The opening line of the novel famously announces: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This sets marriage as a motif and a problem in the novel. Readers are poised to question whether or not these single men need a wife, or if the need is dictated by the “neighbourhood” families and their daughters who require a “good fortune”.
Marriage is a complex social activity that takes political economy and economy generally, into account. In the case of Charlotte Lucas, the seeming success of her marriage lies in the comfortable financial circumstances of their household, while the relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennet serves to illustrate bad marriages based on an initial attraction and surface over substance (economic and psychological). The Bennets’ marriage is an example that the youngest Bennet, Lydia, re-enacts with Wickham and the results are far from felicitous. Although the central characters, Elizabeth and Darcy, begin the novel as hostile acquaintances and unlikely friends, they eventually work toward a better understanding of themselves and each other, which frees them to truly fall in love. This does not eliminate the challenges of the real differences in their technically-equivalent social status as gentry and their female relations. It does however provide them with a better understanding of each other’s point of view from the different ends of the rather wide scale of differences within that category.
When Elizabeth rejects Darcy’s first proposal, the argument of marrying for love is introduced. Elizabeth only accepts Darcy’s proposal when she is certain she loves him and her feelings are reciprocated. Austen’s complex sketching of different marriages ultimately allows readers to question what forms of alliance are desirable especially when it comes to privileging economic, sexual, companionate attraction.