”Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
Pride and prejudice evolve around a middles class family in the typical English society of the 19th century. Marriage was the key subject for most women at that time since it was the only way to achieve status and respect within society.
Traditionally wealth was passed along the male generation, and women were not educated thus had limited financial and economic capability and only found solace in marrying wealthy husbands.
The novel also shows a different type of marriages in that society ranging from marriage for convenience, sensual marriage to marriage out of love.
The book distinguishes various classes of people in that society during that time and how they viewed each other. The rich looked down upon the poor, or the lower level and women were the most alienated members of the society.
Jane’s work on pride and prejudice mainly explored the middle class and the upper-middle-class way of life using a comic satire. The plots varied but were based on one unique theme of courtship and marriage among the young women of the 19th century.
For the young woman in the upper middle class during that time marriage was the only and reliable way to attain freedom and autonomy (Stafford 2). Marrying an affluent man with a good background was the most attractive position for a woman at that time.
Women who were not married and still lived in their parents home were looked down upon.
The social life for the upper middle class was dominated by composite structure of protocol such as formal visits, signing and leaving of visiting cards, writing of letters among others. This is the kind of life Jane viewed with ridicule and spoof (Stafford 6).
Pride and prejudice refer to the era of elegance. This era was also marked with the French revolution and various upheavals across Europe but also formed the age of enlightenment and romance. Women tried to attain a balance between love and understanding.
They were very much attached to the motive, common sense, superior taste, and social groups. Women paid a lot of attention to personal freedom, individual feelings, perceptions, imaginations, and their ability to follow their nature.
The era was full of romance but also was dominated by ego, eccentric and sensational (Rogers 8).
Jane in her novel believed that women who acted rationally were bound to live happily than those who were swept by love and eloped as a result of the resistance they faced from their parents/kin. In the 19th century, marriage for the middle-class women was the order of the day.
Women didn’t work nor earned a living. A small number of women in the middle class made income through writing but rarely made a living out of it.
Some inherited wealth although the tradition dictated inheritance flow through the male side of the family. Therefore for women, marriage was the only way to gain economic wellbeing (Fox 7).
Since men were the wealthiest members of society, women did almost everything to attract their attention. Women involved themselves in activities such as singing, dancing, painting among others just to attract male attention.
Reciting famous poems, embroidery, and works of art formed the major achievement for young women. As a result of this most women never valued the importance of education since they spend most of their adult life in households.
Several parents promoted their daughters’ academic development, but women rarely acquired efficient knowledge compared to men (Fox 9).
The novel pride and prejudice revolve around the English society in the 19th century, and the socio-economic challenges women experienced during that era. This society was dominated by men who enjoyed all the privileges the society had to offer.
Male generation was the only one allowed by tradition to inherit wealth and to enjoy social privileges such as good jobs, education among others. Women were discriminated against, and the only way they could achieve better social status was to marry from a wealthy family.
The objective of the study
The study explores the socio-economic challenges that faced women in the 19th century based on the novel Pride and Prejudice written by Jane Austen.
The study examines the types of marriages that took place in that era besides marriage for wealth. From the novel, the study also tries to establish the place of a woman in the 19th-century English society.
The book portrays a young middle-class woman who swims against the odd through her intricate and appealing heroic personality. The major challenge in this era for such character was how to uphold her personality and independence in the environment of social pressure and limitations.
The novel balances amusement and empathy as it narrates the story of two complex characters (Elizabeth and Darcy) undergoing thorough self-evaluation (Le Faye 2).
Early 19th century (the period between 1810 and 1820) was also known as the Regency period. The term originated from the English ruler by that time (George IV) who acted as a reagent which means a substitute for the King who was suffering from insanity.
The period was also known as the era of elegance. The industrial revolution had taken place for almost a century and was changing English society. Use of technology both in the commercial and the industrial sector signified profitability and efficiency.
This made a lot of middle-class businessmen and expert s to be rich. The new class of wealthy individuals was very enthusiastic about adopting embrace the traditional aristocratic English lifestyle.
They exhibited their riches in expansive homes, exquisite carriages, and stylish fashions (Le Faye 2).
Pride and Prejudice focus on the English middle class to the upper middle class. These categories of people include the newly rich who obtained wealth through business and other commercial activities and the old rich class who acquired their wealth through inheritance.
Even though these two groups had a similar lifestyle, there was a finer social distinction between them.
Those who inherited wealth and had no sons could not pass this wealth to their daughters, only to their closest male relations. For example, Miss Bengali together with her sister looked down upon Mr. Bennets’ family because they were doing no have much wealth (Austen 6).
Use of class to distinguish individuals was very common during that time. Those who owned large parcels of land ranked in the upper class and were very powerful individuals.
The next in the rank was the gentry who were the newly rich individuals but had no power to vote. The lowest were the servants and laborers (Le Faye 3).
Pride and prejudice centered on the relationship between marriage and fortune. Single women who came from a rather humble background were the most husbands seeking group. Women in the 19th century had to get married at all cost or face devastation.
The book pride and prejudice illustrate the plight of women during that time.
Even if a woman came from a well off families like Bennet’s daughters who lived in a huge house, with loving parents and had carriage and servants, marriage was a must or else they end up in poverty or face discrimination from the society (Stafford 6).
Marriage was the only way to secure a good future for a woman, or else they could be forced to abandon their family or home and become a governess in other families. This could eventually mean lower status and dwindling hopes of marrying someone from a good class.
Women were very rational when it comes to matters of marriage and regarded marriage for love as frolicsome (Austen 3). This shows the main reason why Mrs. Bennet made it is a personal business in trying to get her daughters married.
Mrs. Bennet pressures her husband to be acquainted with Mr.Bingley whom she sees as a potential husband for one of her daughters. This is also noticed when she tries to persuade her ailing daughter Jane to remain in Nether field.
However, she never succeeded because of her sudden departure from Nether Field which interrupted her plans (Austen 4).
What Jane wrote is not only a fairy tale but also a story based on the social reality with intrinsic emotional truth that still permeates generations to generations. Even though some people fall in love, others are still discriminative and proud on some occasions.
Jane represents women in the 19th century who were discouraged by their family to marry from a less fortunate family since they were also less fortunate. At the same time, Jane broke off her engagement to another man in the last minute since she realized she did not love this man (Austen 4).
Le Faye indicates, “English Regency period was predominantly indicated with a division in class which was rooted in family link and wealth” (4). There were a lot of social prejudice and stereotypic characters in the upper English class.
However, English society was also subjected to poor breeding and mischief among those in the lower social ladder. Therefore, England at that time had limited social mobility, and class awareness was very strong (Le Faye 4).
Whereas social progression for young men was pegged on forces, church, or law, the main way for self-enhancement for women was the attainment of riches or wealth. The only way women could achieve this goal was through marriage hence the dominance of matrimony in that era.
“Women in the early 19th century had a lot of freedom to choose their male partners than those in the 18th century, but rational consideration limited these options” (Joe et al. 9).
For this reason, women and other folks in the society discriminated against marriage to the lower class while at the same time women felt proud for marrying wealthy families with the excellent socio-economic background (Stafford 9).
From the novel Darcy fancy Lizzie very much but dos do not have the courage to tell her. Lizzie, on the other hand, represents the women in the 19th century who was so intelligent and honest but so proud.
As much as she likes Darcy, she never considered marrying her at any point in her life and had no chemistry for him (Fox 3).
Lydia Bennet represents the materialistic women of the 19th century who spent most of their time thinking about the best clothes to wear to please men of suitable social status. Lydia fancied going to the ball where she would meet these types of men.
The fashion at that time consisted of clothes with a lower waist and more appealing to the male folks (Rogers 7).
Jane Austen work has been criticized for concentrating on a limited perspective of the English society, and that is the middle class and the upper class. Pride and prejudice pay less attention to the lower class and only touched on the servants who were pleased with their lot.
This lack of interest in the lower level and the poor represents the typical English society of the 19th century (Austen 9).
From the novel pride and prudence it apparent that marriage was the most important aspect of a woman’s life in the English society during that period.
Various types of marriage are highlighted ranging from marriage out of coercion depicted in Charlotte and Collins marriage, marriage out of bodily pleasure seen in Lydia’s matrimony, to the union out of love seen in Jane and Elizabeth’s wedding.
The novel also demonstrates how pride and prejudice became a stumbling block in the relationship of many women during that era as seen in Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship.
Pride in the 19th century narrowed the mind of many people thus made them look down upon others especially those in the lower class of the English society.
An example from the novel is Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s pride that affected their relationship and kept them apart for a very long period. This only changed when they decided to alter their stance and became very humble and accommodative.
From the book, it is very clear that society discriminated against women since their life was very much restricted to homes and family.
Women from the lower class worked very hard at home and in the field to pass the time while those in the upper class in parties, visiting relatives, dinners among others. Their life revolved around children, society, and matrimony.
Women education was also limited for only daughters of the upper-class families. Some parents regarded education for the girl child as a waste of time and resources.
Wealthy families, for instance, Catherine de Bourgh, employed tutors to educate their daughters or sent them to boarding schools but the majority of the women educated themselves at home.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice: Monkey Note Edited by Diane Sauder. NY: Pink Monkey Inc, 2000. Print.
Fox, Robert. Elizabeth Bennet: Prejudice or Vanity?” Nineteenth Century Fiction. California: University of California Press, 1962. Print.
Le Faye, Deidre. Jane Austen: “The World of Her Novels”. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002. Print.
Rogers, Pat. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice. London: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print.
Stafford, Fiona. Notes on the Text”, Pride and Prejudice. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.