Pride and Prejudice, a novel set in the early 19th century, can be used to study British society in the era when it was written. The aspects of life in the early 19th century that can be examined are historical context, marriage and gender roles, class, income, land ownership, and reputation. Pride and Prejudice, a novel by Jane Austen, was written during the turn of the century, which was one of the most transformative eras in European History. This novel can be used to examine 19th century English Society.
The historical context surrounding Jane Austen as she wrote Pride and Prejudice greatly influenced the contents of the novel. The late 18th and early 19th centuries were a transitional era. Beginning in 1811 was the Regency Period, named for the Prince of Wales, ruling as Regent after King George had gone insane. The Regency Period encompassed most of the 1810s and 20s (Aschkenes). Over the Regency Era, wars ravaged the world. Evidently, these wars had an effect on life and the novels written in that time. Between 1789 and 1799, the French Revolution was fought. Marie Antoinette was guillotined; Napoleon rose to power and conquered most of Western Europe. The place of military in English society as seen by troops in Brighton. (Aschkenes) Austen’s brother Henry became a member of the militia in 1793 (like Wickham) (Huston) The presence of the troops at Brighton and militia officers like Wickham reflect wider concerns about the place of the military in English civil society. (Aschkenes)
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The joining of England and Ireland in 1801 formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Slave trade was abolished by parliament on March 25, 1807. During this period, the Industrial Revolution was beginning and Enlightenment ideas began changing to Romantic (Historical Context). The first whispers of feminism and abolitionism were heard. All through society, ideas and values were shifting and changing. These events and ideas affected all of British society (Historical Context).
Marriage and gender roles in British Society were central to its function. Marriage was a way to gain wealth very quickly. The goal was often to link families and consolidate wealth. Many people married solely for money and a comfortable life, but Elizabeth did not. (Cambridge Companion 117)
Women had very limited roles in Regency-era England. Getting married was one of the only acceptable roles that women could fill. Daughters became a way for families to obtain greater wealth. In turn, there were high expectations for their behavior. These high expectations included manners, beauty, and accomplishments, including drawing, needlework, playing the pianoforte, or singing. If a woman had these accomplishments, she was considered marriageable. In addition, women were generally discouraged from being too bookish because they would be considered bluestockings and, in turn, less marriageable.
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