Jane Austen, Marriage, and the Family
When Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, the novel was still a relatively new type of literature. Unlike plays or poetry, English authors had only been publishing novels for about 100 years. Many novels focused on plots about marriage and the family. Samuel Richardson was an important English novelist who contributed to this tradition. His novels Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1748) discuss the experiences of young women as they struggle with controlling families, social pressure, and devious men. While these novels feature more sensational events than what Austen wrote about, Richardson’s books opened the door to the idea that a woman’s experiences on the road to marriage might be a topic worth writing about. Austen considered Richardson her favorite novelist, and Pride and Prejudice reflects how she picked up on his interest in describing the difficulties experienced by women as they tried to find a loving and appropriate husband.
Frances Burney was another key novelist who wrote about similar themes and influenced the literary context of Pride and Prejudice. Her novels Evelina (1778) and Cecilia (1782) describe young women struggling to find their place in the world, making mistakes, and eventually finding love. Burney developed the idea of novels about marriage and family life further by introducing comedy and satire. Her novels would often make fun of pretentious suitors or mothers who were desperate to get their daughters married. These developments helped to make fiction about domestic and romantic lives more entertaining and popular. By the time Jane Austen published Pride and Prejudice, a witty love story was a familiar type of novel.
Jane Austen became a major influence on later novels. Fiction that focused on the everyday lives and social experiences of ordinary people was often published in the Victorian period. Authors like George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, and William Thackeray all focused their writing on familial and romantic relationships while paying careful attention to the social conventions of the worlds of their characters. A happy marriage was often used at the end of a novel to complete the arc of the plot, a tradition that Jane Austen had contributed to establishing. In more recent years, the rise of romantic comedies as a genre of literature and film can also be linked to some of the patterns Austen established. These stories often feature a young woman trying to decide which partner is the best match for her, which is a topic Austen popularized. Bridget Jones’s Diary, for example, makes direct reference to Pride and Prejudice and shows that many of Austen’s themes remain relevant.