It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
The second paragraph is even more specific actually:
- "However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his
- first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds
- of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters."
I also paid a bit more attention to Caroline, the unmarried Bingley sister, this time. Once she senses Darcy's interest in Liz, the claws come out. Caroline's senses are sharp and sensitive, very necessary for a predator to know when a suspected competitor invades her territory. However, this different view of the novel also had a surprising effect in that I now viewed Caroline in a much more sympathetic light. More about that later.
Following is a cast of the main characters and a brief statement regarding my take on their roles in the novel. Feel free to disagree.
Mr. Bennet: prey-- He was caught and trapped when young by a pretty face.
Mrs. Bennet: predator--she caught Mr. Bennet and is now on the hunt for her daughters.
Jane: prey, not really on the hunt for a husband, potential predator.
Elizabeth: prey, not really on the hunt for a husband, but could be a potential predator.
Lydia: predator, attracted by red coats of officers
Wickham: predator, searching for a rich woman to marry
Col. FitzWilliam: predator, see Wickham
Bingley: prey, target of local mothers
Miss Caroline Bingley: predator, on the prowl for Darcy
Georgiana: prey, with Wickham as a past predator
Mr. Collins: predator and prey, looking for a wife, becomes Charlotte's target. Or, as we used to say back in the Dark Ages, "He chased her until she caught him."
Some brief observations:
Lizzie is hard on Charlotte but excuses Wickham and FitzWilliam
Older sons are prey while younger sons are predators, who are forced into those roles because of the culture and the tradition of primogeniture--oldest sons inherit everything in order to keep the family estate intact. Therefore the oldest son is a great catch (prey) , while the younger sons are forced to find an occupation (military or the church) or marry a woman with a large dowry who can support them (predator). The oldest son can also be a predator if familial pressures causes him to search for a wife who has wealth and perhaps a title, which would be ideal. Either or both could enhance the family's position in society.
Some critics and readers have dismissed Austen's works as light-hearted romances with the same theme: a young woman out to get a husband, and in spite of the usual obstacles, manages to get her man and live happily ever after.
This may be true on a surface level, but underneath there is a very serious struggle taking place.
The right marriage is not just a road to everlasting bliss but a means of survival for many of Austen's heroines, and heroes also, as it was true for many in the 17th through the 19th centuries. Many, especially in the middle class, would be doomed to a life of penury or maybe worse, a life dependent upon the good will and generosity of relatives and friends. Limited as they were by the strictures of their society (as we also are today--even if we don't see it), jobs were unavailable or unthinkable for many. Marriage to a suitably wealthy individual was the only solution.
And that poses the problem--making a choice, if one were lucky enough to have choices. Who to choose to spend a lifetime with? P. D. James, one of my favorite mystery writers in an interview said that Jane Austen was her favorite author, and that, if Austen were writing today, she would be writing mysteries.
Consider--what is the task of the detective in a mystery story--stripping away the public persona to get at the suspect's real character. What is the task of the wise young woman or man in choosing a mate? Isn't it the same? In fact, that is the task of all of us, knowingly or not, of finding out just what are our acquaintances really like and how many would make good and trustworthy friends.
As for that "living happily ever after" myth, Austen doesn't believe in it, and it shows at the conclusion of most of her novels. It may be a good match, but unending bliss is not in the cards.
Just a few thoughts about the far too few works by one of my all-time favorite authors.