How do economic concerns touch the lives of the characters in Pride and Prejudice?
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From the very beginning of Pride and Prejudice we can perceive a preoccupation with economics with the very famously-repeated phrase
IT IS A TRUTH universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
A good fortune. This makes us wonder to what extent "a good fortune" is a wish, or an expectation, in the society of the Bennett sisters in the novel. Then, we wonder: why is "a good fortune" the catalyst that would drive a man to consider marriage? This is what serves as evidence that economic concerns INDEED touch the lives of the characters.
The Bennet sisters are particularly affected by economic concerns because they are females. Regency England, the time when the novel takes place, is a male-centered society where only males predominantly, but not exclusively, inherit. Hence, the Bennet family consists on five sisters who will each inherit a fifth of their father's wealth except for the land, which was entailed to the male line. This particularity affects Mr. Bennet, for he admits that he had never saved enough to provide a good dowry that a potential rich husband might want. This is why Lydia ends up having to be rescued by Darcy with a dowry in order to "buy" Wickham to make him marry her after they had eloped.
Furthermore, the Bennet sisters' home was entailed to a distance cousin who would be the next male heir to Mr. Bennet's branch of the family. His name is Mr. Collins, and he is a far cousin to the Bennet sisters. He is also stuck-up, annoying, overly dramatic, and quite unattractive to anyone who would want to marry happily.
His own economic concerns are the preoccupation with pleasing a member of the upper classes who is his patroness, Lady Catherine DeBurgh. In his case, having her patronage is like going up in social rank, which allows him to be condescending to others.
Naturally, Mrs. Bennet's (the girls' mother), fixation is to marry her daughters off to men who are well-to-do. This is what would guarantee a woman her place in society, especially upper class, gentleman's daughters like the Bennets. This is also one way a woman would come into some property, especially if the husband has plenty of land and money. However, Mrs. Bennet goes one step above and is actually a bit obsessed with it. We see that obviously stated in Chapter 18 when Mrs. Bennet speaks aloud of the prospect of her daughter Jane's marriage to Mr. Bingley and of how this may bring other opportunities to the rest of the daughters. It is a most embarrassing thing for her to do, and makes Lizzie nearly lose her temper at the ball.
It was an animating subject, and Mrs. Bennet seemed incapable of fatigue while enumerating the advantages of the match. His being such a charming young man, and so rich, and living but three miles from them, were the first points of self-graduation; and then it was such a comfort to think how fond the two sisters were of Jane, and to be certain that they must desire the connection as much as she could do. It was, moreover, such a promising thing for her younger daughters, as Jane's marrying so greatly must throw them in the way of other rich men;
Hence, social status, financial security, and personal ego are some of the ways for how economic concerns touch the lives of the characters of Pride and Prejudice.
The novel is all about young middle-class women trying to find husbands and about older women, especially mothers and aunts, trying to find husbands for these young women. Elizabeth's family is in a particularly difficult situation because all the women, including the mother, are going to lose their house when the father dies. None of the young women can offer a dowry because they are just getting by financially. This, of course, makes them less marriageable. If only one of the young women can find a rich husband, she would be able to take care of the others, especially the mother, who would be destitute without someone to provide for her. There were virtually no careers open to women of that social class except as governesses to children of wealthy families. Women were mostly confined to their homes. A common saying up until the 1920s was, "A woman's place is in the home." But that, of course, meant dependency upon a husband, an uncle, an older brother, or some other man. Mr. Darcy is considered the top prize in the competition for husbands. He is tall, dark, handsome, virile, and rich. Books about the plight of unmarried women by other authors include Jane Eyre, The Turn of the Screw, and an excellent novel by George Gissing titled The Odd Women, which in some ways parallels the story in Pride and Prejudice.
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