Comparison of Wealth and Class in Pride and Prejudice

2338 words (9 pages) Essay in English Literature

08/02/20 English Literature Reference this

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Restrictions of the Wealthy

 Pride and Prejudice is a romantic satire written by Jane Austen. Published in 1813, it explores the life of the Bennet family and their five daughters. Jane Austen examines the class and society of the eighteen hundreds through the twenty year old heroine Elizabeth. The novel pays close attention to the differentiation of social classes and how individuals are treated and regarded because of their wealth and societal placement. A sizeable difference places the Bennet girls far below other members of society and provides a distinct contrast between the wealthy and those below them. The general consensus that the wealthy have easier lives and more fulfillment, existed in the eighteenth century and still remains today. This novel challenges these set notions by displaying the constraints money can have on people, suggesting that freedom and wealth are not quite as intertwined as previously assumed. Freedom could not always be bought quite as easily as expected. With money and a title, individuals were expected to follow certain traditions and act a specific way. Their wealth restrained marriages and relationships to intense degrees. It caused isolation and social detriments including the appearance of pride. The wealthy were often mislead by their love interests who solely wished to obtain their fortune. Money did not provide an easy and carefree route through life but in fact closed many doors. Although societal norms suggest that wealth corresponds with freedom, Pride and Prejudice demonstrates that in the eighteen hundreds, the wealthy were the most restricted.
 Wealthy and respected persons in the nineteenth century were bound by the expectations of marriage. Not only were they expected to be married, but it was habitual that they should find a spouse of equal standing with a substantial dowry and respected family name. Charles Bingley is drawn to Jane Bennet from the very beginning. His intentions seem very purely that he wishes to excite the idea of marrying her. However, with her place in society far beneath him, his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy attempts to persuade Bingley to cut off ties with Jane and avoid marriage. “The likes of Lady Catherine and Darcy too in the beginning want to preserve their status struggle to retain the social qua, tradition, social norms and requirements. This is why Darcy tries to convince and persuade Mr. Bingley not to marry a girl who is different from his social status” (Ashfaq). This restriction is demonstrated once again when Darcy himself is faced with a similar situation. Fitzwilliam Darcy is the son of a wealthy and greatly established family who has been left to care for the great estate of Pemberley after his parents’ death, which puts him in a class even above Bingley. Based upon presumptions this should mean that he is a remarkably free man. However, he must also struggle with the temptation of marrying a woman below his stature.With barely anything to her name and her social class lying far beneath him, Elizabeth is quite an unsuitable match. Though Darcy wishes to marry her, he is constantly aware that her class will cause problems. During his proposal, a majority of its time is spent in the emphasis of Elizabeth’s low rank and barely any time is spent actually proposing marriage to her (Gao). He recognizes where his restraints lie and that he is attempting to break through them with possible extraordinary consequence. “Darcy is in danger of tarnishing his family’s good name and losing out on the opportunity of acquiring greater monetary advantage through marriage if he involves himself with Elizabeth”(Hall). This is such a rebellion of the marital restrictions that Elizabeth is threatened to not accept his proposal by Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Ashfaq). Bingley and Darcy’s wealth constrains them to follow the restrictions of marriage or suffer the possible consequences. This is so apparent to Darcy that he views his proposal to Elizabeth as unkind to himself and believes he did well by Bingley by turning him from  Jane. “Towards him I have been kinder than towards myself” (Austen 164).  On the other hand, Elizabeth’s cousin William Collins is not wealthy and is able to marry relatively anyone he chooses. He can choose to marry Charlotte only because of her compatibility and is able to think nothing of her wealth. Mr. Collins finds fulfillment in his marriage to Charlotte Lucas because they share similar ideals and therefore interact pleasantly with one another and enjoy each other’s company (Deresiewicz). Mr. Collins is not bound to the responsibility of keeping up his family name and marrying for money. He is more free to choose his spouse then the wealthier gentlemen aforementioned. The wealthy were restricted as to whom they were able to marry.

 The wealthy also suffered from affected mannerisms, which caused them difficulty in associating with people. There was a present gap between the attitudes they hold and others hold. They were constantly thinking of money and status, which places an enormous trench between them and all others who cannot relate. Darcy and Bingley are separated from others because of this inability to comprehend the attitudes of the lower class.  Their consciousness to class standings creates a reserve that causes both parties to remain unfriendly with each other due to their differing morals and ideals (Ashfaq). This reserve made the prosperous seem proud and caused the deepening of this divide. Darcy’s awareness of his class causes him to act differently in Hertfordshire and he consequentially appears proud to those who are socially inferior (Ashfaq).  This character trait can also be seen with his sister, Georgiana Darcy. Elizabeth “had heard that Miss Darcy was exceedingly proud; but the observation of a very few minutes convinced her that she was only exceedingly shy” (Austen 221). Her reserve was mistaken by the majority of society as pride.  Instead it was simply her lack of understanding in how to deal with social situations, which was consequentially disguised as pride.  Furthermore, those in upper classes lived more private lives, being immersed in the heavy burden of secrecy. If they were to do something slightly out of line, they could be disgraced and therefore kept their doings under wraps.  “Individuals belonging to the higher class further exhibit the quality of being secretive in the expression of their private feelings; this makes them hypocritical towards others as well as themselves” (Ashfaq). Darcy leads a very personal life that can make him appear proud and secretive, causing people to push away from him. This leads to another unfortunate consequence. The wealthy were often very isolated. Since their interactions with others were disconnected and unpleasant, they often remained away from the public. During Darcy’s visit to Meryton he creates his own extreme isolation even though he is out in public (Ashfaq). Since he is a stranger he falls into the background for he is unsure how to associate with those ranked below him.  When he is not creating his own self isolation, Darcy remains quite isolated at Pemberley with little social interaction.”Darcy is a product of his age and hence he suffers from preconceived notions of his society; he wants to retain his exclusivity”(Ashfaq).  In addition to Darcy, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter live isolated in the solitary confinement of Rosings. Their gigantic house and status cannot provide them with freedom. With the collection of these attitudes the wealthy were socially crippled. They could not connect to those of lower standings, which in turn gave them the presence of pride and secrecy. These defects led the wealthy to retract from society and move into isolation frequently. This pattern of social distance provided a seemingly endless cycle in which the wealthy were forced to remain.

 The wealthy also must have considered making deeper judgments about their friends and lovers. They could not easily know if they were truly liked by their friends and desired by their lovers or if they were sought after because of their bounty. They had to have been more hesitant when allowing people into their lives. They were quite subject to deceit and trickery, acting as an ideal target for others. Mary King and Georgiana Darcy are both culprits of the unfortunate consequence of wealth. George Wickham pursues both of these young girls in order to acquire a part of their fortune. Mary King attracts Wickham in a strangely abrupt manner after securing ten thousand pounds (Ashfaq). It is after and only after Mary comes in possession of these ten thousand pounds as a result of her grandfather’s death, that Wickham decides Mary is worth his time. Before this, he had never shown any preference of her or expressed the idea of their marriage to Elizabeth or any of the characters. The sudden marriage announcement causes a shock to all  However, this is not the first time a women’s money attracted Wickham.  He was originally planning to elope Georgiana Darcy in the interest of her thirty thousand pounds.  It was only with the intervention of her brother Mr. Darcy that Georgiana was kept away from the trickery and brought to the light about his true intent. If she had not had Darcy present to watch over her and help her see Wickham’s true character, she would have easily been tricked into a  relationship that was built solely off of Wickham’s greed for money. This deception also occurs with the marriage of Elizabeth’s  parents. Even Mrs. Bennet was attracted to Mr. Bennet because of his money. She was lured in because he held an estate and could provide her with an easy life. The two are now forced to live together under the laws of matrimony even though they pose several differing views and do not correspond well with each other. Mr. Bennet was certainly in a sense tricked into believing their marriage was built off of mutual love. However, her “weak understanding and  liberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her” (Austen 202). Mr.Bennet quickly realized that he would not be happy for the rest of his life with this women and that her desire for marriage sprouted from a need to possess a comfortable future. Mrs. Bennet even whishes her daughters to impose this sort of trickery by marrying off for wealth and not love.

 Ultimately, the societal norm suggesting wealth equates freedom is disproven in the novel Pride and Prejudice which demonstrates that during the nineteenth century the wealthy were the most restricted. They were expected to marry and could not openly chose their spouse. They had to select a companion that would be an ideal match for their social standing and could not marry only for love. If they did, several consequences would befall them including the risk of losing greater advantages and disrupting the family name. Wealthy persons also suffered from societal restrictions because of differences in class understandings which contributed to the appearance of pride in those who were wealthy. This in turn led to their isolation and ultimately secrecy. Those with considerable amounts of money also had to be careful with awarding their trust to people. Many of those who did not possess monetary goods would seek marriage to the wealthy in order to use them for their riches and acted deceitfully towards them.  Money did not provide the wealthy with a free life, but rather constricted them and tied them to rules. It made them interact in a constrained manner with the people of lower standings around them. The middle class and those who were poor could chose whom they wished to marry and were not bound by the problems of isolation and untrustworthiness. They would not be used and abused in order to take advantage of their money.  The free were truly those who did not have to carry the weight that money put upon their shoulders. Though money has been seen as the ticket to freedom, it can instead be a chain constantly tugging down on its victim.

Works Cited

  • Ashfaq, Samina, and Nasir Jamal Khattak.”The Fear of Alienation in Pride and Prejudice.” The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 21, no. 1, 2013. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A359707522/AONE?u=azstatelibdev&sid=AONE&xid=ac9c3c4c. Accessed 2 May 2019.
  • Ashfaq, Samina, and Nasir Jamal Khattak. “Of Life and Happiness: Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.“ The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 23, no. 2, 2015, p. 9. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A452604157/AONE?u=azstatelibdev&sid=AONE&xid=5769dc77. Accessed 2 May 2019.
  • Ashfaq, Samina, and Nasir Jamal Khattak. “Self-Realization and Social Harmony in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.” The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 22, no. 2, 2014. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A398959400/AONE?u=azstatelibdev&sid=AONE&xid=cebac48b. Accessed 15 May 2019.
  • Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Bantam Dell, 2003.  
  • Deresiewicz, William. “Community and Cognition in Pride and Prejudice”. ELH, Vol. 64, No. 2 (Summer, 1997): 503-535.
  • Gao, Haiyan. “Jane Austen’s ideal man in Pride and Prejudice.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies, vol. 3, no. 2, 2013, p. 384+. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A351081923/AONE?u=azstatelibdev&sid=AONE&xid=98225df0. Accessed 2 May 2019.
  • Hall, Rebekah. “Pride & Prejudice and the Purpose of Marriage.” Pride & Prejudice and the Purpose of Marriage, Forbes and Fifth, University of Pittsburgh, www.forbes5.pitt.edu/article/pride-prejudice-and-purpose-marriage.
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