How is social status represented in Jane Austen's Emma and Pride and Prejudice?
The social status of characters in Jane Austen's novels is represented principally by their income and more importantly by their dwelling place.
The fortune of a man is given as an annual income. Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice has around £2,000 a year. Mr. Bingley has £4,000 or £5,000. Mr. Darcy has £10,000. Mr. Wickham, at the end of the novel, would be glad to secure an appointment at £400. A woman's fortune is given as a lump sum. Miss Darcy has £30,000, the same amount as Emma Woodhouse. This lump sum would yield an income of about 4-5% a year, meaning that a woman needs much less than a man to be considered wealthy. Miss Darcy would only have about £1,500 a year to her brother's £10,000.
The country house, however, is the most important representation of status. Emma's house, Hartfield, is a fairly grand house but is less prestigious than Mr. Knightley's Donwell Abbey, since it is attached to the village of Highbury—despite its separate gardens. It is more like the village manor than a true country house.
The Bennet family's Longbourn is the same type of home, attached to the village of the same name. Netherfield, set further out in its own grounds, is a much grander house but is not as splendid as Pemberley, Mr. Darcy's ancestral home, or Rosings, home of the De Burgh family.
Titles are often an important indicator of social status in the English novel, but Jane Austen deals more with the landed gentry than the aristocracy and uses no particularly grand titles. Her titled characters are either knights or baronets and their ladies. In Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine is at the same social level as Mr. Darcy. Sir William Lucas, the only titled man, is at a lower social level, barely the equal of Mr. Bennet by birth and social standing.
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