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|Consequence & Fashion
Written by Robbin
(5/17/2010 6:17 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Strangers, fashion, and consequence, penned by Connie
I don’t remember the last time (prior to this discussion) I discussed the differences between Jane & Bingley’s statuses. Although you remember my opinion as Jane is above Bingley (and I don’t doubt you) it is only half-right at this point—my opinion has evolved. I think Jane is a (landed) gentleman’s daughter and Bingley may only be the son of a quasi-gentleman who inherited a fortune derived from trade or is the son of a man who was in trade himself but left it at some point. I do not know how fresh the stain of trade is on Bingley because the text is unclear that his father was in trade: “their brother's fortune and their own had been acquired by trade” (4). I don’t know if Bingley has any active connections to trade however Jane clearly does in the Gardiners and Phillips.
I think there are two ways to look at this information. One favors Jane and the other Bingley.
I think Jane has a greater right to gentility (good extraction; dignity of birth) than Bingley in that she is the daughter of a landed gentleman who presumably has been in the line of gentlemen for generations. In that respect I think Jane can be seen as of higher status than Bingley but sadly she is encumbered by active connections to trade. According to Darcy these connections “must very materially lessen their [Jane & Lizzy] chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world” (8). Not only does Bingley appear to lack active trade connections, he is wealthier than Mr. Bennet and hangs “with people of rank” in higher society than Jane normally frequents in Meryton or in London with the Gardiners until Miss Bingley came along. I think in practice Bingley enjoys a higher status than Jane despite his breeding.
It seems to me this status thing is subject to the jockeying of various parts and conclusions can vary. Bingley rejects the idea Jane’s connections are an evil to the match (35) but as we know Darcy thinks differently. His view her connections will be a drag on Bingley’s status is evidence he believes her status is the lower one and of course in his case, through Lizzy, they are an even bigger drag on his status. From what I understand Bingley is on the way up the social ladder. He appears to have been educated as a gentleman, lives the life of a gentleman and has only to purchase an estate to become (abet a new one) a landed gentleman. I think from Darcy’s point of view Mr. Bennet dragged his status down the ladder by marrying a woman from trade and of course so goes his daughters as well.
I think Fashion and fashionable now and then share the definition of having to do with the cut and make of clothes or other objects and it is used this way several times in P&P. However Johnson’s 1824, page 268 also defines fashion as “Rank; condition above the vulgar” and fashionable as “Having rank above the vulgar and below nobility” which I think is also used in P&P several times. Lizzy thinks Darcy asks to meet the Gardiners because their appearance and manner suggests they are people of fashion rather than what they are, people in trade. By Ch. 43 perhaps Darcy would have asked to be introduced to anyone in Lizzy’s company but that he took the Gardiners for people of fashion appears to be correct because after she introduced them “he was surprised by the connexion” (43). When saying he saw “little beauty and no fashion” (4) to describe the folks at the assembly I think Darcy means he saw a group of people he believed to be of a vulgar condition and he believes himself above them. (:D)
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