Comment on the social background of Pride and Prejudice.

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The social background of this novel, or the context in which it is set, is one in which the position of women was very precarious. As much as this novel is famed for its romance and its humour, at the same time it is also possible to view it as a comment on the position of women in its time and the way that society left them with very few options. Women either had to be born wealthy or they had to marry into a wealthy family to get ahead in life. The option of working as a governess was one that would have resulted in a drop in social status. What makes the position of women much more important in this novel is the way that Mr Bennet needed a male heir to inherit his property. The fact that he has five daughters and a wife to look after places them in a very delicate position indeed, as when he dies they will be moved out of their home. Thus it is that the social background of this novel is one that leaves very few options for women. This helps the reader to understand the obsession of Mrs Bennet with marrying off her daughters, as the first chapter declares:

The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.

Austen, arguably, is slightly harsh with Mrs Bennet. Her obsession with getting her daughters married is a natural result of her vulnerable position. She is trying to make up for her husband's inability to provide for them all, and this expresses itself in quite frankly ludicrous behaviour as she tries to marry them all off in order to ensure that when her husband dies her daughters and herself will be provided for. Such bleak social realities give the reader considerable more sympathy for her position than the text would suggest.

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