Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice

Happily employed

Illustration by Isabel Bishop, Pride & Prejudice, 1976EMPLOYED 

…as they drew near the appointed inn where Mr. Bennet’s carriage was to meet them, they quickly perceived, in token of the coachman’s punctuality, both Kitty and Lydia looking out of a dining-room upstairs. These two girls had been above an hour in the place, happily employed in visiting an opposite milliner, watching the sentinel on guard, and dressing a salad and cucumber. The Narrator on Kitty & Lydia Bennet, Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 39

Misses Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, and their friend Maria Lucas have traveled by coach from London to Hertfordshire, and arrived punctually at the appointed coaching house to transfer to their father’s carriage. The surprise is their two younger sisters Kitty and Lydia who greet them with an arranged luncheon, which they have ordered but can not pay for because they have spent the cost on amusements and bonnets!

I believe that Jane Austen wanted us to be shocked by such capricious behaviour of the younger Bennet sisters unchecked employ, but honestly, I have always been distracted by the fact that three young unchaperoned Regency ladies are traveling by commercial coach from London, and are met by two even younger ladies who have also arrived without a responsible adult in tow! Where are their relations? Where are their guardians? This seems odd, and I am quite sure that if Lady Catherine heard of it, she would pronounce it as shocking news indeed!

Learn more about traveling by coach during the Regency period in this excellent article by the accomplished fellow Janeite and Regency era authority Ms. Place, at her excellent blog, Jane Austen’s World.      

*Illustration by Isabel Bishop, “Both Kitty and Lydia looking out of a dinning-room up stairs” page 233, Pride & Prejudice, published by E. P. Dutton and Company, Inc., New York (1976)