Marriage and Property in Jane Austen’s Novels

For the landed gentry at the end of the eighteenth century, writes J.F.G. Gornall, there were two main components in marriage. Jane Austen’s novels reveal how 'equal alliance' was at least as important as mutual affection.

Jane Austen's novels describe the social life of the English landed gentry at the turn of the eighteenth century from the point of view of a number of young women in their late teens, or early twenties, who are trying to find a husband.

Many of the problems they encounter arise from the fact that marriage, at that time and in that class, was not only a matter of mutual affection and social compatibility, but also an institution through which the landed gentry maintained and increased its financial position.

The landed gentry and peerage in 1790 comprised about 25,000 families, whose livelihood depended chiefly on the ownership of land. The average yearly income of the great landowners (about 400 families) was £10,000. 4,000 to 5,000 families received £1,000 to £5,000 a year, and the remainder less.1

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