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Just came acorss this sentence from Mansfield Park by Jane Austen:

"But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them"

I'm not sure if that means that: 1) "pretty women deserve men of large fortune" or 2) "men of large fortune deserve pretty women"?

Originally I thought it is the first option, but according to a translation I've read it was the second option that was used. So I'm quite confused right now. your help is appreciated.

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    There are more pretty women than rich men available. – Centaurus Apr 28 at 15:18
  • @Centaurus So much is obvious. But what about the question within the question? – We oath to creation Apr 28 at 15:23
  • Could you perhaps quote that translation? – We oath to creation Apr 28 at 15:26
  • @Weoathtocreation There are a lot of pretty women who deserve a rich man. Compared to the former, however, the latter are scarce. The sentence in the OP doesn't mean that all pretty women deserve a rich husband (yes, husband, remember it's Jane Austen's). Nor does it affirm that men of a large fortune deserve a pretty woman. – Centaurus Apr 28 at 16:05
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    @Weoathtocreation, that's Hebrew. I might quote it if you will. Anyway, I now start to realize the Hebrew probably has a tricky ambiguity there so it could mean both. I'm checking that. – d_e Apr 28 at 16:27
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It's 1.

The infinitive "to deserve" is proximal to "pretty women" and builds off of the noun phrase. Furthermore, structurally the last part is

as there are women to deserve them.

Them goes back to the only plural noun outside of this clause, men. So even reading the last part of the sentence suggests:

as there are women to deserve (men of large fortune).

Unfortunately, there are more pretty women than men of large fortune in the world.

  • Thanks. that's what I thought, but the translation made me think I'm wrong. As it turns out, I was probably wrong at my native language as there is probably a tricky ambiguity there, so it could mean both 1 and 2. (I'm now checking that) – d_e Apr 28 at 16:30
  • There are more deserving pretty women in the world than rich men to accommodate them. So with "pretty" as the baseline, these women have further qualities that entitle them to well-heeled men. – Zan700 Apr 28 at 19:46
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    @Zan700, re: further qualities, usually at least 10,000 pounds (but only 7000 in this case; "pretty" and dowry are inversely related). – KannE Apr 30 at 9:51
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    @KannE True. There's some irony about. – Zan700 May 1 at 14:37
  • @Kanne 's comment must be emphatically stressed in our oh so trigger-happy times. Austen's irony is often missed and leads to some dreadful misinterpretation. – Stephen Boston Oct 8 at 13:29

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