Social Status

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Pride and Prejudice is the most enduringly popular novel written by Jane Austen. It talks about trivial matters of love, marriage and family life between country squires and fair ladies in Britain in the 18th century. The plot is very simple. That is how the young ladies choose their husbands. Someone said that “Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist of the novel, flatly rejected William Collins’ proposal, who is the heir of her father’s property and manor, and refused the first proposal from the extremely wealthy nobleman Fitzwilliam Darcy later,”(1) all this makes it clear that Elizabeth “seeks no fame nor fortune, but self-improvement and high mental outlook.”(1) It’s right. From the view point of Austen, Elizabeth’s marriage, who finally marries Darcy, as well as Jane-Bingley’s, composing money and love, is the ideal marriage people should after. But in other marriage cases in this novel, we can see that if money and love can’t be held together in one marriage, love would always make a concession to money because of the special social background. After reading through the whole book, we will find that money acts as the cause of each plot and the clue of its development. It affects everybody’s words and deeds, even Elizabeth Bennet. Tony Tanner once said, “Jane Austen, as well as other authors, is very clear that no feeling could be extremely pure and no motive could be definitely single. But as long as it is possible, we should make it clear that which feeling or motive plays the leading role.” (2)

Social Background
The story of Pride and Prejudice took place in the time of the Regency in Britain. At that time, Britain was at the period of transition from the earlier stage of Capitalism to Capitalist Industrialization. In the countryside, the aristocratic family still held great power and right that country squires were likely to fawn upon them. However, as the development of Capitalism and the expand of the rank of rich people, the distinction between social strata was becoming smaller and smaller, while money was getting more and more important in people’s mind about social value. A western literature critic once said that “ even David Ricardo (a British economist) had a unlikely clearer understanding about the function of money in daily life as Jane Austen had.”(3) It is exactly because of the secure pledge in finance that the country squire society could be existing strongly and solidly.

The first sentence of the whole novel proclaims, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”(4) Here, “a good fortune” and “in want of” are two key phrases. “in want of” means it is needed objectively, but not subjectively. Such kind of wording makes the proposition have more objectivity of “truth”. In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennets are taken as the typical to test the “truth universally acknowledged”. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have five daughters, living at Longbourn. Mr. Bennet’s property consists almost entirely in an estate of two thousand pounds a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, is entailed, in default of heirs male, on a distant relation. That means there will be no other guarantee for their daughters’ future lives, but their perspective marriages. Therefore, it is no wonder that Mrs. Bennet takes Mr. Bingley as “the rightful property”(5) for their daughters when she hears about that he has one hundred thousand pounds property, though she has not even seen him – “A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”(6) That is the beginning of the novel. The implicit marriage mentioned here obviously concerns no feeling but only financial condition and subsistence. To those husband-hunting ladies, Mr. Bingley is an abstract signal. The most important thing is that he has “a good fortune”. So we can say, to opposite with the proclamation at the beginning, so-called “ a...
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