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Pride and Prejudice

By TahliaL Apr 18, 2013 1363 Words
Welcome, over the weekend we will be discussing the most influential literature pieces of time. Today’s discussion will lead us back to the early 19th century, a time where women weren't treated as they are today. One of the most influential novels of that time was none other than Pride and Prejudice written by Jane Austen. Also, I am going to discuss one of her other novels Emma.

During the 19th Century women were treated similar to slaves, being controlled by men their entire lives. They were controlled originally by their father, then by their husband if they were to marry. However, it was frowned upon if a woman was to choose to remain unmarried. She would be ridiculed and pitied by the community if a woman did so. Furthermore, rights to the woman personally - that is, access to her body - were his. Not only was this assured by law, but the woman herself agreed to it verbally: written into the marriage ceremony was a vow to obey her husband, which every woman had to swear before God as well as earthly witnesses. [2] The English social class was divided into three categories; the upper class, middle class and lower class. The Upper Class often people with inherited wealth. It includes some of the oldest families, with many of them being titled aristocrats. The Middle Class was the majority of the population of Britain. They include industrialists, professionals, business people and shop owners. Lower or Working Class people who are agricultural, mine and factory workers were in this class. There were no difference in a woman's power, it was all equal, and the only major difference was in their daily lives. [5]

Pride and Prejudice is a novel by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story follows the main character Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with issues of social manners, social expectations, morality, education, gentility and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of early 19th-century England. Elizabeth is the second of five daughters of a country gentleman living near the fictional town of Meryton in Hertfordshire, near London.

During the 19th century, a woman’s reputation was of upmost importance. Women were expected to behave with decorum, virtue and humility.Stepping outside the social norm would create a sense of vulnerability and a chance of ostracism. A major theme that Austen expressed throughout the novel is; ‘reputation.’Austen seeks to critique the theme of commonly held notions within the 19th century society. This is evident as the character, Mrs Bennet, is described as having an ill-mannered and ridiculous behaviour which, in turn, would give her a bad reputation with the more refined characters such as the Bingley’s and the Darcy’s. The humour in which Mrs Bennet is portrayed in the novel, which assist’s the author and her criticism as to her views of society during the 19th century changes, as throughout certain events that occur in the novel, Austen treats a woman’s reputation very seriously. She upholds the notion of female virtue and very precarious commodity, especially when the character, Lydia Bennet, elopes with George Wickham and runs away to live with him out of wedlock. This ‘disgraceful’ act put the reputation of the Bennet family at risk; it would essentially cast the Bennet sisters unmarried and shameful. The reader is aligned to reject Lydia and her appalling behaviour. This theme corroborates with another theme incorporated into the novel, class.

The theme, class, is related to the previously discussed theme, reputation. They both reflect the strictly disciplined nature of life for the middle and upper classes in England.This theme criticised the English social class as the author made connections to that of realistic society. The Bennet's are middle class and they may socialise with the people of the upper-class, the Bingley's and Darcy's however, they are socially inferior and are treated as such. Austen mocks this, particularly in the majority of the upper-class characters. A prime example of this is the character, Miss Bingley. She dislikes anyone who is not as socially acceptable as she is. This is apparent when Elizabeth arrives at Netherfield all muddy and wet from running through the rain, Miss Bingley "shook Elizabeth's hand without much affection at all (Pride and Prejudice: 1813, p. 29)." Through this a connection between both themes is formed, Elizabeth's reputation and opinion degrades when Miss Bingley sees Elizabeth looking so atrocious.Through the Darcy-Elizabeth and Bingley-Jane marriages, Austen shows the power of love and happiness to overcome class boundaries and prejudices, thereby implying that such prejudices are hollow, unfeeling, and unproductive. Of course, this whole discussion of class must be made with the understanding that Austen herself is often criticized as being a classist: she doesn’t really represent anyone from the lower classes; those servants she does portray are generally happy with their lot. Austen does criticize class structure but only a limited slice of that structure.

Emma, by Jane Austen, is a novel about youthful woman and the perils of misconstrued romance. The novel was first published in December 1815. As in her other novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of genteel women living in England; she also creates a lively comedy of manners among her characters.

The character, Emma, is constructed around a number of recent marriages. In each case the participant’s social status improves. During the early 19th century social status was determined by a number of factors; family background, reputation and wealth. Essentially marriage was one of the main ways one could improve their social status. This method of social advancement was especially crucial to women, who were denied the possibility of improving their status through hard work or personal achievement.However, the author implies that marrying too far above your social status can prove to be difficult.When the character, Mr Weston married his first wife, she was wealthy and was related to a well-connected family, but the inequality of the relationship caused hardship to both characters. This construction related back to society as a criticism to the difficulty to raise your social status. Mr Weston second marriage was more successful as their social status was more equal. The relationship between marriage and social status creates hardship for not only the characters in the novel but in reality during the early 19th century.

It’s apparent that at the beginning of the novel Emma does not have to marry. She doesn’t have to marry as she is wealthy and she seems happy. A character, Mr Knightley believed that Emma’s irresponsible match-making is the result of a lack of marriage. “It was foolish, it was wrong, to take so active a part in bringing any two people together. It was adventuring too far, assuming too much, making light of what ought to be serious, a trick of what ought to be simple. (Emma; 1815, p. 114)"

The novels that Jane Austen has written criticise how society was in the early 19th century. Women weren't treated as they are today, however women were beginning to gain power, which allowed Austen to publish the novels anonymously. Pride and Prejudice as well as Emma incorporate how society was in the 19th century, discussing issues of social manners, social expectations, morality, education, gentility and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of England. Bibliography

1. Brown, R. (2008) Looking at History: Women in Politics: 1800-1850, a period of dislocation. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 12 Sep 2012]. 2. (n.d.) English Women's History. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 12 Sep 2012]. 3. (n.d.) SparkNotes: Emma. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 12 Sep 2012]. 4. (n.d.) SparkNotes: Pride and Prejudice. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 12 Sep 2012]. 5. (2012) Social Class in England and Britain. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 12 Sep 2012].

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