Though Austen does not direct much attention to politics in Pride and Prejudice, there is an ongoing allusion throughout the book to the Napoleonic Wars: the presence of soldiers. During the Wars (which lasted from 1803 to 1815), the French Empire—led by Napoleon—sought to dominate and invade much of Europe, and England responded by sending troops to defend the coast (including places like Brighton, where some of the soldiers end up being stationed in the novel).
The narrator captures the young Bennet sisters’ infatuation with soldiers near the start of the novel:
They could talk of nothing but officers; and Mr. Bingley’s large fortune, the mention of which gave animation to their mother, was worthless in their eyes when opposed to the regimentals of an ensign.
This quote refers to the “regimentals of an ensign” (the particular uniforms for each rank of soldier), showing that the Napoleonic Wars had been going on long enough that the public was well aware of the various uniforms and stations.
That both Elizabeth and Lydia fall for Wickham—and Kitty flirts with soldiers as well—shows that soldiers were respected during this time. Still, being a soldier signaled that a man came from a lower-class background, as aristocrats like Darcy and Bingley did not worry about needing to enlist. Part of Elizabeth’s moral reckoning in the novel is letting go of the idea that Wickham is morally superior based on his position as a soldier and lack of wealth, and coming to trust Darcy despite his wealthy class background.
Near the start of the novel, while bantering about whether or not writing poetry for your romantic partner adds to the strength of a relationship or takes away from it, Darcy uses a metaphor comparing poetry to “the food of love,” which Elizabeth challenges:
“I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,” said Darcy.
“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”
While Darcy engages in the conversation very earnestly, sharing a metaphor about romance, Elizabeth has already formed her prejudice against Darcy and instinctively pushes back against what she likely reads as a lack of playfulness combined with upper-class posturing (this is an allusion to a line in Shakespeare’s play The Twelfth Night, after all).
Rather than agreeing that poetry is a form of expressing love in a budding relationship, Elizabeth jokes that it can actually lead to a decrease in romantic feelings. This moment of conversational sparring establishes the dynamic that will continue between them for much of the first half of the novel, with Darcy seeking connection with Elizabeth and Elizabeth turning him down, refusing to trust his intentions or character.
When Lydia tells Elizabeth about the events that led to her wedding with Wickham, she alludes to the marriage laws in place during that time period:
“Well, I was so frightened I did not know what to do, for my uncle was to give me away; and if we were beyond the hour, we could not be married all day.”
Lydia’s fear that they would be “beyond the hour” is an allusion to the Hardwicke Marriage Act (or Clandestine Marriages Act) of 1753, a strict marriage law in England that dictated weddings could only happen between 8 in the morning and noon. These laws were a response to the lack of formality of weddings in England at the time. In addition to mandating certain marriage hours, the laws also established other requirements, such as marriages needing to take place in a church and in front of witnesses.
Referencing these strict marriage laws is Austen’s way of highlighting how, at this point in England’s history, marriage was becoming more and more formalized, and any wrong move could not only lead to tarnished reputations but also legal repercussions.