Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and Benjamins

This past week, I've been using the A&E version of Pride & Prejudice to reward myself, in half-hour increments, for my work editing the book,  and this time around I noticed something very sly about it. My understanding is that part of the reason Austen's work is important is that she reimagined the rules and reasons for marriage; a love match was a lot less common than a money-match in those days, and for Lizzy to wish to marry someone for love, just because, was laughable in its presumption. Dowries and connection and heirs, that was where it was at, and if you loved your spouse as well, sheesh, did you ever luck out.

But here's the thing. Mr. Darcy pays in the neighborhood of £10,000, in 1813's pounds (see here and text-search 10,000 for an explanation of roughly what this meant), in order to discharge Mr. Wickham's debts and convince him to accept Lydia Ninnia for his bride. Had Mr. Bennet had that money, he would have been the proper person to give it over to Wickham. Darcy then marries Lizzy for virtually no dowry at all.

Due to the discretion of all involved, Mr. Bennet was insensible to the trade inherent here, but I'm not: Darcy paid that £10,000 for a bride. He skirted having Mr. Bennet's hands on the money at all, granted, and the money functioned as a way of showing Lizzy how decent he was rather than being an obvious payment for services rendered, but it's still money-for-wife at the bottom of it.

As I understand, the trade usually went the other way, with a father having to pay a stack of sterling to a gentleman to take his worthless daughter off his hands. But I can't believe that Austen didn't do this on purpose, having Lizzy desire (unconsciously?) to pay Darcy back with her hand for his help. Everything was set to rights that way.

Perhaps all would have been explained to me if I'd studied Austen above the high school level. But, alas, my degree functions to help me appreciate the positive qualities in the motion picture versions rather than the depth of the text. Oh, well. The pleasures of the A&E version are well worth it, and I suppose that's what master's degrees are for, in any case.

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