A Soirée with Lady Susan: The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Letters and the Penny-Post

The old General Post Office in Lombard Street, London

This correspondence, by a meeting between some of the parties, and a separation between the others, could not, to the great detriment of the Post Office revenue, be continued any longer. The Narrator, The Conclusion, Lady Susan

The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Letters and the Penny-Post 

At Jane Austen’s World

As the characters in Jane Austen’s epistolary novella Lady Susan send each other a flurry of letters, I was curious how they got to their destinations and how long it would take to send a letter from the Vernon’s residence at Churchill 30 miles to London. Vic (Ms Place) of Jane Austen’s World blog can always answer all my historical questions, and has kindly written about the Postal Service in Britain as a three part series:  1) Letters and the Penny-Post, 2) Post Roads and Post Boys, and 3) John Palmer and the Royal Mail Coach. 

You can enjoy the first segement, The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Letters and the Penny-Post, and the next two will follow shortly. Thanks Vic for keeping us so well informed about all things Georgian & Regency. 

Part 2 – The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Post Roads and Post-Boys

Lady Susan AvatarUpcoming event posts
Day 12 – Sep 12      LS Group Read – Letters 34-41 & Concl.
Day 13 – Sep 13      LS Book Review
Day 14 – Sep 14      LS Wrap-up & Giveaway winners

Is this Your Lizzie Bennet?

Portrait of Mrs. Walter Learmouth, by Sir Henry Raeburn (ca 1800)This beautiful oil portrait circa 1800 of a lady (Mrs. Walter Learmouth?) is attributed to Sir Henry Raeburn, R.A. (Scottish, 1756-1823). He is one of my favorite artists of the Georgian and Regency era, producing powerful, stark and realistic paintings of his subjects. This portrait of Mrs. Learmouth in a white dress against a dramatic stormy sky and shadowy landscape frames the uncertainty of her expression. She is neither smiling nor frowning, leaving the viewer to interpret her personality and mood. She looks pensive to me, but her slight knowing smile and piercing dark eyes reminded author Deirdre Le Faye of Jane Austen’s most famous fine eyed heroine Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Le Faye uses this portrait as an example of what she feels matches Jane Austen’s description of Elizabeth Bennet in her book Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels (2006). 

With her slender figure and dark hair, and the amused gleam in her eyes, she agrees perfectly with Jane Austen’s image of Elizabeth Bennet. pp 186

Of Elizabeth we only gradually learn that she is very pretty, with a figure that is ‘light and pleasing’, and that her face is ‘rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes’. pp 186 

It is interesting to match Austen’s description of Elizabeth with another artists painting. A bit of a gambit really since Austen so cleverly did not describe her heroine’s physical attributes in detail, leaving the reader to visualize ‘their’ Lizzy Bennet in their minds eye. Is this your Lizzy Bennet? I have another vision of my personal Lizzy – more cheerful and exuberant – younger, and with large eyes. This portrait is a stunner, but seems more the Regency Mona Lisa, than the witty, spirited and sparkling Lizzy that I love. 

The portrait of Mr. Walter Learmouth recently sold at Christie’s New York on16 June 2009 for $9,375. It seems like quite a bargain for a Raeburn. Honestly, however did the owner part with it? I hope that the new owners will make it available to the public in some way. She is too lovely to hide away. Lizzy Bennet – or not!

Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, by Deirdre Le Faye (2006)Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, by Deirdre Le Faye is essential reading for students of literature and Austen enthusiasts. “Meticulously researched overview of the period, from foreign affairs, fashion, and social ranks to transportation, candle etiquette, and sanitation practices. She goes on to consider each novel individually, explaining in detail its action, its setting, the reaction of the public and critics, and Austen’s own feelings about the book.” Available in softcover (2006) ISBN: 9780711222786

Emma: Mr. Knightley’s Proposal – Marriage or Merger?

Illustration by Willian C. Cooke, Emma, J. M. Dent & Co (1892)“And now, let me talk to you of something else. I have another person’s interest at present so much at heart, that I cannot think any longer about Frank Churchill. Ever since I left you this morning, Emma, my mind has been hard at work on one subject.”  

The subject followed; it was in plain, unaffected, gentleman-like English such as Mr. Knightley used even to the woman he was in love with, how to be able to ask her to marry him, without attacking the happiness of her father. Emma’s answer was ready at the first word. “While her dear father lived, any change of condition must be impossible for her. She could never quit him.” Part only of this answer, however, was admitted. The impossibility of her quitting her father, Mr. Knightley felt as strongly as herself; but the inadmissibility of any other change, he could not agree to. He had been thinking it over most deeply, most intently; he had at first hoped to induce Mr. Woodhouse to remove with her to Donwell; he had wanted to believe it feasible, but his knowledge of Mr. Woodhouse would not suffer him to deceive himself long; and now he confessed his persuasion, that such a transplantation would be a risk of her father’s comfort, perhaps even of his life, which must not be hazarded. Mr. Woodhouse taken from Hartfield! No, he felt that it ought not to be attempted. But the plan which had arisen on the sacrifice of this, he trusted his dearest Emma would not find in any respect objectionable; it was, that he should be received at Hartfield; that so long as her father’s happiness — in other words his life — required Hartfield to continue her home, it should be his likewise.  

Of their all removing to Donwell, Emma had already had her own passing thoughts. Like him, she had tried the scheme and rejected it; but such an alternative as this had not occurred to her. She was sensible of all the affection it evinced. She felt that, in quitting Donwell, he must be sacrificing a great deal of independence of hours and habits; that in living constantly with her father, and in no house of his own, there would be much, very much, to be borne with. She promised to think of it, and advised him to think of it more; but he was fully convinced, that no reflection could alter his wishes or his opinion on the subject. He had given it, he could assure her, very long and calm consideration; he had been walking away from William Larkins the whole morning, to have his thoughts to himself. Mr. Knightley & Emma Woodhouse, Chapter 51 

I have always been disappointed in Mr. Knightley’s marriage proposal to our heroine Emma Woodhouse. If you are not paying close attention, you might miss it altogether! No long speech declaring his esteem, admiration and love. No “will you be mine dearest, loveliest Emma?” No ardent realization that they are destined to be together. No jubilant acceptance by her. Nothing! And Emma is also at fault. She is as much about the business transaction as Knightley, concerned more about her father’s reaction and comforts, Mr. Knightley’s estate manager Mr. Larkins being inconvenienced by Mr. Knightey’s absence if they should live at Hartfield, and finally Harriet’s reaction to the news. This is more business merger negotiations than the final romantic reward for the build up by Jane Austen over the last 448 pages of the novel. For me, it is the biggest weakness in the plot to an otherwise brilliant story. If Austen had given us a romantic and moving marriage proposal, Emma might be more favorably accepted. I know that sounds shallow, but there your have it from this hopeless romantic.     

* Illustration by William C. Cooke, “Mr. Knightley’s proposal”, Emma, The Novels of Jane Austen, J. M. Dent & Co, London (1892)

flourish 5

Northanger Abbey Chapters 1-3: Summary, Musings & Discussion: Day 2 Giveaway

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. The Narrator, Chapter 1 

Quick Synopsis

Catherine Morland the unlikely heroine lives a pretty average life with no mitigating factors to promote it. Her father is a financially secure clergyman, her mother well tempered and still alive after the birth of ten children. She is not a remarkable student and prefers cricket to dolls. At fifteen she improved greatly, much to her parent’s approval. Between fifteen and seventeen she reads books to influence a heroine in the making. Regrettably, there are no interesting suitors in the neighborhood. Friends of the family Mr. and Mrs. Allen invite Catherine to Bath. “If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.” They arrive at Bath and proceed to shop for frocks and finery, visit the pump-room and prepare for a ball at the Upper Rooms where they know no one and have an uneventful evening. A second attempt proves more successful at the Lower Rooms when Catherine is introduced by the Master of Ceremonies to Mr. Tilney. They dance, have tea and he chides her about journal writing. The ball concludes and Catherine is inclined to continue the acquaintance.

Musings

While reading the first few paragraphs of chapter one, I am struck by the narrator’s use of language while introducing the main character Catherine Morland. Much of what we are told of her personality is described in an opposite analogy; no one would suspect her of being heroine, her father is not poor, rich or lock up his daughters, her mother did not die at her birth, the family has little right to be called pretty, she had neither a bad heart nor a bad temper, was seldom stubborn, scarcely ever quarrelsome, she is an unremarkable student and on and on. This style is psychologically unsettling, and I think that is Jane Austen’s goal. I feel like this a wind up for the big pitch that Austen will deliver in the future. Much to Catherine’s disappointment, everything is as it seems. Her life is average and unexceptional and that will not do for a young lady who thinks her life should be more eventful.

But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way…if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad. The Narrator, Chapter 1

And so Catherine’s adventure begins as she travels uneventfully to Bath with Mr. and Mrs. Allen secretly hoping for the excitement of being robbed or an over-turn to feed her active imagination. She could not be in more capable hands as Mrs. Allen, “one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them.”, (Ouch. Austen really knows how to categorize people without delay), it appears is admirably suited to chaperone a young lady into society because she really has her priorities straight. She loves to shop!

Dress was her passion. She had a most harmless delight in being fine; and our heroine’s entree into life could not take place till after three or four days had been spent in learning what was mostly worn, and her chaperone was provided with a dress of the newest fashion. The Narrator, Chapter 2

Oh darn. New clothes and a make-over! Finally the new frocks and finery are finished and Catherine is dressed and ready for her entrance into society hoping to pass uncensored at the Upper Rooms. They arrive. The rooms are packed and the crush intense. By unwearied diligence they work their way through the crowd and the ball is a fine sight. Catherine longs to dance, but she and Mrs. Allen are not acquainted with anyone in the room. Amazingly, not much can be done about it because in Regency times, one did not just walk up to someone and ask them to dance before they had been properly introduced. So Catherine’s first official outing into society is a bust, and all that can be said on the matter is that they wished they had known someone – anyone! A bit of a disappointment for a heroine in the making, but her luck would soon change as they make a second attempt.

They made their appearance in the Lower Rooms; and here fortune was more favourable to our heroine. The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address was good, and Catherine felt herself in high luck. The Narrator, Chapter 3

Yum. Henry Tilney has entered the building and Catherine’s adventure is about to begin. They dance and have tea and he inquires about her experience in Bath, taking it as far as teasing her about writing it all down in her journal.

“Now I must give one smirk, and then we may be rational again.” Catherine turned away her head, not knowing whether she might venture to laugh. “I see what you think of me,” said he gravely – “I shall make but a poor figure in your journal tomorrow.” 

“My journal!” 

“Yes, I know exactly what you will say: Friday, went to the Lower Rooms; wore my sprigged muslin robe with blue trimmings – plain black shoes – appeared to much advantage; but was strangely harassed by a queer, half-witted man, who would make me dance with him, and distressed me by his nonsense.” Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland, Chapter 3

This introduction to Henry Tilney is quite an eye popper. Confident and assured he is immediately quite the charmer, and in Regency times this may have been viewed as a bit too forward. Of course young and inexperienced Catherine does not quite know the difference, so he may play with her a bit more boldly than a seasoned Miss who might put him in his place. She is flattered by his attention and the ball concludes. Catherine is inclined to continue the acquaintance and thinks of him as she gets ready for bed. The narrator warns the reader that if a young lady was to dream about Mr. Tilney that it is improper, since a gentleman should dream about a lady first. Ha!

Further reading

  • Read the online text of Northanger Abbey complements of Molland’s
  • Read the Group reading schedule

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 2 Giveaway

 

Penguin Classics Northanger Abbey (2003)

By Jane Austen, introduction and notes by Marilyn Butler

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one copy of the Penguin Classics Northanger Abbey (Shipping to US residents only)

Upcoming event posts
Day 03 – Oct 6             Guest Blog Amanda Grange
Day 04 – Oct 7             Group Read NA Chapters 4-7
Day 05 – Oct 8             NA movies – Diana Birchall
Day 06 – Oct 9             Group Read NA Chapters 8-10

© 2008 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Darcys and the Bingleys, by Marsha Altman – A Review

Now they had come to it, the moment he dreaded. “We are to marry in nearly two days -“

“It has not escaped my notice, I assure you.”

“- and I find myself in need of some . . .  advice.”  Mr. Bingley & Mr. Darcy, The Darcys & the Bingleys 

And so gentle readers, begins the premise of the latest sequel to Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, entitled The Darcys and The Bingleys. In this debut novel by Marsha Altman the story is centered on the friendship of Charles Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy, elevating Mr. Bingley to co-protagonist with his future brother-in-law. We are immediately reconnected to the original story as Charles Bingley, that amiably good natured friend of the commanding Mr. Darcy ruminates over their approaching marriages to the Bennet sisters, Jane and Elizabeth. Endearingly true to character, Mr. Bingley is not quite sure of himself or how to resolve a pressing matter. After much deliberation he determines that his closest friend Mr. Darcy is the best man to approach on the delicate subject of martial relations and entreats his advice. Mr. Darcy responds by presenting him with a wedding gift; — ‘the book’– an illustrated and transcribed ancient Indian text of the Kama Sutra. 

Not only is Charles Bingley concerned about his wedding night performance, his future bride Jane Bennet is in turn confused and alarmed after the obligatory mother-daughter chat on wifely duties that her mother unloads on her and sister Elizabeth the day before the wedding. Luckily their aunt Mrs. Gardiner was also present to smooth the waters so-to-speak, but even cool and clever Elizabeth is befuddled by the vagueness of the information and asks her fiancé, Mr. Darcy for reassurance. 

As the invited guests arrive for the wedding, we are re-acquainted with many familiar characters from Pride and Prejudice; Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Rev. Mr. Collins and wife Charlotte, Mr. & Mrs. Bennet and their daughters Kitty and Mary, Lydia Wickham, Anne de Borough who has escaped from Rosings and the clutches of her mother Lady Catherine, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Georgiana Darcy, Mr. & Mrs. Hurst, Caroline Bingley, and one uninvited guest, George Wickham who is unceremoniously pitched out the second floor window of Netherfield Park and into a manure pile by Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. The men folk then proceed to throw a stag party, and Mr. Darcy has a bit too much to drink. 

We are also privy to a snipet of the back story on the friendship of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy many years before “Netherfield Park is let at last” when Pride and Prejudice begins, enlightening us further on their personalities and relationships. Bingley and Darcy became fast friends at Cambridge University after Bingley rescued him from a scandalous situation after their introduction at a faculty soirée. A nineteen-year old Mr. Darcy was deep in his cups, seduced by a disreputable young lady and found in another student’s dorm room incoherent and disheveled. With Bingley’s help, the matter was swiftly smoothed over, but since it was so unlike his friend’s usual reserved manner, he continues to chide him about it whenever he needs to privately put the grand Mr. Darcy of Pemberley in his place. 

At the conclusion of the wedding ceremony and dinner, the Darcy’s and the Bingley’s depart for there respective townhouses in London, and hopefully on to connubial bliss. Like Mr. Darcy’s new bride Elizabeth, we see a more relaxed and casual husband after the ceremony. This Darcy makes jokes with his new wife. 

“I shall do my best to be an upstanding gentleman, ignoring your presence almost entirely in company, and never endeavour to gaze upon you or whisper private jokes in your ear at parties_ “

Her response was to kiss him. Well, to kiss him and to climb on top of him, the ultimate assertion of authority. “That is not what I prefer, Mr. Darcy.”

“Then we are in agreement. I will treat you with great love and compassion in front of guests and as a wanton wench in the bedchamber.”

To this, she could not find a reason to raise dispute. 

On the other martial front, the sun rose on the Bingley household and Jane exclaims, “I do not believe that I have ever been so happy.” Charles Bingley credits the book and then shows it to Jane. 

Six months have passed and Jane and Elizabeth are both with child and expecting at the same time. In appreciation for his friend’s considerable favour of the wedding gift, Bingley sends Darcy a new book that he has tracked down and imported from India, the Ananga Ranga, another sex manual. The ongoing competition between the two friends continues to the point of their placing bets on whose home will be used for their wives confinements, and who will be first to deliver a child. Bingley wins the £5. 

The second half of the novel involves Charles Bingley’s sister Caroline, who as you will remember in Pride and Prejudice tries her hardest to attract Mr. Darcy, but he does not give her a moment’s thought in the romance arena. She is a caustic and abrasive character in Austen’s novel, and gets much of the plum biting dialogue. In this treatment she is more sympathetically portrayed, and many of the faults and foibles in her personality are smoothed out and explained. When the two friends Darcy and Bingley are called into action to check out a prospective beau of Caroline’s, the ongoing comedy continues and the story ends just like Austen with a wedding. 

Recently, author Marsha Altman was interviewed on the Risky Regencies blog by fellow Austen-esque author Janet Mullany, who asked her how she felt about taking on Jane Austen? 

I’m trying to have fun with her characters. As to whether she would mine, Miss Austen has posthumously endured her nephew and extended family publishing all of her unfinished writing and personal letters for profit, numerous sequels and adaptations, books analyzing her personal life, and even movies about her starring actresses wearing heavy lipstick. So, if she’s been spinning in her grave, she’s probably tired by now and may well have gotten over it. That or she understands imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, if that phrase existed in the Regency period. 

Fun is the operative word here, and if one reads this book within the context of expecting a light, frothy, humorously diverting comedy written in a contemporary style based on Jane Austen’s characters from Pride and Prejudice, you will not be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are expecting a Regency novel whose language, plot, character development and historical reference are similar to Austen’s, this may not be for you. 

Ms. Altman states that imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery. I do not think that imitation was her intention here, and Miss Austen may have to take a few more spins at Winchester Cathedral.

Rating: 2½ out of 5 Regency Stars

The Darcys & The Bingleys: Pride and Prejudice Continues
by Marsha Altman
Sourcebooks, Inc.
Trade paperback, 415 pages
ISBN 978-1402213489

Further reading

Pemberley Shades: Pride and Prejudice Continues, by D. A. Bonavia-Hunt – A Review

Pemberley Shades by D. A. Bonavia-Hunt (2008)It is with great pleasure that I learned that the classic Pride and Prejudice sequel, Pemberley Shades by Dorothy Alice Bonavia-Hunt, would be re-issued in September by Sourcebooks. Originally published in 1949, it was the second Jane Austen sequel ever to be written and not easily available for purchase unless you were lucky enough to find a small boutique publisher’s edition or a second-hand copy offered at outrageous prices for a first edition. Having existed as the ultimate mysterious and allusive Austen sequel for many years, the wait is now over and the enjoyment can begin. However, what the heck are Pemberley Shades?

My educated hunch is that it refers to his passage in Pride and Prejudice when Lady Catherine de Bourgh is interrogating the heroine Elizabeth Bennet in chapter 56.

“Heaven and earth — of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?” 

As a novice reader I didn’t quite understand Lady Catherine’s reference to the shades of Pemberley. In ancient Roman times, shades were referred to as dead relatives. Lady Catherine’s use of the word refers to Mr. Darcy’s illustrious ancestors whose memory would be tainted by the association with the Bennet family who were recently humiliated by the infamous elopement of its youngest daughter Lydia. Taken in context, author D.A. Bonavia-Hunt knew exactly what Austen was implying and used it as a clever play on words for the title of her novel. And what a perfect match it is to the tone of her book which has an underlying thread of hidden life stories, family honor and dis-honor throughout.

Pemberley Shades is true to Austen’s style in that it begins with a significant life change and ends with a marriage. It has been four years since Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy married and their pastoral life at Pemberley with their young son Richard is close to perfect until the death of the parish minister sets a course of peculiar events into play that recall a plot in one of the Gothic novels so popular during Austen’s life.

“Who could have foretold that Dr, Robinson, who had done nothing of note in all his lifetime should, by the common and natural act of dying, set in motion a train of events so strange, so startling, so far removed from probability, as to emulate the riotous fancies of a disordered mind?”

Eager to fill the vacancy, Darcy advertises for the position of Rector of Pemberley determined to find a better man to lead the parish. Among the many applicants is one from his wife’s cousin (yes the odious one himself) Rev. Mr. Collins, anxious for a new situation away from Hunsford since he has fallen out with his benefactress Lady Catherine de Bourgh. “I fear to mention that I have lost that unqualified approbation with which your aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, was wont to distinguish me.” Lady Catherine believes that he had a hand in promoting the marriage of his cousin Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Knowing that a life of sermons by Mr. Collins would be Purgatory, Mr. Darcy is pressed for a reason to put him off and invites applicant Rev. Mr. Steven Acworth who is also the brother of school friend to Pemberley for an extended stay to see if it is a good match. Mr. Acworth is recently widowed and according to his brother deeply affected by the loss. It does not take long for everyone including Mrs. Darcy to doubt his suitability for the position. His behavior is perplexing. One moment he is all charm and affability, the next dark and morose. This disturbs Elizabeth and Darcy who conclude that he would not suit as Rector, but are compelled to keep him on as a house guest as a favor to his brother.

The majority of the plot line revolves around Georgiana Darcy, Mr. Darcy’s younger sister age 20, single and residing at Pemberley. Now a proficient musician on the pianoforte, Elizabeth and Darcy are concerned that her intensity verges on eccentricity, making her dreamy and unsocial. They think it is time she should marry. Three suitors are interested; Rev. Mr. Mortimer the second son of a local gentry who are in financial decline for several generations, Major Francis Wakeford age 32, a wounded war veteran and cousin to Mr. Darcy with no bright prospects of wealth or position, and the creepy Rev. Mr. Acworth who shares a passion for music with Georgiana and a mysterious hold over her. Not a very promising selection for the heiress of Pemberley with a £30,000 dowry. Or so it appears.

Many of the characters from Jane Austen’s novel make their summer visit to Pemberley Manor; Charles and Jane Bingley and their two young daughters, Mr. Bennet sans Mrs. Bennet (with little explanation, but does she deserve one?), Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and daughter Anne (quite a surprise which is thoughtfully explained), and Kitty Bennet who adds a bit of theatrical drama and energy to the palatial manor! New characters are included that blend in so seamlessly that it is a logical transition into this sequel. Ms. Bonavia-Hunt has full comand of Jane Austen’s style and knowledge of the plot and her characters. The letter that Mr. Collins writes to Darcy in application for the position of Rector is priceless. I never forget that this is not a Jane Austen novel, but her use of early 19th-century language and style is effortless and engaging.

The plot has many turns and surprises, shadowed by a lingering mystery which keeps one on edge and turning the next page to discover a resolution. I now understand why this novel holds such a special place in the Jane Austen sequel cannon. It is amazing to acknowledge that it was written close to sixty years ago before Jane Austen became a Hollywood star or pop cult icon. Ms. Bonavia-Hunt was writing for a genre that would not come to fruition for another fifty years and that is an incredible achievement. It is sad that we know so little about her or her motivations to write Pemberley Shades, but her legacy to us has withheld and will endure. In comparison to today’s plethora of Austen sequels about, it reigns in my estimation as one of the best ever written.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Pemberley Shades: a Lightly Gothic Tale of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy
by D.A. Bonavia-Hunt
Sourcebooks, Inc.
Trade paperback, 368 pages
ISBN: 9781402214387

Further Reading 

Cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks, Inc. © 2008; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2008, Austenprose.com

Pride and Prejudice: “What sort of a girl is Miss Darcy?”

During the course of my merry internet travels, I happened upon this beautiful portrait of a young Regency woman and immediately thought of Miss Georgiana, the younger sister of Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. The peaceful countenance and the shy repose is so gentle and demure, recalling the young Miss Darcy as she is eventually revealed in the novel. The portrait is of Kitty Packe, (nee Hort) painted by Sir William Beechey (1753-1839) circa 1818-1821. She married Charles William Packe of Prestwold Hall, Leicestershire in 1823. The painting now resides at the Oklahoma City Art Museum, though according to their website is unfortunately not on view. It is disturbing to think of Miss Georgian tucked away in some storeroom, not worthy of being on view to the public! This painting deserves a prominent position in a grand room in an English manor house. It saddens me to think that England’s national treasures are sold away from their heritage, and then not displayed. Well, now on to happier thoughts. 

And what sort of girl is Miss Darcy really like? The character of Georgiana Darcy is a bit of a mystery to the heroine of Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet, and the reader. From the very first volume of the novel Elizabeth hears reports of Miss Georgiana from various sources, favorable and otherwise depending who is telling the tale. When Elizabeth is staying at the Bingley’s residence of Netherfield Park during her sister Jane’s illness, we first learn in chapter eight of Miss Georgiana as she is mentioned in conversation with Mr. Darcy by Caroline Bingley and we given our first hints at her physical description. 

“Is Miss Darcy much grown since the spring?” said Miss Bingley; “will she be as tall as I am?”  

“I think she will. She is now about Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s height, or rather taller.”  

“How I long to see her again! I never met with anybody who delighted me so much. Such a countenance, such manners! and so extremely accomplished for her age! Her performance on the pianoforte is exquisite.” 

This favorable description, mind you, is from a source that Elizabeth finds influenced by a desire to please Mr. Darcy rather than praise its subject. Later we hear a completely different story when Mr. Wickham describes Georgiana to Elizabeth in chapter 16. 

“What sort of a girl is Miss Darcy?” He shook his head. “I wish I could call her amiable. It gives me pain to speak ill of a Darcy. But she is too much like her brother — very, very proud. As a child, she was affectionate and pleasing, and extremely fond of me; and I have devoted hours and hours to her amusement. But she is nothing to me now. She is a handsome girl, about fifteen or sixteen, and I understand, highly accomplished. Since her father’s death, her home has been London, where a lady lives with her, and superintends her education.” 

Disparity of opinion is a theme that runs throughout the novel. Elizabeth is given two accounts of one event or person from two different sources. Which one will she believe? Is Miss Darcy as extremely accomplished as Miss Bingley touts her to be, or is she the very, very proud and forgetful childhood friend that Wickham wishes Elizabeth to find fault with, — as he does? 

So Miss Darcy remains in Elizabeth’s mind as proud and arrogant as her brother until a surprising dialogue with the Pemberley housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds in chapter 43, who shows Elizabeth a very different side to Mr. Darcy and his sister.  

“And is Miss Darcy as handsome as her brother?” said Mr. Gardiner.  

“Oh! yes — the handsomest young lady that ever was seen; and so accomplished! She plays and sings all day long. In the next room is a new instrument just come down for her — a present from my master; she comes here to-morrow with him.”  

Another opinion is presented that Georgiana is accomplished. Well, Elizabeth has heard this all before, holding her doubts in suspense for a bit longer until she has the pleasure of being introduced to Georgiana by her brother at the Inn at Lambton in chapter 44. She can now judge for herself and know the value of the two diverse opinions that she has been presented. 

Miss Darcy was tall, and on a larger scale than Elizabeth; and, though little more than sixteen, her figure was formed, and her appearance womanly and graceful. She was less handsome than her brother; but there was sense and good-humour in her face, and her manners were perfectly unassuming and gentle. Elizabeth, who had expected to find in her as acute and unembarrassed an observer as ever Mr. Darcy had been, was much relieved by discerning such different feelings. The Narrator, Chapter 44 

As Austen turns the table of belief and disbelief for our heroine one more time, part of the mystery surrounding the true nature of Miss Georgiana is dispelled. Elizabeth who has been making judgments on people throughout the novel based on others accounts and opinions is now faced with the truth in her own eyes, and believes it. Georgina is not an acute and unembarrassed observer (proud and arrogant) as she supposed. Much to her (and our) astonishment, it is quite the contrary.

Further reading