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Money in Pride and Prejudice: Explanation & Examples

Instructor: Elisa Goldman

Elisa has taught K-6 grades and has two master's degree in Instructional Technology and Education.

In the late eighteenth century England of 'Pride and Prejudice', life was defined in specific ways by income and class. In this lesson you will learn how money, or the lack of it, affects the lives of the characters in Jane Austen's classic novel.

First Impressions

The original title of the novel was First Impressions. And a lot of these impressions are all about the money! The characters in Pride and Prejudice seem preoccupied with money in connection with their daily lives, marriage, property, and social status.

While there is no shortage of greed on the part of some characters, even sensible, sympathetic characters give serious thought to the topic of money and wealth. It simply was a fact of life in eighteenth century England.

Let's take a look at the relative wealth and social status of some of the main characters and how it affects their relationships.

By C. E. Brook (Scans from the book at Pemberley.com) caption=

The Wealthy

Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was circulated within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand (pounds) a year. Mr. Darcy's wealth and status come from generations of accrued family money (with interest), investments, and proper land management. He is a not a businessman or farmer, per se, nor does he physically work for a living. In actuality, Mr. Darcy's occupation could be said to be a 'gentleman'.

Mr. Darcy's best friend, Mr. Bingley, comes from a family who acquired their fortune in trade. His father worked hard as a merchant of some kind to assist them in rising in the class ranks. Bingley and his sisters are the first generation that does not have to work for a living. His wealth is noted to be about 5,000 pounds a year. He is not as rich as Mr. Darcy, but can afford to rent an estate to see if he enjoys being landed gentry before he commits to buying his own.

Mr. Darcy's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is of a high social class and inherited the property Rosings Park and great wealth from her late husband. She 'likes to see the ranks observed' in comparing herself and her sickly daughter to Mr. Collins, her tenants, and everyone else who crosses her path. Her wealth is not explicitly noted in the novel, but Mr. Collins, her parson, tells Elizabeth that just the glazing (glass) on her estates windows costs 800 pounds (or about $25,000 dollars American).

The Not-So-Wealthy

Mr. Bennet's wealth is about 2,000 pounds a year derived almost entirely from his estate of Longbourn, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed. Entailment by the law of the period restricted inheritance to male heirs, the nearest to Mr. Bennet being a distant relation, Mr. Collins. Because Mr. Bennet had no son, his wife and five daughters could not inherit the bulk of his estate. When first Mr. Bennet had married, economy was held to be perfectly useless; for, of course, they were to have a son. This son was to join in cutting off the entail, as soon as he should be of age, and the widow and younger children would by that means be provided for. Mr. Collins, however, as Mrs. Bennet delicately puts it, would throw them out as soon as he (Mr. Bennet) was cold in his grave. The Bennet daughters basically had no hope but to marry well, which becomes Mrs. Bennet's mission in life.

Mr. Collins works for Lady Catherine and lives in the parsonage on her estate. He is a sycophant who parrots her ideas and philosophies to the extreme, while boasting of his connection to her to others such as the Bennets.

Mr. Wickham grew up the son of a revered steward at Mr. Darcy's estate, Pemberley. He was given every advantage that the elder Mr. Darcy could give him, including a gentleman's education and the presentation of 'a living' as a clergyman. Mr. Wickham decides to squander these advantages, exchanging the money that the clergy position was worth for a one-time payment of 3,000 pounds. He flits around from career to career (and woman to woman), running up financial debts wherever he goes by gambling and spending above his means.

Their Relationships

As the social scene brings together wealthy and not-so-wealthy young men and women, complications arise, driving the story. Bingley and Jane Bennet fall in love, while Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet clash--at first. Neither pair rushes into marriage, much to Mrs. Bennet's dismay.

Thomson Illustration

Mr. Collins is the first to marry. Having now a good house and a very sufficient income, Mr. Collins intended to marry...he meant to choose one of the daughters. Lady Catherine holds the purse strings; she tells him he needs a wife, so off he then goes to visit the Bennets. He is actually doing them a kindness by trying to marry one of them, so they won't risk losing their home by entail, but his manner is so unattractive that the Bennet daughters are not interested. Soon after Elizabeth refuses his offer of marriage, Mr. Collins marries her pragmatic friend Charlotte, whose priority is simply to have a home.

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