"The possession of land was the greatest social asset of 18th century England." Explain with reference to Pride and Prejudice.

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Jane Austen's novels were written at the very end of the eighteenth century, but they still describe the social world of that era, in which wealth, power, and social status largely depended on the possession of land.

At the apex of the social structure of Pride and Prejudice, we have Mr. Darcy, a landed proprietor with extensive holdings. Slightly below him in social status are Lady Catherine de Burgh and Mr. Bingley. There are only a few hints that they are not on quite the same level as Mr. Darcy, but these are suggestive. Although Lady Catherine has a title, which her nephew does not, her name, "de Burgh" suggests the middle-class town rather than the country aristocracy. Then there is the name of her House: Rosings Park. A "park" in the eighteenth century referred to the garden of a great house. Pemberley, Mr. Darcy's home, has a park, but the park is only the beginning of the farms and estates that surround it. A house, however grand, that had only a park was distinctly inferior to a true estate. Mr. Bingley, we learn, though rich, does not have his own ancestral home with land attached. He will have to buy one when his lease on Netherfield (another park) has expired.

In another instance of land being more important even than titles of nobility, Mr. Bennet, a gentleman farmer, is slightly the social superior of Sir William Lucas, who has been knighted but has no land. Mr. Darcy and Lady Catherine are also able to use their status as landowners (albeit a small landowner in the latter case) to appoint clergymen such as Mr. Collins (and potentially Mr. Wickham) to livings within their gift.

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