View Full Version : Marriage -- the pleasantest preserve from want

05-24-2005, 06:07 PM
Although not held in quite the regard of <i>Pride and Prejudice</i>, this novel certainly has charm. It also has more slapstick than <Pride and Prejudice</i>. Take the case of the Palmers. Mr. Palmer (like Mr. Bennett) marries badly. He and his wife are unsuited in temper. Like Mr. Bennett, Mr. Palmer becomes more sarcastic and taciturn because of his wife. We do know he's not truly ill-natured. He shows concern for Marianne during her great illness. But his wife stretches his temper. Being a gentleman, his only recourse is silence and wry comments. <br><br>Unlike Mrs. Bennett, Mrs. Palmer notices her husband's ill temper. She thinks it's cute. Some of the funniest bits are Mrs. Palmer cheerily chirping about her husband's grumpiness. Mrs. Palmer does <i>not</i> fancy herself nervous. She fancies herself a little ray of sunshine. She is as annoying as a Hallmark card.<br><br>Mr. Palmer and Mr. Bennett illustrate the pitfalls of making a bad marriage. Respectable people could not divorce, so one made the best of a bad marriage. If there was no best to be made, one merely suffered. Austen shows us that it is the intelligent partner who suffers the most. The dim are too flakey to notice. <br><br>Austen's men who marry ill seem to suffer more than the women who marry ill. Charlotte Lucas doesn't suffer the way Mr. Bennett and Mr. Palmer suffer. As Austen tells us in <i>Pride and Prejudice</i>, Charlotte "wisely does not see" when her husband acts like a fool. Marriage, for Charlotte, is her pleasantest preserve from want. She has an incentive to ignore her husband's foolishness. The men do not generally increase their wealth (unless they are unscrupulous), so they get nothing but the misery of living with their own bad judgment.<br><br>This does not mean that Austen proposes women marry for financial gain, regardless of the husband's sense. She creates character like Elinor and Marianne Dashwood (and Elizabeth Bennett) for whom it would be impossible to knowingly wed a fool. Austen's women are more aware than her men. The closest we come to a women being blinded by "youth and beauty" is Marianne. She almost dies from her mistake, but she lives to marry with sense and sensation.