Men, Money, and Bonnets – A Reflection on Jane Austen

16th December 2018

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Pride and Prejudice


The Austin Dobson edition of Novels of Jane Austen

Jane Austen was born on 16th December 1775, and is undoubtedly one of the most well known writers around the world, and is still celebrated by scholars and fanatics a-like. Yet, there is a strange affiliation with the writer that makes many (my past self included) wrinkle their nose with distain at the thought of reading one her classic novels – but why?

I suppose a big part of that negative association is, regretfully, the classroom. I remember reading extracts of Austen’s work in my secondary school class; each student taking it in turns to read a paragraph or so, the complex language becoming a monotone rhythm not understood by the reader or the listeners, and the whole thing feeling un-relatable and, frankly, dull. I remember thinking ‘what was all the hype about? It’s just women stood around talking about men, money and bonnets?’

I think partly because of this lack of understanding, Austen has this completely unearned reputation for being genteel and conservative – the reality being that her work is very funny, sometimes mean, and a clever observation about human behaviour.

 “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal” – Austen, in one of the few surviving letters to her sister.

Austen’s most famous novel, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, is a novel of life, liberty and love. Written at a time of severe political uncertainty and economic volatility, alongside the beginning of talks about Women’s rights (Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Women seven years after Austen was born), it explores the intersectionality of Money, Class and Gender, and poses questions that are arguably still relevant to this day.

We see that a young intelligent woman, Elizabeth Bennet, and her family will fall into a state of financial desperation when her father dies – as only men can inherit any fortune – so she and her sisters must marry. Marry well, and quickly. Either that or become a Governess; which for anyone who’s read Jane Eyre, we know how that goes! But Elizabeth refuses not only one proposal, but two!

 “You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who could make you so.” – Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth cannot give up her happiness for the sake of security, and the idea that happiness should be privileged over security is pretty radical for the time; the risks taken by Elizabeth show her integrity and belief – she cannot marry a man she doesn’t like. Much like Austen herself, who refused a proposal during her own family’s financial instability, writing to her niece: “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection".


Second Edition of Sense and Sensibility 

I think that because Austen was a writer of predominantly romantic plots, her work can get labelled as just ‘glorified romance novels’. But I’d challenge the idea that such novels can’t be great. The word romance is too often and too quickly dismissed. While Austen wrote satirically – mocking the crying and fainting depictions of women in ‘novels of sensibility’ – and was suspicious of overwhelming emotion, she understood love. Rather than presuming that love is only a feeling, Austen explores how thinking and feeling and need and responsibility intersect to form the experience that we call love. Novels about love that deconstructs love.

A Hansomely bound set of The Novels of Jane Austen

Austen is considered one of the leading pioneers of realism, and often being credited as one of the first to use free indirect speech; the most common use of story telling to this day!

 “The hair was curled, and the maid sent away, and Emma sat down to think and be miserable. It was a wretched business, indeed! Such an overthrow of everything she had been wishing for! Such a development of every thing most unwelcome!" - Emma

The narrative approach reflects emotion without stating it – showing instead of telling, as the saying goes, allowing us to not only sympathise with Emma, but feel as though we ARE Emma.  Is that not what great books should do? Offer you a way out of yourself, and into another’s life?



Austen deserves her place as one of Britain’s greatest writers - her use of biting irony, along with her realism, humour, and social commentary is what makes her novels classics. Austen is so much more than men, money and bonnets.


Check out our beautiful selection of the works of Jane Austen.


Kelly Stewart



Sense & Sensibility Egerton, 1811

Pride & Prejudice Egerton, 1813

Mansfield Park Egerton, 1814

Emma Murray, 1816

Northanger Abbey & Persuasion Murray, 1818

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