Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chapter 1: On marriage

With the opening line of Pride and Prejudice, it is made quite clear to the reader that this is going to be a book about marriage (or, at least, people intending to be married). What remains unclear, and what I hope will be one of our big questions going forward, is what the nature of that marriage should be. What are the priorities that should drive match-making? (love? fortune? comfort?) What role should one's family play in the process of deciding whom to marry? What sort of pairing leads to a good marriage, and what does a good marriage look like?

The first conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet does little to clarify matters. Mrs. Bennet subscribes to the universal truth cited in the opening line, and seems to consider a good match for any of her daughters to be primarily determined by the lucky gentleman's income. It is only after two mentions of Mr. Bingley's large fortune that she admits that "it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them" (3). In doing so, she lumps her daughters together into a larger category of "marriageable" -- it doesn't seem that personality plays much of a role in Ms. Bennet's calculations. Mr. Bennet, on the other hand, has his own set of priorities (informed, perhaps, by the silliness of his own marriage), and seems to delight in throwing Ms. Bennet's assumptions and generalizations back in her face. While reassuring Ms. Bennet that "[he] will send a few lines by [her] to assure [Mr. Bingley] of [his] hearty consent to [Mr. Bingley's] marrying whichever he chooses of the girls" (4), he makes an exception for Lizzy; Mr. Bennet may believe that personality must have something to do with making a suitable match.

In opposing another of his wife's views, Mr. Bennet takes an interesting stance on the universal truth. Although he appears to be playing dumb when he asks of Mrs. Bennet: "Is that [Mr. Bingley's] design in settling here?" (3), he is actually making a rather bold statement: it is not universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife! This brings up two options for us to consider. Either a) the narrator is already guilty of sarcasm, or b) perhaps marriage, or at least marriage motivated by the possession of a good fortune, is not the best outcome for a single man or woman. If both are be true, we will need to be on the lookout for more convincing justifications for marriage and better criteria for selecting our mates.


All right, that all sort of came out at once. It's a little rough, but I hope it raises some good questions and/or makes sense. Here are some other things I was wondering about in Chapter 1:
1. What can we draw from Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's respective preferences for their daughters? From these preferences (Lydia's good humor, Lizzy's "quickness"), can we begin to build a framework of what makes someone loveable/marriageable?
2. Why is having a fortune so important to Mrs. Bennet? Why does having a fortune qualify you to be in want of a wife? I've been having some thoughts about the ability to create a new family unit and how that plays into the relationship between married couples and their families, but they're not really coherent yet.
3. Mrs. Bennet is obviously not a great soul, but what is she lacking? What would be a better business of life than trying to get her daughters married, especially in a world that seems to be largely composed of visiting and news? What do these people DO all day, anyway? (more of a historical question)

ALSO: I had a genius idea about citations. We should pick an edition in Google Books and use those page numbers for a standardized reference. It's searchable so it shouldn't be too much of a pain to find quotes. What do you think? This one looked good.

Time for some yogurt. Let me know what you're thinking.