Study Guide

Pride and Prejudice Society and Class

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Society and Class

Chapter 4

They were in fact very fine ladies; not deficient in good humour when they were pleased, nor in the power of making themselves agreeable when they chose it, but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank, and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother's fortune and their own had been acquired by trade. (4.11)

The Miss Bingleys may think a lot of themselves, but we know better: their fortune comes from "trade," i.e. business. They may be sophisticated and well-educated, but when you come right down to it, they're not higher ranked than the Bennets—they're just richer. In fact, you could almost say that they're lower ranked than the Bennets, since as far as we know all the Bennet money comes from land. (Confused? Yeah, it doesn't make much sense to us, either.)

Chapter 9
Mrs. Bennet

"Certainly, my dear, nobody said there were; but as to not meeting with many people in this neighbourhood, I believe there are few neighbourhoods larger. I know we dine with four-and-twenty families." (9.25)

Mrs. Bennet is insisting that there are plenty of people to hang out with in the country (as opposed to the town), but the subtext here is that only certain people actually count as "people." And Mrs. Bennet's standards are a lot lower than Darcy's.

Chapter 18
Mr. Collins

"My dear Miss Elizabeth, […] permit me to say, that there must be a wide difference between the established forms of ceremony amongst the laity, and those which regulate the clergy; for, give me leave to observe that I consider the clerical office as equal in point of dignity with the highest rank in the kingdom—provided that a proper humility of behaviour is at the same time maintained. […]" And with a low bow he left her to attack Mr. Darcy. (18.57)

Lizzy tries to convince Mr. Collins that Mr. Darcy really, really doesn't want to meet him, but Collins mansplains to her that "rank" doesn't mean the same thing to clergy that it does the rest of the world. Sure. That may be true, but annoying is annoying is annoying, no matter what your title.

Chapter 29
Mr. Collins

"Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about your apparel.  Lady Catherine is far from requiring that elegance of dress in us which becomes herself and her daughter.  I could advise you merely to put on whatever of your clothes is superior to the rest—there is no occasion for anything more.  Lady Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply dressed.  She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved." (29.6)

In other words, Lady Catherine likes to look socially superior to her guests. That's a bit vain…

Chapter 34

He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority—of its being a degradation—of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit. (34.5)

Excuse us while we snicker for a minute. Darcy's proposal to Elizabeth is more about how he's losing class by proposing to her than it is about he, you know, loves her. Smooth move, guy.

Chapter 48
Mr. Collins

"The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this. […] Howsoever that may be, you are grievously to be pitied; in which opinion I am not only joined by Mrs. Collins, but likewise by Lady Catherine and her daughter, to whom I have related the affair. They agree with me in apprehending that this false step in one daughter will be injurious to the fortunes of all the others; for who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves with such a family?" (48.11)

When so much revolves around class status, what one person does affects the whole family. When Lydia runs off, she actually casts shame on her sisters. (If you're thinking that this sounds a lot like high school, we… kind of agree with you.)

Chapter 56
Elizabeth Bennet

"In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter; so far we are equal." (56.51)

You tell her, girl. Lady Catherine has just come to tell her exactly why she's not worthy to marry Darcy, and Lizzy sums up exactly why she is: "He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter." Sure, he has more money—but her birth and character are just as good as him. Yep, this is maybe Shmoop's favorite line in all of Pride and Prejudice.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh

"Not so hasty, if you please. I have by no means done. To all the objections I have already urged, I have still another to add. I am no stranger to the particulars of your youngest sister's infamous elopement. I know it all; that the young man's marrying her was a patched-up business, at the expence of your father and uncles. And is such a girl to be my nephew's sister? Is her husband, is the son of his late father's steward, to be his brother? Heaven and earth! —of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?" (56.63)

To be fair, we sympathize with not wanting to be related to Wickham—but not because he's basically a servant's son; because he's a deceitful, gambling seducer. Either way, Lady Catherine's response is hilariously over the top: "Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted," as though Elizabeth is actually going to make the estate dirty.

Chapter 57
Mr. Collins

"'After mentioning the likelihood of this marriage to her ladyship last night, she immediately, with her usual condescension, expressed what she felt on the occasion; when it became apparent, that on the score of some family objections on the part of my cousin, she would never give her consent to what she termed so disgraceful a match. I thought it my duty to give the speediest intelligence of this to my cousin, that she and her noble admirer may be aware of what they are about, and not run hastily into a marriage which has not been properly sanctioned.'" (57.24)

Okay, is Mr. Collins seriously the worst, or what? (He's the worst.) Here, he takes it on himself to write to Mr. Bennet and tell him that Lady Catherine would never approve Mr. Darcy's marriage to Elizabeth, as though (1) he's been asked, (2) there's any engagement, (3) anyone gives a rat's tail about what Mr. Collins thinks about class status.

Chapter 61
Lydia Bennet


"I wish you joy. If you love Mr. Darcy half as well as I do my dear Wickham, you must be very happy. It is a great comfort to have you so rich, and when you have nothing else to do, I hope you will think of us. I am sure Wickham would like a place at court very much, and I do not think we shall have quite money enough to live upon without some help. Any place would do, of about three or four hundred a year; but however, do not speak to Mr. Darcy about it, if you had rather not.

"Yours, etc." (61.7)

Here's one reason to care about the family of the person you're marrying: they might constantly be asking for money. But here we see how important marriage is to maintaining your class status. Elizabeth is still a gentlewoman; Lydia, not so much. (If she ever was.)

Mr. Collins

"Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about your apparel. Lady Catherine is far from requiring that elegance of dress in us which becomes herself and her daughter. I could advise you merely to put on whatever of your clothes is superior to the rest—there is no occasion for anything more. Lady Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply dressed. She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved." (29.6)

We are so sure that Lizzy is comforted to know Lady Catherine won't mind her Jason Wu for Target dress. You wouldn't want everyone to be wandering around in Valentino, right?

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