Jane Austen: Class and marriage

Professor Kathryn Sutherland discusses the importance of marriage and its relationship to financial security and social status for women in Jane Austen’s novels. Filmed at Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton.

In the society in which Jane Austen lives – and remember, of course, we're dealing essentially with the middle and upper classes – she's never looking at the kind of society that Dickens looks at, she's not looking at the kind of poverty that Dickens describes, say, in Bleak House or Oliver Twist. She's looking at society for middle class women and in her society, at this particular time, inherited property runs through the male line. So a woman might be borne into affluent circumstances, but you will find that that affluence does not follow her through life. The only way to ensure it, is marriage and that's why, of course, marriage is so important in Jane Austen's novels. It's why too, that even though we enjoy the romantic fulfilment, which is such an important part of those novels and of the course of the plot that runs through them, we're never allowed to forget that material circumstances matter.

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