Celibacy and the Society in “Pride and Prejudice”

In Chapter 10 of “Pride and Prejudice,” Emma Woodhouse, speaking to Harriet, expresses that single poor old maids often attract contempt while a single woman of good fortune is respectable. More exactly she says the following: “and is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to the general public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous disagreeable old maid….” This passage makes it clear that celibacy does not make someone to become vulnerable or contemptuous in the society. However, poverty may make them to become contemptuous to a general public. On the other hand, single women with good fortune or riches attract attention from the generous public. They are also respectable in the society and can be treated sensibly and in a pleasant way like anyone else in the society.

Celibacy itself does not lead to a low state of wellbeing of a person. It is only poverty that exacerbates the problems of a single woman. The society views celibacy in a different way when one is rich from when she is poor. According to Emma, a single poor woman is always disregarded in the society because of her income, while a rich single woman is adored and respected because of her good fortune. It is as though wealth and fortune draws single women close to the society, and without them one is left alone in a world without other people. No one is there to help her, and everyone goes against her. Emma Woodhouse suggests that a single woman may be as sensible and pleasant in the society as anybody else. This is to say that good fortune or wealth may make a single woman to be closer to other members of the society as possible and to raise her standards; but it does not mean that that is always the case. It may be argued that Emma is defending a position to remain single. What is evident though is that the amount of fortune one has determines how she is viewed in the society.

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