According to Jane Austen, what does virtue have to do with a good marriage?
From the very first line of the novel, we are immediately introduced to the real character of Meryton residents. For the young men and women and parents of Meryton, spouse-hunting is the number one agenda. A good marriage in the town of Meryton does not consist of two mature, loving individuals who want to see each other grow, but in the acquisition of a rich husband or wife with a large estate and inheritance. This activity, however, is a bigger concern for the young ladies than the young men. Instead of asking themselves, "Who should I become and how shall I grow?", Meryton residents asked themselves "Who should I marry and how shall I pursue him?" which resulted in frivolous scheming and rash marital decisions by the residents. They were more concerned in how they should catch the rich man of their dreams than to actually make themselves worthy of love.
Austen believed that virtue rooted in reason and rational thought is important in the growth of a person, and also in marriage. They must discipline their passions with rational thought to make good decisions in their relationships. In their rush to get married, they have forgotten this. Lydia, for example, who has never learned to discipline herself or bothered with virtues, eloped with Wickham, who is not at all a morally upright person. Meanwhile, Charlotte marries Mr. Collins in her desperation to avoid being an old maid. Elizabeth Bennet, Austen's heroine, does not jump into relationships hurriedly. Instead, she prefers to rationally think if the young man who is pursuing her is the right fit for her and if she is a good fit for him. Furthermore, Austen believed that a virtuous marriage, much like the formation of a virtuous person, also involves the community's influence. Since their community hardly a virtue-centered town, the young women such as the younger Bennet sisters did not feel the need to improve themselves either. Their own lack of virtue reflects the town's lack of virtue also. The townspeople also encouraged the husband-hunting behavior of their young women, who schemed to acquire husbands, which did not help the moral situation of the town. Virtue formation also begins in the smaller community of the home, as seen in the Bennet home. Because Mr. and Mrs. Bennet did not bother improving themselves in marriage, their younger girls also did not feel the need to improve themselves. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet had hardly grown themselves over the years and did not improve their propriety. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet didn't train the younger Bennet girls enough to discipline their passions which made them the laughingstock of the town with their silly pursuits.
Knowing one's self is an important point in the improvement of one's virtue, and also in a good relationship. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy had to recognize their own faults and realize that their pride and their prejudices prevented them from having a meaningful relationship with each other. When they both realize their flaws, it compels them to improve themselves in order to grow and have a meaningful relationship with each other.
It is notable that a lot of the marriages in Pride and Prejudice that are mostly rooted in lack of virtue as unhappy marriages. The marriages of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet had lost some of its warmth because they had long lost the need to improve themselves morally and instead of helping Mrs. Bennet be a more rational person, Mr. Bennet just ignores it. Charlotte and Mr. Collins largely have a stiff relationship because they did not really love each other and had married each other out of rashness and because of the selfish greed to attain the Bennet entail. Austen also equated a happy marriage with living a life in accordance with virtue. Jane and Mr. Bingley are pictured to have a good marriage because they are both temperate individuals and do not make rash assumptions and are truly good even to those who are not virtuous like Mrs. Bennet and the younger Bennet girls.