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Written by Linden
(1/11/2004 10:04 p.m.)
The status business is difficult to understand even for people living in it, and it's easy to get wrong. When we're outsiders living 200 years later, it's easy to make errors, and I'm probably going to make a few here, so please regard this as tentative. There's lots in the L&T archives on this subject for further reading, and I link one thread below.
There were three main elements to one's social status in JA's day (and lots of lesser ones): rank, wealth and connection.
Rank The official order, with its knights, baronets, lords etc. On this scale, the highest ranked person we've met so far is Sir William Lucas, who technically outranks plain Mr Darcy. In addition, one's birth counted, which is why Sir William's purchased knighthood doesn't count for much. The Bingleys are from `a respectable family in the North of England', and their fortune `had been acquired by trade'. In other words, the Bingley family origin isn't high status -- this point is missing from the adaptation, which makes Bingley and Darcy pretty much equal in birth.
Wealth Mr Darcy's ten thousand a year makes him one of the four or five hundred richest people in the country. He's rolling in it. Mr Bingley's fortune of `nearly an hundred thousand pounds' would bring him an income, if invested prudently at 4 or 5 %, of `four or five thousand a year', as Mrs Bennet announces on the first page. Mr Bennet's property `consisted almoste entirely in an estate of two thousand a year', entailed away from the daughters, and with little addition from Mrs Bennet's four thousand.
Connection Who you knew -- especially, who of power and influence you knew and who might help you. This is the area in which the Bennet girls are seriously deficient, as the Bingley sisters delight to say, but Bingley defends them `If they had uncles enough to fill all Cheapside... it would not make them one jot less agreeable.' Mr Darcy points out, `But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world.' It's Elizabeth's lack of connections that really bugs Mr Darcy: `He really believed that, were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.'
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