Countless book clubs across America have pored giddily over the first line of Pride and Prejudice: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." But as a recent piece in The Atlantic explores, perhaps the truth truly universally acknowledged in author Jane Austen's work is that a woman in possession of good sense must be in want of a husband. From Sense and Sensibility to Northanger Abbey to Emma to Persuasion, Austen's heroines have all one thing in common: they're concerned with financial stability. And, in the eighteenth century world in which they're stuck, that almost always means finding and marrying a man who can provide it for them.

So what sets apart an Elizabeth Bennett from, say, a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills? Harvard historian Nancy Koehn joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio to put the world of the Austen novel into context.

"A lot of people think of them as precious little parlor tableaus or dramas. These are much more than that," Koehn explains, pointing to the fact that Austen produced much of her work in the early nineteenth century, when the existing agrarian social order in England was slowly beginning to crumble in the face of industrialization. This shifting status quo left the economic stability of many uncertain, and the anxieties that resulted-- especially in women, who had extremely limited options when it came to supporting themselves financially -- are reflected in Austen's heroines.

"They are portraits of a society that is cleaved by change, moral dilemma, and a sense of what is our identity in all that turbulence," Koehn says.

The obsession with marrying exclusively for money may not have stuck (or maybe it has?) but the themes of love, morality, and, most importantly, forging an identity in the midst of a swiftly changing society have clearly retained their pull over readers, even those centuries removed from Austen herself. "God bless her," Koehn continues, "for creating people we can relate to and have a radio conversation about in the dog days of 2014."

Hear more from historian Nancy Koehn on "Jane-sian economics" in her full interview from Boston Public Radio below.