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|Sugar and spice and everything nice… (long)
Written by Robbin
(6/19/2007 9:43 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, For Robbin--Darcy's views on accomplished women.., penned by Lila
I mostly agree with you. There are four ideas presented in Chapter 8 on what exactly comprises an accomplished woman. We have Bingley’s rather small and common set of accomplishments—painted tables, covered screens, and netted purses; Caroline’s description of Georgiana as extremely accomplished—she plays the pianoforte and the harp, draws and creates designs for tables; Caroline’s list of everything fashionable she can think of to impress Darcy; and then he just adds extensive reading to Caroline’s list. IMO Caroline’s list is a bit pretentious and meant to show off her expensive education at one of the first private seminaries in town. I do not think Caroline would live up to her list if scrutinized but I am quite sure she does not believe Lizzy would do half so well and I think that is the point of her speech. When Darcy added extensive reading to the list he was upping the ante because he does want more in a wife than just "accomplishments" but I do think he believed such a woman appropriate to his station of life. While the actual list is the same for both Caroline and Darcy IMO their views of accomplished women diverge a little in that Caroline is most likely describing herself and Darcy finds Caroline a bit tedious and annoying so he is probably not describing her. (;D) I think he is describing Lizzy somewhat. I think Darcy learns that his list of accomplishments is as much a throw-away as Bingley’s because this is not the stuff of which amiable wives are made. (;D) IMO a wife cannot be picked by completing a checklist, yet, please know I am not disparaging accomplishments; they are nice if I may say so. What follows is how I see Lizzy stacking up against Darcy’s original Chapter 8 checklist of an accomplished woman—the results are unsurprisingly gratifying:
no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with
IMO Caroline believes she surpasses what is usually met with but I think it is to Lizzy that Darcy would attribute superiority. By Chapter 6 he thinks her face is rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes, her figure is light and pleasing and he was caught by the easy playfulness of her manners. He first comments on her fine eyes in Chapter 6, thinks how they could be painted in Chapter 10 and in Chapter 45 he tells Caroline that Lizzy is “one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance.” Of course Darcy also asked her to marry him against his will, reason, and character in Chapter 34—apparently she surpasses other women to such an extent she is irresistible to him.
a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages
This line begs the question, what does Caroline mean by “thorough knowledge” of these particular subjects. From Johnson’s “thorough” is defined as complete, full, perfect, passing though. This is too much—no one could have complete prefect knowledge of any subject. Caroline may mean quite a lot including proficiency; probably as much as she thinks she can display herself. In Chapter 10 Caroline performs a lively scotch air and some Italian songs as well as singing with her sister but they are not described as great performers and Darcy had requested that Lizzy perform first which Caroline ignored. I assume Darcy has heard Caroline before and he asks for Lizzy first because he prefers her performance; he saw her perform in Chapter 6.
Lizzy plays the pianoforte and sings; although she is not a capital performer I do not think she sinks to the level of mediocre. She is not technically perfect but her easy and unaffected manner makes her performance pleasing—more so than the technically better performance of Mary’s in Chapter 6. Lizzy admits in Chapter 31 that she feels herself capable of superior execution but nevertheless feels it is unnecessary; she is happy to play and please others by her performance but feels no obligation to be a perfectionist for that purpose. She does not perform to strangers after all and Darcy finds it intriguing. Both Darcy and Col Fitzwilliam seem to enjoy Lizzy’s performance in Chapter 31 despite any technical imperfections; it is Lizzy that is the main attraction not perfect technique or all inclusive knowledge of the instrument. I think Lizzy passes muster on the music and singing question.
IMO Lizzy does have a thorough knowledge of dancing. First she appears to be a sought after partner despite the travesty at the Meryton assembly of her sitting down for two dances. In Chapter 6 Sir William recommends Lizzy as a desirable partner and Darcy thinks so too because his distain for such a way of passing the evening immediately evaporates and he agrees to dance with her. In Chapter 18 Darcy seeks Lizzy out as a partner; she is the only local lady he dances with. She was also sought out by her cousin and an officer; I think the only reason she did not dance every dance was because her refusal of a repeat performance with Mr. Collins left her no power to accept others. Second, a dancing master is probably one of the necessary masters she tells Lady Catherine was available to her and her sisters in Chapter 29. Dancing was an important function in society and it was important to be able to perform the dances correctly. Note the embarrassment Lizzy feels when Mr. Collins missteps during their dances at the Netherfield ball.
Lizzy tells Lady Catherine in Chapter 29 that neither she nor any of her sisters draw; and there is no indication in the text that Lizzy speaks any other language than her own. In **Persuasion Anne interprets Italian songs for her party at the musical concert in Chapter 20 so I see the practically of learning one of the modern languages but to thoroughly learn them all would be difficult and impractical for most young ladies. Must ladies be accomplished in all of the areas Caroline mentioned? I do not think they must because it is patently unrealistic and it does not appear any of JA’s heroines meet Caroline’s list either—I do consider JA a realistic source on the subject. **For example, JA ladies often described as accomplished, the Dashwood sisters, do not admit to proficiency in the same subjects—Elinor has drawing and Marianne music and Anne Elliot, very accomplished—plays the pianoforte, is well read, and speaks Italian but does not appear to draw.
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.
Caroline, I believe is referring to fashionable versus country manners, for example Lizzy’s tramping three miles to Netherfield on her own in Chapter 7 and from Chapter 3, “His sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion.” Two incidents in the novel answers for Lizzy in this: Darcy obviously enjoys watching Lizzy walk as he does not look up from his book until Caroline invites Lizzy to join her in a turn about the room in Chapter 11. I take it then there is nothing improper in Lizzy’s carriage. In Chapter 10 Darcy thinks, “there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody.” According to Darcy, Lizzy’s manner of address, tone of voice and expression are bewitching. Lizzy is also free from “the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation” that Darcy finds despicable in Chapter 8. Lizzy is an entertaining companion, she charms Darcy and Col Fitzwilliam during their stay at Rosings. In Chapter 61 Lizzy’s sportive manner of talking to Darcy, her instruction is to teach Georgiana the object of open pleasantry. I think Lizzy exceeds Caroline’s standards although in a way that is somewhat different than how she imagined them.
in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.
In Chapter 29 Lizzy tells Lady Catherine that she and her sisters were encouraged to read and I think she has but I do not know if it is extensive as Darcy suggests. By Chapter 8 he seems quite satisfied with Lizzy’s mind however. I wonder how significant it is that she is reading when he adds that particular criteria? It is obvious Lizzy is a reader of Gilpin from her picturesque observations of Pemberley in Chapter 43 and the comment about the three of them—Caroline, Louisa, and Darcy being charmingly grouped in Chapter 10 but I do not know what other particular reading she has done.
I think the idea of an accomplished woman comes down to personal taste and somewhat shifting criteria depending on the sphere of society in which the young lady resides—in some places Bingley’s list would be enough and to others it would fall very far short. I think Lizzy is an accomplished woman but more importantly her abilities compliment Darcy’s and visa-versa. I think Lizzy’s thoughts sum this up quite nicely:
She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both; by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance. (Chapter 50)
*A Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd Edition on-line, 1828 By Samuel Johnson, John Walker, Robert S. Jameson
**Further discussion of non P&P characters should go to the appropriate novel board or the Austenations board for cross-novel comparisons. Thanks for the indulgence! (;D)
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