Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Volume I, Chapter 8: A Close Reading by David L. 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Ackiss VOLUME I, CHAPTER VIII Volume 1, Chapter 8 At five o'clock the two ladies retired to dress, The two ladies are Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. Dinner is around six and at half past six Elizabeth was summoned to or seven, supper later. People of this class often kept fairly late hours dinner. To the civil enquiries which then poured and rose late in the morning - so late that "morning" sometimes means in, and amongst which she had the pleasure of "during daylight" or before dusk.. distinguishing the much superior solicitude of Mr. Bingley's, she could not make a very favourable Elizabeth is sizing up Bingley's regard for Jane. He evinces real answer. Jane was by no means better. The sisters, concern, pleasing Elizabeth. on hearing this, repeated three or four times how much they were grieved, how shocking it was to have a bad cold, and how excessively they The narrator shows how self-involved these sisters are. Their concern is disliked being ill themselves, and then thought no superficial. more of the matter; and their indifference towards Jane, when not immediately before them, restored Elizabeth to the enjoyment of all her original Elizabeth 'enjoys' disliking them. Elizabeth is acute enough to judge dislike. Their brother, indeed, was the only one of these women accurately, but she is also vain enough to glory in her the party whom she could regard with any judgement and the superiority that implies. complacency. His anxiety for Jane was evident, and his attentions to herself most pleasing, and they prevented her feeling herself so much an Elizabeth feels uncomfortable, implying that the courtesy of her hostess intruder as she believed she was considered by the is deficient. Perhaps all but Bingley behave somewhat inhospitably. others. She had very little notice from any but him. Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr. Darcy, her sister scarcely less so; and as for Mr. Hurst, Austen invents Mr. Hurst mainly to laugh at and to despise -- a shallow, by whom Elizabeth sat, he was an indolent man, vain, lazy sensualist -- a gentleman in name only. who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards, who, when he found her prefer a plain dish to a If Elizabeth is so uncultured as to prefer plain to fancy cooking (a ragout, had nothing to say to her. When dinner ragout is a French stew), he can have nothing in common with her. was over, she returned directly to Jane, and Miss Bingley began abusing her as soon as she was out To "abuse" someone is to speak ill of her. Elizabeth 's education and of the room. Her manners were pronounced to be country background do put her at a remove from London manners. very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and However, Miss Bingley finds Elizabeth deficient because Miss Bingley impertinence; she had no conversation, no stile, is unkind, jealous, and critical by habit. Elizabeth is attractive, and no taste, no beauty. Mrs. Hurst thought the same, Caroline has already heard Darcy commend her fine eyes. and added, "She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, Mrs. (Louisa) Hurst. The indolence of these women stands in sharp but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget contrast to the Elizabeth 's vitality. Austen has Elizabeth walk these her appearance this morning. She really looked three miles as a proof of her energy and her affection for Jane. Austen almost wild." quietly calls into question her society's implicit ideal: a lady should never appear other than a lovely doll. Giving Elizabeth legs, Austen gives her a body. "Wild" is the last thing a gentlewoman should be, but there is a subtle erotic potentiality in this wildness--she came in hot and flushed--that makes Elizabeth's presence threatening to these women, unsettling perhaps to the men. In Austen, "morning" seems to mean during daylight hours before the evening meal. "She did indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep Miss (Caroline) Bingley. She can hardly keep a straight face. Why my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! would a lady sacrifice her coiffure for a sister with a cold? The text Why must she be scampering about the country, shows rather than tells how shallow these women are. Note that this is a because her sister had a cold? Her hair so untidy, woman speaking to her own sister about how little a sister's illness so blowsy!" weighs against being ladylike and immaculately coifed. Austen again explores the tension between lady as bodiless, inert doll and woman as potent and active being. Darcy has better sense than to assent wholly to this notion of woman, but we will soon see him caught between these conflicting images of how a woman ought to conduct herself, especially when he thinks of his own sister. "Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her Mrs. Hurst. Gentlewomen must never get dirty, of course. Being able petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely to afford an idle wife was (and sometimes is) a powerful mark of a certain; and the gown which had been let down to man's status. Elizabeth muddying her petticoats risks losing status, hide it not doing its office." risks seeming as though she cannot manage to sustain the pristine uselessness of the ideal lady. The elaborate undergarments of the day and the burden of keeping them clean served as effective fetters upon women's freedom in the simplest, most physical sense. "Your picture may be very exact, Louisa," Mr. (Charles) Bingley. Charles is a man of feeling, and Austen wants said Bingley; "but this was all lost upon me. I us to like him. He is also not so acute an observer as Darcy. thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well, when she came into the room this morning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice." "You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure," said Miss Bingley. She is appealing to his weak side - his pride. Miss Bingley, "and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see your sister make such an exhibition." "Certainly not." Mr. (Fitzwilliam) Darcy. Miss Bingley cleverly catches Darcy in a dilemma. He wants his sister to uphold the standards of strict decorum that Elizabeth has muddied a bit. But Elizabeth 's "exercising" her freedom also attracts him. Elizabeth 's physicality and freedom will be part of her appeal. "To walk three miles, or four miles, or five Miss Bingley. Alone! The implicit standard, that a lady should never miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, go out unattended, reveals a world where the woman is always a sexual and alone, quite alone! What could she mean by object, always vulnerable prey. This covert but ubiquitous sense of it? It seems to me to shew an abominable sort of threat curtails women's freedom, like her petticoats and her conceited independence, a most country town gentlewoman's role. Freedom for Elizabeth, it seems, is not freedom indifference to decorum." but "conceited independence." Men go out alone all the time, for they are indeed free. Except under the patriarchal protection of her own home, a woman of Elizabeth 's class generally ought not go for a walk alone. Note that it is not the males who uphold and enforce the strictures of decorum that confine women. In this scene, it is the females. Both men and women participate in the social construction of gender roles (then and now). It is no mere male conspiracy. Under the prevailing system of the day, these gentlewomen have a pretty good life, especially if they are willing to trade freedom for security. Both Bingley and Darcy are less critical of Elizabeth 's walk than these women. "It shews an affection for her sister that is Mr. Bingley. In defending Elizabeth he defends feeling over propriety. very pleasing," said Bingley. "I am afraid, Mr. Darcy," observed Miss Miss Bingley. She cannot resist getting in a dig at Elizabeth. The lower Bingley in a half whisper, "that this adventure has Elizabeth 's status, the less a threat she is to Caroline's campaign to lure rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes." Darcy into marriage. It is worth noting that the "marriage market" of the day tended to make not only women into commodities, but men as well. Darcy's wealth blinds people to his real character just as much as Elizabeth 's relative lack of wealth threatens to make her invisible to Darcy. Miss Bingley is not throwing herself at Darcy because of his character or his charms or strength of character but because of his wealth and social standing. He is being treated as an object. "Not at all," he replied; "they were brightened Mr. Darcy. Though some readers complain that the stiff manners of by the exercise." -- A short pause followed this Austen's day make hers a pale, passionless, arid world, they overlook speech, and Mrs. Hurst began again. the direct and almost bruising way Darcy and Elizabeth sometimes speak. Darcy's reply shows his willingness to wound Miss Bingley if she persists in her teasing. Austen lets us know that Miss Bingley's designs upon Darcy are hopeless, though Miss Bingley remains in the dark. In this pause, which Austen takes pains to convey, Miss Bingley feels her wound. "I have an excessive regard for Jane Bennet, Mrs. Hurst. "Well settled" means well married. What she really means, she is really a very sweet girl, and I wish with all with all her heart, is that she does not want her brother to marry Jane. my heart she were well settled. But with such a The higher her brother's wife's social standing, the higher her own. father and mother, and such low connections, I am afraid there is no chance of it." Though it is not entirely clear until later, she is quite right in a way. Jane's having "such" a mother and father is a real threat to Jane's well- being. Her mother is rude, selfish, materialistic - a boor (though she loves her daughters deeply after her own fashion). Her father, though sensible and gentlemanly, chooses ease and irony over an active and engaged family life. He ought to demand more sense, civility, and maturity of his children's mother. He ought to treat her with more respect. He ought to exert himself more as a parent, too, especially for the younger girls who seem so idle and silly. He says as much later in the novel. "I think I have heard you say, that their uncle Miss Bingley. An attorney is employed on other people's business and, is an attorney in Meryton." therefore, possesses a lower status than a gentleman who is concerned only with his own. Meryton is a country backwater. "Yes; and they have another, who lives A commercial district in London, Cheapside is not a fashionable somewhere near Cheapside." neighborhood. Though the Bingleys' father was in trade, they are trying hard to forget all that. Their rising status depends upon their putting as much distance as possible between that past and themselves. No snob like the nouveau riche. "That is capital," added her sister, and they Miss Bingley. Aimed at Charles and Darcy, this laugh is meant to put both laughed heartily. Jane and Elizabeth safely out of reach down the social ladder. Of course, Austen wants us to scorn and laugh at their outrageous snobbery. "If they had uncles enough to fill all Mr. Bingley. While one admires his warm and simple heart, Bingley Cheapside ," cried Bingley, "it would not make seems naive, or so Austen wants us to think. The reality is that them one jot less agreeable." economic and social status shapes our lives. Even in our egalitarian age when, in theory, love conquers all and Cinderella can marry the prince, the reality is that few of us ever marry someone whose parents are a lot richer or poorer than our own. Of course, Pride and Prejudice is a Cinderella story and militates against this stern limitation on love. "But it must very materially lessen their Mr. Darcy. He is right. This is the way the world is. But not the way chance of marrying men of any consideration in Austen thinks it should be. the world," replied Darcy. To this speech Bingley made no answer; but his sisters gave it their hearty assent, and indulged their mirth for some time at the expense of their "Vulgar" means common or ordinary. dear friend's vulgar relations. With a renewal of tenderness, however, they To Jane's room. repaired to her room on leaving the dining- parlour, and sat with her till summoned to coffee. Elizabeth does not want their company. She was still very poorly, and Elizabeth would not quit her at all till late in the evening, when she A drawing-room is what Americans today might call a living room. had the comfort of seeing her asleep, and when it Loo is a card game. "Playing high” means that they are gambling at appeared to her rather right than pleasant that she what might seem quite low stakes to them but might seem should go down stairs herself. On entering the uncomfortably high stakes to Elizabeth. drawing-room she found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high she declined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she He is always astonished by Elizabeth, poor dolt. would amuse herself for the short time she could stay below with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment. "Do you prefer reading to cards?" said he; Mr. Hurst. He says "rather singular" while today one might say "really "that is rather singular." weird." "Miss Eliza Bennet," said Miss Bingley, Miss Bingley. This is a surprisingly sharp, unfounded attack, though "despises cards. She is a great reader and has no superficially it sounds like praise of Elizabeth 's seriousness. Because pleasure in anything else." everything Caroline herself does is a pose, Caroline interprets Elizabeth's taking up a book to be a pose meant to impress the men with her intellect. "I deserve neither such praise nor such Elizabeth . Notice that Elizabeth easily identifies the censure implied in censure," cried Elizabeth ; "I am not a great the praise. She sees through Miss Bingley here and throughout the reader, and I have pleasure in many things." novel. And she seems never to feel Miss Bingley a direct threat, though Elizabeth feels her a threat to Jane's relationship to Bingley. "In nursing your sister I am sure you have Mr. Bingley. Presumably Charles does not like his sister's manners and pleasure," said Bingley; "and I hope it will soon seeks to make amends for her rudeness. be increased by seeing her quite well." Elizabeth thanked him from her heart, and Elizabeth is sensitive to Charles' kind effort to make up for his sister's then walked towards a table where a few books sarcasm. were lying. He immediately offered to fetch her others; all that his library afforded. "And I wish my collection were larger for Mr. Bingley. The ensuing conversation about books is meant to offer your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle insight into Darcy's character and status, partly in contrast to Bingley's. fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever look into." Elizabeth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly with those in the room. "I am astonished," said Miss Bingley, "that Miss Bingley. Her father was a businessman, not a scholar. Pemberley my father should have left so small a collection of is Darcy's family estate. It serves almost as a character in the novel, so books. -- What a delightful library you have at Austen here begins to develop this "character." Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!" "It ought to be good," he replied, "it has been Mr. Darcy. Darcy is not among the newly rich. Old money bestows the work of many generations." higher status than new money. Though most of this regard for old money or property is a mere construction of status markers, there is a basis for it in experience: it is alarmingly easy for old money to become no money, for inherited wealth to be squandered, for an estate to be ruined by the vice, greed, laziness, or stupidity of its owners. That generations of Darcys have managed Pemberley well is powerful evidence of their good sense, moral soundness, and dutifulness. "And then you have added so much to it Miss Bingley. I wonder when the contemporary phrase "brown nosing" yourself, you are always buying books." first gained currency? "I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family Mr. Darcy. Part of noblesse oblige, Darcy's responsibility to his estate library in such days as these," is not merely to enjoy its great wealth but to serve as its caretaker, handing it on to the next generation improved for his having owned it. While this may seem a strange notion, it has contemporary parallels. For instance, nowadays many employees feel this loyalty and responsibility to the corporation or institution for which they work. An estate like Darcy's is an institution influencing the lives of hundreds of people for generations. Darcy may feel about his estate somewhat as the CEO of a large corporation feels about his or her company. With his enormous power, it seems at first glance that the boss can do anything he chooses . . . in theory. But his choices are ever dictated by the good of his company. His company controls him about as much as he controls his company. Many are the powerful executives who are effectively slaves to their corporations. The cost of power is usually some sort of bondage. When Darcy mentions "such days as these," Austen signals that she shares the conviction, common in the Romantic age, that theirs were extraordinary times blessed with a wealth of important, groundbreaking literature. "Neglect! I am sure you neglect nothing that Miss Bingley. Austen has her kissing up so shamelessly for our sakes, can add to the beauties of that noble place. hoping to make us laugh. Thanks, Miss Austen. Charles, when you build your house, I wish it may be half as delightful as Pemberley." "I wish it may." Mr. Bingley. He probably understands that he lacks the energy, understanding, and capital to develop an estate that rivals Darcy's Pemberley. "But I would really advise you to make your Miss Bingley. She will even flatter Darcy for his county in north central purchase in that neighbourhood, and take England. Ironically enough, Miss Bingley is right in judging Pemberley Pemberley for a kind of model. There is not a a kind of model. Though interpreting this remark as sheer flattery, finer county in England than Derbyshire." Elizabeth herself later comes to a similar judgement of Darcy's estate. "With all my heart; I will buy Pemberley Mr. Bingley. itself if Darcy will sell it." "I am talking of possibilities, Charles." Miss Bingley. "Upon my word, Caroline, I should think it Mr. Bingley. Charles knows that there is something about Pemberley more possible to get Pemberley by purchase than that his money cannot buy. Now Elizabeth knows it too. by imitation." Elizabeth was so much caught by what Why does Elizabeth lay aside her book? Austen just might laugh passed, as to leave her very little attention for her quietly at Elizabeth for showing great interest when the talk reveals that book; and soon laying it wholly aside, she drew Darcy has a large, important estate. A man (or woman) is almost near the card-table, and stationed herself between always a little better looking when discovered to be rich. Why does she Mr. Bingley and his eldest sister to observe the stand between Mrs. Hurst and Mr. Bingley? "Body language" existed game. long before modern psychologists began to study it. I cannot quite imagine the text's saying she "stationed herself between Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy to observe the game." Though a deceptively trivial- looking detail, this slight bit of choreography reveals a lot. Bingley is no threat to Elizabeth, nor she to him. I cannot imagine the text's saying she "stationed herself opposite Mr. Darcy so as to get a better look at him." But that is what she does, unconsciously I think. "Is Miss Darcy much grown since the Miss Bingley. She seeks to show off her intimacy with the Darcy spring?" said Miss Bingley; "will she be as tall as family. It is in this chapter that we first learn that Darcy has a younger I am?" sister. She turns out to be about Lydia or Catherine's age. Note that Caroline uses herself as the yardstick of Miss Darcy's height. "I think she will. She is now about Miss Mr. Darcy. Note Darcy's yardstick! He is so conscious of Elizabeth that Elizabeth Bennet's height, or rather taller." he uses her for comparison. His mind is not entirely on cards, and Elizabeth 's presence, as she stands opposite him, has a telling effect upon him. "How I long to see her again! I never met Miss Bingley. Ugh. with anybody who delighted me so much. Such a countenance, such manners, and so extremely A "piano-forte" is what we call today a piano. accomplished for her age! Her performance on the piano-forte is exquisite." "It is amazing to me," said Bingley, "how Mr. Bingley. The "accomplishments" discussed in this passage were young ladies can have patience to be so very pursued in part for their own sakes but also in part for making women accomplished as they all are." more attractive in the marriage market. Women's accomplishments were, in general, cultivated to enable her to bring style, refinement, and decoration to her future husband's home, which is nothing to sneer at. On the other hand, Austen seems to sneer a little at them in comparison to the accomplishments Darcy hopes for in a woman. "All young ladies accomplished! My dear Miss Bingley. Since she has been educated in a fine private seminary Charles, what do you mean?" for girls, Miss Bingley's accomplishments are considerable. She therefore has a lot invested in the notion that accomplishments distinguish a woman, giving her greater value in the marriage game, greater attractions as a wife. To think all women accomplished is to devalue the distinctions Caroline is banking on. "Yes all of them, I think. They all paint Mr. Bingley. They all tat, paint, embroider, and crochet. By these tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely measures, all girls are spoken of as accomplished. One supposes that know any one who cannot do all this, and I am Austen is airing one of her pet peeves here, that her society sometimes sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the calls a woman "accomplished" who possesses a few such skills. It first time, without being informed that she was implies a paltry notion of what women could achieve. very accomplished." "Your list of the common extent of Mr. Darcy. Darcy's ideas on real accomplishments reveal how accomplishments," said Darcy, "has too much seriously he takes women and their potential. Though he may strike truth. The word is applied too many a woman the reader as a snob here, we should also notice that his sermon on real who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a accomplishments a few paragraphs later implies that he expects more purse, or covering a screen. But I am very far from his future wife than ornamentation. He wants equality, from agreeing with you in your estimation of companionship, intellect. Paradoxically, Charles and his sisters betray ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more their relatively middling standard of the ideal woman. than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished." "Nor I, I am sure," said Miss Bingley. Miss Bingley. "Then," observed Elizabeth , "you must Elizabeth. To "comprehend" is to include. Elizabeth probably hopes to comprehend a great deal in your idea of an coax Darcy into voicing shallow, pretentious ideas about women so she accomplished women." can despise him. He lets her down. "Yes; I do comprehend a great deal in it." Mr. Darcy. Though we can't know this until much later, Darcy's upbringing has trapped him in a lonely egotism. His expecting so much of an accomplished woman signals his fear that, though "suitable matches" abound in the likes of Miss Bingley and Miss de Bourgh, he will never find a woman whose mind and character will rescue him from loneliness. "Oh! certainly," cried his faithful assistant, Miss Bingley. Picking up on Darcy's line of argument, Miss Bingley "no one can be really esteemed accomplished, catalogues the desirable. While certainly estimable, the characteristics who does not greatly surpass what is usually met she mentions tend toward producing a refined style, not serious with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge principles. One assumes Bingley’s sisters are accomplished according of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the to the measures here voiced. modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved." "All this she must possess," added Darcy, Mr. Darcy. Darcy's expecting so much of women is threatening for all "and to all this she must yet add something more the women present, of course. Darcy himself is presumably an substantial, in the improvement of her mind by accomplished man - well educated and adept at masculine pursuits in extensive reading." the field. His preferring substance over style explains his being bored by Caroline Bingley. His expecting a woman to have mind explains his eventual choice of mates. What is more, his mention of reading conveys his approval of Elizabeth 's having earlier taken up a book. A few evenings later, in one of the funniest little episodes in Volume 1, Caroline dutifully tries to impress him by reading but, amusingly enough, can't keep her mind on her book (see chapter 11). "I am no longer surprised at your knowing Elizabeth. Think about who hears Elizabeth ’s remark. only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any." "Are you so severe upon your own sex, as to Mr. Darcy. Darcy is the real feminist in the room, thinking women doubt the possibility of all this?" capable of great seriousness. "I never saw such a woman, I never saw such Elizabeth. Oops. Elizabeth implies that Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, don't measure up to these standards, which is a trifle rude. Elizabeth 's as you describe, united." humility, however, is disarming. She does not pretend for a second to be such a paragon . . . Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley both cried out . . . but these women do. against the injustice of her implied doubt, and were both protesting that they knew many women Mr. Hurst wants the card game to go forward. What a guy! I wish for who answered this description, when Mr. Hurst his sake he had been born in the age of cable TV, a remote in his hand called them to order, with bitter complaints of and dozens of channels at his command. I think he would particularly their inattention to what was going forward. As all like having several sports channels. conversation was thereby at an end, Elizabeth soon afterwards left the room. "Eliza Bennet," said Miss Bingley, when the Miss Bingley. She cannot resist another dig at Elizabeth. Austen is also door was closed on her, "is one of those young using this speech to set up Darcy's famous reply. ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own, and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in my A “mean art” is a “small-minded or ignoble artifice,” or a low-down opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art." trick. "Undoubtedly," replied Darcy, to whom this Mr. Darcy. Hee hee! It is gratifying to see her get what she deserves. remark was chiefly addressed, "there is meanness Austen knows this will furnish the reader great pleasure, and it is in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend important we like Darcy. Miss Bingley's wiles are transparent (and to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity tiresome) to Darcy. Once again, some careless readers miss the keen to cunning is despicable." edge of some of Austen's dialogue. Though ever so polite on the surface, Darcy's remark is brutal. Miss Bingley was not so entirely satisfied Austen often uses understatement to great effect. with this reply as to continue the subject. Elizabeth joined them again only to say that her sister was worse, and that she could not leave Mr. Jones is an apothecary, combining the functions of today's her. Bingley urged Mr. Jones's being sent for physician and pharmacist. He was trained through an apprenticeship. immediately; while his sisters, convinced that no Someone called Dr. Whatever would be a university-trained physician, country advice could be of any service, a relative rarity in those days, especially in the country. recommended an express to town for one of the most eminent physicians. This she would not hear of, but she was not so unwilling to comply with their brother's proposal; and it was settled that Mr. Jones should be sent for early in the morning if Miss Bennet were not decidedly better. Bingley The high diction and overstatement of "solaced their wretchedness" was quite uncomfortable; his sisters declared that signals Austen's irony. The ladies don't care a bit. Charles does though they were miserable. They solaced their and seems to act the lover. wretchedness, however, by duets after supper, while he could find no better relief to his feelings than by giving his housekeeper directions that every possible attention might be paid to the sick lady and her sister.