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Friday, October 1, 2010

Guest Abigail Reynolds: Social Classes in Regency England

Linda Banche here. Today I welcome Abigail Reynolds, author of Mr. Darcy's Obsession, the latest of her Pride and Prejudice Variations. Today she discusses social classes, one of the major facts of life in Regency England.

Leave a comment for a chance to win one of the two copies of Mr. Darcy's Obsession which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Abigail will select the winners. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winners within a week of their selection, I will award the books to alternates. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

Abigail selected the winners Margay and Dee. Dee, please send me an email at to collect your prize. Margay, I've sent you an email. If I do not hear from you by October 12, I will award the books to alternates.

Welcome, Abigail!

There is a huge social gap between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride & Prejudice, which is why Darcy’s proposal to her is such a testament to the power of love. When I wrote Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, I wanted modern readers to feel the depth of Darcy’s love and devotion the way a Regency reader would have felt it in the original. I took the gap between Darcy and Elizabeth – practically insurmountable at the time - and made it even larger. In Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, Elizabeth’s father has died and the Bennets are displaced from Longbourn. They are taken in by family, but the accommodations are not what they were accustomed to. Elizabeth lives with the Gardiners as an unpaid governess for their children. Although the Gardiners treat her as part of the family, she feels unable to ask them for anything because they are already helping support the rest of her family. Her wardrobe becomes shabbier, and her time is not her own. She isn’t remotely suitable as a wife for Darcy.

But Elizabeth was always unsuitable for him in Pride & Prejudice, just like Cinderella was unsuitable for the Prince, but modern readers find it difficult to understand the nuances of the time. The simplest piece of it is money. To the gentry, keeping the estate intact was of primary importance. That’s why they didn’t divide up property between children, and why property was often entailed. It was part of the landowner’s duty to preserve the estate and to add to it if possible. Darcy’s estate is already facing a loss – 30,000 pounds for Georgiana’s dowry, to be precise – and he would be expected to bring home a bride whose dowry would at least compensate for that loss. He is failing in his family duty.

The social nuances are more complex. Despite their meeting at Netherfield, Darcy and Elizabeth would not ordinarily move in the same social circles, as the Bingley sisters make clear. As Darcy is presented as the future son-in-law of Lady Catherine; Elizabeth is a poor cousin of one of Lady Catherine’s dependents. Elizabeth would not be accepted among the ton, whose languid snobbery would be offended by her presumption. Darcy’s social status would fall if he married her. Worse yet, so would his sister’s. Georgiana’s marriage prospects would be significantly harmed by such a marriage.

Elizabeth also has low connections, including kin in trade. Being in trade was a mark of low upbringing, and children of tradesmen had a difficult time being accepted by the ton. This is why Darcy is seen as superior to Bingley, and why Bingley will never be seen as quite up to snuff in society. And Elizabeth, unlike Bingley, isn’t even stylish or well-to-do.

Those alone are enough to make it extraordinarily unlikely that a gentleman like Darcy would consider marrying so far below him, but that’s not enough for Jane Austen. She stacks the deck yet further by giving Elizabeth embarrassing relations and a disgraced sister. Darcy knows perfectly well that he will be the subject of mockery because of her family’s behavior, and he’s right. But his love for Elizabeth is more powerful than all those things. He is truly a man before his time.

The more he tries to stay away from her, the more his obsession grows...
“[Reynolds] has creatively blended a classic love story with a saucy romance novel.” —Austenprose

“Developed so well that it made the age-old storyline new and fresh…Her writing gripped my attention and did not let go.”—The Romance Studio

“The style and wit of Ms. Austen are compellingly replicated…spellbinding. Kudos to Ms. Reynolds!” —A Reader’s Respite

In this Pride and Prejudice variation, Elizabeth is called away before Darcy proposes for the first time and Darcy decides to find a more suitable wife. But when Darcy encounters Elizabeth living in London after the death of her father, he can’t fight his desire to see and speak with her again…and again and again. But now that her circumstances have made her even more unsuitable, will Darcy be able to let go of all his long held pride to marry a woman who, though she is beneath his station, is the only woman capable of winning his heart?

About the Author
Abigail Reynolds is a physician and a lifelong Jane Austen enthusiast. She began writing the Pride and Prejudice Variations series in 2001, and encouragement from fellow Austen fans convinced her to continue asking “What if…?” She lives with her husband and two teenage children in Madison, Wisconsin. For more information, please visit or


Linda Banche said...

Hi Abigail. Whether we like to admit it or not, marriage has always been an economic arrangement. The economic aspects were always much more important for women than for men, and even more in the past than they are now.

I found your treatment of Jane's and Bingley's situation particularly heart-wrenching, even though I knew the ending of the story.

Audra said...

Lovely interview -- and a really fabulous reminder about the differences btwn Darcy and Elizabeth. Spelled out like this, no wonder P&P was such a fairy tale!

I understand that's why the newer remake of P&P was liked by some critics -- it more accurately portrayed what the Bennett family's life style would be like. (Pigs in the house, if I recall correctly, etc.)

Margay said...

Abigail, I love reading variations on the Pride and Prejudice theme and the more I read about Mr. Darcy's Obsession, the more I want to read this book. It is definitely going on my wish list!


catslady said...

It's all so different and yet all so the same. I think people still marry close to their "class" but at least women have more freedom than their ancestors. Power and family still want a say if they can get away with it lol. (money does speak). I think I enjoy reading about that time period because when some one does break away it was so much riskier and so much more romantic for doing so. Your book sounds as compelling as P&P.

Dee said...

How exciting to see this released. I think I read an early chapter of this on one of the message forums and was intrigued. You write well and your stories are always enjoyable!

Re: Georgiana's dowry and the estate's loss, it was more far-reaching. It would clearly affect the financial settlements on Darcy's daughters at their marriages, as well as the options available to his sons (lower military ranking by purchase, less financial support and increased chance of entering marginal professions/trade).

However, conversely, Darcy is shown most comfortable with a son of a merchant (Bingley) and a middleclass businessman (E's uncle whose business is never spelled out). We get the sense that Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam get along well but also that Darcy is known for a profound reticence among his own peers/family. Maybe he just likes "slumming". :) Or, he spends a great deal of time engaging in trade/investments outside of the scope of the novel. I've always wondered just how much of his interest was in sheep farming, anyway.

Keena Kincaid said...

Hi, Abigail. Thanks for the terrific post. Exposing the nuances gives depth and added meaning to this story.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Hi Linda and Abigail. Thank you so much for an very interesting and insightful post. I'd never considered before how Darcy's actions of love could impact so much on his sister and future generations.

I wish you great success with Mr Darcy's Obsession.

romancemama said...

The modern reader does not understand how money -- having it, getting it, losing it -- permeates Jane's novels.
I've always loved how Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility had Col.Brandon showering the crowd with coins as a symbol of how the Dashwood girls overcame poverty and reached a HEA.
The book sounds great, and I can't wait to read it!

Abigail Reynolds said...

Linda, I agree that marriage is an economic arrangement. I'm glad the financial aspects have less power over us now.

Audra, that was particularly well done in the 2005 movie. I'm not sure if the Bennets would actually have pigs in the house, but it did make us understand the extent to which Jane and Elizabeth would be marrying up.

Margay, I hope you enjoy the book! Fortunately, I didn't listen to all those rejection letters from agents in 2003 which assured me that no one was interested in Austen-related fiction!

Catslady, I was thinking about that point when I was reading a book by Mary Balogh recently - how much more romantic it seemed when the heroine gave in to passion because of the incredible risk she was taking.

Dee, I find it interesting that Bingley is not only from a background in trade, but philosophically he's unusually egalitarian. He stands up to his sisters and Darcy (no small matter, that!) to say that the Bennet girls would be not one jot less agreeable if they had uncles enough to fill Cheapside. That's a pretty radical statement for the time. It has to mean something that Darcy would choose such a man as his particular friend.

Keena, I'm glad to hear this highlighted some new things for you!

Lindsay, that's why I find the historical aspects so fascinating. We tend to think of Darcy as being bound by family duty, but it was the opposite. Regency readers would have seen him as failing in his duty to his family.

Romancemama, I agree, it's hard for us to understand how much of a role finances played in Austen's books, even though the very first sentence of P&P says it straight out. Our frame of reference is so different!

Linda, thanks so much for hosting me! It's been a pleasure.

Abigail Reynolds said...

Oops, I forgot the important bit! The winners of the books, as chosen by, are Margay and Dee. Congratulations, and I hope you enjoy it!

Margay said...

Thank you so much! I can't wait to read this!

Dee said...

How exciting! Looking forward to reading this, thanks!

The Rush Blog said...

Whoever wrote this article, seemed to be under the impression that money, alone, counted for the social divide in Regency England.

Regardless of how much money Mr. Bennet's estate earned, he was a gentleman, a member of the landed gentry and a member of the upper classes. His daughters inherited his social position.

And since Mr. Bingley is the son of a tradesman and not yet an estate owner, Jane Bennet married beneath herself, when she became Mrs. Bingley. I can say the same for Lydia Bennet, who married the son of an estate steward. Of the three Bennet sisters that were married by the end of "Pride and Prejudice", only Elizabeth married a member of her own social class.

Although the upper classes highly regarded wealth, they regarded bloodline and behavior even more so.