4 Legal Limits for Ladies in Jane Austen's Time
Part of the Jane Austen For Dummies Cheat Sheet
In Jane Austen's day, the legal rights for a lady were minimal. A lady was a member of a social class called the gentry, who were landowners and had the good taste and refinement associated with polite society. What seems like a life of leisure for these women, however, came at a cost.
Under the law, a lady couldn't do things that many women today take for granted. She could not
Attend a university.
Enter a profession.
Control her money and property (including her clothes!). Rarely did a married lady hold property in her own name. When a woman got married, she had to surrender her money and her legal rights to her husband. A lady's one option for securing her own property was to place it in a trust.
Her husband had
Control of their children. If he wanted, he could deny her access to the children or take them away from their mother.
Control over their sex life. He could demand sex and even rape her or commit adultery with impunity.
The right to hit her. She was his property, so he could do as he liked.
Now that you know the downside of being a woman in Austen's time, don't think that she lived in a nation of wife-beating brutes; a majority of marriages were happy or at least satisfactory, and most wives weren't beaten!