When a man of the Regency era proposed to the woman he wished to marry, there was still the need for parental approval. After all, the father could still without any “fortune” allocated to his daughter. Even if the couple was “in love,” which was a relatively new concept in the early 19th century – the idea of marrying for “love” did not receive universal appeal.
Courtship was considered a “business transaction” rather than an emotional one. Men of the landed gentry and the aristocracy often married to bring more money into the family coffers, for, naturally, maintaining great estates was an expensive business. Men could marry below their status if the woman had a large dowry and a sparkling clean reputation. However, such was not the luxury of females. The idea of marrying for love was still considered déclassé: One was not expected to show too much passion for one’s spouse.
Manners and particular patterns of conduct were expected from potential participants in the “marriage mart.” Certain actions were expected: One was to make his or her availability known, but without being vulgar [think upon Lydia Bennet’s actions at the Netherfield ball] and without deception.
Although Jane Austen lacked a large dowry, she was still expected to choose a mate worthy of her mother’s connections to the aristocracy and her father’s place as a man of the cloth in his community. More than one suitable young man considered courting Jane, but she presented them no encouragement, for our Miss Austen could not think upon accepting “the misery of being bound without love.” Hers was a bold and somewhat controversial move. Not only did Jane’s rejection of Harris Bigg-Wither name her forever as a resigned spinster, but, to a large extent, she became the burden to her family which Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice wished to avoid by marrying the supercilious Mr. Collins.
Certain conventions, such as marrying for money, power, or position, did not change. David Shapard writes in The Annotated Pride and Prejudice:
Marriages among the upper classes frequently involved people whose families were related, or allied, in some way, for such marriages could further strengthen the family ties that were so crucial in this society in determining power, wealth, and position, especially among the upper classes. (p 645)
We know that arranged marriages – those specifically arranged when the children were nothing more than infants had gone out of fashion by the early 19th Century. Lady Catherine addresses this in the first line of her speech to Elizabeth Bennet regarding Mr. Darcy’s supposed engagement to his cousin Anne.
The engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy, they have been intended for each other. It was the favourite wish of his mother, as well as of her’s. While in their cradles, we planned the union: and now, at the moment when the wishes of both sisters would be accomplished in their marriage, to be prevented by a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world, and wholly unallied to the family! Do you pay no regard to the wishes of his friends? To his tacit engagement with Miss De Bourgh?
Lady Catherine also addresses the unsuitable differences between Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s fortunes. Darcy could name his wife with a simply flick of his wrist, but the fact he proposes TWICE to Elizabeth speaks volumes of the passion he felt for her, and it provides us, Austen’s loyal readers, our HEA – one that rivals many fairy tales.
My daughter and my nephew are formed for each other. They are descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the father’s, from respectable, honourable, and ancient – though untitled – families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! But it must not, shall not be. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up.”
A woman out in Society had but one goal, to bind a suitable husband to her. Of Miss Mainwaring in Lady Susan, Austen wrote:
Sir James Martin had been drawn in by that young lady to pay her some attention; and as he is a man of fortune, it was easy to see HER views extended to marriage. It is well know that Miss M. is absolutely on the catch for a husband…” (XIV, Mr. De Courcy to Sir Reginald)
Needless to say, from its title, you understand my latest Austen story does not have Elizabeth and Darcy thinking of each other as a potential mates. As to Elizabeth, all she knows of Darcy is what Mr. Wickham has shared, and Darcy is not best pleased to be forced to accept his long-time enemy’s “left overs,” so to speak. Yet, they have been “caught” together and must pay the piper, meaning Mr. Bennet. Enjoy this excerpt from the novel and then leave a comment to be included in the giveaway.
Mr. Darcy’s Inadvertent Bride: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary is available for preorder and will release on Friday, May 20, 2022.
Love or Honor or Both?
Miss Elizabeth Bennet cannot quite believe Lieutenant George Wickham’s profession of affection, but young ladies in her position do not receive marriage proposals every day, and she does find the man congenial and fancies she can set him on the right path. However, the upright, and, perhaps uptight, figure of another man steps between them and sets her world on its head.
When Fitzwilliam Darcy spots Miss Elizabeth Bennet slipping from the Meryton Assembly to follow a man who favors George Wickham into the darkness, he must act. Although he has not been properly introduced to the young woman, he knows Wickham can be up to no good. Later, when he comes across the lady in London and searching for Wickham, Darcy does the honorable thing and assists her. Yet, when they are discovered alone in her uncle’s house, the pair find themselves being quickstepped to the altar for all the wrong reasons. Can they find happiness when they are barely speaking acquaintances?
Elizabeth listened in complete bewilderment. Her father and Mr. Darcy discussed her as if she was not even in the room. She knew she had acted unwisely; however, her mother’s insistence on Elizabeth marrying Mr. Collins had had Elizabeth reaching for desperate measures. “There must be another solution,” she stated the obvious.
Her father stood. “I will provide you two a moment of privacy to settle things between you.”
“I shall not agree,” she argued. “Under English law, I still hold the right of refusal.”
Her father ignored her fit of temper. Instead, he crossed the room to exit the drawing room. When he closed the door behind him, finality arrived. The room filled with lost hopes.
“Please tell me you are not truly going to participate in this farce,” she directed her anger to Mr. Darcy. “A marriage means we will be tied to each other for the remainder of our days.”
Surprisingly, Mr. Darcy’s lips twitched in what could only be called amusement. “At the very least, now you will be forced to admit your judgement in men is lacking.”
“For all you know, if you had not interrupted my conversation with Mr. Wickham, I might already be married to the lieutenant,” she accused. Elizabeth would not mention the many doubts she held around such a joining.
“True,” Mr. Darcy said calmly. “Yet, what type of husband would you have earned in the bargain? No real gentleman would have made arrangements to have you meet him in a dark wooded area,” he asserted.
“I shall not stay in a room with such an odious oaf as you have proven to be,” she attested and stood to make her leave.
“No. You are the type of woman who prefers a man who fills your pretty head with lies.”
Without a response, Elizabeth walked away. Although she could not marry such a man as was Mr. Darcy, she doubted she could convince her father otherwise.
As if he read her mind, Mr. Darcy said coldly, “As you are well aware, your father demands I restore your reputation by my speaking a proposal.”
There was unexpected bitterness in Mr. Darcy’s voice, which stayed her progress, and she turned in complete dismay to look upon him. She had never anticipated how her choices would also ruin Mr. Darcy’s life. “Mr. Bennet will see reason when his temper recedes,” she ventured. “This notion of a marriage between us is ridiculous!”
Mr. Darcy’s voice held contempt when he spoke. “Unless I am severely mistaken, neither of us possesses a choice in this matter. You cannot think to return to Hertfordshire and simply go forward with your life. Too many people have knowledge of your interlude with Mr. Wickham. Both Colonel Forster and I attempted to curb Mr. Wickham’s explanations of what occurred; yet, the lieutenant is not one easily confined, for he lacks discretion where women are concerned.”
“You cannot wish this marriage any more than I,” Elizabeth reasoned.
“You would never be my first choice of wife,” he admitted in bitter tones. “How can you think I would rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? Did you not hear me say my uncle is the Earl of Matlock? I am descended, upon the maternal side, from a line of the nobility, and, on my father’s, from a respectable, honorable, and ancient, though untitled, family. You think I should congratulate myself on the hope of relations whose conditions in life are decidedly beneath my own!” He gestured to their surroundings.
“I am grieved,” she said sarcastically, “to bring you into a place far below your customary standards! You could not offer me your hand in any possible manner which would tempt me to accept it!”
“Elizabeth!” her father barked from the now open door. “Apologize to Mr. Darcy this very minute!”
For an elongated second, no one in the room moved. After the silence became too much for any of them, Mr. Darcy spoke into the quietness surrounding them, “Pardon me, Mr. Bennet. I should speak to the Archbishop’s secretary today. I will send word of the necessary details.”
“You have yet to offer me a proposal, Mr. Darcy!” she called to his retreating form.
He paused at the door to look back at her. “I will not propose. I will offer you no sentimental admiration of your ‘more endearing’ qualities. No words of praise for your ‘fine’ eyes. A proposal would be the height of the absurd, which will know completion when I return tomorrow to speak my vows!”
Mr. Darcy continued on his way, slamming the door behind him as he exited the house. From somewhere off to her left her father declared, “I knew from my first encounter with Mr. Darcy I could admire the man.”
If the gentleman had not infuriated her to her core, Elizabeth might have agreed.