held in the novel. All of the marriages in the book formed under the bonds of money rather than the bonds of love end up unhappy or unsuccessful. The whole novel outlines attempts to dance around love for the combination of a wealthy person with an attractive person.
Before Austen can chart the difficult process through which the heroine of Pride and Prejudice becomes a skilled player of the marriage-gambling game, however, the novelist must establish the association between money and marriage. She accomplishes this throughout the book by mixing the languages of love and economics. The novel’s celebrated first sentence presents an example of this type of punning: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”. The line’s comic effect derives primarily from the incongruity between the lofty diction of the phrase “truth universally acknowledged” and the baldly mercenary sentiment with which the sentence ends. The humorous conflation of philosophic and monetary speculation continues through the first and into the second chapter, as Mr. Bennet misses no opportunity to amuse himself with repeated puns that portray the arrival of the Bingley party at Netherfield as a serendipitous investment opportunity for the families in the village. When, for example, Mr. Bennet tells his wife that he needn’t call on Bingley, since their neighbor Mrs. Long has promised to introduce the Bennet girls to the rich young man at an upcoming party, Mrs. Bennet replies that Mrs. Long is a “selfish, hypocritical woman” who will do no such thing since she has “two nieces of her own” . In that case, replies Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Bennet herself should introduce the girls, justifying such a breach of decorum on the sound financial principle that he who hesitates is lost: “if we do not venture, somebody else will; and after all Mrs. Long and her nieces must stand their chance” . All financial ventures, from the stock market to marriage, entail an element of risk that one must expect and for which one must plan.
The first line of Pride and Prejudice, “It is a universally acknowledged fact that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”, sets the tone for the rest of the novel. We interpret it to mean that a wealthy man either actively pursues a wife based on his knowledge that no one would turn down a wealthy suitor, or attractive women use their beauty to their advantage to attract a rich husband. Confident in his knowledge of his own wealth and magnificence, Darcy’s less than romantic first proposal to Elizabeth is a good example of the first of these truths. Darcy marches into the room, and after stating all the reasons why a wealthy man such as himself should never marry a “socially inferior” person such as Elizabeth, he proposes to her. He is totally confident in the knowledge that no woman would turn down marriage to a person as rich as himself, no matter how obnoxious he is. He seems outrightly stunned when Elizabeth refuses him. This refusal shatters his conception of reality, showing him that money is not all powerful. This is what seems to throw him head over heels in love with Elizabeth.
Mrs. Bennett is the embodiment of the second part of the rule. Her marriage was based on the principal of financial gain, and she desires her daughters to be the same. She was able to attract Mr. Bennett, a seemingly sensible and self controlling man, by, “keeping her mouth shut and smiling a lot.” Basically stated, she entered their marriage under false pretenses. She had no real love for him, only a desire to gain financially. Every action taken by her in the novel is directly intended to undermine her daughters marriages, guiding them toward financial gain. She is furious when Elizabeth turns down Collins, as her marriage to him would mean the estate would stay in the family. She found Darcy most disagreeable, but would have been furious if Elizabeth had told her the she had turned Darcy’s marriage proposal down.
Charlotte Lucas represents the group entirely left out of this equation. She has neither extreme beauty nor wealth. She can not even attract a husband through her wit as Elizabeth does, and so she is basically without hope for inclusion. Elizabeth is astonished when Charlotte accepts Mr. Collin’s marriage proposal, as she does not understand fully Charlottes predicament. She can not hope for a wealthy and handsome husband like Elizabeth and Jane can, as she does not have their particular assets. She can hope at best for security and a degree of comfort.
In Ch.26 we read that Wickham has switched his affections from Elizabeth to Miss King because she has suddenly acquired 10,000 pounds. In Ch.27 When Mrs.Gardiner teases Elizabeth that Wickham who till then was her admirer is “mercenary” Elizabeth replies:”Pray, my dear aunt, what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive? Where does discretion end, and avarice begin?” Money no doubt is certainly necessary for a successful and happy marriage. But the vital question is ‘how much?’: In Ch.33 Col.Fitzwilliam Darcy,the younger son of an earl, a very rich charming young man, subtly hints that he cannot marry Elizabeth:”Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money.” to which Elizabeth playfully sugggests that his price would perhaps not be “above 50,000 pounds.” In Ch.19 Collins threatens Elizabeth to submit to his proposal by emphasizing her impoverished status:”one thousand pounds in the 4 per cents, which will not be yours till after your mother’s decease, is all that you may ever be entitled to.” The novel is a heart rending cry for the freedom of young women from the clutches of mercenary men who toyed with their happiness : “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.”
Mr. Wickham’s quick transferral of his affections to Miss King after she has acquired 10,000 pounds provides important insight into his true character. While Elizabeth had clearly been his favorite, Wickham must have realized that her social position gave him little chance of being able to marry her. Of course, this knowledge did not prevent him from forming an attachment to her in the first place. Because he paid no attention at all to Miss King before she inherited the money, his motives for beginning to show a preference for her must be purely mercenary. Elizabeth does not seem to find fault with him for his actions, however, even Mrs. Gardiner points out the purely mercenary reasons for his actions. Having been sufficiently flattered by his preference for her and having formed a positive judgment of him, it seems that even in the face of such strong evidence she is unwilling to rethink her positive judgment of him. It is ironic that while Elizabeth is unable to make excuses for her good friend Charlotte for her choice to marry based on financial concerns, she sees no problem in Wickham’s feigning attraction to a woman simply because her sizeable inheritance.
Elizabeth learns from Lydia that Mr. Wickham has given up his thought of marrying Miss King also. This and the other facts show Mr. Wickham to be an utterly unreliable kind of man. When Elizabeth tells Jane the true facts about Mr. Wickham, Jane too feels shocked and says: “Wickham so very bad! It is almost past belief.” Mr. Wickham provides further evidence of his being a rascal and a villain by eloping with Lydia. The news of Lydia‘s elopement with Mr. Wickham comes as a great shock to the whole Bennet family, and especially to Elizabeth. It is true that much of the blame for this elopement rests upon Lydia herself; but Mr. Wickham cannot be exonerated. According to the information supplied by Mr. Wickham’s friend Mr. Denny, Mr. Wickham had no intention to marry Lydia. Thus, Mr. Wickham’s real purpose in running away Lydia had been only to seduce her and to satisfy his lust for her. If Mr. Wickham does marry Lydia ultimately, it is because of the role played by Mr. Darcy in the whole affair. Mr. Wickham states certain terms and conditions on which he is prepared to marry Lydia; and Mr. Darcy goes out of his way to fulfil those terms and conditions. Of course, Mr. Bennet too has to satisfy certain conditions laid down by Mr. Wickham, but the major role in bringing about the marriage is that of Mr. Darcy. Mr. Wickham also reveals at this time that he had incurred certain debts which are also now paid by Mr. Darcy. Thus, Mr. Wickham shows himself to be a mercenary man, besides being unscrupulous in his relations with girls.
Wickham’s next victim is Lydia. It is rather difficult to explain his motives here, for Lydia has neither money, nor beauty, nor brains. And Wickham does not love her at all. The fact is that his gambling and his reckless extravagance involve him in a number of undischarged debts of honour, and he is forced to leave the neighbourhood. The elopement is brought on by the strength of Lydia‘s love for him. He has absolutely no intentions of marrying her. Mrs. Gardiner’s letter to Elizabeth clearly reveals that, even after elopement, he cherishes the hope of more effectually making his fortune by marriage in some other country. His willingness to take Lydia along is either a pure piece of rakishness or an attempt to blackmail Mr. Bennet and extort as much money as possible. However, Darcy’s intervention persuaded intervention promises him substantial immediate relief and he is persuaded to marry Lydia. His conduct in this episode betrays his extreme selfishness, his mercenariness and venality, and his utter baseness and want of principle. In pursuing his selfish aims he is thoroughly calculating – as in the careful plan to gain Georgiana Darcy’s money as well as revenge on Darcy. In most of his pursuits he is thoroughly mercenary, as in his pursuit of a wealthy wife and his readiness to marry Lydia when offered enough money. His style of living is debauched: he likes gambling to excess and drinking, and his sexual morals are weak or non-existent. He is totally lacking in honour, and runs away from paying gambling debts, feels no guilt about the social stigma which will attach to Lydia after she has run away with him, and shows no intention of marrying her. Nor on his return to Longbourn after the marriage does he show any shame. At the end, we feel that in marrying Lydia he gets the fate he deserves.
In conclusion, the essential statement made about marriage in Pride and Prejudice is that a marriage for money will end up unsuccessful. At the same time, a marriage based purely on the means of passion and love alone will also be doomed to failure. A balance must be met. Balance doesn’t necessarily have to be equal, but must be present in order for a marriage to be successful. This is proven in the novel Pride and Prejudice, by examples of unsuccessful marriages formed for money, and successful marriages formed by a combination of love and security.