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Austen Economics

January 29, 2008
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We’ve posted previously about economic subjects in Jane Austen’s novels, but this is an interesting tie-in, if perhaps a bit of a stretch.

But the relative economic simplicity of marriage in contemporary America contrasts with complexities still faced by many people in other countries. As in Austen’s day, payments tied to marriage play a key role in the income and wealth of both parents and children for many people throughout the world.

Austen was a masterful observer of social life. All of her novels center on the conflicting forces of romantic love and financial expedience in British matrimony 200 years ago.

Her heroines’ paths to marital bliss require hurdling obstacles created by the large payments of money between families common to marriage for upper- and middle-class Britons of her era.

Austen’s heroines needed to find a husband wealthy enough to support them in the style to which they were accustomed

Uh, no. That makes them sound like golddiggers. They just needed enough to live on. Look at Edward Ferrars and Elinor Dashwood–they couldn’t marry on the Delaford living plus Elinor’s small bit, but a nice bit of capital from Mrs. Ferrars puts them over the top. They’re not exactly living at Pemberley.

…and to buttress their own parents’ finances.

Is there any example of this in Jane Austen’s novels? Or perhaps it’s just an awkward way of describing the fact that the Bennets, for example, had not provided for their daughters after Mr. Bennet’s death.

But the higher their social class, the more important it was that their prospective partner come from old wealth.

Marrying a rich businessman would cause a loss of social rank.

Now, hold on; the only ones who care about such things are the likes of Sir Walter and Miss Elliot, snobs extraordinaire, who deplored Mr. Elliot’s marriage to a rich woman whose father had been in trade. Anne also deplored it, but because Mr. Elliot had not loved his wife, married her only for his own gain, and treated her badly. Slight difference. :-)

Impecunious parents of a socially desirable young man similarly might expect that his marriage to the daughter of a wealthy family would bail out their own finances.

A social faux pas or moment of lust by either partner might bring financial doom to someone.

True enough.

Leave a Comment
  1. Kira permalink
    January 29, 2008 12:53 pm

    “Look at Edward Ferrars and Elinor Dashwood–they couldn’t marry on the Delaford living plus Elinor’s small bit, but a nice bit of capital from Mrs. Dashwood puts them over the top.”

    Wasn’t that nice bit of capital (10,000 pounds) from Mrs. Ferrars, not Mrs. Dashwood?

    But then, I’ve only read the book, not seen the new movie. :-)

  2. January 29, 2008 1:12 pm

    Yes–of course. I mistyped. Thanks for pointing it out.

  3. February 1, 2008 11:40 am

    I have composed three short monographs on Austen economics for my friends on a financial forum who are viewing the PBS adaptations:

    Jane Austen’s Economics

    Jane Austen’s Economics: Northanger Abbey

    Jane Austen’s Economics: Mansfield Park

    regards,
    Barry

  4. February 1, 2008 11:43 am

    Link for first monograph:
    Jane Austen’s Economics

    regards,
    Barry

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