Jane Austen’s clever use of Gracechurch street

Historically, Gracechurch street has been a center for business and fashion in London. It has housed a great shopping district while also functioning as a neighborhood for many middle-class families throughout London’s history. Gracechurch street also serves as the dwelling place for the Gardiners in Jane Austen’s novel Pride & Prejudice. Gracechurch street is perfect place of residence for the Gardiners as they are not of the gentry class and must do some kind of trade to make money. It also provides a close access to a business environment so that Mr. Gardiner can engage with his trade. The neighborhood is a perfect community that the Gardiners can afford to live in. Gracechurch street’s history actually begins during the late roman empire, it ran directly through the site of the basilica and forum. Originally the street was named ‘Garscherche,’ but it was later changed to ‘Grass Church Street’ in the seventeenth century because of the herb market located on the street next to a church. This church was destroyed by the great fire of London and the name ‘Grass Church’ slowly transitioned to Grace Church. Soon, a Quaker meeting house was built on Gracechurch and with it came a small Quaker community. With them, Quakers brought their culture of hard work and honesty. The close-knit culture of Quaker community, mixed with their hardworking, led them to become excellent business people. They were also widely trusted as merchants due to their culture of truthfulness and honesty. The Quakers were persecuted out of London due to their beliefs but they managed to imprint their values to the Gracechurch community. With these values instilled, Gracechurch street became a business hotspot over time. This attracted many working-class families to open shops and even start making residence on this street.

In part, the rise of Gracechurch as one of the busy London streets was also caused by the industrial revolution. The revolution created many working-class jobs that forced a lot of people to move to the city for work. With this migration, Gracechurch, which had already been somewhat of a business street, popularized even more. Additionally, the industrial revolution also slowly decreased the wealth gap between the gentry and working class and led to the rise of a middle-class population. Average people were now able to make a decent living and manage to live comfortably. This caused a rise in consumer culture in London. Shops became much more common as luxury goods weren’t only for the gentry class anymore. Shopping districts and streets started developing and becoming more popular. Gracechurch is an example of these streets as it was in the middle of this trend and one of the first streets that created this kind of environment. Jane Austen is very careful with her use of Gracechurch street, she makes sure the reader understands its relation to class. For one, the only middle-class family in Sense & Sensibility resides in Gracechurch. Secondly, when Miss Bingley visits Gracechurch in Pride & Prejudice, the reader can almost sense her disgust, as she is not used to this type of working-class environment. Through the use of Gracechurch Jane Austen is also pointing at the emergence of this new creation of a middle-class and its relation to the other classes. A family from Gracechurch, something that would usually be looked down upon, not only behaves like a gentry class family but also associates itself and hangs around the gentry class. There was social revolution happening in England and Jane Austen was very aware of it and very much reflected it in her writing.

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