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Nikole McGee

Mrs. Stanford

LIT 234

19 May 2017

Victorian England, Its Classy ;)

It may sound cliche, but people are defined by the amount of money in their bank accounts. Of

course any normal response to that statement would claim that this is a stereotypical accusation,

however, it carries some truth regardless of how exaggerated it may be. Class systems have always

been known to define people; everyone knows that rich people are snobby and poor people are

crabby! Those specific stereotypes may not be entirely truthful, however they do acknowledge that a

persons class system directly correlates with a persons personality, which is true to some extent. Living

in Victorian England, an era dominated by class systems, Jane Austen had more than enough time

throughout her life to analyze the relationship between man and money. Jane was (almost) among the

upperclassmen of Victorian England and undoubtedly knew the difference between a middle class and a

high class Briton solely based on personality and looks. Austen reveals what she has learned through her

book Pride and Prejudice, where characters match their class...sometimes. Austens book is deeply

influenced by the environment and time period that she lived in and gives the reader a glimpse into real

world problems that occurred in Victorian England. The messages that the book sends can be useful to

readers all over the world. Austens Pride and Prejudice tells a lot about the world Austen lived in; the

Victorian Era was dominated by class systems and stereotypes. Austen reflects these times and how

they affected her through her literature.

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Pride and Prejudice is a story about a royal family with five female descendants who call

themselves the Bennett Sisters who are each in search of a husband. The plot begins with an

introduction of each sister: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia. Jane is the first to be pursued by a

man, Mr.Bingley, who is taken by her and begins to court her almost immediately. Mr.Bingley attends an

event and brings the company of Mr.Darcy, who proves himself to be arrogant and outwardly/rudely

expresses that he refuses to dance with Elizabeth Darcy because he is not impressed with her. The book

centers mostly around Elizabeth and Darcy who set the table for the books main ideas. The summary

printed on the back of Austens book is as follows:

Since its immediate success in 1813, Pride and Prejudice has remained one of the most

popular novels in the English language. Jane Austen called this brilliant work her own darling

child and its vivacious heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, as delightful a creature as ever appeared in

print. The romantic clash between opinionated Elizabeth and her proud beau, Mr.Darcy, is a

splendid performance of civilized sparring. And Jane Austens radiant wit sparkles as her

characters dance a delicate quadrille of flirtation and intrigue, making this book the most superb

comedy of manners of Regency England. (Pride and Prejudice Austen)

As the summary states, the book Pride and Prejudice was and still is one of the most popular novels

in English history, remaining a classic comedy in England and America.

Today Austen is seen as a strong and independent woman, all things that are seen in a positive

light today, but in her time, people were not attracted to this quality. Having an opinion as a man in

Victorian England was seen as masculine and powerful, however, having an opinion as a woman was

highly frowned upon. The saying Everyone knows that a womans place is in the kitchen stemmed

from this label that women were branded with and suggested that as females, women are born with the
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obligation of catering to men and avoiding politics. When Austen wrote the character Elizabeth Bennet

she gave her a strong and stubborn personality, a widely unaccepted trait for a woman, which explains

just why Mr.Darcy initially turned his nose up at her. Austen believed that women should not be shunned

for having a voice, and many other women during the time period agreed with this notion, but were too

afraid to speak up. Austen undoubtedly received static from her audience that was outweighed by the

impact that her book made to those who were questioning their government and those who completely

agreed with Austens views. Many saw Jane as an imbecile while others saw her as brave and comical

because of the risk she took in writing such a story and because of her use of sarcastic language

throughout the book. Austen responded to these criticisms with a strong head and continued to write.

Austen is not the only writer who was forced to deal with these criticisms, authors as well known as

Charles Darwin underwent similar criticisms. Jane, like Darwin, gave English readers an opinion to

analyze and showed them that change for the better was possible for Britons. The difference between

these authors though is that they wrote about different unaccepted subjects. Darwin introduced science

that defied religion, while Austen portrayed feministic views and created social conflict.Women in

different classes had different expectations, meaning that the more high class that a woman was, the

more she was criticized, which is why Jane Austen was openly judged. Despite the conflict that Austen

created, not all criticisms that her book received have been negative; for example in the academic

journal titled Ventriloquized Opinions of "Pride and Prejudice," "Mansfield Park," and "Emma": Jane

Austen's Critical Voice explains that the criticism Jane received helped her continue to write other

works, and lead her to criticize her own novels and others to better her writing. Gemmill writes:

In recent years, scholars such as Mary Waldron and Jocelyn Harris have used the allusions in

Austens novels and comments in her letters to make inferences about her assessments of other
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novels. According to these scholars, Austens opinions of contemporary fiction shaped her own

literary innovations. (Ventriloquized Opinions)

Austen was one of few women that spoke up and confronted issues head-on even after receiving both

positive and negative feedback, and while feminism seemed to be the most prominent issue in her

literary work Pride and Prejudice, in all reality it may not have been.

On a surface level, Pride and Prejudice seems to be a story solely about feministic views.

However, when analyzed in depth, it is evident that the story has lots of different undertones, the issue of

Victorian class systems being the most important. The book portrays the lives of the Bennett sisters and

their struggle to find love with a man that matched their hierarchy positions. The Bennett family was

nothing less than royalty and each female would be expected to associate with socially accepted males,

meaning that not only does a man have to be rich but he also has to be perfect, or at least thats how the

search for a husband would typically go in Victorian England. In Samina Ashfaq and Nasir Jamal

Khattaks academic journal titled Dilemma of Class Classification in Austens Pride and Prejudice

these authors introduce comparisons of the characters and society in Austens book with Victorian

society and class systems. After reviewing this analyzation, two things become clear: 1. Class system

played a much bigger role in Austens book than feminism and 2. characters in the book provide more

historical context than they seem to. Ashfaq and Khattak provide information about the book by saying:

The society of P & P is divided into classes but their boundaries are not clearly defined; rather

they seem to blur and merge without distinction. The focus is apparently on the individuals as an

integral part of the society to which they belong. Darcy, Lady Catherine and Bingley are not

financial equals. Bingley earns half the amount of Darcys yearly income and he is not even from

the landed gentry, still they share social equality. While Mr. Bennets connections, according to
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them, make him unworthy of becoming a relative through marriage. Though we meet people

from different social groups but what attracts us most is the universality that is appealing as well

as nostalgic for us even today. In Austens novels the characters are irresistibly fascinating as

literary creations, and horribly fascinating as persons whose counterparts persist in every

generation and through all stages of social change (Ward.138). (Dilemma of Class

Classification page 1)

This paragraph analyzes Pride and Prejudice and reveals a bit about Jane herself as well. Jane

Austens personal views on society are reflected through her literature, and it can be seen that she

favors equality and disagrees with the societal structure that was carried out in her time period.

In Victorian England there were four classes: upper class, middle class, working class, and

underclass. Not only were there classes but there were also subclasses. Under the label of Upper class

there were three subclasses: The Royal Class, The Middle Upper Class, and The Lower Upper Class.

The Royal Class included people related to the Royal family and/or the spiritual lords of that time. The

Middle upper class consisted of the great officers of England, baronets and temporal lords. The Lower

Upper Class included wealthy countrymen and successful businessmen. Underneath the label of The

Middle Class were two subdivisions called Higher Level Middle Class and Lower Level Middle Class.

Higher Level Middle Class were people who received decent salaries and had a higher social status

than other middle classmen. The Lower Level Middle Class was not much different besides that they

usually worked for the Higher Middle Class, and had lower income. The working class was also divided

into two subdivisions : The Skilled Class (skilled laborers) and The Unskilled Class (unskilled laborers).

Lastly, there were two subclasses under the label of The Low Class: The Poor and The Prostitutes. The

Poor were people and orphans known for surviving solely on the charity of others, whereas prostitutes
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were the lowest of the lowest class because they disobeyed the church and tried to make profit from it.

These classes were seen, not only in England itself but throughout the English colonies and British

Empire, more information on specific examples of this can be found in the scholarly journal written by

M.G. Whisson titled Ethnic Pride and Racial Prejudice in Victorian Cape Town - Group Identity and

Social Practice. This journal discusses real life Pride and Prejudice in British colonial Cape Town. This

journal exposes racism and unequal class systems in the British community. The journal outlines political,

social, and economic issues during the Victorian Era in England based on class (Ethnic Pride and Racial

Prejudice, Whisson). The characters in Austens book are centered in the Upper Class divisions, which

causes for a stricter and more hostile environment in the story. Upperclassmen had to reach higher

expectations than anyone else in England which is why searching for a husband is such an elongated

process in Pride and Prejudice, the characters are forced to be picky. Class systems affected more

than just the characters in Austens book, it directly impacted her own life as well.

Austens ideas did not stem from thin air, she was able to write Pride and Prejudice because

of her experience in England. Janes mother did some educational work and her father was a clergyman.

Jane (just like every child) was influenced greatly by her parents and was well educated in the areas of

politics and religion because of her fathers occupation (Pride and Prejudice, Austen). Janes knowledge

of religion is shewn in her book, and is outlined in the academic journal titled The Moral Imagination:

Biblical Imperatives, Narrative and Hermeneutics in Pride and Prejudice" in which the author, Alison

Searl, writes I shall...consider the moral vision that informs Austen's text and its relationship to biblical

theology and...relativistic, Christian, or a synthesis of perspectives (Moral Imagination Searl) Janes

personal views were influenced by her experiences and knowledge of social life in England, religious life

in England, and her own homelife. Jane and her family were a part of a growing middle class called the
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gentry, a highly respected class (within the middle class), meaning that she most likely interacted with

people of all class systems which is why she was able to write Pride and Prejudice in such a realistic

style. Jane wrote this story about the difficulty of being a high class woman in search of a husband and

the important role that being married played in womans life. Austen portrayed characters with snobby,

genuine, and mischievous personalities by writing in styles of realism and satire. She embraced a society

where relationships were less complicated in terms of social status and where humans would redefine

how relationships were carried out. Each of these things are reflected in her book Pride and Prejudice

and other books that she had written throughout her lifetime. Austens bravery in publishing her literary

works contributed to the changing social views in Victorian England and are recognized today as iconic

changes in history.

Till this moment I never knew myself (Pride and Prejudice, Austen), quotes like this one and

others from Austens book helped people find where they stood in society because of how the book

reflected and analyzed human relationships (more information on that in the scholarly article Human

Relationship in the Novels of Jane Austen." by Monika Raghuwanshi). Jane not only inspired people of

her time period, but she continues to inspire people today. Pride and Prejudice is recognized as a

nationwide (throughout England and America) historical classic as are many of her other works. Jane

gives courage to women and people today to step out of their comfort zone, confront social issues and

not to be afraid to challenge unjust societal standards. Today class systems are not as defined, however

issues can still be recognized within those areas of England and other countries as well. Social classes

still exist today but the standards and definitions of each have become less demanding and more open to

interpretation. As stereotypes and social class continues to change, issues continue to change as well.

This being said, because issues still occur within social class systems, Austens book can still benefit
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readers today, decades after her passing. The message to take from this essay is not that Pride and

Prejudice provides historical context (although it does), but that the book addresses important societal

issues and can be used to inspire readers, the same way Austen herself was inspired, to speak up and

promote positive change.

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Works Cited

Ashfaq, Samina and Nasir Jamal Khattak. "Dilemma of Class Classification in Austen's Pride and

Prejudice." Putaj Humanities & Social Sciences, vol. 21, no. 1, June 2014, pp. 33-40.


Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. N.p.: n.p., 1813. Print.

Gemmill, Katie. "Ventriloquized Opinions of "Pride and Prejudice," "Mansfield Park," and "Emma": Jane

Austen's Critical Voice." University of Toronto Quarterly, vol. 79, no. 4, Fall2010, pp.

1115-1122. EBSCOhost

Raghuwanshi, Monika. "Human Relationship in the Novels of Jane Austen." International Journal of

Multidisciplinary Approach & Studies, vol. 3, no. 3, May/Jun2016, pp. 108-112. EBSCOhost

Searle, Alison. "The Moral Imagination: Biblical Imperatives, Narrative and Hermeneutics in Pride and

Prejudice." Renascence, vol. 59, no. 1, Fall2006, pp. 17-32. EBSCOhost.

Whisson, M.G. "Ethnic Pride and Racial Prejudice in Victorian Cape Town - Group Identity and Social

Practice, 1875-1902 (Book)." Ethnic & Racial Studies, vol. 19, no. 4, Oct. 1996, p. 964.