The opening line of the 1813 book by Jane Austen is: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” What did she mean by that?
It seems as though a million people, over more than a hundred years, have analyzed this line, its meaning, theme, etc. But no one seems to have applied any true context to the statement. So lets examine some details (in bullet list form for ease of reading)
- Jane Austen: Born late 1700s, lived for only forty years, and died in the early 1800s
- Regency Era and birth of the Victorian Era in Great Britain (the period(s) Jane Austen lived in)
In terms of Ms. Austen she was making commentary on the times she lived in, with a focus on realism. Based on the destruction of biographical information about her by her family seems to infer they were uncomfortable with her persona. Most often this is a classic case of an artist ahead of their time.
Without going into too much righteous analysis it seems to me that one sentence can be translated into a modern sentence. Here it is: “Sadly, rich single men feel entitled to have sex with anyone they want based not on who they are, but how thick their wallets are.” That’s the edited polite version of what I believe she intended to say.
Think about it. How many books start out with such a bluntly stated theme like that if they weren’t pushing a message? And I’m not being cynical or criticizing her work in any way. I’m saying forget all the hifalutin analysis of the “experts” and focus on what she was really thinking about when she wrote the book. She’s pissed off about something, but because of the era she lives in her words have to be tempered and her meaning and themes have to be obscured.
What really got me started on this was when doing some research I saw that Good House Keeping magazine had this on their top twenty romance novel lists. No, no, no. The romance thing is a cover for what is being said. Its fine that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy “get together / fall in love” in the end, but I believe Ms. Austen is a bit pissed off that it has to be that way. IE, why can’t the woman’s position in this “dance of love” be more empowered. Maybe Ms. Austen didn’t realize how much that bothered her, but it stands out to me given the opening line and other limiting factors of the era.