The Jane Austen Social Scene Part IX: Marriage and Friendship

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(Photo source: themerrybride.files.wordpress.com)

Emma Woodhouse and Miss Taylor. Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennet and Charlotte Lucas. What do these pairs have in common? They each represent a pair of Jane Austen characters whose friendships were altered when one of them married. It then became Emma Woodhouse and Mrs. Weston. Elizabeth Bennet and Mrs. Collins.

One of the motifs of Austen’s novels is that of marriage. I would argue that a more specific theme would be how marriage alters friendships between female characters. Regardless of whether or not the marriage is to a likable character, such as Mr. Weston, or to a not so well liked character, such as Mr. Collins, the institution of marriage impacts the friendship and usually in a way that weakens it. Look at Lizzy and the former Miss Lucas: sure, Lizzy visits her friend and new hubby at their home, but Charlotte is no longer the friend Lizzy could confide in and gossip to at the beginning of the novel.

Austen’s observations regarding marriage and friendship ring true today. In getting married, the woman takes on the additional identity of someone’s wife, a role society promotes with traditional connotations. In other words, in marrying, the spouse is expected to become the priority while pre-existing relationships take a back seat. It’s no wonder that when Harriet Smith tells Emma about Robert Martin’s initial marriage proposal, Emma’s reaction is to persuade her friend to turn him down; in her eyes, she’s already lost one friend to a marriage, and she’s not about to lose another.

Does putting a ring on it mean putting an end to a friendship? Not necessarily. But it does mean that the friendship will not be the same as before.

 

 

 

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