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Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend. (3.5)
Well, this is encouraging: money might matter a lot, but, at least in Meryton, it doesn't matter enough to make people overlook Darcy's major personality defects.
Within a short walk of Longbourn lived a family with whom the Bennets were particularly intimate. Sir William Lucas had been formerly in trade in Meryton, where he had made a tolerable fortune, and risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the king during his mayoralty. The distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly. It had given him a disgust to his business, and to his residence in a small market town; and, in quitting them both, he had removed with his family to a house about a mile from Meryton, denominated from that period Lucas Lodge, where he could think with pleasure of his own importance, and, unshackled by business, occupy himself solely in being civil to all the world. (5.1)
Here's one example of a man who made money in business: Sir William Lucas. Apparently, his social rise went something like this: acquired fortune, became mayor, addressed the king, received a knighthood, then decided he was too good to keep making money. And this, Shmoopers, is one of the contradictions that's maybe most confusing to us 21st century readers: everyone wants money, but actually going out and making it means that you'll be a social pariah. (All the cool kids get their money from renting out land on their estates, you see.)
"Oh! my dear," cried his wife, "I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure, if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it." (13.8-9)
Mrs. Bennet flips when she hears Mr. Collins' name, and we can't exactly blame her, but this passage also shows that she's kind of an idiot about money: it's not Mr. Bennet's fault that there's an entail on their house, and he can't just go "fix" it. It's the law. The point of the law is to keep the money and estate in the family, instead of seeing it split up among daughters or go to someone else's family when a daughter marries—which is really bad news if you just keep popping out girls.
Mr. Collins, to be sure, was neither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome, and his attachment to [Charlotte Lucas] must be imaginary. But still he would be her husband. Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative she had now obtained; and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it. (22.3)
Charlotte is a "well-educated young woman of small fortune," which, once you add the fact that she's not very attractive, is actually tragic. She has almost no chance of marrying, and doing anything else—like being a governess, which would be an option—would kick her out of her social class. She either has to marry Mr. Collins or spend the rest of her life living in her brothers' houses and begging them for money. Seriously, can you blame her?
"Pray, my dear aunt, what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive? Where does discretion end, and avarice begin? Last Christmas you were afraid of his marrying me, because it would be imprudent; and now, because he is trying to get a girl with only ten thousand pounds, you want to find out that he is mercenary." (27.8-9)
Lizzy points out to her aunt that tying marriage to money like this just makes the entire population hypocritical: Wickham can't marry her because that would be "imprudent," i.e. really dumb. But when he goes after an heiress, he gets called "mercenary," i.e. a gold-digger. This is literally a lose-lose situation for Wickham, not that he needs any help being a loser.
The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were all the servants and all the articles of plate which Mr. Collins had promised; and, as he had likewise foretold, he took his seat at the bottom of the table, by her ladyship's desire, and looked as if he felt that life could furnish nothing greater. He carved, and ate, and praised with delighted alacrity; and every dish was commended, first by him and then by Sir William, who was now enough recovered to echo whatever his son-in-law said, in a manner which Elizabeth wondered Lady Catherine could bear. But Lady Catherine seemed gratified by their excessive admiration, and gave most gracious smiles, especially when any dish on the table proved a novelty to them. (29.14)
Just because it's bad to be poor doesn't mean it's good to be rich: Lady Catherine is just as proud as her nephew Mr. Darcy, and (unlike him) she's also so conceited that she doesn't even notice that Mr. Collins is totally sucking up to her.
[Colonel Fitzwilliam:] "[…] But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like."
[Elizabeth:] "Unless where they like women of fortune, which I think they very often do."
"Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money."
"Is this," thought Elizabeth, "meant for me?" and she coloured at the idea; but, recovering herself, said in a lively tone, "And pray, what is the usual price of an earl's younger son? Unless the elder brother is very sickly, I suppose you would not ask above fifty thousand pounds." (33.12-15)
Here, Colonel Fitzwilliam slips Lizzy a little hint that, while he thinks she's cute and all, he's not about to marry her. He may be the son of an earl, but he's the younger son, which means he's not going to inherit the estate—unless his older brother dies. Lizzy recovers by making a joke about how much it costs to marry an earl's younger son (i.e., how much money does the girl have to bring to the marriage?) but Fitzwilliam is serious: he has to marry a rich woman to support him in the manner to which he's become accustomed—his "habits of expense." He's our clue that, while this system of marriage isn't great for women, it's not great for men, either.
"And we mean to treat you all," added Lydia, "but you must lend us the money, for we have just spent ours at the shop out there." Then, showing her purchases—"Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better." (39.3)
Ugh, Lydia. This is bad news for Wickham (of course, Wickham is bad news for her, too). Pro tip for the wife-hunting nineteenth-century gentlemen: make sure your bride-to-be can manage her money.
The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of its proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendour, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings. (43.5)
Elizabeth is wandering around admiring Pemberley, and what she notices is that it's elegant. Sure, it's expensive—it's "suitable to the fortune of its proprietor," which means no Ikea furniture to be found, but it's also not gaudy or "splendid." Like Shmoop's always said, you can't buy taste.
All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the man who, but three months before, had been almost an angel of light. He was declared to be in debt to every tradesman in the place, and his intrigues, all honoured with the title of seduction, had been extended into every tradesman's family. (48.4)
Notice how, once all the townspeople start Wickham's (justifiable) character assassination, the first thing they say is that he's in debt? We're glad they can't see our credit card statement.
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