In her novel Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen acts as a skilled seamstress stitching together all of her perfectly crafted words to convey her message about Regency England. She perfectly juxtaposes relationships and characters and then her treatment of them to subtly but gorgeously reveal to the reader the superficiality of society. Having experienced the social pressures and standards of Regency period England, Jane Austen used her novel Pride and Prejudice and her characters and their relationships to comment on the superficiality of Regency period England and the deceptiveness of first impressions.
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 in the village of Steventon in Hampshire, England. She was born as the seventh child of her parents, George and Cassandra Leigh Austen. Her family included her brothers James, Edward, Francis, Charles and Henry, and her sister, Cassandra. Throughout Austen’s life, Cassandra was her closest friend and confident as they both had the same sense of humor and similar interests. In society, the Austen family was well regarded, despite their low income (Telgen 283). Their neighbor’s said the family always appeared happy (“Jane Austen” 6). However, reaping knowledge from other people’s perspective is not accurate for any family in Regency period England due to the fact that people had the strong tendency to ignore any details that made them look bad to society. The Austen family did this with their son Edward. When he was born, he was perceived as having a mental illness so Cassandra Leigh and George gave up their son to their wealthy relative, Thomas Knight (Telgen 283). The Austen family, like the rest of their society, manipulated their family to seem perfect in the eyes of the rest of society.
Jane’s father, Reverend George Austen, was well respected in society. He was a distinguished clergyman and scholar who studied classic literature. In addition, he ran a school for boys inside of the Austen house (O’Farrell 92). Through these activities, he gained a good reputation and good social status. He was not, however, born well-off. Instead he raised his social standing through ambition and intelligence. Jane’s mother, Cassandra Leigh, however, was born of higher rank. One of her ancestors was the Lord Mayor of London under Queen Elizabeth the first (Telgen 283). Mrs. Austen was very proud of this fact. She, like most of the rest of society, valued ancestors and status more than hard work. Because of these attributes, readers speculate that Mrs. Bennet is based off of Jane’s actual mother. Because of their differences in class in their upbringing, Jane’s parents had different views on society.
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Reading and writing was very prevalent in Jane’s life as she was growing up. From when she was very young the Austen family would sit together and read their favorite authors aloud. Sometimes they would even perform the works of literature in the form of a play. Some of these authors include Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and William Cowper (“Jane Austen” 7). These sessions had profound impact on Jane’s life as they not only influenced her own writing, but they also caused her to love literature and have the desire to write. Her knowledge of literature and her education continued when in 1784, when Jane, at the age of nine, and Cassandra were sent to Mrs. Latournelle’s Abbey School at Reading. Here she mastered the English and French language and received some education in Italian. However, she and her sister left the school after two years, to be educated by their father, after Jane caught a bad fever and almost died (“Jane Austen” 7). Her dad completed the rest of her education and was very supportive of her writing. He was the one who gave Jane her first notebook to write in (O’Farrell 92). At the age of twelve, Jane started writing her own stories in this notebook (Telgen 283). By the age of sixteen, Jane had filled up three notebooks full of her own stories, poems and plays. She wrote four stories, “The Mystery”, “Kitty”, “The Bower”, and “Love and Friendship”, in these notebooks. These were published later and are called her Juvenalia works (“Jane Austen” 7-8). Studying literature had an important part in Jane Austen’s young life.
Austen’s England in Pride and Prejudice was a reflection of the era she herself was living through, Regency period England. Regency era England began when King George III went crazy and passed the power over England down to his son, the Prince Regent, George IV (Telgen 295-6). It was under George IV rule that England was at its height in power and was very concerned with their societal appearance. It was said that men had only two issues in England at this time, health and boredom (“Jane Austen” 24). This increase in wealth was due to the Industrial Revolution. Because of the increase in technology, the economy was changing and a large wealthy class and even larger middle class was created. These newly wealthy people, the landed gentry, were now able buy land and their own estates. Because they made their fortune and did not inherit it, they were very concerned about their futures if they ever lost the source of their income (Telgen 295). However, these newly rich men also liked to flaunt their wealth. They would go to places just to be seen spending money (Telgen 296). The previously rich, “respectable people”, did not like this influx of landed gentry. They thought that they themselves were better than them and that the landed gentry were immoral (296). Regency period England was a very vain time period.