Category Archives: Jane Austen

The Duchess of Devonshire

I am reading The Duchess right now, about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. (I can’t wait for the movie!) Although the book is not directly related to Pride and Prejudice, it is still fascinating to see the parallels between the Duchess’ life and Jane Austen’s writing.

Lady Georgiana Spencer (the great-great-great-great aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales) married influential William Cavendish, the fifth duke of Devonshire, in 1774. She immediately became the toast of London, providing constant fodder for high society gossip and tabloid press. 

The Cavendish family home, Chatsworth, was the most prominent home in all of Derbyshire. Indeed, our fictional Elizabeth Bennet visits Chatsworth during her tour of Derbyshire with the Gardiners. Jane Austen may have even borrowed the Duchess’ first name for Darcy’s sister.

Stephen Derry suggests the similarities between the Darcys and the Cavendishes were also political. “Fitzwilliam Darcy,” he writes, “has been associated with the Whigs, as his names recall those of two prominent Whig noblemen, Robert D’Arcy, fourth Earl of Holdernesse (1718-1788), and William Fitzwilliam, fourth Earl Fitzwilliam (1748-1833), who both held high ministerial office. Donald Greene considered that Darcy’s arrogance might have been ‘a satire on an aspect of Whiggism most obnoxious to Pittite lories,’ like the Bennets and Jane Austen’s family.”

Even the name Pemberley may have been derived from the Duchess, Derry writes. “The Duchess herself wrote a novel, The Sylph (1779), in which the name ‘Pemberton’ occurs. Fanny Burney may have borrowed this name, as it is also found in her novel Cecilia (1782), which was a major source for the plot of Pride and Prejudice – both are studies in snobbery – and which provided it with its title; Jane Austen’s ‘Pemberley’ may therefore represent a double allusion, to both Cecilia and The Sylph. It would be appropriate if Miss Darcy’s home ultimately owed its name to her namesake’s imagination. (Jane Austen may have conflated ‘Pemberton’ with ‘Beverley,’ the surname of the heroine of Cecilia, to make ‘Pemberley.’)”

Damsel in distress

I recently read a description of Mr. Darcy as a rescuer, and that gave me a little pause. Since he wants no notice of his heroic deeds, it is easy to underestimate this part of his personality. But he does seem to be a rescuer, and usually unbidden.

He rescues Georgiana’s virtue from the clutches of Wickham and rescues the Bennet’s reputation and respectability by forcing Wickham to marry Lydia. In both cases, he is unbidden but very welcomed.

There are a lot of positive personality traits associated with someone who comes to the aid of others. Loyalty. Selflessness. Generosity. Responsibility. Tolerance. Darcy has many of these traits (perhaps tolerance to a lesser degree, though), and that is why he is so appealing to Elizabeth and to readers.

Yet, he also “rescues” Bingley from association with Jane and the Bennet family by whisking him off to London. In this case, his interference is both unbidden and unappreciated by Bingley (although Caroline appreciates it to a great degree!).

But there can also be downsides to rescuing personality. It could be construed as, “you need me,” or “I know what’s best for you.” These modern psychological concepts are a little difficult to apply to Regency England, where being both male and wealthy inherently gives you power and dominion over others. Nonetheless, I think these elements are interesting traits in Darcy’s personality.

Does a person like Darcy who rescues others feel burdened? Get exhausted from exerting so much energy for others? Become resentful that no one else can behave responsibly?

Parental approval

It is rather convenient for the Pride and Prejudice storyline that Mr. Darcy was an orphan. The influence of family wasn’t very strong on his side (other than Lady Catherine’s vocal disapproval); for the most part, he was free to do as he chose.

Lady Catherine said that he was promised to her daughter, Anne. She purports that Lady Catherine and Darcy’s mother had planned this union from their births. With Lady Anne Darcy deceased, Lady Catherine has no one to back her up, and Mr. Darcy is free to disregard her claim.

We know very little about Darcy’s parents. Mr. Darcy the elder was an “excellent” man who seemed benevolent and kind. He sponsored Wickham’s education and was kind to his servants and tenants. He valued duty and honor and responsibility. Had he survived, I wager Mr. Darcy would have been very involved in selected (or, at the least, approving) Darcy’s choice for a bride.

I have always wondered if Darcy would have been permitted to marry Elizabeth if his parents had survived. Would they have allowed him to marry so beneath his station in life? Would they have wanted him to marry his cousin Anne? Would they have approved of Elizabeth, both her situation and her personality?

Obviously, there are no answers to these questions, for Jane Austen (in her wisdom) didn’t burden the story line with these scenarios.  But part of me (the un-romantic part) believes that, if Darcy’s parents had survived, he would not have married the wonderful Elizabeth Bennet.

On the road again

I’m getting ready for a little road trip to visit family. About four days, with 550 miles of driving round trip. I’ll pack my trusty little car with an overnight bag, a few CDs, some beverages, and be on my way. Maybe I’ll make a pit stop part way to stretch my legs and purchase a snack.

My preparations have made me think about the difficulties of travel in Regency England. Although travel was getting easier, due to improvements in carriages and roads, it was still an arduous task.

Elizabeth and Darcy spar a little on the ease of travel and distance between family members. Darcy, with carriages and footmen at his beck and call, believes that fifty miles is an easy distance…little more than a half day journey. Perhaps one stop to change horses and to get a little refreshment. Elizabeth (not surprisingly) disagrees, and notes that ease in travel is directly related to ones fortune. Those with less rely on coaches and communal transportation. And ladies need a male travel companion, making trip planning more complicated.

I marvel that, even in Darcy’s world of good fortune, fifty miles of travel still takes a half-day. Let’s assume that means five or six hours, meaning that the best case is about 10 miles per hour. Our modern minds could not tolerate that rate of travel. My daily commute would become impossible, taking almost two hours each way. And my long-weekend 550 mile get away would involve 55 hours of sheer travel time alone!

“An easy distance, do you call it?” says Lizzy. Indeed.

Elizabeth, Part II

There are numerous Pride and Prejudice “sequels” on the market today. They’ve become an unseemly addiction for me– filled with the shame and loathing that often accompanies additions. I know they will never measure up to our beloved Miss Austen. I should be strong, I should be able to resist, and yet…off I go with credit card in hand to my local bookstore or on-line retailer.

Also, like many addictions, it is never completely satisfying. Sure, some are better than others. Some are downright awful. And, in most cases, the characters are extremely one-dimensional.

Lady Catherine is always rude and selfish. Mr. Collins is always boring and long-winded. Lydia is always flighty and self-centered. Caroline is always petty and witchy. The characters often don’t evolve (except in the rare cases where the evolve SO much that they are hardly recognizable! In one “sequel,” Bingley has an affair and begets an illegitimate child, Darcy shoots three people while defending Lizzy, and Georgianna becomes a seductive temptress to entice Colonel Fitzilliam. WHAT! Who are those people!?!)

So, it leads me to wonder: What would happen to Darcy and Lizzy? Would she remain witty, charming, and a little bit bold? Would Darcy remain reformed from his previously aloof and prideful ways? Would their love remain pure and deep and fulfilling through the years?

Despite all the guessing in poor-to-mediocre sequels to come, we’ll never really know the answer. And maybe that’s a good thing. You never get details about the “after” in “happily ever after.” This way, Darcy and Lizzy remain the essence of romantic love and admiration, coming together despite all obstacles.

Money changes everything

Cyndi Lauper surmised that money changes everything. In Regency England, I’d say that money IS everything in the dating world. Almost 200 years later, I’d say that is probably still the case.  At least Regency England was straightfoward about their obsession with a persons’ financial status.

Almost all the relationships in Pride and Prejudice have a financial element. It is common knowledge how much yearly income Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy earn, and the size of Georgiana Darcy’s inheritance. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have the entail of Longbourn to worry about. Caroline Bingley is a social climber who ridicules anyone she considers of lower wealth and prestige. Lady Catherine has a compulsive need to show everyone how wealthy she is. Charlotte marries Mr. Collins for financial stability. Mr. Wickham pursues Miss King for her inheritance, and only marries Lydia when Mr. Darcy offers him a financial settlement. Financial situations are common knowledge and in the open.

And yet, money plays a much smaller role in the relationships that Jane Austen holds up as most admirable. Mr. Darcy’s wealth is, of course, well known, but neither of them speak directly of money as reasons for their marriage. Indeed, Elizabeth turns down his first proposal despite the material comfort it would provide for her and her entire family. Even Jane is relatively low key about Mr. Bingley’s wealth.

Jane Austen’s most admirable characters don’t discount the importance of wealth and financial security. But, at the same time, they don’t hold it to be the sole and most important component of life and love.

 

Kindly Meant?

I have long been confused on the conversation between Caroline Bingley and Lizzy at the Netherfield Ball. At this point in the story, Caroline knows that Mr. Darcy admires Lizzy’s “fine eyes,” but I also think she seriously doubts that Mr. Darcy would marry so far beneath his social position. So I would say that she has some vague feelings of jealousy toward Lizzy, but hasn’t yet zeroed in with her wrath and cutting comments.

It is also surprising to me that Caroline Bingley knows of the ill will between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. Even though she is sketchy in the details, it is surprising to me that she has any knowledge at all. Given how tight-lipped Darcy wanted to be in the matter, it’s hard to imagine that he would have told her personally. Jane Austen later says that Bingley was quite ignorant of the circumstances between Darcy and Wickham, so Caroline would not have heard from Bingley.

Nevertheless, Caroline has some information on the history between Darcy and Wickham. Caroline hears that Lizzy has an affinity for Wickham, and (despite her civil disdain) warns Lizzy not to trust everything that Wickham says. Why?  I can’t figure it out. Caroline herself has nothing to lose if Lizzy falls in love with Wickham. In fact, one would think that Caroline Bingley would WANT Lizzy’s affections directed any anyone else, so that they aren’t directed at Darcy.

Could it really be that Caroline’s intentions truly were kindly meant!?