Exogamous and Endogamous Marriages in Jane Austen’s Works

Brittanica.com defines an “endogamous marriage” as the custom enjoining one to marry within one’s own group, while Wikipedia says “endogamy” is the practice of marrying within a specific ethnic group, class, or social group, rejecting others on such a basis as being unsuitable for marriage or for other close personal relationships.The penalties for transgressing endogamous restrictions have varied greatly among cultures and have ranged from death to mild disapproval. Endogamous marriages are designed to keep a blood line pure or to create a dynasty by consolidating a family/house/community. British royalty have known this practice from its beginning, and many other examples exist in history.

In Austen’s work, we can think of several such marriages. Lady Catherine wished Darcy to marry her daughter Anne, consolidating the family ties and blood lines. Edmund Bertram marries his cousin Fanny. Charles Musgrove proposes to Anne Elliot, but when Lady Russell dissuades Anne in hopes of a better connection, Musgrove marries Mary Elliot, keeping the connections between the most important families of the community intact.

An exogamous marriage, on the other hand is a union of opposites. This might be political, social, or temperamental foes. The purpose of an exogamous marriage is to inject new blood into one of the Nation’s most revered and ruling families. The New Zealand Slavanic Journal says, exogamy is marriage outside a social group. “In social studies, exogamy is viewed as a combination of two related aspects: biological and cultural. Biological exogamy is marriage of non blood-related beings, regulated by forms of incest law. A form of exogamy is dual exogamy, in which two groups engage in continual wife exchange.” Cultural exogamy is the marrying outside of a specific cultural group. (New Zealand Slavonic Journal, Victoria University of Wellington, 2002, Volumes 35-36, p.81)

The most obvious examples of exogamous marriages in Austen is Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice and Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, and Captain Frederick Wentworth and Anne Elliot in Persuasion. Some would say the same of George Knightley and Emma Woodhouse’s joining, but in many ways their marriage is also endogamous: The Woodhouses and the Knightleys are the leaders of Highbury society, and their marriage will restore the portion of Donwell Abbey that the Woodhouses claimed as part of Isabella Knightley’s marriage settlements. Also, Knightley and Emma are related by marriage. Knightley’s brother is Emma’s brother-in-law.

The weddings in Austen’s works are always financially and socially advantageous for the heroine. We, generally, assume this phenomenon occurs because Austen recognized the sting of inequalities in marriage during the Regency. Gentlemen chose women based on their abilities to deliver an heir. Not for love. Not for her intelligence. Unless the woman possessed the qualities of an “accomplished” lady [[Miss Bingley:] “Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no [woman] can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with.  A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”], she was not considered good marriage material.

We also learn from these marriages that some of those who marry for economic advantage are considered “weak minded” or “selling out.” For example, Charlotte Lucas’s acceptance of Mr. Collins is looked upon by Austen, the character Elizabeth Bennet, and Austen’s readers as an abomination.

Mrs. Bennet criticizes Elizabeth’s refusal of Mr. Collins with these words:

“Ay, there she comes, looking as unconcerned as may be, and caring no more for us than if were at York, provided she can have her own way. But I tell you what, Miss Lizzy, if you take it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husband at all; and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead. I shall not be able to keep you — and so I warn you. I have done with you from this very day.”

Later, when Elizabeth learns of Charlotte’s engagement to Mr. Collins, Elizabeth is astonished.

The possibility of Mr. Collins’ fancying herself in love with her friend had once occurred to Elizabeth within the last day or two; but that Charlotte could encourage him seemed almost as far from possibility as that she could encourage him herself; and her astonishment was consequently so great as to overcome at first the bounds of decorum, and she could not help crying out: “Engaged to Mr. Collins! my dear Charlotte — impossible!”

Charlotte responds with…

“I see what you feeling, you must be surprised very much surprised, so lately as Mr. Collins was wishing to marry you. But when you have had time to think it all over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know — I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’ character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”

It was a long time before she [Elizabeth] became at all reconciled to the idea of so unsuitable a match. The strangeness of Mr. Collins’ making two offers of marriage in three days was nothing in comparison of his being now accepted. She had always felt that Charlotte’s opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own; but she could not have supposed it possible that, when called into action, she [Charlotte] would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage. Charlotte, the wife of Mr. Collins, was a most humiliating picture! And to the pang of a friend disgracing herself, and sunk in her esteem, was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.

Others in Austen’s works know unequal marriages.

The opening lines of Mansfield Park address the inequality between Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income. Like Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Sir Thomas marries a woman who was a beauty in her youth. Unfortunately, Lady Bertram becomes neurotic, a hypochondriac, and lazy. She values people’s attractiveness over all else. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bennet is a foolish, noisy woman whose only goal in life is to see her daughters married. Because of her low breeding and often unbecoming behavior, Mrs. Bennet often repels the very suitors whom she attempts to attract for her daughters.

Such revelations leads one to wonder whether “being entranced” by the opposite sex leads to disappointment in marriage. Please note how Austen’s heroines must turn from the “charms” of unworthy gentlemen to discover contentment in marriage. Is Austen giving us her opinions of cads and scoundrels? Let us face the truth, the gentlemen these heroines claim are often something of a prig, a man of unbending principles. Is this Austen’s idea of honor? Do you suppose our dearest Jane ever knew such a man? Did she know the disappointment of unrequited love?

What is your opinion? Let’s have a conversation. 

Bonus!!! GIVEAWAY – 2 eBook copies of my newest Austen title. Elizabeth Bennet’s Deception: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary will be available on all the customary outlets by tomorrow. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EDST on Monday, April 20. 

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April 19, 2015 12:25 PM

Looking forward to reading your book. Thank you for offering it for a giveaway.

April 19, 2015 5:28 PM
Reply to  Ginna

I appreciate your joining us, Ginna.

April 19, 2015 5:02 AM

Like everyone else, I’ve been fascinated by this article, Regina, and I knew the definitions but not the names of the two types of marriage. It sheds yet more light on the sadly small but wonderful legacy Jane Austen left us. Thank goodness there are authors like yourself, your colleagues here at AuAu and elsewhere, to expand that universe for all of us addicts.

The more I read about the life Jane Austen lead (I have a small but growing collection of books about her life and times), the more I’m convinced that she must have known love at least once amongst her social circle, somewhere. Who knows what may information lay in the letters that Cassandra burned after Jane’s untimely passing?

I’m looking forward to this new book very much. I believe I have all of your others, except the vampire one (sorry, I don’t do vampires!), either as ebooks or audiobooks. Just finished listening to The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, which was a really enjoyable mystery. All of your mystery stories would have made better TV than Death Comes to Pemberley, imho.

Thanks for the giveaway!

April 19, 2015 5:35 PM
Reply to  Anji

Thanks for the compliment regarding my P&P mysteries. I have the dubious task of beginning another round of edits on the newest one tomorrow. It will be entitled “The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin,” and will take up where “Disappearance” leaves off.
As to Austen’s personal life, I have often wondered if Jane shared something of her feelings for a “particular’ gentleman in one of the letters that Cassandra burned. I am not saying Jane had some sort of affair, but like many I cannot think she did not show interest in one of the local males. Her family carefully crafted the image of Jane after her death, which we now embrace. 200+ letters must hold “secrets” we would find more fascinating. In truth, I hope Jane new love, even unrequited love.

April 17, 2015 5:30 AM

thanks so much for this article – I didn’t know the technical terms for such marriages. Your examples also helped to make them clear. While I have read all her novels I must admit that Pride and Prejudice is by far my favourite and I thank you and the other JAFF writers for the many variations with Darcy and Elizabeth. I have many of the books and e-books which I read and re-read and would be grateful for yours which is currently on my wish list. Thanks again!

April 18, 2015 1:27 PM
Reply to  Glynis

Glynis, I am pleased you found the piece informative.

April 16, 2015 5:39 AM

Hmm, what do you make of the Lydia-Wickham marriage? It could be either exogamous or endogamous.

April 16, 2015 10:50 AM
Reply to  junewilliams7

I would not say the pair were opposites, except perhaps in intelligence. Wickham was crafty, while Lydia but silly. Endogamous appears the most logical for Wickham would be able to claim respected members of the gentry as family.

April 16, 2015 4:16 AM

A very interesting and thought provoking article, Regina. Thanks for it. I do take issue with you on some points, however!I don’t think the marriage between Elizabeth and Darcy was exogamous. Lady Catherine certainly thought so, but she was speaking from her desire to get Mr Darcy for her own daughter. She doesn’t reflect the opinion of Jane Austen herself (or her readers!). Elizabeth squashed Lady Catherine by saying, ‘He is a gentleman, I am a gentleman’s daughter.’ Darcy’s reluctance to propose to Elizabeth at first was because of the behaviour of her mother and her younger sisters, and because even her father behaved badly in failing to control his family, not because of a class difference. As for Mr Collins and Charlotte, Elizabeth’s reaction was because Charlotte was marrying a man she could neither love nor respect. There was no social difference between them. Jane Austen, like her heroines, strongly believed that although without marriage it was hard for a woman to be financially viable, nevertheless marriage without love and respect was to be avoided even at the cost of poverty. Emma discusses this at some length with Harriet, in relation to Miss Bates and Emma herself, and I think Emma’s matchmaking for Harriet give us more truly exogamous proposed marriages. I don’t see that Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth are a case in point either. Lady Russell opposed their early marriage on economic grounds, not social. As for Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney, again, Henry’s father opposed their attachment because he thought Catherine was poor, not because she wasn’t Henry’s social equal. I am taking the meaning of endogamous, according to the definition you quote, as being marriage within one’s own ethnic group, class or social group.

Kathy Wallace
Kathy Wallace
April 15, 2015 11:33 PM

While marriage between close relations was common in the upper classes, injecting “new blood” into the gene pool helped families survive. Mrs. Bennet, while coming from a lower class, produced health offspring. Lady Catherine, with her blue, blue bloodlines produced one sickly, weak child.

April 16, 2015 10:46 AM
Reply to  Kathy Wallace

History has witnessed such products of a “blood line” marriage more than once, Kathy.

Betty Campbell Madden
Betty Campbell Madden
April 15, 2015 11:25 PM

Another interesting article. . .and another interesting book I’m looking forward to reading. Thank you much once more.

April 16, 2015 10:44 AM

I am humbled by your praise, Betty.

Lauren K.
Lauren K.
April 15, 2015 10:58 PM

Very interesting post. Jane Austen’s novels continue to give both insight and critiques of regency era life and practices.Exogamus marriage seemed to parallel the other changes of the time, e.g., nobility or landowners marrying an heiress from families associated with trade (Caroline Bingley). The land wasn’t producing enough income to keep up the estates as it once did.

I brought “Elizabeth Bennett’s Deception” as an ebook and read it all in one sitting today. I really enjoyed it! Big fan of your work 🙂

April 16, 2015 10:44 AM
Reply to  Lauren K.

Thank you for your kind words on EBD. I am pleased you enjoyed it.
We sometimes think that life in the Regency was simple and pleasant. However, the world at that time was on the edge of the Industrial Age. Life as the aristocracy knew was forever changed from farming to products. Moreover, the English face wars in Europe and America, a famine which swept across the land, etc. Marriages of convenience took on a new meaning.

April 15, 2015 10:21 PM

Sounds like a good read! Thanks!

April 16, 2015 10:40 AM
Reply to  Lilmissmolly

Thank you, Molly. I hope you were not affected by the flooding in Columbus yesterday.

Sheila L. M.
Sheila L. M.
April 15, 2015 6:44 PM

I found this lesson on the meaning of these two words very interesting. Like others, I knew of these practices but not of the words defining such. I agree that even though Jane didn’t marry she did associate with an educated class of people so her life did have some stimuli. For so many women, rich or poor, of that era the day-to-day life must have been so dull and repetitive. There are labels on certain marriages today. And classes do like to marry within their own circles. I never liked the marrying within one’s family, even first cousins, due to the genetic pool sometimes producing birth defects, genetic illnesses, etc. Thank you for helping me learn my “something new” for today.

charlene capodice
charlene capodice
April 15, 2015 5:50 PM

thanks for the chance to win and for an interesting article!

April 15, 2015 5:47 PM

Regina, Thank you. As usual, this was a fascinating article. I personally believe Jane Austen knew how to listen. Listening is an art that is rewarded ten times over for a good listener. These posts are to be treasured as a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same…with just little twists added here and there. Once again, thank you. Brilliant!

Jennifer Redlarczyk
April 15, 2015 3:18 PM

Well I like to go along with Becoming Jane and think that Jane Austen did have a great love, though unrequited. Thanks so much for sharing this topic. I love that JA’s Lizzy married for love. I can’t wait to see what you have planned for her in your new book. Best Wishes, Break a Leg and all that Jazz. ~Jen Red~

Brenda Webb
April 15, 2015 2:29 PM

You always share such interesting subjects Regina, and today is no different. I did not know what these types of unions were called, but I do now. Cannot wait to read your new book and I am thrilled you have so many at the ready. Congrats on your new publishers and I wish you great luck!

Sandi McComb
Sandi McComb
April 15, 2015 12:54 PM

It seems like it has been ages since your last book. It will be a treat to snuggle down with a cuppa lavender tea and read this new book. I would really love to win an ecopy.

Vesper Meikle
April 15, 2015 11:04 AM

Thankfully we have moved on possibly due to education being available to everybody and not just the rich males

April 15, 2015 1:14 PM
Reply to  Vesper Meikle

In many countries subjugation is still an issue for women, but I am thankful to live in one where I possess some rights.

April 15, 2015 10:07 AM

This is a very interesting post! But I don’t think things have changed completely! A waitress can marry a millionaire but she is called a gold digger. An older woman can marry a younger man, but she is called a cougar. An older man can marry a much younger woman, but he is called a lech. I think society still likes people to marry within their class and age range. As for Jane’s love life, I can imagine she knew love, maybe unrequited or someone of a different station that herself. I just don’t think she could invoke the feelings her words do, without the knowledge. As Jenni James said in her post. She must have lived with regrets. So sad!
Thank you for the article though! I love reading about my favorite characters!
I would dearly love to win an e copy of the book! theardentreader at aol dot com. Thank you so much!

April 15, 2015 1:20 PM

Yes, we still look to our politically elite families. Do you recall Taylor Swift and the Kennedy clan? And Heaven forbid that Miley Cyrus marries into the Kennedy clan via Maria Schriver’s son Patrick.
I live in the South, and the “good old boy” network remains in many ways.
We all like to think that Jane knew love at least once in her life.

April 16, 2015 9:42 AM
Reply to  reginajeffers

Yes, the Kennedy clan is a great example! It amazes me how much things change but other things stay the same! 😀

April 18, 2015 1:30 PM

I totally agree. We think the Regency held great appeal, but there was much about it, which would not set well with modern day men and women.

April 15, 2015 9:53 AM

Thank you for this thought provoking post. 🙂

April 15, 2015 9:58 AM
Reply to  carylkane

I am glad you found it useful, Caryl.

April 15, 2015 9:51 AM

Hi Regina! I believe Austen not only wrote about what she knew but also what she observed. She was always paying attention to all around her. What amazes me about her stories is the timeless quality. We talk of Regency, but her stories are still relevant today.

Congratulations on your release! Thank you for the giveaway, but no need to enter me. There is no way I could wait that long for Regina’s first variation! It will be sitting safely on my kindle long before the end of the giveawaay. And I plan to get started this weekend! **Happy Dance**

April 15, 2015 10:00 AM
Reply to  BeckyC

Your enthusiasm always brings a smile to my lips, Becky. As always, I am humbled by your loyalty.
As to Austen being easily translated into contemporary times, you will find no argument with me. I have this whole presentation I do on just that subject.

Wendy Roberts
April 15, 2015 9:11 AM

Very interesting. Because we are so far removed from these times, articles like this help us understand what is going on in Jane’s books!

April 15, 2015 9:31 AM
Reply to  Wendy Roberts

It is easy for us to forget such things as the stigma of an elopement, etc., especially in an age where one can hop on a plane to Vegas, marry, and return home on the same day.

Marilyn Watson
Marilyn Watson
April 15, 2015 7:40 AM

I enjoyed the Article. The differences you have pointed out in… the levels of Society and expectations are partially what make Jane Austen Books so interesting to me. Thanks for the giveaway.
Marilyn ewatvess@yahoo.com

lois losh
lois losh
April 15, 2015 7:39 AM

Excellent article & thought provoking. Love it, & congrats

Stephanie Mudd Carrico
Stephanie Mudd Carrico
April 15, 2015 7:30 AM

Interesting article. Thanks for the giveaway…was already on my TBR list…

April 15, 2015 7:37 AM

Glad you enjoyed the article, Stephanie.

charlene capodice
charlene capodice
April 15, 2015 7:13 AM

thanks for the chance to win the books! wonderful article

April 15, 2015 7:36 AM

I am pleased you enjoyed the piece, Charlene.

April 15, 2015 6:35 AM

Thank you for this post. I knew about marrying within family and social circles (endogamous) to keep family/noble lines pure and marrying outside (exogamous) to diversify the blood lines. I never knew the actual words. I also appreciate the comparison of the character’s relationships in providing examples. it was both informative and fun. Can’t wait to read your short story. I wish Jane could’ve had a wonderful husband but if she had, perhaps we wouldn’t have thee wonderful novels.

April 15, 2015 6:50 AM
Reply to  Deborah

I imagine Jane Austen could not have tolerated a man who did not appreciate her imagination. She was quite spoiled by her brothers and father in that manner.

April 15, 2015 4:12 AM

Thanks for sharing this interesting topic, Regina. I don’t come from an academic background and my understanding of Austen’s novels are limited. I would like to think that she could have met such a man that loves her for who she is but alas fate has other ideas. Knowing the historical period of her time, I empathise with her since an unmarried woman has to rely on her male family members to financially care for her. Fortunately she has a loving family who help and encourage her to write. Without their support, she will not become the author of six masterpieces that we come to love. Nowadays, one does not have to get married to have a fulfilled life.

April 15, 2015 6:54 AM
Reply to  Lúthien84

Although the proverbial “glass ceiling” has not been totally breached, women have made strides in society. I saw a report the other day that said women were waiting into their late 30s and early 40s to have children. Just think that in Austen’s time such would not be possible. Medicine could not assist a premature baby. I was 38 when my son was born, and he came early. Neither of us would have survived the delivery.

April 15, 2015 1:42 AM

Interesting topic. That’s one thing about the Regency period that is concerning… Incest! To many people of the same circle marrying their 1st cousins. It’s confusing at times to keep track of who is related to whom especially because they name their offsprings after various family members!

April 15, 2015 6:57 AM
Reply to  Dung

We think of marrying first cousins as incestuous, but not so in the history of many countries. Royal lines were preserved by the practice. As to the names, I am always conscious of using “Fitzwilliam” for both Darcy and the colonel. Many casual readers of Austen do not know the practice of naming children from family surnames.

Jenni James
April 15, 2015 1:41 AM

When I first learned that Jane Austen had never been married my heart sunk. I cried for her. I couldn’t believe someone who wrote such romantical books could have never known love and marriage. Now, as I’ve become a writer, I rely so much on the relationships I’ve known. I draw on the characters I’ve already met before and place their essence into each of my fiction stories. For Jane to write with such feeling–such understanding of relationship drama and the foibles/miss communications/upsets, etc. I believe she had to have known and experienced them. She has too much knowledge to have not known the regret and truth she writes about.

April 15, 2015 7:04 AM
Reply to  Jenni James

I always assumed Jane was both a good observer of her society and an excellent listener. Think what tales her brothers carried home from their time at university and in service to their country. I imagine Rev. Austen also had tales of his parishioners. She associated with genteel and “educated” people in Hampshire. Austen read extensively. So, she may not have experienced everything first hand, but she held knowledge others of her gender did not.

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