Thursday, 14 April 2016

Jane Austen's Characters: Marrying for Money

Elizabeth Elliot’s outlook is rooted in class entitlement. It is part of Elizabeth's blindness that she cannot even begin to fathom that a woman like Mrs. Clay might try to rise above her station. Elizabeth is husband-hunting only among the baronetcies and above. She firmly believes her £10,000 entitles her to a baronet.

We learn in Chapter One of Mansfield Park (from Maria Ward's uncle) that Maria Ward (later Lady Bertram) with her £7,000 was at least £3,000 short of attracting a baronet.

Note other women in the novels with at least £10,000 a year and see whom they attract or marry: In Pride and Prejudice, Miss King attracts Mr. Wickham; Caroline Bingley (£20,000) wants Mr. Darcy. In Sense and Sensibility, Miss Grey wants Mr. Willoughby (who is worth £700 a year); Fanny Ferrars marries John Dashwood. In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford (with £20,000) wants Edmund Bertram; Maria Bertram accepts Mr. Rushworth.

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot attracts Charles Musgrove, Captain Benwick, Captain Wentworth, and Mr. Elliot; Mary Elliot captures Charles Musgrove.

So only one woman with at least £10,000 attracts a baronet's heir, and we learn to be suspicious of his motives. Other than that, it is not commonplace for a woman of £10,000 to attract titled gentlemen. Elizabeth Elliot, then, is stuck in a pipe-dream.