What constitutes a happy marriage? What quality, above all others, affects the happiness in marriage and in one’s own life? Not all marriages are built on true love and happiness, some are built on lies and false hope. In Jane Austen’s Pride and prejudice there is a direct cause and effect relationship between the degree of goodness in one’s character and the amount of love and happiness in life.
The marriage between Lydia and Mr. Wickham was not one of love but one of obligation. Mr. Wickham had never intended on marrying Lydia. He only planned to use her for physical pleasure and leave her just as he had done with Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgianna when she was but fifteen years old (200-201). Lydia’s values were skewed as well. She started the relationship with Mr. Wickham with a mixture of love and admiration (311). Lydia remained blind to Mr. Wickham’s intentions as she was busy showing off her status as a new wife. Lydia and Mr. Wickham’s skewed views on virtue lead to a relationship lacking in true love and happiness. The love and happiness in their relationship will forever be lacking on account of their character.
Similarly, the young love of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet was never meant to last. The relationship between Mr. And Mrs. Bennet may have started as love, but soon deteriorated into one of hatred and discontent. Mr. Bennet, so detached from his family, had little worry of what happens with any of his five daughters or his wife, and often failed as a father. He understood that when he died his estate would be taken away, leaving his family homeless, yet made no attempt to resolve the situation. Lydia’s running away to elope with Mr. Wickham is partially due to Mr. Bennet’s lack of virtue. Mrs. Bennet only had one desire in life, to see all of her daughter married off to men who she saw fit. Mrs. Bennet did not seek love for her daughters, instead she wished for them to marry into positions of wealth and power. The relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and their individual relationships with their daughters, was strenuous, and provided little love and happiness for anyone involved.
However, not all relationships were as love-lacking as those between Lydia and Mr. Wickham, and Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. The superior relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy is one of true love and happiness. Charlotte once said, “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance” (24), Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy proved Charlotte wrong. Elizabeth searched for a man who she found as being superior to her (254). Elizabeth, immediately after Mr. Darcy’s proposal, saw him as “the last man in the world whom could ever be prevailed on to marry” (193-194). Elizabeth’s view of Mr. Darcy later changed upon receiving Mr. Darcy’s letter apologizing for and justifying his actions. Elizabeth was moved by the letter and began to see Mr. Darcy in a different light. Mr. Darcy’s character was seen throughout the book. Mr. Darcy’s virtue was first seen when Elizabeth visited Pemberley with her aunt and uncle. Mrs. Reynolds, one of Pemberley’s housekeepers, praised Mr. Darcy as being “good-natured” and “generous” (241-243). Mr. Darcy, aware of the mischievous man Mr. Wickham is, voluntarily payed off Wickham’s debts to keep Lydia’s name free of dishonor, an opportunity his sister never had. Mr. Wickham did all of that out of kindness, not out of individual gain. Elizabeth was as good hearted as Mr. Darcy. She turned down the proposal from her cousin, Mr. Collins, as he was not interested in marriage as a business deal, but for love and happiness. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy used each other to grow in virtue, and to become better people. Mr. Darcy learned to control his pride, and Elizabeth to control her prejudice.
Marriage is a delicate balancing act between to people with countless variables between them and happiness. The variable with the greatest effect on happiness is without a doubt, virtue. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice clearly illustrates this cause and effect relationship. If love and happiness came easy, individual accomplishment would have no effect on one’s life, and there would be no benefit to trying to find the right match. Happiness in marriage is rewarded to those with a high degree of virtue, like Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.