Illustration of Kate Hardcastle in high society attire on the left, and dressed as a barmaid on the right

She Stoops to Conquer

by Oliver Goldsmith

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What does Goldsmith convey about the role of money in marriage decisions in She Stoops to Conquer, specifically regarding Constance and Hastings?

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The attitudes that Constance, Hastings, and Hardcastle take to the young woman’s inheritance and marriage reveal interrelated perceptions of independence and patriarchal control. Constance herself is deeply committed to the concept of inheritance in that her fortune—although small—was left to her by her uncle. It has come to her through her family and is therefore something to which she has sentimental attachment as well as ownership through birthright. Money is abstractly associated with the bulk of the fortune, as its value is largely symbolic; the jewels will not likely be sold.

Nevertheless, she does not have absolute control over her own possessions; Hardcastle has the authority to decide how her goods will be allocated. Although the fairness of this system can be questioned, Constance is a practical person who does not want to fight that battle. Hasting takes a more romantic view of the situation; he is an impractical young man who has not put much thought into the realities of married life.

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Initially when Constance and Hastings first meet in the play, Hastings states that he is not interested in Constance's jewels and will marry her without them. However, interestingly it is Constance herself who refuses to elope without at least managing to take her jewels. Note what she says to Hastings to explain why she will not marry him prematurely:

I have often told you, that though ready to obey you, I yet should leave my little fortune behind with reluctance. The greatest part of it was left me by my uncle, the India Director, and chiefly consists in jewels.... The instant they are put into my possession you shall find me ready to make them and myself yours.

This comment from Constance is used to indicate the reality of marriage, which, in Goldsmith's day, was something that was rarely ever a question of love alone. The audience is made very aware that the parents are only able to marry Constance off because of these jewels, and Constance in this quote is well aware that a young couple cannot live on love alone, and refuses to elope with Hastings until she has them. In a sense, this indicates the way in which women were bought and sold on the marriage market by the strength of their wealth and stature. Marriage was not about love primarily, but about what women could offer to the man who would marry them.

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