Pride and Prejudice: The Gropeless Romantic

Kristin Devine

Kristin has humbly retired as Ordinary Times' friendly neighborhood political whipping girl to focus on culture and gender issues. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of

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18 Responses

  1. Marchmaine says:

    I really enjoyed your thoughts here.

    It is always great fun to discuss people’s favorite romances in the Austen novels. I’ve always appreciated the different angles at which she approaches the stories of love. I’ve noticed Elizabeth/Darcy secures a plurality among women, while Emma/Knighly edges Ann/Wentworth among men. Only Colonel Brandon and Miss Dashwood seem perpetually out in the cold… but I’m sure they speak to some folks somewhere.Report

    • I think some of this has to do with our modern thoughts on appropriate age differences; both Knightley and Brandon were quite a bit older and there’s something rather offputting about Brandon mooning over some chick all that time and then glomming onto a 17 year old who reminded him of the girl he’d loved.

      (that having been said, I like Colonel Brandon and Knightley)

      The even match between Lizzy and Darcy, I think, is what makes them the favored Austen couple.Report

  2. Mark says:

    The economics of the book interested me. What opportunities existed in that era for a young woman? If one owned property, then one could derive income from that, but this avenue was closed to Elizabeth. I don’t think that women were allowed in the professions. Could a woman open a store? Could arts and crafts provide a reasonable middle income? What actually happened to women who did not marry an extremely rich man? I got the impression from the book that failure to marry the right guy, an owner of a good chunk of land, meant a life of penury. Is money the best perfume?Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to Mark says:

      I agree, trying to understand the economics is practically a mini-game; here’s a great link that outlines the expenses from typical family ~ £50 to £2,000 (Mr. Bennett). The simple rule of thumb conversion is 1800 £1 = $100 in 2000. There are real challenges translating income and cost of living in an economy that isn’t purely cash based and with large distinctions between Real Property, Rents, and Obligations.

      The Miss Bennetts were endowed with a £1,000 inheritance which would have been invested in the “four percents” yielding an annual income of approx £40-50… enough so that they would never need to work, but would live in “much reduced circumstances” – think of the Miss Bates’ in Emma. Genteel poverty: welcome in polite society, but without means and dependent upon the kindness of their social circle. (Also the overriding plot dynamic of Sense and Sensibility).

      Mrs. Bennett’s anxiety isn’t so much for their future to feed themselves, but for the fall from status and ease… that is, like the Bates’ their fixed income would mean a life of constraint, if not want.

      The Miss Bennetts are in circumstances where their inheritance isn’t commensurate with their birth/status, so their “options” will be purely opportunistic rather than predictable – hence Mrs. Bennett’s desperate impractical practicality.

      Mr. Bennett is (I’d say) somewhat unfairly impugned above… not that he isn’t self-indulgent… he is. That is the life he has inherited. What’s unique and hard to fathom is that while his income is large and affords him (and his family) complete ease; it is largely bespoke. That is, the income is less what we might think of as fully discretionary salary, but more of business income which fuels the operations of the business of which some portion, approx 10% is left over for “discretionary” spending. Thus the £1,000 dowry/inheritance for his five daughters is something of an accomplishment; and, as noted above leaves the daughters with the income of a family man – should they not secure a match of some sort. It is the question of “some sort” that fuels Mrs. Bennett’s anxiety.

      My counter-intuitive historical observation of the day is: compared to how Mr. Bennett’s wealth is (re-)circulated in the local economy, our present day wealthy class is so astoundingly unproductive.Report

      • Mark in reply to Marchmaine says:

        Thank you.
        Darcy’s income was reported as 10,000 pounds annually! I would think this would erase a lot of flaws.Report

        • Kristin Devine in reply to Mark says:

          There is a great debate as to whether Austen knew what she was talking about when she came up with the 10,000 pound income for Mr. Darcy. It was truly an exorbitant amount and considering Darcy was not in the nobility, some have suggested it was probably a ridiculous sum either come about by ignorance (I find this silly given Austen’s propensity for realism) or meant a bit ironically, like we might say “he was so rich he made a kajillion dollars a year”Report

      • After having done tons of research into Austen for this and a different project I’m just about to post (plus some personal reasons) I think it was Austen’s intent to impugn Mr. Bennet as a man who would rather stick it to his wife and hide in his study than provide financial security for his daughters. Mrs. Bennet is played nowadays as “the bad guy” and Mr. Bennet “the good guy” but I came away with more of an understanding they were more locked in a mutually destructive cycle in which the daughters took the brunt (not unlike what happens in real life, many times)

        When I reread the book this time I had a realization that we view Mr. Bennet more kindly from our positions of modernity than it was intended since we may be more likely to be predisposed to like someone who thinks social climbing is wrong, as opposed to one who engages in it, simply because we’ve seen that dynamic played out more often and social climbing was far more of a necessity rather than a fault back then.

        Same with Mary Bennet, as I was rereading PaP I was thinking about how in a modern story, Mary Bennet would have been the protagonist but was not intended to be an admirable character in the book.

        (also, in SaS the Dashwoods’ drop in income to 1600 pounds, 400 for each of the girls was considered a total insult and reduced them to having to live in a cottage far from home, basically on charity, so 1000 pounds could not have been considered a good income??)

        There’s probably at least two more pieces in this, I’ll have to think some more, thanks for reading and an intriguing comment!Report

        • Marchmaine in reply to Kristin Devine says:

          As I state at the outset, unpacking the finances is really hard. Are we sure we’re getting the figures for the Dashwoods correct?

          “Do but consider, my dear Mr. Dashwood, how excessively comfortable your mother-in-law and her daughters may live on the interest of seven thousand pounds, besides the thousand pounds belonging to each of the girls, which brings them in fifty pounds a year a-piece, and, of course, they will pay their mother for their board out of it. Altogether, they will have five hundred a-year amongst them.”

          As I re-read it, the (dead) Mr. Dashwood has in his gift 7000 which he bequeathed to his wife, plus 1000 for each of his daughters. Assuming five percent off the Govt bonds, that’s the 500 per year the 4 of them are living off of. Which, according to the contemporaneous figures I linked to previously would make their “cottage” more like a small squire’s estate… so I probably denegrated their circumstances more than I ought to have… I suppose the overriding sense of the unvirtuous acts of the new Mr. Dashwood clouded my recollection.

          Further, Fanny Dashwood convinces her Husband (New) Dashwood *not* to give them an annuity at all; substituting the idea that their assistance could be on an “as needed” basis. The new Dashwoods are certainly cast as dastardly and penurious.

          In fairness to us moderns, its pretty clear that Austen is using financial “shorthand” for obvious circumstances and that as contemporaries we’d fill in the gaps. The actual details of Entailments, Annuities and Inheritances would have covered a wide divergence of circumstances – including Mr. Bennett’s inability to bequeath more than, say, 1000 to each of his daughters absent a previous inheritance of his own or his wife’s.

          But, as I say, the finances confound historians and economic historians alike mostly because there’s no way to reconstruct the economy in which they participated… not in a modern sense that we’d be able to plug into, anyway.

          Regarding your comments on Mr. and Mrs. Bennett… I’d suggest that I don’t see either one as good or the other as bad. Mr. Bennett is instrumental in making sure his Daughters can climb the social ladder and does his duty by them with regards Mr. Bingley and Darcy; and Mrs. Bennett provides the animus behind them all.

          I’m partial to reading Austen in light of her exposition of the virtues… so it isn’t so much this person is good that one bad, but these people have these virtues and yet lack those.

          I think its interesting speculation on what Mary’s story might be… I confess to not giving it much thought; I wonder though it Miss Elliot (Persuasion) isn’t something of a Mary type?

          I look forward to the next installments… Austen is endlessly fascinating.Report

          • She (the brother’s wife) later wheedled him down to 400, but in the article it said 500, so I may have remembered that wrong. But she definitely took him through some steps over the first chapter of the book. It very well may be the case I have it wrong, I had just read the book and watched the movie at the same time so I may have my wires crossed.

            I really enjoyed your comments! I thank you!Report

  3. I know the Duran Duran thing was embarrassing, but that was one of your best biographical stories yet. I was laughing, cringing and hiding under the desk at the same time.Report

    • The most truly interesting thing about it is how for a very, very long time, I thought that everyone’s behavior was entirely justified and only fairly recently have come to realize how utterly wrong my mother was to have done that to me.

      Luckily, I don’t care a single bit about it now and just find it hilarious and a good story, but that’s one thing I do marvel over is how far off my brain was set from reality.Report

      • That doesn’t sound odd to me. I thought that when people were cruel to me, it was because I deserved it into my late 30’s at leastReport

        • Oh man, you have no idea how much this resonates with me. I struggled with that (not making this up) till last year. It’s very freeing to realize “you know, some of these people are just very much deliberate a-holes and it’s because they’re trying to control me in some fashion, and not because the stuff they say represents any form of objective reality”

          This site has been very, very good for me in that regard. Illuminating, even.Report

  4. blake says:

    It’s interesting to note that the sex scene in movies had its heyday from the ’60s, with the decline in power of the Hay’s Office, to about “Top Gun” in 1986. (“Top Gun” almost has a sex scene but then cuts away from it.) It’s as if the prevalence of pornography reduced the need (commercial value) for sex scenes in movies.

    Despite their being ample outlets for printed pornography, that doesn’t seem to have carried over for literature.Report

    • Kristin Devine in reply to blake says:

      There is a piece in that, I’ve thought about doing it before. The 60’s-70’s sex scenes had some interesting and illuminating things in them, like “Don’t Look Now” and “Coming Home” and that all went away for some reason, and your theory certainly makes a lot of sense. 🙂 Thanks for reading.Report