The novels Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre by Jane Austin and Charlotte Bronte, respectively, have clearly depicted the issue of marriage and status of women in the 19th century. The two authors have evidently shown through their pieces of writings that women were considered as the weaker sex and could not be independent on their own. However, this notion has been surpassed by the modern society where women are fighting to become equal to men. Jane Austen is able to depict marriage in her work as an institution that has been commercialized, just as in the case of the modern society. This topic is of much significance in the today’s society, whereby marriage has become an institution of equality and women are struggling to get as much respect and recognition socially, economically and politically just as men. The main question, which comes into an attentive reader’s mind, is “how does marriage and status of women, as depicted by Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, influence people’s idea of marriage and status of women in today’s modern society?”
Marriage and status of women as shown in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Jane Eyre’
According to London,it is clear thatduring Jane Austen’s time, young, polite women had no mechanism of making it on their own (London par. 2). Education, politics and other professions blocked women out. Few occupations remained open for educated women, but even the professional woman was not well paid compared to her male colleagues and they were not equally respected. Therefore, the only means of survival for most women was through the marriage to wealthy men. Others could get money by inheriting it, but this option was only for women who had no brothers because the first-born son in a family was considered the heir. During this era, few women could be regarded as professionals. However, as Austen clearly explains in her novel, few of these professional women could earn an income, which could make them independent. Even Jane Austen earned very little through her novel writing, which could not meet even a quarter of her family expenses.
Charlotte Bronte is a writer who has clearly portrayed the image of women back in the early 19th century. In the early 19th century, women were considered different from men in almost every sense (Gilbert 53). As Bronte paints them in her piece of writing, women were not only considered weaker than men on physical terms, but also intellectually. According to Martin, the image of women Jane Eyre paints can be described as that of women in the Victorian age (27). During this period women did not work to create a positive status for the family. A woman could afford leisure depending on how wealthy and economically able the family was. Most of the women who worked for a living came from the middle class and were not respected in the society. Therefore, just as in Pride and Prejudice many women in Bronte’s society were left with the option of marrying wealthy men to get rich and earn respect.
In Pride and Prejudice it is clear, that there were other reasons that made marriage a necessity for a woman in those ages. Apart from independence, women needed protection. Therefore, it was almost unheard of for a genteel, unmarried young woman to live by herself. Even if a woman was an heir, she needed protection from relatives because she was considered a weaker sex. Not under any circumstance could a married or unmarried woman be considered the head of the household, even though she was the sole breadwinner of the family. It is also clear that there was no way for a woman to get out of her parental roof, unless through marriage. Therefore, some women, such as Charlotte Lucas, married to get away from her parents’ roof. In this novel the other reason that forced women to get married was the family pressure. However, this issue is treated with much comic in this novel, as Mrs. Bennet is unsupported by her husband in pressuring their daughter to get married to obtain financial support.
An interview with Keira Knightley by Bruce Bluett, on 28 January, 2008, reveals some of the marriage issues discussed in Pride and Prejudice novel. It is evident that even though women were considered weak and were supposed to follow traditional norms on marriage, some were deviant, such as Elizabeth Bennet. Knightley is an English actress and model born on 26 of March, 1985. As Keira Knightley, who acts in place of Elizabeth Bennet in the movie Pride and Prejudice, states in her interview that putting love above power and wealth back in those days was a taboo. She says that she enjoyed acting as Elizabeth Bennet, as the role gave her the opportunity to translate marriage issues such as love, money and power for the audience in today’s society. In Jane Eyre a woman like Jane, who is the story’s protagonist, refuses to identify herself with the ideal traditional woman. As Bronte explains, traditionally women were expected to be calm, but it is a fact that women feel just as men feel, meaning, that women even suffer just as men do (141). It is clear, that women like Jane in this novel, present today’s woman, who is not ready to be mistreated or submit to any unreasonable male chauvinistic ideas.
Influence of the Marriage on the Modern Media and People’s Idea of Marriage
According to Alvin, Pride and Prejudice was written many years ago, but the issues on marriage and romance are still prevalent in today’s media (par.1). Marriage is portrayed in this novel as an institution where women sought protection, respect, wealth and recognition in the society. These issues are commonly presented in today’s movies that touch on the marriage. It is clear that marriage has become a business institution, as many women marry not for love, but for money. As depicted in the Austen’s novel, divorce was expensive even back in the early 19th century. The divorce process was long, associated with many costs, and hence was afforded only by the rich. It is the same case in the today’s marriage. Many modern, married women are willing to divorce their husbands because they are well compensated.
In Jane Eyre, Jane clearly portrays today’s independent woman. Despite that Jane got married, she did not conform to traditional norms that considered women as the weaker sex. Jane’s role in this novel as an independent woman has greatly influenced today’s movies, books and magazines. Quite a number of magazines and books are published by successful, independent women. TV programs and movies, such as Ally McBeal and Sex in the City, put much emphasis on the independent professionals. By watching many television series, it is clear that the modern woman is mainly demonstrated as being independent and a person who can take care of herself without the help of a man.
Elizabeth Bennet, as a woman character in the novel Pride and Prejudice, has also greatly influenced people’s idea of marriage. In some communities, characterized by social classes and castes, a marriage is a pre-planned institution whereby parents marry off their children to strengthen their family social classes. However, just as Elizabeth refused to marry the rich Bingley, but instead married Darcy out of love, many movies and books are based on such stories of genuine love. It is also evident in real life situations because there are instances where a young man decides to marry a girl from very poor family or the vice versa, against their parents’ wishes just because of love.
In the two novels, women are considered unequal to men both physically and intellectually. However, as depicted by Jane in Jane Eyre, some women even in the past felt they needed to be treated equally as men. This has influenced many married women’s idea of marriage. They argue that marriage is an institution of equality, in which roles and responsibilities should be distributed between the husband and wife equally. This has also influenced the modern media, as movies and TV programs no longer depict women just as domestic homemakers, but as strong, independent and career-driven.
Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre are two novels that are clearly depicting the theme of marriage and status of women in the 19th century. From the two novels women were considered weak to men, both physically and intellectually. However, some women could resist these male chauvinistic ideas and come out as independent and strong. The main question that this research aimed to establish is whether these two pieces of writings have influenced the modern media and people’s idea of marriage. It is clear that these two novels have greatly influenced modern media, such as books, movies and magazines, as many portray the modern woman as independent and career-driven. People’s idea of marriage has also been influenced, as marriage has become a commercialized institution because many women are married not for love, but for money. Marriage has also been made an institution of equality, as many women are not ready to be considered lesser to men in any way.