What is the meaning of this passage?
"I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! -- the proper sport of boys and girls -- but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable"
I'm doing a close reading and could use all the help I can get!
One thing that can help in understanding this passage is that Jane Austen the author chose not to marry, and when she wrote this passage was already 39 years old: certainly the sign of an "old maid" in her cultural era. Austen's take on society's expectations of women's choices is that marriage does not always create the best situation for a woman. She may end up feeling trapped in a loveless marriage, or giving up her creative pursuits because she must manage a household and raise a family. In this passage Austen makes it clear that it is public opinion, and not women's choices, that make marriage the most acceptable choice. But the irony here is that she believes unmarried women of means are judged less harshly than unmarried wimen who are poor: meaning it is not msrriage itself that is what is respected, but material comfort.