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Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

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How does Pride and Prejudice relate to the socio-political-economic themes/ events that were prevalent in early 19th century England?

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One of the interesting things about Austen's novels, including this one, which is perhaps her most famous, is the way that she focuses so much on the domestic sphere that she ignores the wider picture of what was happening in England as a whole. Interestingly, Austen only began writing this novel in 1796, which was three years after the beginning of a war that England fought against France which was part of the French Revolution. However, Austen continued to work on this novel after this period, including during the Napoleonic wars. Therefore, it is important to remember that it is never specified which war is happening at the time of the novel. This is made more challenging by the fact that there are no references whatsoever to war. The only hints or clues that Austen provides take the form of the militia regiment that is stationed in Meryton. This would have been for reasons of protection, as Hertfordshire, the county where Meryton was based, is located just slightly north of London, which would have been a key target for any invasion. However, for Austen's characters, there are no such military implications mentioned. By contrast, the only way in which the presence of the militia is registered is through the stock of men that arrive in Meryton as a result:

At present, indeed, [Kitty and Lydia] were well supplied both with news and happiness by the recent arrival of a militia regiment in the neighbourhood; it was to remain the whole winter, and Meryton was the head quarters.

It is absolutely fascinating that Austen should ignore the political realities of what was happening in her country in her writing, and this is a criticism that has been levelled against her, particularly with regard to slavery and how she ignores it in other works such as Mansfield Park when it played such a crucial element in the riches of that family. However, many argue that Austen's restricted focus on the domestic sphere is actually very telling about the position of women at this particular time in England's history and the way that they were excluded from so much of what was happening in the wider political and social backdrop of England.

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