Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen T. Egerton In his wonderfully chatty poem Letter to Lord Byron, W.H. Auden noted that the only correspondent apart from Byron he had considered was English novelist Jane Austen. Auden wasn't interested in 'Aunt Jane's' opinions on love, marriage, eligible men or even agreeable balls. It was her views on money he was after: 'It makes me most uncomfortable to see/An English spinster of the middle-class/Describe the amorous effects of 'brass'/Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety/The economic basis of society.' In Pride and Prejudice, Austen's revelation of amour's economic basis is both sober and exuberant. There's that most famous of opening lines linking cash and matrimony: 'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.' Cue Mrs Bennet, our vulgar guide to love's financial foundations. Within two short speeches, she repeats the phrase 'man of large fortune' twice. The man in question is Mr Bingley, rapidly characterised as single, rich ('four or five thousand a year') and perfect for Jane Bennet. Economic status defines every character: the future of the Bennet family is determined not by Jane's beauty, Elizabeth's wit or Lydia's impetuosity, but by the absence of a son. As a result, the family estate of Longbourn is entailed to the nearest male relative - the pompous cleric Mr Collins. Mrs Bennet understands the horror of life without a roof over her head: 'The business of her life was to get her daughters married,' Austen notes coolly. Elizabeth's romantic interest is in a friend of Mr Bingley, the aloof Mr Darcy whose arrogance is bolstered by his earnings of ?10,000 a year - a mind-boggling sum. Darcy's nemesis, the mercenary George Wickham, is motivated by his lack of ready cash: having drunk and flirted away his inheritance, Wickham sizes up each marital prospect, first by looks, but foremost by the capacity of their wallet. Mrs Bennet aside, no one is more alive to financial incentives of a secure settlement than Charlotte Lucas. The only child of parents with modest means, marrying for love is a luxury Charlotte simply cannot afford - even if this does mean consenting to Mr Collins. 'I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home,' she explains to a disbelieving Elizabeth. It is a typically Austen-esque irony that Charlotte's comfortable home is now Elizabeth's own Longbourn - a thought that sends Mrs Bennet into paroxysms of despair. Austen (and Mrs Bennet) recognised only too sharply that marriage was serious business in the 19th century - quite literally a matter of life and death for women of no independent means.