|Mr Collins proposes to Charlotte Lucas.|
For a Regency lady, marriage is ‘the only honourable provision for well-educated women of small fortune, and, however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want’ (Pride and Prejudice). So a marriage proposal from an eligible suitor is one of the most important moments of a young lady’s life.
|Lizzy accepts Mr Darcy.|
Common prudence dictates that you choose a partner with whom you can respect and esteem. In Pride & Prejudice, Mr Bennet is extremely worried when Elizabeth tells him that Mr Darcy has proposed: ‘I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery’.
If all goes well, you’ll receive a proposal from an eligible young man in your first season. If no-one suitable makes an offer after your first few seasons, you’ll be nearing the ‘years of danger’ like Elizabeth Elliott in Persuasion.
|Capt.Wentworth gives Anne a letter.|
|Mr Knightley and Emma.|
Every gentleman has his own way of declaring his love. Mr Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth Bennet is passionate but unflattering: ‘In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you’. Darcy does not recommend his suit when he declares that their marriage will be a ‘degradation’ and speaks of ‘the inferiority of your connections’.
So Elizabeth was puzzled how to accept Mr Darcy’s second proposal of marriage. She ‘immediately, but not very fluently, gave him to understand, that her sentiments had undergone so material a change...as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances’.
How should you say ‘Yes’? when asked? When Mr Knightley proposed to Emma Woodhouse, she said ‘Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does’.
Illustrations courtesy of the elegant and erudite Molland’s website.