Jane Austen and Social Class
The British class system put individuals in a country in groups based on various factors which wealth and their occupation played a significant role, the individuals didn’t have the same jobs or the same social status in society. Society was divided into different social class to separate everyone. There were many positives from social class, the individuals in ‘upper class’ had better access to healthcare and were more likely to marry someone who was in a higher social class, they also went to more prestigious schools, the negatives from social class individual who are poor or working class don’t have the same advantages as those in ‘middle class’ or ‘upper class’ and they were likely to be looked down on by the upper and middle class. Social class in this day in age still happens around the world, Jane Austen analyzed those who thought of themselves as superior to others. In the book Pride and Prejudice, they are always watching, judging, and gossiping about others and in return they are watched, judged and gossiped about. The British class systems were pivotal in the 19th century to separate the wealthy from the poor, though it seemed unnecessary because everyone is human and no one person is better than anyone else.
In the 19th century England was divided into several social classes, the Aristocrats were the highest power in the 19th century, which included The Royal Family, Spiritual Lords, Temporal Lords, Great officers of the state which included Baronets, Knights, and Country Gentlemen. Next is the middle class, starting with the upper middle class they were the people who were at administrative levels, they enjoyed the high authority and the high social class they were in, they were also called “Middling Class” which was usually referred to a wide band of the England Population, this social class included Factory Owners, Large Scale Business Men, Bankers, Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers and Clergymen, Also in the middle class were the lower Middle class, who were a step lower to the upper middle class they included small scale business men, shopkeepers, merchants, and Civil Servants. Last is the Lower class, which is the lowest social class in the 19th century, which included the working class that included men, woman and children who did the lowest level of work for the country, the jobs were Labor, Factory workers, Seamstresses, miners, and sweepers, below the working class were the poor they didn’t work at all and they lived off of charity.
Pyramid of the social classes.
In the 19th Century the Upper and Middle classes judged and gossiped about people, that’s how their lives seemed to work the Upper class judged people from the Middle Class and the Middle Classed judged lower class or judged other Middle-Class people, and both the Upper and Middle class judged the poor people. In Pride and Prejudice, it is obvious that the Bennet family are upper class even though Elizabeth Bennet’s father’s wealth was declining and Mrs. Bennet she comes from a lower and more middle-class background though she has become accustomed to upper class lifestyle by judging other people who are in her same class and wanting her daughters to marry a rich man so they can be taken care of. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley would be in the Upper-class they have, Mrs. Darcy didn’t see himself as someone who should associate with people who weren’t as smart or as wealthy as himself, he thought those people like that were beneath him and he wanted nothing to do with them. Mr. Bingley is Mr. Darcy’s best friend and different from Mr. Darcy he’s nicer he’s like Jane in terms of their personalities, Mr. Bingley Is also uncaring about the class differences, but he’s also easy to manipulate an example of him being easy to manipulate would be Mr. Darcy and his sister convince him to leave Netherfield Park. In addition to how the upper and middle classes acted the lower class would be the servants such as Mr. Darcy’s Housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds, there were also two housemaids, a butler and a footman. There were probably more in that time as well were just the ones that were mentioned.
The social classes in the 19th century were treated very differently from one another, the upper classes were very wealthy and they enjoyed the wealth they had, they often gossiped about other people in their social class and thought everyone else who wasn’t wealthy or in their social class was beneath them, in Pride and Prejudice Lydia talks about the appearance of a servant saying “Aye, that is just like your formality and discretion. You thought the waiter must not hear, as if he cared! I dare I say he often hears worse things said than I am going to say. But he is an ugly fellow! I am glad he is gone. I never saw such a long chin in my life.” (Austen 203) she is also acting like the waiter isn’t even there when saying this, making it clear that she sees him as beneath her. Mr. Darcy also does this he doesn’t see why he should bother with people who don’t have as much money or who are as educated and sophisticated as he is which makes him come off as arrogant. Mrs. Bennet also treats people like they are beneath her by saying to Elizabeth. “I do not believe Mrs. Long will do any such thing she has two nieces of her own. She is selfish, hypocritical woman and I have no opinion of her.” (Austen 12) So, with all that being said the social classes act very different from one another, the upper and middle classes judge and think the that the people who don’t have as much money, or a good education like themselves is beneath them, the Upper Classes were known for doing high class things, traveling, fine clothes, good food, servants who did their chores for them so they wouldn’t have to do any work at all, they also lived in very comfortable houses and they also had bathrooms although their servants lived in cramped quarters. “The Middle-class homes seemed to be cramped or overcrowded with furniture, nick-knacks or ornaments.” (Lambert, Tim) Lower class also known as the working class who were either servants for the upper and middle class or they had other jobs to earn their own money to make a living, but they were still looked down upon because they didn’t have the wealth, or the education. “The Poor lived in “Back-to-Backs” which were houses of three or sometimes two bedrooms, one on top of the other. The houses were literally back to back” (Lambert, Tim.) and “the skilled workers usually lived in ‘Through Houses’ they were houses that were not joined at the back of another house they usually had two bedrooms upstairs and two bedrooms downstairs.” (Lambert, Tim.) In the 19th century only the rich people had bathrooms, although people did take baths only a few people had rooms for washing and the working class would bathe from a tin bath and wash in front of the kitchen range. So, the classes did live very different lives and they were all treated differently from one another but in the 19th century that seemed to be the normal thing, Upper Class treated the Lower Class with no respect.
Jane Austen was known for writing about social class in her novels, but the question stands as to why she wrote about social class in her novels what was the importance to write about social class in her novels, her novels spoke about what it was like living under social classes during her time in the nineteenth century, these novels had something in common they showed how social class affects other people’s views of each other. During the 19th century new economic opportunities helped boost the life expectancy but also quality of life which also led to them bringing back class divides that had existed in Britain for centuries. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, she wrote about the class systems with a romantic twist and it was the society that Austen was depicting, The English society in the 19th century was hierarchical rather than equalitarian, which means that a person’s place in society was determined by who their parents were, though it wasn’t always down to who their parents were many people could work into the upper class where they could earn enough money to buy into it or they could marry into it with that being said the social classes meant a great deal to those who were in them the upper class and middle class were very wealthy they didn’t have to work, the Upper classes were looked at as more superior to the lower classes because they had more money and good education, and the lower classes worked or they were poor some of their jobs included either being servants, waiters, factory workers, seamstresses, sweepers, and miners, which led to them being looked down on and treated as if they weren’t human beings, although that was how life was in the 19th century they needed the class systems to separate who had the most was the most wealthy from the ones who didn’t have much money at all. Austen uses the characters relationships and social rank in Pride and Prejudice to seemingly make a comedy of the idea of marriage and contradicting the conventional ideas and belief of what was going on in that day in age she had wrote about the courtships and in different situations for example, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship, Lydia’s scandalous elopement, Mr. Collin’s Attempt and Jane and Bingley’s associations, in the 19th century the courtships were necessary and central act for how society was in that time. It was a common thing for women to look for a husband to take care of them before their parents died to have the continuation of the family heritage and if possible to get rich from the husband they had chosen to reach the high class.
In conclusion, with Jane Austen writing about Social Class in her novels in some ways the Class Systems do help certain members of society as in the Upper Class because having wealth had given them the right to demean and think people who aren’t like them are beneath them, but for the lower and working class it doesn’t help them much because they are looked down upon and treated like they are beneath the upper class and Middle Class, but during the 19th century the classes separated them, which in retrospect was a good thing, even though they are all human beings and it was still unnecessary because everyone is human and they deserve to be treated as equals even if they don’t have the same amount of money, So, social class was in fact not necessary to sperate the rich from the poor. Even if it helped some members of the society in the 19th century.
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Jane Austen and social class. (2020, Feb 12). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/jane-austen-and-social-class/
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