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Gender and class differences have always been present in the English culture. This social structure was especially fixed in the Regent period; time in which the novel "Pride and Prejudice written by Jane Austen was published. The book shows the established social roles in relation to the different social classes of English society in the nineteenth century. In addition, this novel describes the strong classism that took place at the time. Finally, it reflects the marked differences and expectations regarding gender in the Regent period. In this essay, I will discuss some arguments that prove that the novel "Pride and Prejudice" illustrates the very rigid social roles of English society in the nineteenth century. In order to understand how the static roles during Regency England are shown in this book, a description of the social hierarchy of the country at that time, and a brief explanation of Jane Austen's life and ideals need to be exposed first.
English society at XIX century was extremely structured and rigid in terms of social classes and gender. English society was divided into four main classes. First, highest orders, which included the royal family, lords, great officers of state and peers above the degree of baronets, knights, country gentleman and others with large income. After that, middle class followed. This group integrated from clergy, doctors, merchants, manufactures on a large scale and small landowners to teachers, builders, and other people of moderate income. Then, the masses went after in the social hierarchy. This group was integrated by the huge working class in the city and the country side as well as paupers and vagrants. The last group into consideration included the army and navy. They integrated officers, soldiers, seamen and marines. Lifestyle was quite different from one class to another. Upper-classes could access to a good education, and they did not have to work due to their income came from inherited land and investments. As they did not work, they could spend their time traveling and cultivating they culture as well as administrating their wealth. Wealthy persons lived in pompous mansions with a lot of servants and comfort. On the other hand, middle-class families became increasingly rich, but because of their hard work. They lived in comfortable houses and in some occasions their children could access to education. In the case of small landowners, they did not need to work hard since they received economical resources from inherited land and investments. Young members of the family used to assist to parties and balls, similarly to upper-class young people. Finally, lower-classes worked in factories, in the land or as servants in rich persons' mansions. They could not access to education, and they usually did not have time to entertainment. Besides, most of them lived in very poor conditions. This fixed social structure of the nineteenth century England was seen not only in the different socio-economical classes, but also in the differences between genders. During Regency England the private sphere was assigned to the woman whereas the public sphere was related to the man. Men had to deal with business, commerce and politics, especially high class men who controlled most of the wealth of England in addition to have the right of vote. Besides, Men were supposed to be head of families; thus, they had to afford to their wives and children. The woman, on the other hand, stayed at home and her main labor was to take care of her children and of her house, as in the case of middle-class women. In relation to upper-class women, they did not have to do any housework, as they were served by numerous servants. In a very different situation Working-class women had to work hard as their husbands' income was not enough to survive. The main goal of the woman at that time was to get married in order to be well- supported by a man due to they could not control money or vote. Education was also unequal for men and women. Gentlemen were educated at home by a tutor until they were old enough to study at schools and, if possible, at university. There, they learnt mathematics, law, philosophy and modern history. On the contrary, ladies were educated mainly at home. They learnt French, drawing, dancing music, the use of globes, sewing and embroidery. We will see that all these aspects are presented in Jane Austen's work "Pride and prejudice".
In addition, the established social roles described in "Pride and Prejudice" reflect Jane Austen's own world during Regency England. Jane Austen was born on December 16th, 1775 into a middle-class family in Steveton, Hampshire. She was the seventh of eight children and her parents were George Austen, a reverent who made his fortune by working to the church, and Cassandra, who came from a more exalted position. The writer was educated mainly at home, and she used to go to parties and balls in Hampshire or to travel to London in order to see concerts and plays. Austen wrote about a world that she knew, focusing more in middle-class and upper-class people's lifestyles, interests and concerns, but living the lower-classes out, as she did not maintain direct contact with poor people's worlds. In addition, Jane Austen was very self-conscious about her role as a lady; for that reason, she wrote anonymously due to writing was a man's activity rather than a woman's one at that time. Besides, she grew up by following all the expectations for the woman during the Regent period; for instance, she was educated at home and she cultivated her social life. That is why gender differences, in terms of expected interests and behaviors were a central theme in her works, as in the case of the novel "Pride and Prejudice". Finally, Jane Austen was concerned about marriage. Even though she never got married, she had some marriage proposals that could not be carried out mainly because the fiancés could not afford to marry Austen or because she was not in love to get married. For those reasons, the writer showed marriage as the main goal of the woman in regency England due to by getting married women guaranteed themselves a good lifestyle both economically and socially. Nevertheless, she also expressed her thoughts against marriage as economical support. We will see how these elements are also presented in Jane Austen's masterpiece "Pride and Prejudice".
Firstly, the book exemplifies the fixed social structure of Regency England regarding middle and upper-classes, mainly. The highest orders are illustrated in Lady Catherine De Bourgh who is a very wealthy and bossy aristocrat. Lady Catherine represents the typical wealthy people of nineteenth century England due to she is seen as the most superior character within the fixed social structure shown in the novel. She lives in a pompous mansion with magnificent gardens and lot of servants; for instance Mr. Collins and his husband. Besides, she received a good education, according to the expectations for a noblewoman at the time, and she acts proud about her socio-economical background, trying as inferior to everyone who is below her rank. Second, the upper-class is reflected in Mr. Darcy and his social circle. Darcy is the son of a wealthy family, and the master of the great estate of Pemberley. In the book, his social circle includes Mr. Bingley and his sister Georgiana Darcy, among others. The Darcys and the Bingleys represent the stereotyped upper-class English people that lived during the nineteenth century; they are very proud and class-conscious, especially Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley. In addition, their lifestyle, very well-off, describes the way in which higher-class families lived during Regency England. Then, middle-class families are portrayed in the Bennets as well as in other middle-class families such as the Gardiners and the Lucases. Mr. Gardiner is a trader, and the Lucases are a family quite less wealthy than the Bennets. The family Bennet lives in Longbourn, a country town located near Meryton. Mr. Bennet is a landowner whose income is quite enough in order to support his wife and his five daughters. Their daily life includes visiting their neighborhoods, spending days in the commercial town of Meryton, and occasionally, assisting to balls. These daily life elements were part of the typical middle-class families' daily routine in Regency England. Lower-class people are not described in the novel. In rare occasions they are mentioned as servants without inquiring in their private lives and concerns. Finally, the sphere of military forces is portrayed in the soldiers who visit Meryton, especially Wickham. Officers are described as possible husbands to middle-class girls.
Secondly, the novel "Pride and Prejudice" illustrates the strong classicism that took place in England during the nineteenth century. Even though the book discusses just about higher and middle-classes worlds, it is possible to observe a barrier between these groups. First, middle-class people are treated as inferior by upper-class people due to wealthy families are richer, more refined and more influential than middle-class families. This social discrimination is perfectly reflected in Lady Catherine De Bourgh who, due to her important position, considers everybody to be inferior from her. Classism is also portrayed in the Bennet's relationship with upper-class families. Although the Bennets may socialize with the wealthy Bingleys and Darcys, they are treated as inferior by them. This class consciousness is better described in the character of Caroline Bingley who always shows a strong disdain for Elizabeth's middle-class social background. Besides, social discrimination is illustrated in Fitzilliam Darcy. When Mr. Darcy is in the ball, he does not gather with the rest of the group, who are mainly middle-class families. In addition, he is not interested in dancing with any girl due to they are "just tolerable", which means that any of the women that are present in the ball were at the same level than he was. Second, the novel explains that class structure has also effects on marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman from different social connections is seen as totally irregular due to if it happens, the very fixed social hierarchy would break down. Classism in romantic relationships is reflected in Mr. Darcy and Lizzy's, and Jane and Bingley's marriages. In the last case, Mr. Bingley and Jane are separated mainly by Miss Bingley, who considers Jane to be socially inferior so as to deserve his brother´s love. Similarly, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth's love must elude different difficulties regarding differences among social backgrounds. The fist one is the lovers' perceptions about their social connections. Elizabeth misjudges Mr. Darcy since she thinks of him as a typical foolish rich man whereas Darcy denies his love for Lizzy because of her inferior social rank. In Darcy's own words: "She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me", or "In vain have I struggledâ€¦ my feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." Another obstacle regarding social class discrimination is Lady Catherine's attempts to destroy Darcy and Lizzy's love. Mr. Darcy's aunt gets astonished when she realizes that he is in love with Elizabeth Bennet, a socially inferior lady. Therefore, she tries to convince Elizabeth so that she leaves Darcy, arguing that his nephew has a linage to follow which would be destroyed if they get married. Finally, the book shows that while wealthy people discriminate middle-class families, the latter have as a main concern trying to rise into a higher economical level or adulating wealthy people. In the case of Mrs. Bennet, she is very happy because two of her daughters will marry two higher-class men. Then, Mr. Collins, who is a clergyman that serves to Lady Catherine, is constantly adulating her and elevating the noblewoman over the rest of the people who round him. Lastly, the officer Wickham makes everything in order to obtain money and advance in social rank.
Finally, the novel Pride and prejudice reflects gender expectations and differences during Regency England. First, the book reveals the expected activities and careers for men at that time. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley are both wealthy landowners and business men. Mr. Collins is a clergyman whereas Mr. Gardiner, Elizabeth's uncle, is a trader. Then, Mr. Bennet is a landowner, although not as wealthy as Darcy. Lastly, Wickham represents the soldiers and army men of the time. Besides, the book illustrates the social role of the man which is perceived as being over the role of the woman. Men, like Mr. Darcy, control the political and financial sphere. Although he does not work directly, he controls the great estate of Pemberley, whereas his sister just lives off him having any type of control over the Darcys' businesses and fortune. Also, Mr. Collins is going to inherit Mr. Bennet's property due to he is the nearest man relative of this family whereas the Bennets daughters will not be able to inherit the land as they are all woman. That is why Mrs. Bennet wants to have any of her daughters married Mr. Collins. This situation shows how men had much more rights and were considered as superiors from women during this historical period. Besides, man is seen as the head of the family core. Even though Mr. Bennet looks like a weak husband and father, at the end he is the one who maintains his family; thus, he decides the future of the Bennets. This role is also described in Mr. Darcy. He is seen as having total control over Georgiana Darcy, who lives accepting the decisions of her protective brother. In contrast, the novel presents the role of the woman as disempowered in relation to men´s role. Firstly, women were uncharged of the private sphere. For instance, Mrs. Bennet does not work, but she is uncharged of domestic affairs and the education of her five daughters even though she is not described as an exemplar mother. Similarly, the other middle-class women that appear in the story such as Mrs. Gardiner and Mrs. Lucas have as main activity taking care of their houses and families. In the case of Lady Catherine, she has more rights than any other woman portrayed in the book because of her elevated social class. However, she still matches with the expectations of women´s behavior during regency England. Regarding young ladies, they are seen as having a passive role in society. Ladies are educated to learn music or drawing, and their daily activities include staying at home, visiting relatives or assisting to parties as in the case of Georgiana Darcy or Caroline Bingley. Sometimes, young women are seen as foolish and self-centered like Lydia and Catherine Bennet. Those facts reinforce the idea that the role of the woman was less important than the role of the man in the nineteenth century England because women are described as not playing a relevant function in the development of the country. Nevertheless, Austen tries to show her feelings against these thoughts on the character of Elizabeth Bennet. The protagonist of the story has a critic and intelligent point of view about life and refuses behaving in a submissive way. In Lady Catherine words: "You speak your opinion very decidedly for a woman of your age". In addition, whereas social advancement for young men lays in business, military or church, the novel illustrates that the main goal of young women was getting married successfully with a well-positioned man. This fact is perfectly portrayed in Mrs. Bennet's ideals: "it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife". Mrs. Bennet tries desperately to see her daughters married, ideally with a rich man, which was the case of Lizzy and her sister Jane. Also, even though the protagonist refuses getting engaged because of economical interests, marriage is a constant issue in her life. Indeed, at the end of the novel she gets married with a man who, in addition to be her truly love, becomes the perfect match because of his wealth and social position. The desire of romantic acquaintance is also reflected in Lydia, who makes everything in order to find a husband. Then, the character of Charlotte Lucas shows how marriage was seen as synonymous of financial security. She married Mr. Collins although she was not in love with him since he could offer to her a comfortable house and a pleasing lifestyle. Finally, the novel describes a society in which woman's reputation was very important. For example, when Elizabeth Bennet arrives to Netherfield on foot and alone, Miss Bingley and her friends get a bad impression about Lizzy, for at that time ladies were expected to travel by carriage and accompanied by a member of their families. In addition, when Lydia runs away with Wickham, the author describes this situation as a very tragic event within the Bennets' family. In fact, if the social circle around them had realized that Lydia had become Wickham's lover without marriage, hers and her entire family's reputation would have been marked negatively forever. Hence, neither Lydia nor her sisters would be able to conquer a man in the future. For that reason, Mr. Darcy paid to Wickham a considerable amount of money so that he accepted marrying the youngest Bennet daughter because if he did not, then Darcy would not take Elizabeth as his wife.
In conclusion, Jane Austen's masterpiece "Pride and Prejudice" illustrates a clear picture of the English higher and middle-class worlds in the nineteenth century. Based on her own life experiences, the author portrayed in this story as well as in its main characters the very rigid social roles in regency England. This cultural rigidness is described in terms of social classes' differences and behavior expectations for each group, especially upper and middle-classes. Besides, social discrimination and prejudices among these social groups are also described in the novel. Finally, "Pride and Prejudice" reflects sexual inequality regarding gender roles in regency England, especially the underpowered position in relation to the decisive role of the man.