Education and Cultural Capital as Criteria of Social Mobility: A Socio-Psychological Study in Victorian Literature

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Dr Sujarani Mathew


The motif of transition in social class and structures of hierarchy through human relations are central to most of Jane Austen’s fiction. Ranging from the universal favourite and ‘lightest’ of Austen’s fiction, Pride and Prejudice and the ‘lengthiest ‘ of her oeuvre Mansfield Park, this theme is conspicuous in the depiction of 18th century ‘genteel’ England of Austen’s pen. While the former traces the fortunes of two sisters of the upper middle class gaining foothold among the rich upper class, the latter is a solemn narrative of the protagonist of lower class shuttling between the luxury of Mansfield Park and the squalor of Portsmouth. It is the ‘cultural capital’ that their social and personal background confer them that accord them the change in social status and power.

Education, as well as the innate good principles of the protagonist in both the novels ensures the happy conclusion and the upward social mobility therein which forms the plot of both the novels. This paper will be an attempt to analyse the two novels in the light of the theory of ‘cultural capital’ developed by Pierre Bourdieu which explicates the lived experience of class and cultural positions warranted by the social hierarchies in question.

              The concepts of ‘habitus’ and ‘field’ also feature as corollary to the fictional context of Austen’s novels since her characters constantly climb and at times regress from the class structures to which they belong. This study seeks to analyse the fortunes of the central characters in the novel Mansfield Park which begins with the three Ward sisters marrying to upper, middle and lower classes of society and the novel Pride and Prejudice that ends with the Bennet sisters’ shift from the lawns of Longbourne to the ‘shades of Pemberley’.


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