A turning point in Elizabeth's relationship with Mr Darcy came somewhere in the fourth episode when, on a tour through the Peaks with her uncle and aunt, she visited Darcy's family seat. For five minutes the viewer and Elizabeth were given the measure of Darcy's wealth: the house, the lake, the objets d'art and finally a portrait of the man himself - a real catch.
Do women marry for money? Well, perhaps. American gossips are having a ball as they watch Anna Nicole Smith, one-time glamour model, taking on her former stepson, Pierce Marshall, for control of her late husband's multi-million-dollar estate. And the cynics nodded sagely when J Howard Marshall II died aged 90, 13 months after a wedding ceremony during which he was reported as being too frail to get up out of his wheelchair. Meanwhile, in London, the bars of Knightsbridge are full of glossy-haired women with the faces of angels attached to dumpy, suited men who you have to believe are possessed of extraordinary force of personality to avoid leaping to an ungenerous conclusion.
In advertising, television sitcoms, women's magazines, films and books the men with money and status get the girls. The excesses of car advertising have been well-documented, from the slightly tongue-in-cheek ad for the Peugot 306, in which a man has an illicit encounter with his wife, to the blatant suggestion of the Ferrari Testarossa. In one lottery advertisement a greasy-haired "anorak" stands beside his new private jet and Jerry Hall lookalike girlfriend.
Adverts like these are an unsubtle comment on the nature of the impact of money on male-female relations. It's a depiction that offends many people. Indeed, the Advertising Standards Authority recently upheld complaints against one ad for Air Miles, which showed a man and woman embracing on a bedroom balcony. The strapline said: "Free from Air Miles, a dirty weekend that'll make her think you're filthy rich." Those who protested claimed it portrayed women as cheap and materialistic.
But will there be many complaints, I wonder, about this month's Marie Claire, in which readers are invited to "Win a Millionaire?" Guy Farrant, 30 and still single, inherited his millions when he was 26, according to the blurb. To win a dinner with him readers must write with reasons why they would like to meet him. On television in the series Friends, one woman asks her friend: "What's wrong with him? Isn't he attractive enough? Doesn't he earn enough?" In Frasier, another hugely successful import, the perfect man is described as a male model turned corporate lawyer. Portraying women as cheap and materialistic is not acceptable but there does seem to be another level on which many people, women included, are prepared to admit just how much a man's money counts.
Husbands & Wives: A Nationwide Survey of Marriage was a study of 3,880 men and women in the United States. The researchers, Dr Anthony Pietropinto and Jacqueline Simanuer, found that many women put a man's income above either good sex or stimulating company when they consider a husband. More important, this was true across the board, whether the woman was a college- educated professional or a manual worker.
Most self-respecting women today would be offended at the idea that they could be persuaded to trade themselves for hard cash. But there is a saying I once came across in a novel set among the turn-of-the-century aristocracy: "Don't marry for money, just marry a man with money." After all, they say, it's as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one.
In the back of Vogue magazine, English Rose, an introductions agency, advertises itself thus: "Would you like to be spoilt, pampered and treated like a lady? If so, you'll appreciate our attractive, financially secure American gentlemen." Christina Rhodes, the agency's spokeswoman, is quick to point out that the advertisement is not as bad as it looks. Most women who come to her are successful in their own right. But, she insists, the type of women she deals with believe a man should earn as much as they do and preferably more. "Women don't respect a man who has less. She has to think he is worthy of her. If he has a nice home and car, then he is."
Colette Dowling is the author of The Cinderella Complex. She says most women do marry for money, as she did. The reasons are various and complex but boil down to girls being raised to equate femininity with dependence and to look out for a Prince Charming, while boys are encouraged to learn the hard way and take care of their sisters. Later in life, women find their career paths blocked. They begin to suffer low self-esteem and that can cause them to bail out into a marriage in which they are supported. But to some this is too kind an interpretation of the facts. Another way of looking at it would be to argue that some women, principally middle- class Western women, have taken the best of what feminism has to offer and discarded the rest. They have taken the slogan "having it all" to the nth degree by insisting on changes in men's behaviour which suit them, but hanging on to the "good" things about men - like their being breadwinners.
I have witnessed women of my acquaintance remain ambivalent about marriage for years, yet accept with undue haste a proposal from a well-off boyfriend. Within months of the marriage these women have given up their jobs - not to become idle wives, mind you, for these are women of more substance, but to change direction, study for an MA or learn a language.
It is different from, and far more socially aoceptable than, the more naked forms of self-advancement like dating the boss. This is patronage. He pays the bills and covers the rent while she takes the jobs she prefers rather than those which pay the best. Warren Farrell, who wrote The Myth of Male Power, is a self-styled spokesman for men's rights. He explains what happens when a successful woman marries a successful man: when they meet they are apparently equal but on forming a partnership, "she contemplates three options: work full time; children full time; or some combination of work and children. He considers three slightly different options: work full time; work full time; and work full time."
In a wonderful reversal of the double standards of exploitation he accuses women of treating men like "success objects" and valuing their bank balances above qualities like kindness and caring. And far from men being able to choose becoming pioneer househusbands, they find that although "many reporters want them for an interview, few women want them for marriage".
Christina Rhodes agrees. Whereas men often marry lower-earning partners, most women will not contemplate doing the same, viewing such a man as "an encumbrance they are not prepared to take on". She adds that a relationship of that sort would, in her experience, be likely to fail because men feel they should be the powerful, resourceful one in relationships.
And that, of course, is the nub of it. Feminists would argue that women who marry for money only find happiness in the short term. They live in style, with the pressure off their own careers. In the long term, though, what they give up is their say in the relationship. If his pounds 100,000-a- year job dictates a move to another country, she will end up sacrificing her position. If they have children and one person has to stay at home then economics dictate it has to be her. If they divorce she finds herself in a weaker position.
But then, try persuading the woman who has a career, time with her children, and a Mercedes that she doesn't have it all!