At the top of the social scale were the aristocracies: they had titles, owned land and did not work. Then below them were the gentries: they inherited their fortunes and did not work. In Austen’s day, women of the gentry were almost entirely dependent on men. The only employment they were likely to get was to become governess and this was not viewed as a satisfactory way of life. Most women who did not marry remained financially dependent on their male relatives, like Jane Austen. Through marriage, a woman could have her own house and enjoy some status in society.
Austen ignored the Napoleonic wars raging over in France at the time because they simply didn’t affect her directly, despite occasional propaganda; there was little chance that Napoleon would invade Britain. Austen turned down many marriage proposals because they weren’t for love, and she firmly believed that people should marry for love, not money. In the novel she makes her opinions known through the narrative comments as well as the protagonist opinions. During the first ball in the book, the characters involved immediately attempt to cement their position in society.
Lady Catherine is a prime example of Jane Austen’s satire. This is because as discussed earlier in the introduction, Austen clearly does not approve with the notion that money equals intelligence. Nevertheless, many believed this notion at the time and Austen portrays this through the characterisation of Lady Catherine. Firstly, we hear about Lady Catherine through the dejected Mr. Collins who boasts to the Bennets about her. ‘Bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish. ‘ (p51)
Lady Catherine is shown to be a woman who believes that due to her social status and her substantial fortune, her opinions and instructions should be followed without question. For example she is happy to use, what she presumes to be, her superior knowledge of social etiquette to assist the ‘less fortunate’ such as Mr. Collins. Austen does not agree with this opinion and shows this through the satire of Lady Catherine’s instructions to people about how they can better themselves. This is explored further when Lady Catherine bestows these comments onto equally ridiculous characters, such as Mr.
Collins who comments that these instructions give him ‘superior society’ (p178). These humorous subtleties allow Austen’s social analysis of such people to be shown in a comic manner. Austen also shows her opinion of Lady Catherine through the description, ‘Her air was not conciliating… such as to make her visitors forget their inferior rank… whatever she said, was spoken in so authoritative a tone, as marked her self- importance. ‘ (p135) This satirical instance of characterisation shows again how Austen creates intricate characters which we can assume are based on her personal findings of such people.
Lady Catherine frequently speaks to Elizabeth in a condescending manner. Elizabeth however, being Austen’s sensible character responds to Lady Catherine using sharp wit and satire. ‘Elizabeth suspected herself to be the first creature who had ever dared to trifle with so much dignified impertinence. ‘ (p138) Later in the novel, Lady Catherine confronts Elizabeth about Darcy and ‘forbids’ the marriage not knowing whether Elizabeth has accepted the proposal or not. This suggests that she believes those who are beneath her in social status should do as she instructs.