Why is money an important topic among the lives of Jane Austen's heroines ?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Literary Women 1976, (67), 71 Ellen Moers writes the following interesting observation about Jane Austen's works

All of Jane Austen's opening paragraphs, and the best of her first sentences, have money in them; this may be the first obviously feminine thing about her novels, for money and its making were characteristically female rather than male subjects in English fiction. . .

Far from negative criticism, Moers offers that Austen's treatment of money as an important part of a woman's chances in society is actually Austen's way to voice her social outcry against the inequality of social rights for women. An early feminist, Austen does not openly shout out  in angst against the unfair role of women within society, but she denotes in her novels, with strong detail, that money is, quite clearly and realistically, the ticket to buy their way into it. This is not a bad connotation about women but a realistic account of how the changing times continued to leave women behind during Austen's time.

The female characters upon which Austen bases her characters are women of her own time and place. This being said, it is safe to assume that her characters have experienced the same social changes that Austen, herself, experienced as a young and adult woman. Concisely, her female characters have presumably witnessed the kingdom of (mad) King George III, the following Regency of the Prince of Wales, the effects of the American Revolution, the shock of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, and the paradigm shifts of the Industrial Revolution along with the influx of the ideas of the Enlightenment period, such as "common sense" and questioning the system. 

All these social changes, however, had mainly men, not women, as their epicenters. Men continued to experience changes and the opportunities that changes brought with them. Contrastingly, women continued to be left behind socially, emotionally, and physically, due to the consistent advent of wars and battles.

Hence, what else was left for women, but the unique social opportunity of marrying well, and having some rights of their own through a good marriage? This shows how the importance of money in the lives of Regency women was, unfortunately, quite evident. Jane Austen points this out, not to put out her characters as money-hungry young ladies, but as ladies who understand where they stand. As a result, hoping for a good marriage is the only way that women of limited means could ever hoped to obtain the simple benefits of comfort and, in some cases, even joy.

This latter statement is evident when Moers concludes

What I am suggesting is that Austen's realism in the matter of money was in her case an essentially female phenomenon, the result of her deep concern with the quality of a woman's life in marriage.

salimj | Student

If you take many of Jane Austen's heroines especially in Emma and Pride and Prejudice we see the heroines are more concerned towards money, family ranks and social status.

Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice can be considered as a woman who is matured but she is attracted to Darcy mainly because of the money. If we take the very opening sentence of the novel this fact can be clearly seen. In the case of Emma, the heroine is toomuch interested in money and social customs.