Pride and Prejudice, in keeping with the society of its times, is set amidst the middle and upper classes of the English countryside. Most of the characters in the novel belong to the land owning class, who do not work and rely solely on their inherited property for their income and sustenance. However, among the landed classes also there are certain fine distinctions in terms of the volume of wealth owned by the members. For instance, the Bennetts are not as wealthy as the Bingleys or the Hursts, though they all belong to the landed class.
The middle class Bennetts may be hanging out with the Bingleys and the Darrcys and the Hursts who belong to the upper class. But the former are clearly treated as inferiors by the latter and this is evident in their behavior and conversations. The novel gives a picture of the changing social setting of Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century. It emulates the society of the prevailing times through its depiction of the characters’ concerns regarding wealth, status and property. Almost all of Austen’s novels illustrate the lives of the aristocrat section of the then-existing society which included both the landed gentry who owned vast stretches of land and the working professionals such as the clergy, lawyers and doctors who did not own any land.
By the end of the eighteenth century, industrialization and urbanization had set in. Despite this the influence of the landed gentry remained undeterred. The landed sections of the society, though few, continued to stick to their lands and further extend them through consolidation owing to traditional system of stringent laws of inheritance.
The ownership rights of the lands in Britain thus remained concentrated in the hands of a few powerful members of the landed aristocratic class. Such enormous power and wealth of the landed class in England is represented in the novel through pictures of the huge countryside estates of Bingley and Darcy. Another feature that saw prevalence in the eighteenth and nineteenth-century in England was the practice of passing on one’s family property to sons or, in the absence of sons, to male relatives, instead of distributing it equally amongst all members of the family.
This was a practice aimed at concentrating one’s wealth and expanding one’s assets, as opposed to the influence of approaching industrialization. An instance of this can be seen in the novel when Mr. Bennett passes on his land to Mr. Collins, a distant male relative of their family, thus disinheriting his own daughters of their rightful share but making sure that the asset remains in the family line1.
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