Notes on society of the day
Women in Regency Britain had far less options than women of today.
By and large, women did not receive a formal education, and their aim was to become “accomplished”, which means being proficient in the social graces such as music, needlework and literature, although the latter did not have the same emphasis.
In our story, Elizabeth was a well read and, therefore, intelligent young
lady, having made full use of her father’s extensive library – hence she became his favorite.
As a result of being well read, she was regarded as opinionated, and this was one of the features that attracted Darcy to her.
There was constant pressure on women of these times to marry well, to obtain
financial security, not for just themselves, but also for their immediate family.
Being in love with your partner was clearly a bonus, and most women did not
expect to achieve this. The most important benefits of marriage for a woman were financial security and social position.
The position of unmarried women was clearly defined. You will note in
Pride and Prejudice that there is no instance where a single woman traveled alone, or was without a chaperone.
When the Bennett daughters traveled they were either with a relative or a
Both Jane and Elizabeth traveled with the Gardiners. When Elizabeth stayed in Kent, it was with Mrs. Collins. When Lydia traveled to Brighton it was with Mrs. Foster, the Colonel’s wife, so when she runs away with Wickham she breaks all the social codes of the day and therefore, brings disgrace on her family. This situation could only be redeemed one way – with Lydia’s marriage to Wickham. Anything less would forever tarnish the Bennett family name.
The situation regarding unmarried women with no financial means of support
was dire. However, if they could obtain a position as a companion or governess, these were the few jobs that were allowed for women to take in Regency Britain. Although they retained their
respectability, some of these jobs were unpleasant and degrading for they were always in a vulnerable situation. They could always be easy prey for men in the families for which they worked.
Another way to obtain income for the single woman was through writing, and
some women authors used a male pseudonym.
However, the best way for a woman to avoid all these pitfalls was to marry