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Written by Nikki N
(4/19/2013 6:42 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Gentlemanly manners, penned by Therese
I believe there was a very large gap between the gentry and the working classes (labourers, servants), but most of JA's characters are of the gentry. JA herself, the daughter of a respectable clergyman, was of the gentry. Officers in the army and navy and barristers at law were also gentlemen -- Wickham, by becoming an army officer was therefore a gentleman.
Darcy and Elizabeth were both of the gentry. The gentry was the class immediately below the nobility, but it was much wider than the nobility which was limited to the lords -- dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts and barons. Baronets were gentry, but distinguished by a hereditary title, the younger sons of lords still took precedence over baronets and knights. As for Darcy, he was in the upper gentry, being rich and related to the nobility -- his mother being Lady Anne, the daughter of an earl. But he himself was gentry, and his father was untitled -- his father had married above his class. Mr Bennet was in the middle gentry, and had married below his class -- Mrs Bennet's relatives were in trade, the class below the gentry. But wealthy tradesmen who had made their fortunes could purchase estates and join the landed gentry.
I think that is partly why the Meryton gentry found Darcy's pride so offensive -- nominally he was still no more than gentry. Perhaps they might have been more forgiving of his pride if he had been a lord?
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