Pride And Prejudice
The first sentence of the novel, Pride and Prejudice, by
Jane Austin, foreshadows the end of the book. She writes,
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man
in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a good
wife". At first, readers would understand this in one way.
However, in the second half of the novel it takes on a
whole new meaning.
At first this sentence takes on an ironic meaning, because
it is commonly understood that it is the woman who is in
pursuit of a wealthy gentleman (and not the man pursuing
the woman as stated). Austin also seems to prove this
understanding of the quotation in the first half of the
novel in her use of Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas. In the
novel, Mr. Collins has established himself by working for
Lady Catherine de Bourgh, an extremely wealthy woman. Also,
once Mr. Bennet dies, Mr. Collins is due to inherit his
entire estate. Therefore, a man who is supported by that
amount of money would seem to be quite a catch, to someone
with less money. However, after listening to him talk, it
is quickly revealed that he is utterly ignorant. On the
other hand, Charlotte is his complete opposite. Charlotte
is an extremely sensible and intelligent girl, but she has
little money. Although Mr. Collins could obviously never
satisfy Charlotte as a husband, Charlotte agrees to marry
him for his money. Hence the original understanding of the
quotation at the start of the novel seems to be justified.
Mr. Darcy also seems to follow this quotation. He believes
that women would marry him for his wealth and status no
matter what. Therefore, when he falls in love with
Elizabeth he does not treat her with the preferential
treatment with which one would normally treat his beloved.
Instead he treated her with the same condescending and
proud manner as he would any other person. After all, all
good wives are in want of a wealthy man.
Darcy soon changes his philosophy (and hence one must
understand the quotation differently) after Elizabeth
refuses his proposal. This incident proves that a woman
does not necessarily need to find a rich man to marry.
After all, this is now the second time that Elizabeth has
rejected the proposal of a man with more wealth than she.
It is clear that Darcy changes his whole philosophy on the
subject after this rejection. Darcy then realizes that in
this case the woman does not want the rich man, but it is
the "man in possession of fortune" who "must be in want of
a good wife. Now, he realizes that he must treat Elizabeth
with the kindness with which he treats his loved ones (i.e.
his sister and Mr. Bingley). Only then does Darcy finally
win the love of Elizabeth.
The quotation now takes on a whole new meaning. It is now
no longer a ironic or satiric sentence, but rather a
statement, which if read literally can also have much
meaning. This is proven by the relationship between
Elizabeth and Darcy.
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