Romantic friendships in Shirley and Wives and daughters
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. -- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice The opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice is an often quoted phrase when speaking of Jane Austen. And, while Miss Austen asserts that all men are in want of a wife, she does not say that the desire is reciprocal. Even more ironically, the bulk of that same novel is not, in fact, devoted to the exploration of heterosexual marriage -- as her introduction would lead the reader to assume -- but instead devotes itself to studying relationships between women. The penultimate marriage between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy is an event that the reader is not even present for, and is summed up in the last chapter as the day that “Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters”. This attention, documentation and exploration of female friendship, and the varying forms that that may take, is far more prominent and important to the Victorian novel than the (usually) eventual heterosexual marriage plot.
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