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Was life easier for the young ladies of 'Pride and Prejudice' than it is for young ladies today?

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Was life easier for the young ladies of 'Pride and Prejudice' than it is for young ladies today? At a first glance, this subject seems straightforward. Today's young women have more opportunities, more freedom and are generally better educated than the women of the early nineteenth century; surely their lives must be considered easier. However, it is not that simple. Some aspects of life today are not necessarily easier or harder than then; just different. In some areas young women now may even encounter more difficulties. Women's education in the time of 'Pride and Prejudice' was very different. The emphasis was not on stretching the mind academically but on developing a few fashionable skills, such as an ability to speak French or Italian and having a superficial knowledge of history and geography. Subjects like maths and science were not taught to girls beyond a very rudimentary level. The study of them was considered too taxing for their minds, and as the very popular Fordyce's sermons asserts 'most properly the province of men'. Their education would have usually been carried out at home, with a governess or just their parents to teach them. They might then have attended one of the not very academically rigorous private 'seminaries' like the one the Bingley sisters went to, but could never advance their studies by entering university; they could only have broadened their mind through 'extensive reading' like Elizabeth Bennet. ...read more.


Also, women could not always marry the man of their choice; if he did not have a sufficient, secure means of income then they would have faced severe difficulties with no Social Security or NHS available and often a large family to support. This is why Mrs Gardiner advises Elizabeth against a romantic relationship with Wickham which would have been 'so very imprudent' due to his 'want of fortune'. In addition, marriage was almost always for life. Women could never divorce their husbands; the only ground was her infidelity. A legal separation could be obtained by the wife due to cruelty but she would automatically lose custody over any children. This meant some were trapped in abusive or violent marriages. This is one area where life is definitely easier today. Young women today have a real choice over whether they marry as they can look after themselves. They are much more likely to marry for love than convenience; however there are some exceptions, like those who do so to secure residence in a particular country. A couple are also less likely to be deterred from marriage due to finances as men do not have the same, inherited income for life; they can rise in their career and eventually earn more than their older siblings and parents. ...read more.


Especially if a young lady lived in the countryside, she would not meet many new eligible young bachelors, which accounts for Mrs Bennet's joy when Mr Bingley moves into the area. Also, communications were much slower. There were only letters; none of the texts, emails and instant messaging used so frequently by today's young women. They had to be more reflective and rely on family members for advice which may have led to their reactions being more measured and less instinctive. This is an aspect of life which is not clearly easier or harder; it is not necessarily bad to meet a more limited range of people or to be forced to be more inwardly contemplative. Some young women are too dependent on their mobiles; perhaps it would be better to return to more traditional means of contact like visiting and letter-writing. In conclusion, the word 'easier' is a minefield, because the changes that have made our life better today also complicate them with the plethora of choices they offer. Choices bring dilemmas; opportunities bring sometimes crushing responsibilities. The changes in education, opportunities and marriage that have resulted in greater freedom bind women in another way; not to a life of reliance on men, but to a life of self-sufficiency which can be at times much harder than the dependency of the young ladies in 'Pride and Prejudice'. ...read more.

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