Money and Jane Austen. How "Pride and Prejudice" Generates an Access to Contemplating Marriage Socioeconomically

Seminar Paper, 2018

24 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Background
a. Max Weber’s Klassenbegriff
b. Max Weber’s Herrschaftssoziologie

3. Common View on Money and Marriage during the 18th and 19th Century

4. Money in Pride and Prejudice - Key Moments of Money and Marriage
a. Mr. Bennet and his Situation
b. Elizabeth’s Resistance
c. Outcome - Rules of Society

5. Understanding the Historical Context because of the Novel
a. Criticism in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

6. Conclusion


Statement of Authorship

1. Introduction

“There is a tendency to think of the settings of Austen’s novels as if they resemble Downton Abbey a hundred years earlier” (Davidson 118). With this quote, Davidson introduces the broad topic of the paper: inheritance, money, love, society - and what goes along with it. Whether it is Downton Abbey or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the “financial status and the operations of inheritance play a fundamental role”, which is (at least in Pride and Prejudice) “never speaking openly, but always present” (Teachman, Student companion 68). But, to intervene right at the beginning of this funny looking idea of a paper about English literature, one could state the question of money and Jane Austen - How Pride and Prejudice generates an access to contemplating marriage socioeconomically as absolutely vital, as “economic interpretations of literature often reveal the power base of the society on which the novel is built as well as the author’s own view about the appropriateness of that power base” (Teachman, Student companion 68). In other words, and to define the very problem of the novel: “Mr. Bennet […] is unable to use his property to provide for his family after his death since one of the stipulations included in most legal entailments was that, if there were no son to inherit the property, it would descend to the eldest nephew or male cousin in the next generation of the family” (Teachman, Student companion 68), which leads Büttner to summarize the entire novel and say that it is basically all about sex and money1 (cf. Büttner). The paper, hence, should analyse this problem in form of a vivisection of social restraints, in which possession seems to control love and in order to investigate about Austen’s ability to discriminate against social habits and practices of her time. This is, to legitimize the choice of the text, exactly the point, why one should have a close look at Jane Austen. She is not just a very famous female writer in English literature, but one of the most knowns for criticising society and structures. The specific topic however, is derived from the heart of analyses, contemplating the details of characters, plots, settings, and so on, while rather few scholars seem to concentrate on the meaning a novel can convey for understanding the time and circumstances it comes from. Most of them focus on the author and want to compare the author’s real life with the novel. This is, in kind, not of big use, because one simply can answer the question if the novel was written according to the author’s life. With answering the research question of this paper, one can have a look at an entire period of time. “However, few critics have paid much attention to the particulars of money and the relative buying power of money in Austen’s novels, despite the fact that Austen specifies many sums, particularly ‘fortunes’ and annual incomes” (Hume 289). The key question, if and how Jane Austen can convey such an access of understanding the past and its structures, has up until this point not been answered.

In order to investigate and look underneath social structures, one doubtlessly has to take a sociological theory into account, which will be Max Weber’s Herrschaftsssoziologie and his Klassenbegriff. The two concepts fit perfectly into the paper, as his Klassenbegriff separates people by their income and wealth (which was clearly the fact in historical Britain2 ), whereas the Herrschaftssoziologie is able to identify and investigate on the very root of this social restraints - the patriarchate.

For this reason, the paper is going to start with this introduction, while chapter 2 will provide a theoretical background and overview of Max Weber’s scrutiny. Chapter 3 reviews the historical context for the paper to be able to compare the novel’s »perception« of the past with real conditions. Section 4 introduces three key moments of Pride and Prejudice, which are essential for the paper due to the connection to the novel in a close reading form. Chapter 5, thus, combines the two lines of the paper, concludes the topic regarding the research question, tries to answer the latter, and states the topic comprehensively. Finally, the conclusion will follow in chapter 6, which will sum up the entire topic.

2. Theoretical Background

The theoretical framework of the paper is Max Weber’s analysis about Klassen (social classes3 ) and his Herrschaftssoziologie (sociology of authority4 ) as a more general approach. Naturally, there are other theorists as well, for example Karl Marx, Pierre Bourdieu, Ferdinand Tönnies, or Ralf Dahrendorf (just to name the most famous ones). Max Weber was being chosen because of both, the accessibility of his theory for the general public and the usefulness of his holistic view. Hence, the broad image and perspective of Max Weber’s social class analyses needs to be specified and customized for this paper, which is why the theory section will be divided into two subchapters. Section A. is going to analyse his Klassenbegriff in the first place, which is not just fundamental for the research question but basic for understanding his Herrschaftssoziologie. Section B. is adapted due to its capability to explain the reasons and persistence of the underlying problem of Pride and Prejudice.

a. Max Weber’s Klassenbegriff

Weber defines the unequal distribution of economic power as origin of unequal distribution of life chances, which, however, generates the “fundamental condition of class5 ” (Bendix 69). He generarily differentiates between “Erwerbs-, Besitz und Soziale Klassen” (Bendix 69). In this definition, Weber describes Besitzklassen as the distinction according to ownership of individuals. He continues and gives examples for this very class with people of all kind, that make their living out of renting and leasing houses, tenancy, or stock dividends (Groß 22). The opposite would be prisoners, slaves, debtors, and, briefly, poor people. Erwerbsklassen, on the other hand, distinct individuals according to their chances to utilize goods or services from the market (Groß 23). Although this division could be underpinned with further examples, too, it is not necessary for this paper, as the Besitzklassen are the ones to focus on. Nor are Soziale Klassen relevant, because they can be seen as a result of one of the two mentioned above and are hence included for the mattering Besitzklassen (Groß 24).

b. Max Weber’s Herrschaftssoziologie

For arguing the classification between charismatische Herrschaft, legale Herrschaft, and, which is important for this paper, traditionale Herrschaft, Weber defines the latter as patriarchalisches Familienbild and states that it is “[…] der am meisten typische Gegensatz einerseits zur Stellung eines kontraktlichen angestellten Arbeiters in einem Betriebe, andererseits zur emotionalen Glaubenserziehung eines Gemeindemitgliedes zu einem Propheten“ (Weber 731). The domination of the father, and hence the dependence of both family and (in this case) daughters, “legitimizes itself above all with the permanent recognition of its factuality, because it has always been that way6 ” (Imbusch 177) and that the obedience to the father and head of the family derives from an “Eigenwürde” (Müller 132). This “reverence in family circle7 ” (Kaesler 210) requires henceforth a strong father figure who is able to lead the family issues. This point will become important for the paper during the following chapters, as Mr. Bennet (to forestall just a glimpse) tends to be not the person, Max Weber tries to define. The problem for the story, and therefore for this paper, is that “traditional dominance is based on everyday faith in the sanctity of traditions that have always been in place and on the legitimacy of rulers who have been called to rule by this tradition. [It] involves a personal relationship between master and administrative staff whose members are personal servants of the Lord8 ” (Münch 178). If the father is not able to lead the family or to be the charismatic leader a traditional dominance needs, so to speak, he will lose his entire position. Thus, he has to prevent such a status from being abolished which is a key element in Weber’s theory and in the paper, because it is the reason for every family issue to be guided, in order to avoid a withdrawal of legitimacy or (social) status.

To make a long story short: Weber’s theory is able to depict and analyse the overall topic of the Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: money, social class, and the behaviour of Mr. Bennet as father and patriarch »in charge«. The family is at the mercy of foreigners, trying to get their daughters married in the very best way in order to be able to stay in their Besitzklasse and, on the other hand, to not lose influence.

3. Common View on Money and Marriage during the 18th and 19th Century

In order to be able to analyse Jane Austen’s importance for understanding the past through her novels, the paper needs to clarify how certain aspects of time (to be more specific: how aspects of money and marriage) have been dealt with in the past.

Around 1813, the year Pride and Prejudice was published, ideas and ideals of marriage and money were quite different from today. Todd puts this in context to Jane’s life and says: “Financially dependent on their father, as they came to adulthood the two Austen daughters naturally contemplated a future of marriage as the ‘pleasantest preservative from want’” (Todd 4). “Consequently, [they] […] faced a life of dependence on the young male Austen” (Todd 8). This idea of a historical context, which is not far from the novel’s society, is underlined by McMaster: “Jane Austen lived in an age in which marriages of convenience were frequent and matrimony was often almost the only means of support for a woman” (McMaster 290).

Newman, furthermore, compares the given circumstances in the novel with historical facts, which, of course, is content of this chapter, and postulates that “the event, marriage, does after all refer to a real social institution that, in the nineteenth century particularly, robbed women of their human right” (Newman 383) and additionally calls it a “social reality of patriarchal power” (Newman 395). At this point, it is easy do identify Weber’s theory of the traditionale Herrschaft in which the father of the family is not just the head, but the family brain, too: “The proposal once made and accepted, the fortunate suitor must still apply for parental approval” (McMaster 293). This procedure seems to be odd with our world view, but nevertheless, during the 19th century, “marriage […] represented the accomplishment of […] identity” for women (White 76). The origin of this male dominated circle, however, was given law, as inheritance was determined by descent because women had no legal rights on their own at least up until 1850 (Olsen 425-6)9. One could draw this line even further by saying that women seemed to “be of little use for anyone, besides the relatives for whom she might keep house” (Olsen 426). In other words, laws restricted right of women (cf. Teachman, Understanding Pride and Prejudice 42) and “by today’s standards, of course, the denial of such rights as freedom of individual movement, making a will, and possession of one’s own earned or inherited assets merely because one marries seems absurd to most people in Britain” (Teachman, Understanding Pride and Prejudice 42). Teachman continues and postulates that “in Austen’s time, the treatment of the married woman as ‘a minor’ was well established and accepted without question by most of English society, and the ‘right’ of a husband to compel his wife to live as he chose, even to the extent of forcing her to live virtually imprisoned in some cases, was considered valid” (Teachman, Understanding Pride and Prejudice 42). To put it even clearer:

By the laws of this country, the moment a woman enters into the state of matrimony, her […] existence is annihilated, or incorporated into that of her husband; but by this little mortification she is no loser, and her apparent loss of consequence is abundantly compensated by a long list of extensive privileges and immunities, which, for the encouragement of matrimony, were, perhaps, contrived to give married women the advantage over those that are single (Teachman, Understanding Pride and Prejudice 42).

This is in fact a very small repay for the disadvantages which were, surely, forgotten in this excerpt of contemporary history. Some disadvantages, just to name the most severe ones, are: total control and loss of nearly anything, for example the “husband’s entitlement to his wife’s property” (Teachman, Understanding Pride and Prejudice 45). Moreover, women often had to suffer “sexual aggressiveness10 ” (Seeber 288).

On the other hand, men suffered, too, as “bachelors paid double tax on the servants they employed” (Olsen 426). Moreover, “of course, he needed to have enough money to support their children and to provide his wife with a decent standard of living” (Olsen 428). Nevertheless, women were to ones who were discriminated against which finally leads to Olsen’s utterance: “In the case of women, the motivation might be love, but it was often a more pragmatic assessment of the fate that awaited an ‘old maid’” (Olsen 425).

All in all, one could say that women hat little rights to expect, whether in childhood, or marriage. They were inferior to men during their entire lifetime and had to accept this sad state of affairs, in order to be accepted in society and to not be treated even worse.


1 Own translation.

2 Cf. Chapter 3.

3 Own translation.

4 Own translation.

5 Own translation. Original quote: “Grundbedingung der Klasse” (Bendix 69).

6 Own translation. Original quote: “legitimiert sich [daher΁ v.a. über die dauerhafte nerkennung ihrer Faktizität, dadurch, dass es immer schon so war‘“ (Imbusch 177).

7 Own translation. Original quote: “Pietät im Umkreis des Gewohnten“ (Kaesler 210).

8 Own translation. Original quote: “Traditionale Herrschaft gründet auf dem lltagsglauben an die Heiligkeit von Traditionen, die von jeher gelten und auf der Legitimität von Herrschern, die aufgrund dieser Tradition zur Herrschaft berufen wurden. [Sie] umfasst eine persönliche Beziehung zwischen Herr und Verwaltungsstab, dessen Mitglieder persönliche Diener des Herrn sind“ (Münch 178).

9 For further reading cf. Teachman, Understanding Pride and Prejudice, The History of Women from the Earliest Antiquity, to the Present Time.

10 Own translation. Oritinal quote: “sexuelle ggressivität” (Seeber 288).

Excerpt out of 24 pages


Money and Jane Austen. How "Pride and Prejudice" Generates an Access to Contemplating Marriage Socioeconomically
University of Würzburg  (Neuphilologisches Institut)
The Female Romantics
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
604 KB
Marriage, Max Weber, Jane Austen, Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth, Society, Rules, History, Pride and Prejudice, money, economical status, female, class, patriarch, daughter, male, descent, property, right, representation, income, feminism, Mr. Collins, Charlotte, will, Austen, single, happy, implication, pragmatic, security, life, socioeconomical, gender, dependent, critique, love, criticism, social, unhappiness
Quote paper
B.A. Philipp Freund (Author), 2018, Money and Jane Austen. How "Pride and Prejudice" Generates an Access to Contemplating Marriage Socioeconomically, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Money and Jane Austen. How "Pride and Prejudice" Generates an Access to Contemplating Marriage Socioeconomically

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free