The social structure in the English society

Marriage to a wealthy man of impeccable position was considered the most desirable state for a single woman, as we see from the situation of the Dashwood sisters whose only hope at a decent life is marriage to a well-provided husband. Mrs. Dashwood’s daughters do need to find a husband, despite her assurances to the contrary: "I do not believe," said Mrs. Dashwood, with a good-humoured smile, "that Mr. Willoughby will be incommoded by the attempts of either of my daughters, towards what you call catching him. It is not an employment to which they have been brought up".( Chapter 9).
We see the underlying desperation for a suitable match for her daughters in her hopes and aspirations for them, when she is so eager for their marriage that within just a week of Willoughby’s acquaintance, she can readily picture him as a son-in-law: "Her mother, too, in whose mind not one speculative thought of their marriage had been raised, by his prospect of riches, was led before the end of a week to hope and expect it. and secretly to congratulate herself on having gained two such sons-in-law as Edward and Willoughby."(Chapter 10)
In contrast to this depiction of marriage in the traditions of the eighteenth-century women’s novels, we see Mary Hayes in Memoirs of Emma Courtney, where the heroine struggles to find an intellectual companion who would give her access to the male dominion of scientific and philosophical education that she wishes to acquire, through the partnership of marriage. Despite being alone with no parents, fortune or skill to support her, she rejects an offer of marriage on the grounds that the suitor, Montague, is not intellectually compatible :
Emma’s response is to firmly reject Montague’s marriage offer because her strong sense of self will not allow her to barter herself for creature comforts. This attitude is crucial to any understanding of Emma’s character and motivation. She is a woman in whom the urge to find a partner – one who is both intellectually and sexually stimulating – is too strong to be sacrificed to the bourgeois consideration of an income, or even the social legitimacy of being a married – and hence somehow better – woman.( Sharma,2001)
Near the end of the novel however, Emma is compelled to marry Montague due to dire financial straits, and we realise that social realities of marriage were after all the same here as in Austen’s work, what differs is the method of portrayal and the author’s attitude. While Hayes is frequently passionate and emotional in her style and not very distanced from her heroine, Austen maintains a judicious distance and an undramatic but equally effective narrative.
Marriage is thus inseparably tied in the middle and upper-class gentry to the issue of money. While Hayes’ Emma is forced to marry against her ideals on the brink of total destitution, marriages in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility are often forged on the basis of money or prevented due to lack of it. Lucy Steele marries Robert instead of Edward because of Robert’s inheritance, Willoughby cites his aunt’s anullment of his legacy as the reason why he chose to marry Miss Grey with her 50,000$ against the fortuneless Marianne, and Edward is only able to marry Eleanor once his mother settles money on him.
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