Through her vivacious cast of hopeless romantics, overzealous meddlers and pushy mothers, Jane Austen – who died 200 years ago this week – documented the trials and tribulations of domestic life in Regency Britain. She gave us a lasting insight into the cultural and societal pressures that influenced who married whom, and it continues to fascinate readers today.
The laws around marriage, equality and divorce have changed a lot since Austen's time, in large part to reflect shifting attitudes. But when it comes to tying the knot, are we really all that different from our 18th-century contemporaries?
The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1923 allowed either husband or wife to divorce on the basis of their spouse's adultery. Previously, this luxury was afforded to the husband only. And after 1937, further grounds for divorce were added, including cruelty, desertion and insanity. In 1969, the Divorce Reform Act was passed, allowing couples to divorce once they had been separated for two years. Even if no one was at fault, if the marriage had broken down, you could get out of it. Cue decades of high divorce rates.
Despite the relative ease with which you can escape a marriage now, in some ways it’s even more of a commitment. Back in Austen’s time, you had to get hitched for money, because you had no other source of income. Now, for the most part, we get married because we want to. (And, you know, sometimes still for money, too.)
So how would Austen’s characters fare in 2017? Which dating app would Darcy use? What would Mrs Bennet think of her daughters choosing their own spouse? How would Emma compete with Tinder? And what would Austen herself think of the way unmarried women are treated by society? In a bid to find out, we meet some modern-day Austen characters...