Monday, February 25, 2013

Darcy and Elizabeth - Class Differences

In 1814, Patrick Colquhoun, a Scottish merchant, statistician, magistrate, and founder of the first Thames River Police, wrote a report entitled A Treatise on the Wealth, Power, and Resources of the British Empire in which he constructed a table of Britain’s many classes:

Highest orders (first class): Royal family, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, great officers of state, and all above the degree of baronet with their families (576 heads of family/2,880 persons comprising their families.

Second class: Baronets, knights, country gentlemen, and others having large incomes with their families (46,861/234,305)

Third Class: Dignified clergy, persons holding considerable employments in the State, elevated situations in the law, eminent practitioners in physic (doctors), considerable merchants, manufacturers upon a large scale, and bankers of the first order with their families (12,200/61,000)

Fourth Class: Persons holding inferior situations in Church and State, respectable clergymen of different persuasions, practitioners in law and physic, teachers of youth of the superior order, respectable freeholders, ship owners, merchants, and manufactures of the second class, warehousemen and respectable shopkeepers, artists, respectable builders, mechanics, and persons living on moderate incomes with their families (233,650/1,168,250)

Fifth Class: Lesser freeholders, shopkeepers of the second order, innkeepers, publicans, and persons engaged in miscellaneous occupations or living on moderate income with their families (564,799/2,798,475)

Sixth Class: Working mechanics, artisans, handicrafts, agricultural laborers, and others who subsist by labor in various employements with their families (2,126,095/8,792,800) and menial servants (1,279,923)

Seventh or lowest class: Paupers, vagrants, gypsies, rogues, vagabonds, and idle and disorderly persons supported by criminal delinquency (387,100/1,828,170)

Excluding the approximately 1,000,000 men serving in the Army and Navy, the total is 16,402,988. Of that number, only 2,880 belonged to the highest order. That rank would have included Darcy’s grandfather, an earl, and his children, Darcy’s mother, the father of Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Lady Catherine.

The next group, or second class, includes Fitzwilliam Darcy. Although not a member of the aristocracy, he belongs to an elite group of only 46,861 heads of household.

Mr. Collins, as a rector, is in the third class.

According to the annotated Jane Austen edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks (p. 47), the Bennets are in the fourth class as persons of moderate income and, I assume, property owners.

When Elizabeth tells Lady Catherine that “Mr. Darcy is a gentleman, and I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal," it is a stretch. According to the laws of the United States, all men are equal under the law, but we know that some people are more equal than others. This was the case with the Darcys and the Bennets. 

The English were extremely class conscious, and so it is understandable why Mr. Darcy thought he needed to point out to Elizabeth at the time of his proposal how inferior her connections were. In his own clumsy way, he was providing her with a demonstration of the depth of his love, i.e., he was descending to her level. I think when Elizabeth sees Pemberley, she realizes just how much Darcy was willing to put at risk by making her an offer.

What do you think?


  1. I thought the Bennets were in the second class as Mr Bennet was a country gentleman - same as Colonel Brandon. The definition for second class does not say "country gentleman with large income." Since Mrs Bennet's father (old Mr Gardiner) was a lawyer, I thought this was why Mr Bennet was a good catch for her -- he was above her class.

  2. I thought the same, Bennets to be in the second class. Does it say how high income had to be within the classes? Because I think that in the 4th class for example teachers had to have much lesser income than country gentlemans.

    1. The document can be found in pdf format if you google Patrick Colquhoun and mention the title of his treatise.

    2. Just found it, thats great, love statistics. The best is prediction that if USA population will continue in the same rate of growth in 150 years will exceed China. :)

  3. According to the edited P&P by Patricia Meyer Spacks (Belknap Harvard): The Bennet family have a moderate income but not enough to secure the futures of their daughters."

    "Mr. Bennet comes from a family of moderate wealth and land; his wife, daughter of a legal agent, would have lower social standing... Her fortune of 4,000 pounds would provide an income of at most 200 pounds a year, an inadequate amount for her and her daughters to live on." (p. 61)

    1. But her settlement called for Mr Bennet to provide her an additional thousand pounds, so her total fortune would be 5,000 pounds.

      It shows Mr Bennet is truly a financial disaster. His father-in-law - a country solicitor - managed to give 4,000 pounds for his daughter (and maybe another 4,000 for Mrs Philips), yet Mr Bennet on his medium-sized estate could only save 1,000 pounds for his wife and five daughters.

  4. Do you know what the difference between a clergy doctor and a normal doctor is?

    1. Ah, Angie. I dropped the comma. It should be clergy, doctor... Fat fingers!

  5. Lizzy's gentleman/gentleman's daughter comment always bothers me for that very reason. Yes, she was a gentleman's daughter, but we all know she & Dacy are far from equals. But I do love the realization she she has once she sees Pemberley.
    Thanks for sharing the class info, Mary. I always enjoy learning about the class distinctions.

  6. Wow - fascinating stuff, Mary. Thank you for sharing. I'm fine with Lizzy being a gentleman's daughter. But I hate how her mother's "low connections and background" always seemed to outweigh her father's superior position. It's amazing how class conscious the English were, but I suppose here in present-day America, we not much better - we have our own informal, but very real, class differences. And as an African-American, I know for sure there are still race differences...although it's gotten much better than it used to be.