Cyndi Lauper surmised that money changes everything. In Regency England, I’d say that money IS everything in the dating world. Almost 200 years later, I’d say that is probably still the case. At least Regency England was straightfoward about their obsession with a persons’ financial status.
Almost all the relationships in Pride and Prejudice have a financial element. It is common knowledge how much yearly income Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy earn, and the size of Georgiana Darcy’s inheritance. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have the entail of Longbourn to worry about. Caroline Bingley is a social climber who ridicules anyone she considers of lower wealth and prestige. Lady Catherine has a compulsive need to show everyone how wealthy she is. Charlotte marries Mr. Collins for financial stability. Mr. Wickham pursues Miss King for her inheritance, and only marries Lydia when Mr. Darcy offers him a financial settlement. Financial situations are common knowledge and in the open.
And yet, money plays a much smaller role in the relationships that Jane Austen holds up as most admirable. Mr. Darcy’s wealth is, of course, well known, but neither of them speak directly of money as reasons for their marriage. Indeed, Elizabeth turns down his first proposal despite the material comfort it would provide for her and her entire family. Even Jane is relatively low key about Mr. Bingley’s wealth.
Jane Austen’s most admirable characters don’t discount the importance of wealth and financial security. But, at the same time, they don’t hold it to be the sole and most important component of life and love.