What contexts and values of her times does Jane Austen examine in Pride and Prejudice?
Some contexts of her time that Jane Austen examines in Pride and Prejudice are the military, farm laborers, and estate wills. Austen is unique in that she does not discuss externals directly, either in terms of descriptions or social contexts. She does however allude to or indirectly infer some. The presence of the Regiment in Meryton alludes to England's military involvements. Pride and Prejudice was written between 1796 and 1798. In most immediate proximity to the writing period, England signed a treaty in 1795,, which was ratified in 1797, with the United States guaranteeing that England would remove its regiments from the US Northwest territory. In 1796, General Bonaparte led the victory against Austria; though England was not involved, this was nonetheless part of the military context of the times.
Regarding farm laborers, when Elizabeth visits Rosings, it is made quite clear that Lady de Bourgh takes an active interest in overseeing the running of her estate and the lives of her farm laborers. Darcy's housekeeper alludes to the same overseership of farm laborers when she says,
"He is the best landlord, and the best master," said [Mrs. Reynolds], "... There is not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name."
Property laws, and particularly entailment of estates away from the female line, are alluded to through the presence and role of Mr. Collins, who would have married one of the Bennet girls in order to keep the property in the Bennet family.
Values that Austen examines are contained with her themes: love and marriage; pride and prejudice; wealth and prestige; middle class wealth. Love and marriage are examined through every major character from the ill-behaved, scandalous Lydia, Wickham and Mrs. Younge to the practical and ridiculous Charlotte and Mr. Collins to the proud and prejudiced Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. For example, Austen examines the necessary link between love, marriage and society when Colonel Fitzwilliam informs Elizabeth that his position in life depends upon his marrying a wealthy upper class woman because he is a penniless earl’s second son who, as such, cannot inherit lands, title, or wealth. Austen examines the relationship between love, social standing, independence, and marriage through Charlotte's decision to marry Collins for independence and position without any love being involved--good will stands in the stead of love in Charlotte's attachment to Collins.
Wealth and prestige follow the examination of love and marriage in Austen's novel. The issue enters into every relationship and problem. For example, Bingley is worthy of a marriage with a gentleman's daughter because his father was successful enough at a trade to be significant wealthy to give his children lives of privileged independence. He thus came to represent the newly risen wealthy middle class. The Gardiners further represent the connection between wealth and prestige. Gardiner is a tradesman; Elizabeth scorns to think of Darcy or the Bingleys enduring a relationship with such an individual:
Mr. Gardiner was a sensible, gentlemanlike man, ... [They] would have had difficulty in believing that a man who lived by trade, and within view of his own warehouses, could have been so well-bred and agreeable.
Yet, after Darcy's change in inner character, it is with Gardiner's help that he rescues Lydia, thus emphasizing a newly begun re-evaluation of wealth and social prestige.