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Pride and Prejudice
AP Literature Review
There were three major social classes in the Victorian Era: Upper, Middle, and Lower. These classes were constantly reforming and changing to fit the expanding English culture and economy. Despight these changes, the social boundaries remained evident and prominent.In
Pride and Prejudice
, we find evidence of all three social classes.
The Upper Class
The upper class of the Victorian era did not work and their income came from inherited land and investments. The composition of the upper class was changing from hereditary aristocracy to a combination of nobility and a wealthy commercial class.
Pride and Prejudice
, Lady Catherine, Darcy, Bingley, and the Collins’ represent the upper class. Through Lady Catherine’s influence, and her power that she has over so many other people, we see the true upper class. Among the upper class, there is constant talk of estates and money. Also, the formal dinners and dances (balls) are usually held by them, such as Netherfield ball. The use of carriages, as well are part of the upper class, and probably the upper middle class as well. “…the tables were broke up, the carriage was offered to Mrs. Collins…and immeadiately ordered” (163). Mrs. Collins deserves and will always get a carriage because of her social class in society.
The best example showing the importance of social hierarchy in Victorian society is Darcy’s hesitation and refusal to let himself like Elizabeth, because of her class. “He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger” (51). These thoughts of his continue throughout the book, and prevent him from connecting with Elizabeth earlier. This shows the extent to which the social hierarchy runs the individual’s life. Darcy’s upper class status seemed too high for Elizabeth’s status.
Overall, the upper class was rich, usually from inheritances, and later the upper class began to include part of the nobility and commercially wealthy individuals. Lady Catherine, Darcy, Bingley, and the Collins’ were all part of the upper class.
Austen's fictional family, the Bennet's, were members of the Victorian Middle Class and their social interactions reflect the social standards and boundaries of the period. The Middle Class was increasing in both size and affluence which made the social boundary between the Upper and Middle classes difficult to justify. As mentioned earlier, the upper class nobility were priveledged; they were often exempt from taxes. The Middle class, though they could be just as wealthy as the upper class, were not priveledged which caused much envy and resent between the two social classes. The Middle Class in Victorian England sought the same recognition and affluence that the nobility and clery enjoyed to eventual rach a
utopia. The Actions of The Bennet Family within the novel remain very true to how middle class families in the Victorian era would have acted.
Because the Bennet's were a middle class family, they strove to attain the same social eloquence and status as the upper class families. Mrs. Bennet particularly showed the importance of her family's interaction with and befriending of individuals and families of higher monetary and social status. "A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!"(Mrs. Bennet Page 4) Because of the Bennets' middle class distinction, Mrs. Bennet needed to make sure that all of her daughters married men who were well off (if they didn't, the girls would be extremely poor in
because, being women, they couldn't even inherit what small fortune their father had). In order to succeed at this life goal of marrying off her daughter's to wealthy men, Mrs. Bennet made certain that her family attend all of the
(common to the upper class) hosted in the area.
Typical Victorian dancing and attire at a ball.
The Lucas family were members of the Lower Class during this time period. Thier social restrications and desires show the differences between them and the rest of the upper or middle class characters within the novel. During the Victorian Era, the lower class not only included the poor but also contained the working class. This class contained about 85% of the population during this time. The lower class was not as highly educated as either the upper or middle classes were and they did not have a large amount of money. This resulted in the family not being able to live as extravagantly as someone in the upper class would. For example, they did not have many carriages and they did not have a mistress to take care of their children.The only way for a person or family in the lower class to attain a higher status is through marriage. Therefore, the women in the family start looking for an eligable, rich bachelor while they are young and try to marry into an affluent family. Because men looked for an accomplished woman to marry, young girls were sure to learn to play the pano and sing or draw. These talents were very helpful to lower class women looking to attract men of a higher status.
Victorian woman playing piano
In Jane Austen's novel
Pride and Prejudice
, the Lucas family exemplify the lower class. They do not have a lot of money and since they have many children, especially girls, they are counting on their children to marry into a higher class. This trend is also seen when Catherine Lucas accepts Mr. Collins' proposal for the sole reason that he will gain the Bennet's land when Mr. Bennet passes away. The idea of love does not even cross Miss. Lucas' mind because her only goal is to gain money and a higher status. At the end of the book the reader learns that even though Catherine Lucas married Mr. Collins, raised her social status and gained money and a nice house, she is not happy being married to Mr. Collins. Mrs. Lucas would have a competition with Mrs. Bennet who was part of the middle class, to see who could marry off their daughters first and into the most money. The way for the lower class to meet members of the middle or upper class was through the balls that were being held by the affluent people. Therefore, the Lucas girls strived to obtain a invitation to one because it gave them a chance to meet a rich and eligable bachelor for them to marry. The only focus that this family has it to gain money and status, therefore marriage is a very important step in achieving this goal.
working class man
Miller, Ilana . "The Victorian Era (1837 - 1901)."
05 Aug 2004 28 Oct 2007
"Social Classes Of Mid-Victorian England."
. 28 Oct 2007
"Victorian England: An Introduction." 28 Oct 2007
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