The April A to Z Blogging Challenge is a month long event where I, and more than 2000 other bloggers, will post every day of the month (except Sundays) using a different letter of alphabet. The theme of my posts will be “What I Love About Pride and Prejudice.” Click the link above or the A to Z badge in my sidebar to visit other participants.
“They are descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the father’s, from respectable, honourable, and ancient — though untitled — families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! But it must not, shall not be. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up.” Jane Austen – Pride & Prejudice
Please don’t think I’m in love with the class system of the Regency Period. There’s nothing further from the truth. I’m thrilled that it’s antiquated and hope it never rears its ugly head again.
So what is it about class that I’ve found to love? Well, I love the way Jane Austen used the standards of her time, what she knew best, to play her characters off of each other. I always enjoy great conflict in a story and Pride & Prejudice uses the Social Class structure of the time to its advantage. The degrees of separation between the classes are the backbone on which the plot and sub-plots rest. It’s what drives the tension filled romance.
The Bennet family is considered landed gentry. They do not work or tend their own land. Mr. Bennet is a gentleman whose estate, Longbourn, earns at least 2,000 pounds a year. This isn’t a large sum, even during the 19th century in Great Britain and especially when they have five children to support, but it still means that Elizabeth and all her sisters are considered part of the upper class. They are a gentleman’s daughters, even though their mother was born into the trade class (as the daughter of an attorney…oh how times have changed).
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is also of the upper class, but with more distinction. He owns a large estate called Pemberly that earns him 10,000 pounds a year. Beyond that, his mother came from an aristocratic family. His aunt, the sister to his mother, Lady Catherine de Bourgh boasts of it and uses this standing to bully others.
While the Bingley’s are wealthy, the money that they have inherited came from trade. They do not own property, though it is mentioned that Charles, Louisa and Caroline’s father meant to buy an estate before he died. This actually makes them middle class; beneath Elizabeth and her family in social status. The irony is that Caroline and Louisa make fun of Mrs. Bennet and her connections when they come from a similar background.
If it weren’t for the social class order in Britain during Austen’s day, the story wouldn’t have taken the turns that it did. Mr. Darcy wouldn’t have looked down on Elizabeth because of her connections and money. She wouldn’t have been turned against him because of his arrogance. It would have just been another story of boy meets girl. The division of the classes is what kept the tension between Elizabeth and Darcy going. It is also one of the things that makes the story enjoyable to read.
(PSSST!…..Do you want to read the story told from the view point of the Bennet family servants? Check out Longbourn by Jo Baker. You’ll get to see what the scullery maid thinks of Elizabeth walking through the mud to visit her sick sister).