Remembering Jane Austen: Is happiness in marriage entirely a matter of chance?

by Adedayo Ademuwagun

Jane austen

Jane Austen was a 19th century English novelist who’s one of the most prominent writers in history. People marked her 239th birthday posthumously this month. Her books were published over 200 years ago, but many of her ideas on love and relationship are still relevant till today.

In one of her books titled Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte and Elizabeth are friends looking to get married. Elizabeth believes that before marrying a man, a woman should take time to study the man to be sure they’ll be happy together. But Charlotte is a pragmatic lady who believes that a woman needs to take the initiative and act fast in order to secure her relationship and improve her marriage prospects.

At one point the ladies are discussing about Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, and a man she’s dating. Then Charlotte says, “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. So whether she marries him tomorrow or spends the next twelve months studying his character first, it doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage.”

Is that right? Does happiness in marriage depend on how much you get to know your partner before the marriage, or is it entirely a matter of chance as Charlotte says there?

People spend time dating and getting to know each other. Then they plan a wedding and invite friends and relatives to celebrate with them. Everyone’s happy including the couple. Then along the line, the two lovers begin to have problems and become unhappy about their marriage. Eventually we hear that they’re going to divorce. This happens often.

Jane Austen puts Charlotte’s philosophy to test through different characters in the novel and leaves the reader to either agree or disagree with Charlotte. The first set of characters she uses to test is Charlotte herself and Collins.

Collins is an impulsive man who often behaves foolishly. For instance, he meets three women in 11 days and instantly proposes to each of them. In each case, he doesn’t take time to study the lady’s character and determine if she’s interested in him and would be a match for him. He just pops the question, and the first two women tell him a straight no. But Charlotte is the third lady. She says yes.

Charlotte knows Collins is not exactly a smart guy and she doesn’t feel strongly about him. But she overlooks this and accepts his proposal so she can marry quickly. Collins, too, doesn’t really care who he marries. He just wants to marry somebody and take home a wife to his aunt. Like Charlotte, he doesn’t believe in spending a lot of time studying the character of a prospective partner.

The second set of characters Austen uses to test Charlotte’s principle is Elizabeth and Darcy. Darcy wasn’t interested in Elizabeth at first, but he falls in love with her with time and proposes to her six months later. However, even though they spend six months dating, he doesn’t really take the time to know her. Elizabeth, on the other hand, takes the time to know Darcy from the beginning. But she lets her prejudice get in the way and so she ends up misreading his actions. So they have a stormy relationship and eventually split.

After a twist of events brought them together again, Elizabeth changes her approach towards her relationship with Darcy and begins to relate with him with an open mind. Darcy too improves his efforts to get to know her better and allow her get to know him better too. So when he proposes to her again after another six months, she accepts his proposal and then they’re engaged.

Austen seems to try to show through this novel that it’s important for prospective couples to invest a good deal of time into getting to know their partner and allowing opportunities for their partner to get to know them well too.

However, the novel doesn’t conclusively demonstrate that Charlotte is right or wrong, but leaves the reader to make that judgement. Nevertheless, character study is certainly a sensible thing to do. But whether it — or anything for that matter — guarantees happiness in marriage is something that’s definitely up for debate.

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