Class and Gender in Pride and Prejudice

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CLASS AND GENDER IN PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was written in the Regency period, during which England witnessed a decisive change in its hierarchical set-up. At that time gender and class expectations controlled and restricted the lives of people abiding them, particularly the women and the middle class. Each class was governed by a separate and distinct set of values and expectations that were strictly adhered to. The middle and the upper class were controlled by the expectations placed upon mannerism, social communication, conduct and courtship, whereas pride, honour, boastfulness were regarded a distinctive mannerism for the aristocrats, the superior individuals. In Pride and Prejudice, on one hand there was the traditional landed aristocracy, represented by Lady Catherine and the owner of Pemberley, Darcy, with their insular culture, hesistant to negotiate with the upwardly mobile middle class professionals. At the same time, a new class of gentry as emerging hich had acquired its fortune through trade. Mr. Bingley belongs to this category. The Lucases, “formerly in trade”, had “made a tolerable fortune” and promptly quit the market town occupied by them earlier. The professionals like Mr. Phillips, an attorney, or Mr. Collins, a clergyman, supported themselves through acquired skills and regulated economy. The Gardiners in “a respectable line of trade” earned their respectability by merit. The army officers, with their flashy lifestyles represent another important social group in that period.

Similarly there were distinct set of notions for men and women. During the Regency period, woman was expected to remain passive throughout her life, marry early, have children and support her husband whenever need may be. Her education as intended only as a preparation for her social life and her marriage for financial security. In the novel, while men manage their estates, take up jobs in navy, become commissioned officers or choose...
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