"What, Janet Are you an independent woman? A rich woman?" "Quite rich, sir..." "But as you are rich, Jane, you have now, no doubt, friends who will look after you, and not suffer you to devote yourself to a blind lamer like me?" "I told you I am independent, sir, as well as rich: I am my own mistress." (Brontë, 423)

"Oh here it is and — he drew me out a proposal — I which he was here to explain it — showing that if you would take some money of mine, eighteen thousand and fifty-seven pounds, lying just at this moment unused in the bank, and bringing me in only two and a half per cent.- you could pay me much better interest, and might go on working Marlborough Mills." (Gaskell, 529)

Sam Weller kept his word, and remained unmarried, for two years. The old housekeeper dying at the end of that time, Mr Pickwick promoted Mary to the situation, on condition of her marrying Mr Weller at once, which she did without a murmur. (Dickens, 897)

Each of the novels we have read thus far have ended in marriage. In Jane Eyre, it is the marriage of Rochester and Jane; in North and South, Margaret and Thornton; in The Pickwick Papers, there are three marriages- Winkle and Arabella Allen; Snodgrass and Emily; Weller and Mary. The tradition of ending novels in marriage originally stemmed from fertility rituals in Ancient Greek comedy and more contemporarily, from the medieval romance tradition. This tradition was in the process of being further developed in the genre of the novel. The ending of a book in marriage functions as a way to establish a sense of well being, usually allowing someone who has been outside society to be brought in. Marriage creates the feeling of inclusion and belonging. In these three novels, the marriages are particularly affirming because they also work to maintain the established social order. In fact, the marriages in Jane Eyre and North and South only can take place once both of the partners are of equal social status. Although the marriages in The Pickwick Papers are already marriages of social equals, Mary does get promoted to a more parallel position of employment than before the marriage.

In Jane Eyre, Jane must inherit a large sum of money and Rochester must be maimed for a marriage of social equals to take place (as discussed earlier). North and South operates similarly. Thornton, however, does not need to become deformed in order for him to "lower" himself to Margaret's status. She inherits money, like Jane, and offers Thornton financial support after he has lost his financial stability. Thornton's act of lowering himself is by compromising the firmly held opinions that he has supported for so long. He finally concedes that perhaps the working class and the factory owners really do need each other. Similarly, Margaret also expands her belief so that industrialism and the people who support it are no longer the corrupters of a natural world. Thus in both their beliefs and in their economic status, Margaret and Thornton come to be on an equal social level. The marriage of Margaret and Thornton is not just a marriage of two people and the converging of their social positions, it is also a symbolic marriage between two larger social groups who were trying to prove their place at the top of the social hierarchy and who finally make room for each other on the social ladder. The new middle class and the old landed gentry loosen their rigid ideas and make a space for the existence of the other.

To a lesser extent, Sam and Mary also extend their ideas and social positions to benefit further their marriage, although their marriage does not have the symbolism that Margaret and Thornton's does. As the quotation above illustrates, Mary is promoted to the position of housekeeper at the same time that she is allowed to marry Sam. The significance of this is that like Thornton, Sam is a man rising through the classes. Pickwick tells him "I wish to free you from the restraint which your present position imposes upon you, and mark my sense of your fidelity and many excellent qualities, by enabling you to marry this girl at once, and to earn an independent livelihood for yourself and family" (Dickens, 886). Although Sam rejects this proposal at the time, in order to stand by his friend, Pickwick, there is an indication that after Pickwick's death, Sam will be able to make his way in the world with Pickwick's financial support. Mary's increase in position allows her more respect as the wife of a man who will be earning "an independent livelihood."

The notion of gender equality underlies these marriages . Jane and Margaret are independent women because of their wealth and sense of self. Their stability comes not only from their economic status but also from their growth and maturity, following the ideas set out by the "Bildungsroman model. The marriages require the independence as well as the wealth, reflecting the larger society's increased awareness of a woman's ability to support herself (1857--Matrimonial Causes Act illustrate this). The ending of these novels works to encourage further society to expand their ideas of social equality, at least in roles of gender, while reaffirming the economic boundaries of marriage.


Victorian Web Overview Charlotte Brontë Jane Eyre North and South

Last modified 1996