Okay. Longish preface with short but hopefully worthwhile payoff.
So. In order to share my snarky class-warfare analysis of Pride and Prejudice, I need to briefly preface with two things.
1: If you haven’t read Texts from Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg of The Toast fame, I passionately suggest that you stop whatever you’re doing and get a copy right this minute. It is hilarious — and it is incisively, snarkily brilliant. It’s a collection of imagined text-message conversations involving famous writers, philosophers, artists, literary characters, and mythological figures — and it does a brilliant job of skewering these figures and characters and stories, stripping them of their pretensions, and bringing them down to Earth. It’s also got some amazing social and political commentary: in putting these stories and ideas into a modern framework, Ortberg shines a merciless spotlight, not only on the casual oppression and clueless privilege of the past, but on how it resonates into the present.
And did I mention hilarious? Ingrid will testify to this: I have been giggling and poking her and reading her bits from the book pretty much every day since I got it. And the first time I read the Edgar Allen Poe chapter, I laughed so hard I could barely breathe. I have now re-read that chapter probably thirty times, and it still makes me laugh out loud. Even just thinking about it now is making me chuckle. Get it. (Here, btw, is a very good Serious Literary Review of the book, by Sarah Mesle at Los Angeles Review of Books. There are also “Texts From” on The Toast site itself.)
2: In my last re-reading of Pride and Prejudice, I was thinking (not for the first time) of an oddity of the Regency class system. In the Regency class system, being in trade, or having a job, automatically cut you off from the higher levels of society. You could be in the aristocracy if you had land and investments, of course — those were pretty much de rigeur — but you couldn’t actually make stuff, or sell stuff, or provide a service. Among the gentry and gentry-adjacent, having a job or being in trade — or having relatives who had jobs or were in trade — was gauche, almost shameful. If you had social ambitions about being in the aristocracy or the gentry, the best you could hope for was that your children or grandchildren might marry into it. (As long as they didn’t make stuff or sell stuff or have a job, that is.) There were a couple of exceptions — being a military officer or a clergyman — but even with those, there was a social glass ceiling. Not glass, actually. Just a regular ceiling that everyone could see.
So. That being said. Here’s the short but hopefully worthwhile payoff: my own “Texts From Pride and Prejudice,” an imagined text-message conversation between Caroline Bingley and Jane Bennet.
so your uncle is an attorney
and your other uncle is in trade
well that’s just
well you’re such a sweet girl
i’m sure you’ll do fine
it’s such a shame though
it’s so shameful
i have relatives who provide goods and services that people need and want
who don’t leech off other people’s labor
whose wealth wasn’t inherited
from people who inherited
from people who inherited
i have relatives who aren’t parasites
i don’t know how i can hold my head up
i might as well go lie in the gutter
oh, maybe with your brother
that sounds like a good idea
i’ll go do that