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Bill_T
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Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order

The society depicted in the novel is a very hierarchical one, with sharply distinct classes. What are some of the many ways in which this prevailing social inequality reveals itself in the novel, even in some of the most ordinary actions? How does it determine the behavior and actions of the main characters?


Note: This discussion topic is particularly suitable for readers who have only read the first section Pride and Prejudice, through the end of Volume 1. If you wish to discuss plot elements introduced later in the book, consider posting in a separate thread.

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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order

Wow -- there are so many ways!

Income alone doesn't do it; property is required.

The first time we meet Mr. Bingley, he is described as "gentlemanlike." Not necessarily a gentleman -- since he has no personal estate, no matter how wealthy he is he doesn't qualify as a true gentleman. (From Persuasion: "You misled me by the term gentleman; I thought you were speaking of some man of property." So Bingley can appear and act like a gentleman, but he doesn't qualify as one.

And while Sir William does have a title, he made his fortune in trade, was elected mayor, made an address to the King, and so got his title, but he wasn't recognized as a "real" sir: "the distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly."
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Roxane_M
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order

Indeed. As a result of reading this book I once went on a reading binge on the social and cultural history of the Regency, and came across a book called "A History of the Gentleman." (I'm thinking it may have been by J. H. Plumb, but I may be mistaken.) The word has so many layers of meaning, and it has changed so over time.

The whole question of the pecking order is a very good example of how Austen's world differs so much from our own, which is why I think an annotated edition of this book is a good idea. No writer, particularly one as economical as Austen, is going to explain something that is common knowledge for all the readers of the day, so Austen would no more define "gentleman" that a writer of today would define "the internet." It would probably appeal to her sense of irony had she known that, 200 years later, her book would be wildly popular among readers who don't even aspire to be considered ladies and gentleman? Certainly young readers in skimpy camisoles and nose rings might need to be told why young ladies were sometimes required to tuck lace into their bodices!
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lawyermom
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order

One of the hallmarks of the"gentleman" was his "connections." Darcy's mother was apparently titled or the daughter of someone titled which would make her at least an Honorable. Therefore, his position as a gentleman is assured. The importance of connections is further illustrated by Lady Catherine de Bough. She exhibits no hesitation in visiting Elizabeth to express her disapproval of any alliance between the Bennets and the Darcys. She clearly expects Elizabeth to bow to the wishes of Darcy's relatives, without consulting him. She asks if Pemberly is to be polluted by visits from the Gardners; Mr. Gardner is a tradesman, albeit, a prosperous one. Still there is some indication that the old order is weakening. Bingley's sister Caroline has hopes of a marriage between Bingley and Darcy's sister, Georgianna. Austen presents this hope as unlikely due to the temperments of the parties. She doesn't depict it as an unthinkable breach of social order.
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misslizzie
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order

The whole idea of the pecking order never ceases to amuse me. The joking reference to Mr Bingley possibly preferring Lydia (the youngest) was, I think, much more of a scandalous thought back then. And the idea that Lydia would even consider such an option is, to me, proof of her completely selfish nature and indulgent upbringing.
I think the fact that, as Lady Catherine noted later, the "younger sisters are out before the older ones are married" (which she clearly disapproved of) may have actually reflected poorly on Mr. Bennett who should have kept a tighter reign on his daughters...but as we all know, who have read or are reading the book, was just lucky to survive in that household let alone hope to have any influence over his shockingly flaky wife.
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order


Everyman wrote:
So Bingley can appear and act like a gentleman, but he doesn't qualify as one.





And I find this distinction makes the snobbery of the Bingley sisters more ironical.
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order


Everyman wrote:
So Bingley can appear and act like a gentleman, but he doesn't qualify as one.




And I find this distinction makes the snobbery of the Bingley sisters more ironical.




Fascinating research into "gentlemen"!

It really does show the social elite as a desperate lot! They cling to whomever is able to elevate them in any way and then look down their noses at men such as Mr Lucas who worked hard for his position (which also explains his annoying pride in that position). But then, work was an odious thing and inheritance and birthright were their idea of the true measure of a man. :-D

When Lizzie is arguing with Lady Catherine and says that she is the daughter of a gentleman...does she mean that literally? Doesn't that place her in a higher social category than Bingley's sisters, though she doesn't have the fortune to show for it?
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order



CallMeLeo wrote:

Everyman wrote:
So Bingley can appear and act like a gentleman, but he doesn't qualify as one.

And I find this distinction makes the snobbery of the Bingley sisters more ironical.


Nice point. I hadn't caught that before.
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LutherJen
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order

I think the subject of class distinction really is the backbone of this novel. It is Mr. Darcy's prejudice against Elizabeth's status that first blinds him to all her wonderful qualities. And I think Austen's view of the upper class is revealed through characters such as Mr. Collins, Miss Bingley, and Lady Catherine---they all seem to have very high opinions of themselves, don't they?
~"Only a novel"... in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.~Northhanger Abbey
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Bill_T
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order

I hope that David Shapard will weigh in here...I definitely have the feeling of the old order changing in Austen's world. I believe that line Everyman quotes from Persuasion comes from Sir Walter Eliot, a perfect examplar of misplaced values; I suspect that giving him the emphasis on property is a sign that Austen sees it as myopic point of view. And therefore -- as I can't quite believe that Austen was taking a particularly radical position on the definition of a gentleman -- that for a good portion of upper-middle-class society, "gentleman" was a term which would not have been restricted to a man of extensive property like Mr. Darcy, but would have without undue stretching embraced a good many others; and further it seems to me (though I'm speaking without a firm grounding here) that by the turn of the 19th century, that there was a really grey area between "gentleman" and being "gentlemanlike." Of course, it's certainly possible to be the former without being the latter.

I might even go so far as to guess that "gentleman" is a "know it when I see it" kind of category; or one that is different, perhaps, for everyone, but with enough common ground in it that most people in Austen's day counted on understanding this the way their peers generally did without recourse to a more specific definition.

And the novel is certainly centrally wrapped up with just these kinds of issues --- after all, it's the status of the Gardiners as "connections" which form kind of a Darcy test case for Elizabeth.





Everyman wrote:
Wow -- there are so many ways!

Income alone doesn't do it; property is required.

The first time we meet Mr. Bingley, he is described as "gentlemanlike." Not necessarily a gentleman -- since he has no personal estate, no matter how wealthy he is he doesn't qualify as a true gentleman. (From Persuasion: "You misled me by the term gentleman; I thought you were speaking of some man of property." So Bingley can appear and act like a gentleman, but he doesn't qualify as one.

And while Sir William does have a title, he made his fortune in trade, was elected mayor, made an address to the King, and so got his title, but he wasn't recognized as a "real" sir: "the distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly."


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DavidShapard
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order


Bill_T wrote:
I hope that David Shapard will weigh in here...I definitely have the feeling of the old order changing in Austen's world. I believe that line Everyman quotes from Persuasion comes from Sir Walter Eliot, a perfect examplar of misplaced values; I suspect that giving him the emphasis on property is a sign that Austen sees it as myopic point of view. And therefore -- as I can't quite believe that Austen was taking a particularly radical position on the definition of a gentleman -- that for a good portion of upper-middle-class society, "gentleman" was a term which would not have been restricted to a man of extensive property like Mr. Darcy, but would have without undue stretching embraced a good many others; and further it seems to me (though I'm speaking without a firm grounding here) that by the turn of the 19th century, that there was a really grey area between "gentleman" and being "gentlemanlike." Of course, it's certainly possible to be the former without being the latter.




I agree: Sir Walter is being excessively restrictive in his definition (Austen does that to show his snobbishness). The standard definition of a gentleman, socially-speaking, was someone wealthy enough to live off his income, or someone who had a profession considered genteel, the main ones being military officer, clergyman, or barrister. In that sense Bingley is a gentleman because of his wealth. If he wasn't, someone as class conscious as Darcy would not socialize with him.

At the same time, even within the ranks of those considered genteel, there were endless gradations. Bingley does not rank as high as Darcy, not simply because of his lesser wealth but because his family only recently acquired enough wealth to become genteel. JA comments caustically on Bingley's sister's desire to forget that their father's wealth came from trade (which means that their father was not really a gentleman). His sisters also want Bingley to acquire an estate because that would make legitimize him further. Darcy himself alludes to the difference, in his letter to Elizabeth, when he says that the social objection to Bingley's marrying Jane would be less than for his marrying Elizabeth.

As to the idea that Jane Austen shows the old order changing, I am less sure about that. Many commentators have made this argument, seeing, for example, this novel as about the rising middle class because of Elizabeth's marriage to Darcy. The problem is that traditionally English society had never been completely static. Individual families, like the Bingleys, had long risen or fallen in their social status. What mattered was that the overall structure, and the distinctions between higher and lower remained, even as the personnel might change somewhat. That seems to me what is still happening in JA's novels.
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order



DavidShapard wrote:
As to the idea that Jane Austen shows the old order changing, I am less sure about that.

I agree with you here. There was always some degree of shift, but the real shift in the change of the old order wasn't substantially underway in Austen's time to the degree that she had to take account of it.
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Sir William's Work

Miss Lizzie, thank you for this insight: it makes Sir William an even more sympathetic character.


misslizzie wrote:

It really does show the social elite as a desperate lot! They cling to whomever is able to elevate them in any way and then look down their noses at men such as Mr Lucas who worked hard for his position (which also explains his annoying pride in that position).
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sethsma05
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order

I thought this was a discussion about the early part of the book, and it's my first time reading P&P, but I'm unsure what early chapters means. There's a spoiler in this discussion regarding a marriage. Is it possible to determine what "early chapters" are? I thought I was safe to come in, since I'm in V.2 Ch. 14, almost halfway, and it could have gone either way for a first time reader...
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quilt411
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order

I agree - I thought 'early chapters' was safe. . . I also expected a little more structure, questions/answers, things to watch for, etc. . this is my first online book club, though I am not a stranger to threaded discussions ( I just completed an online Master's degree)
I think I need a little guidance.
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CallMeLeo
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order

There is a hierarchical structure that exists within the family, as well as out. The father above everyone, then the mother, the eldest son (though in the Bennett family there is none), and then daughters. If there were poor relations living among them, they would be below all other familiy members. And the mother's place might eventually be displaced by the eldest son as he grows older, or if he becomes head of household upon his father's death.

Also, Lady Catherine questions Lizzie about the younger sisters being out before the elder ones are married. It is against the order of things. Elizabeth, in return, gives her opinion about this 'old' order. "The last born has as good a right to the pleasures of youth, as the first. And to be kept back on such a motive!"

SPOILER! SPOILER!! Later, in Chapter 9, Book 3, Kitty insists her place is before her sisters, because although she is youngest, she is married (and far superior!).
Ah! Jane, I take your place now, and you must go lower, because I am a married woman."
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order



CallMeLeo wrote:
There is a hierarchical structure that exists within the family, as well as out. The father above everyone, then the mother, the eldest son (though in the Bennett family there is none), and then daughters.

But of course. How else should it be? :smileyhappy:

Though once the eldest son is an adult, they often seem to come second to the father.
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CallMeLeo
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order


Everyman wrote:


CallMeLeo wrote:
There is a hierarchical structure that exists within the family, as well as out. The father above everyone, then the mother, the eldest son (though in the Bennett family there is none), and then daughters.

But of course. How else should it be? :smileyhappy:

Though once the eldest son is an adult, they often seem to come second to the father.




Oh, poor mothers! No respect! :smileyhappy:
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srj
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order

There is an excellent article regarding the economics of Jane Austen. It offers a plethora of insights. Reading it have me an entirely new appreciation for her works.

http://financial-page-group-reads.googlegroups.com/web/Jane%20Austen%27s%20Economics.pdf?gda=Iek7VE4...
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DavidShapard
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Pecking Order

The article is indeed a fine summary of the economic facts of Jane Austen's society, and I would definitely recommend it. The author does make one error in the early part of the article (an error frequently made by commentators on the novel). He/she says, using Mr. Collins's reference to Elizabeth's 1000 pounds in the 4 per cents, that she must be earning 4% per annum on her money, and thus that 4% is the standard return of the time. But later Mr. Bennet, in discussing Lydia's financial situation after he dies, says that she will get 50 pounds per year. Since she will also have 1000 pounds, the yield is obviously 5%. More generally, 5% is always indicated as the standard return in Jane Austen's novels.

The solution to the paradox, which I point out in an annotation to Mr. Collins's comment, is that 4 per cent bonds would usually yield around 5% (as would 3 per cent bonds, the most popular). This would happen because those bonds were normally sold at a discount, i.e. you might pay 800 pounds to receive 1000 pounds worth of 4 per cent bonds. Those bonds would in turn give you 40 pounds a year - 4% of the 1000 - and this would represent 5% of your original investment.
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