Pride and Prejudice -- Notes on Random Topics

"It appeared to her that he did not excel in giving those clearer insights, in making those things plain which he had before made ambiguous."
-- Northanger Abbey, Chapter 9

*Go to end of notes. *Go to chronology. *Go to charact. list.
*Go to Pride&Prej. motifs. *Go to place list/map. *Go to table of contents.

Miscellaneous notes on Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen's era


The phrase "fair X", indicating that X is a woman or women, had long been an unimaginative cliché by Jane Austen's day. The two characters in Pride and Prejudice who use it are foolish ones: Sir William Lucas (who refers to Elizabeth, when dancing with Darcy, as his "fair partner"), and Mr. Collins (who continually refers to the Bennet daughters as "my fair cousins"). Jane Austen had also made fun of the expression in Jack & Alice (one of her Juvenilia): when a lady is caught in a steel trap on the estate of a handsome young man, another character exclaims "Oh! cruel Charles, to wound the hearts and legs of all the fair". So it can be taken for granted that when this phrase appears as part of the narration of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen is not using it in a simple way:

  • "With such rivals for the notice of the fair, as Mr. Wickham and the officers, Mr. Collins seemed likely to sink into insignificance."
  • When Darcy moves toward the piano that Elizabeth is playing, he stations "himself so as to command a full view of the fair performer's countenance".


"Indeed, Sir, I have not the least intention of dancing"

According to a somewhat hollow convention of the day, it was considered a violation of etiquette for a woman to decline a man's invitation to dance in any way which would make it seem that she didn't want to dance with him personally; rather, she had to maintain the pretense that she didn't want to dance at all with anybody for the moment, and then sit down for at least the next few "sets" of two dances each (i.e. must not soon be seen to be standing up with someone other than the man she has turned down). In some cases (depending on the lady's scruples and/or fear of being seen to violate etiquette or fear of giving offense, and the particular circumstances involved), it means she won't dance at all for the rest of the evening. Thus the following dialog from Northanger Abbey:

John Thorpe:
"Well, Miss Morland, I suppose you and I are to stand up and jig it together again."
Catherine Morland:
"Oh, no; I am much obliged to you, our two dances are over; and, besides, I am tired, and do not mean to dance any more."

(This rule of etiquette continually involves the heroine of Fanny Burney's Evelina in difficulties.)



"The post-office is a wonderful establishment! The regularity and despatch of it! If one thinks of all that it has to do, and all that it does so well, it is really astonishing! So seldom that any negligence or blunder appears! So seldom that a letter, among the thousands that are constantly passing about the kingdom, is even carried wrong -- and not one in a million, I suppose, actually lost! And when one considers the variety of hands, and of bad hands too, that are to be deciphered, it increases the wonder."
-- Jane Fairfax, Chapter 16 of Emma

In an era before telephones or cheap fast transportation, letter-writing was very important to the families of Jane Austen's day; Jane Austen herself wrote many hundreds of letters during her lifetime, of which about 150 have survived. Many 18th century literary works (even some quite long novels) were in the form of a series of letters between the characters (the "epistolary novel"), often regardless of plausibility. (The Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine books by Nick Bantock are modern examples of the "epistolary form".) Jane Austen experimented with this form in her early Juvenilia (notably Love and Freindship, and also The Three Sisters), and in Lady Susan. Pride and Prejudice itself (under its original title of First Impressions) was probably first written in epistolary form.

*Go to annotated Hypertext of Love and Freindship
*Go to annotated text of The Three Sisters
*Go to text of Lady Susan
*Go to text of Lesley Castle (excerpts)
*Go to miscellaneous scraps, mainly epistolary, from the Juvenilia
*Go to Jane Austen's letters (Brabourne edition)

In Jane Austen's day, there were no envelopes (or postage stamps), and the "envelope" mentioned in connection with Caroline Bingley's letter and Darcy's letter was merely another sheet of paper folded around the rest (there could be writing on one side of the "envelope", as well as on the part of the other side that didn't end up on the outside of the letter). Jane Austen herself was said to be dextrous and neat in folding and sealing letters (though in her letters she often deprecates her own handwriting as being too large, unlike that of Cassandra -- at the time, letters were charged according to the number of sheets of paper, so the smaller you could make your writing, the more you could fit in). To save postage, letters were frequently "crossed": i.e. after a sheet of paper had been written on, it was turned 90°, and further lines were written crossing the original writing (there is a reference to this practice in Emma). It was the recipient, rather than the sender, who paid the postage.

*Go to index of references to letter-writing in Jane Austen's own letters

Engagement and the Propriety of Correspondence

One important rule of protocol of the period is that a correspondence between two unmarried and marriageable unrelated young people of the opposite sex is a sign that the two are engaged. So Elinor Dashwood in Jane Austen's novel Sense and Sensibility, when she sees a letter from Edward Ferrars to Lucy Steele, thinks "a correspondence between them by letter could subsist only under a positive engagement, could be authorised by nothing else", and, when she is unsure whether or not Willoughby and Marianne are engaged, says "If we find they correspond, every fear of mine will be removed". Similarly, Captain Wentworth says to Anne Elliot in Persuasion: "...if I had then written to you, would you have answered my letter? would you, in short, have renewed the engagement then?" (i.e., she likely would have answered the letter only if she had also decided to renew the engagement). And since Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park could not legitimately correspond, the correspondence between Fanny Price and Mary Crawford is used as a conduit between them.

This rule isn't so rigid as to prevent Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility from starting to write a one-off letter to Edward Ferrars (which was to be more a business than a social letter, to someone who could be considered a relative of hers by marriage); however, for a continuing correspondence to be carried on in the absence of an engagement is a breach of propriety (a significant point in Marianne's conduct in Sense and Sensibility -- though Jane Austen dismisses the topic more lightly at the end of Northanger Abbey). This is why Darcy thinks it advisable to hand-deliver his famous letter to Elizabeth (since it would be awkward if anyone at Rosings or Hunsford Parsonage were to see a letter addressed from him to Elizabeth); and it is an important reason why Elizabeth doesn't answer the letter.

List of passages in Pride and Prejudice dealing with letter-writing

This does not include the the quotes from specific letters listed below.

List of letters in Pride and Prejudice

This only includes letters which are actually quoted from (and not those which are just mentioned).

  1. In chap. 7: Caroline Bingley to Jane, inviting her to come to Netherfield.
  2. In chap. 7: Jane to Elizabeth, reporting her illness.
  3. In chap. 13: Mr. Collins to Mr. Bennet, proposing to visit Longbourn.
  4. In chap. 21: Caroline Bingley to Jane, informing her that the Netherfield party have all gone to London.
  5. In chap. 26: Jane in London to Elizabeth, before seeing Caroline Bingley.
  6. In chap. 26: Jane in London to Elizabeth, still has hopes of Caroline Bingley after visiting her.
  7. In chap. 26: Jane in London to Elizabeth, admitting Caroline Bingley's perfidy.
  8. In chap. 35: Darcy's famous letter to Elizabeth (hand-delivered at Rosings), explaining his conduct.
  9. In chap. 46: Jane's misdirected letter to Elizabeth at Lambton, breaking the news of Lydia's elopement.
  10. In chap. 46: Jane's second letter to Elizabeth at Lambton, with new fears about Lydia's elopement.
  11. In chap. 47: Lydia to Mrs. Forster, announcing the elopement.
  12. In chap. 48: Mr. Gardiner in London to Mrs. Gardiner at Longbourn, on inquiries after Lydia and Wickham.
  13. In chap. 48: Mr. Collins to Mr. Bennet (opened by Jane), -- he "condoles" the Bennets about Lydia.
    See the analysis of this letter in the character list.
  14. In chap. 49: Mr. Gardiner to Mr. Bennet, announcing the settlement of negotiations with Wickham.
  15. In chap. 50: Mr. Gardiner to Mr. Bennet, containing further particulars of Wickham's affairs.
  16. In chap. 51: Elizabeth to Mrs. Gardiner, inquiring why Darcy was at Lydia's wedding.
  17. In chap. 52: Mrs. Gardiner to Elizabeth, giving the story behind Lydia's marriage.
  18. In chap. 57: Mr. Collins to Mr. Bennet, advising against an Elizabeth-Darcy match.
  19. In chap. 60: Elizabeth to Mrs. Gardiner, allowing her to give loose to her fancy and indulge her imagination.
  20. In chap. 60: Mr. Bennet to Mr. Collins, troubling him for congratulations.
  21. In chap. 61: Mrs. Wickham to Mrs. Darcy, -- Lydia begs Elizabeth on behalf of Wickham.


Visits, Traveling, and Carriages

High transportation costs (Jane Austen predates the railway era by twenty years), and the lack of formal "jobs" with fixed hours for most wealthy gentlemen and all undistressed "gentlewomen", resulted in long visits; thus at the end of Elizabeth and Maria Lucas's stay in Kent (Hunsford), Lady Catherine says, "Why, at that rate, you will have been here only six weeks. I expected you to stay two months."

After she marries, Charlotte Lucas is only separated from her family by "50 miles of good road"; however, though she and her husband have a "comfortable income", it is "not such a one as will allow of frequent journeys".

It was not considered quite proper for "genteel" unmarried young women to travel on public coaches unescorted (Lady Catherine is even more severe: "I cannot bear the idea of two young women travelling post by themselves"). This is one reason why General Tilney "acted neither honourably nor feelingly -- neither as a gentleman nor as a parent" in dismissing Catherine Morland near the end of Northanger Abbey, and why Fanny Price's stay in Portsmouth is prolonged in Mansfield Park. Jane Austen herself had to arrange many of her visits to various family members according to when it would be convenient for her to be carried in a relative's or family friend's carriage, as appears in some of her letters.

Types of carriages, and other terms connected with carriages

"Mr. Clifford... travelled in his Coach & Four, for he was a very rich young Man & kept a great many Carriages of which I do not recollect half. I can only remember that he had a Coach, a Chariot, a Chaise, a Landau, a Landeaulet, a Phaeton, a Gig, a Whisky, an Italian Chair, a Buggy, a Curricle, & a wheelbarrow."
-- Jane Austen, Memoirs of Mr. Clifford: An Unfinished Tale
Generally an enclosed four-wheeled carriage seating up to three people, and driven by a rider mounted on one of the horses (see "postilion"). The more or less standard vehicle for families which are "respectable", but not extremely wealthy.
A chaise used with rented horses (see "post"). The "hack" post-chaise used by Mrs. Long was itself rented.
"Coach and 4":
A "coach" is a large enclosed four-wheeled carriage, drawn by four or more horses, with at least two rows of seats in the compartment, and usually with seats on the top etc. in addition to those in the compartment. The "box" is a luggage compartment to the front of the main coach body; the driver either sits on this coach box, or sits on the front edge of the coach body with his legs resting on the box (depending on the design of the coach); there is also usally a "basket", or open luggage compartment hanging from the rear of the coach body. Coaches are used by wealthy families, and in long-distance public transportation.
Here's a picture of a coach (?) and six, with a "box" in front and "basket" behind (Rowlandson, 1798). <JPEG>
Stage-coach, Stage:
A coach used as a public conveyance ("stage" means more or less the same thing as "post").
This is intermediate in carrying capacity between a chaise and a coach. It has two rows of seats in the compartment, so that the passengers sit facing each other (unlike a chaise, in which all the passengers face forward). Barouches are "convertible" -- they can be partially opened in good weather. (Lady Catherine owns a barouche; for the barouche "box", see "coach" above.)
A four-wheeled carriage which is open (completely unenclosed), and therefore appropriate for a fair-weather excursion around the park at Pemberley, as proposed by Mrs. Gardiner.
Curricles and gigs are light two-wheeled carriages open in front. They seat no more than two people (one of whom acts as the driver), and are generally favored by young men. A curricle is drawn by two horses, a gig by one.

Other terms:

Traveling by changing horses at posting stations (inns) along the way (rather than using one's own horses), for greater speed.
The functional equivalent of taxicabs.
A person who rides on a horse which is pulling a carriage, to guide it.
Costume worn by servants, which distinctively identifies the family that they work for. (The livery is often taken from their employers' coat of arms.)
Coat of arms:
A heraldic design (possibly with accompanying crest, supporters, etc.) unique to each "armigerous" family. (One doesn't necessarily have to have a noble title, knighthood, etc. to be entitled to a coat of arms.) The Austen family had their own coat of arms (see the original greyscale picture, or a rudimentary colorization). ["Blazon" and Translation of Latin motto.]


"But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley."

People have differed on how ironically this statement by Elizabeth, supposedly dating the beginning of her love for Darcy, should be taken -- Sir Walter Scott took it as the basic truth. However, there is a sense in which this declaration can be part of the truth ("at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!") without Elizabeth necessarily being mercenary or shallow. First, because of the 18th century passion for landscaping, the grounds of an estate could be an index to the owner's taste and personality (as also the interior decorations and furnishings of a house). And second, the well-being of a landed gentleman's `dependants' (servants and employees) and tenants depend on his amicable personality and his estate-management skills ("As a brother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people's happiness were in his guardianship!"). Therefore it can be said that after seeing the house and grounds at Pemberley, and hearing his housekeeper's praises of him, she begins to perceive his real merits, without having to see through the darkened veil of some of his personal mannerisms. (And in any case, if Elizabeth wished to be mercenary, she knew the rough size of his fortune long before she visited Pemberley -- before he made his first proposal, in fact.)


"I never read novels"

Jane Austen's opinion on those who dislike novels is expressed by the charming and witty Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey when he says (during the walk to Beechen Cliff) "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid". It is only the most ridiculous characters in her own novels who dislike novels, such as Mr. Collins here, and the obnoxious John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey (who declares that novels "are the stupidest things in creation").

In a letter of December 18 1798, Jane Austen declares that she and her family were "great Novel-readers, & not ashamed of being so", and in the famous "Defense of the Novel" in Northanger Abbey she repudiates the accusation that novels were trash.

On the other hand, Jane Austen doesn't believe that one should confuse novels with real life, a problem which is shared by Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, Sir Edward Denham in Sanditon, and many of the characters in Love and Freindship (as accurately diagnosed by Sir Edward).



A performance is, in the most concrete sense, a display of "accomplishments", such as playing music, as with Elizabeth and Lady Catherine at Rosings. However in Pride and Prejudice, "performance" is also used as a metaphor.


SEX in Pride and Prejudice!!!

As is also the case with many other topics, Jane Austen is never explicit on this subject (even if she had wanted to be, it would have been very difficult for someone in her social role -- a never-married "genteel" female living in her family). Nevertheless, there are several passages that clearly refer to sex (or the absence thereof), if you understand the code words:

When it is stated that "Mr. Bennet was not of a disposition to seek comfort, for the disappointment which his own imprudence [in marrying a narrow-minded foolish woman] had brought on, in any of those pleasures which too often console the unfortunate for their folly or their vice", this means, among other things, that Mr. Bennet remained faithful to his wife.

Similarly, when it is stated of Lydia that "in spite of her youth and her manners, she retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her", this means she was not involved in any other sexual misadventures after her original elopement with Wickham, but remained faithful to him.

And when the inhabitants of Meryton resign themselves to the fact that Lydia will not "come upon the town; or... be secluded from the world in some distant farm house", the phrase "come upon the town" can mean that they expected her to end up as a London prostitute (not altogether an unrealistic fate if her family had "thrown her off" -- as Mr. Collins advised -- and Wickham had abandoned her).

See also a discussion of the lack of male sexual predation in Jane Austen's writings (in contrast to many novels of the period written by other authors).

[If you jumped to this section expecting something more exciting, your disappointment might be assuaged by going to a passage where Jane Austen describes certain goings-on that are specifically forbidden by the Laws of Moses in the Old Testament. ;-) ]

The double standard

"Unluckily however, I see nothing to be glad of, unless I make it a matter of Joy that Mrs. Wylmot has another son, & that Lord Lucan has taken a Mistress, both of which Events are of course joyful to the Actors." [i.e. participants]
-- Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra, February 8th 1807
"Ladies of the best families, with rank and fortune, and beauty and fashion, and everything in their favor, cannot (as yet in this country) dispense with the strictest observances of the rules of virtue and decorum... I remember seeing the Countess of ---- come into the Opera-house, and sit the whole night in her box without any woman's speaking or curtesying to her, or taking any more notice of her than you would of a post, or a beggar woman." ...
"Young gentlemen of fortune will, if it be only for fashion's sake, have such things as kept mistresses (begging pardon for mentioning such trash); but no one that has lived in the world thinks anything of that, except," added she, catching a glimpse of Belinda's countenance, "except, to be sure, ma'am, morally speaking, it's very wicked and shocking, and makes one blush before company, till one's used to it, and ought certainly to be put down by an act of parliament, ma'am; but, my lady, you know, in point of surprising anybody, or being discreditable in a young gentleman of Mr. Hervey's fortune and pretensions, it would be mere envy and scandal to deem it anything--- worth mentioning."
-- quotes from Belinda, by Maria Edgeworth
"A reformed rake makes the best husband."
-- a traditional, somewhat cynical, English proverb
"He had not ruined himself, and it is well known that... a man who has the strength of mind to leave off when he has only ruined others, is a reformed character."
-- George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, Chapter 9
"We must persuade Henry to marry her... and when once married, and properly supported by her own family, she may recover her footing in society to a certain degree. In some circles, we know, she would never be admitted, but with good dinners, and large parties, there will always be those who will be glad of her acquaintance; and there is, undoubtedly, more liberality and candour on those points than formerly."
-- Mary Crawford, Mansfield Park (on Maria)
"she must withdraw... to a retirement and reproach which could allow no second spring of hope or character."
-- narrator, Mansfield Park

Of course, in Jane Austen's day there was a sexual double standard: except in certain London high-society circles, a woman who was known to have had sex outside of marriage could be socially "ruined" or "excluded from polite society", while the same was not the case for men. Thus Wickham still hopes to be able to marry a "well-portioned" woman in a "fortune-hunting" marriage even after his misadventure with Lydia.

Jane Austen's most explicit comment on this double standard is in her dismissal of the character Henry Crawford at the end of Mansfield Park (who had run off with Mrs. Rushworth / Maria Bertram): "That punishment, the public punishment of disgrace, should in a just measure attend his share of the offence is, we know, not one of the barriers which society gives to virtue. In this world the penalty is less equal than could be wished; but... a juster appointment hereafter..." (in other words, society's double standard is both unfair and un-Christian). See also Jane Austen's opinion on the infidelities of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Though Jane Austen's era was more tolerant in some ways than the later full Victorian period, "country gentlewomen" (such as Jane Austen and most of her female characters) were not affected all that much by any laxness of sexual standards among other groups -- so the following quotes from Pride and Prejudice on Lydia do not at all exaggerate some of the conventional attitudes towards "fallen women", but are only expressed in different ways appropriate to each character (the didacticism of Mary and the unconscious blundering of Mr. Collins).

"Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable -- that one false step involves her in endless ruin -- that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful, -- and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex."
Mr. Collins [before the marriage]:
"[We] sincerely sympathise with you, and all your respectable family, in your present distress, which must be of the bitterest kind, because proceeding from a cause which no time can remove. [i.e. Lydia can't get her presumed lost virginity back, so that anything anyone might try to do for her would be useless.] ... The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this. ... [The De Bourghs] agree with me in apprehending that this false step in one daughter will be injurious to the fortunes of all the others; for who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves with such a family. ... Let me advise you then, my dear Sir, to console yourself as much as possible, to throw off your unworthy child from your affection for ever, and leave her to reap the fruits of her own heinous offence ..."
[After the marriage:]
"I am truly rejoiced that my cousin Lydia's sad business has been so well hushed up, and am only concerned that their living together before the marriage took place should be so generally known. I must not... refrain from declaring my amazement at hearing that you received the young couple into your house as soon as they were married. ... You ought certainly to forgive them as a Christian, but never to admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing."

Jane Austen clearly disagrees with such excessive rigidity (only unsympathetic characters in the novel hold these views), but while she finds excuses for Lydia (her youth, her mother's encouragement, and her father's passivity), she doesn't at all intend to defend Lydia's conduct.


Class in Pride and Prejudice

"Was he born in the purple of commerce, or did he rise from the ranks of the aristocracy?"
-- sarcastic inversion in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest
"James went to Winchester Fair yesterday, and bought a new horse, and Mary has got a new maid -- two great acquisitions; one comes from Folly farm, is about five years old, and thought very pretty, and the other is niece to Dinah at Kintbury."
-- Jane Austen, letter of October 25 1800

Actually, not all that much needs to be said, since the basic points (if not the subtler ones) can be picked up from context. Jane Austen confines herself to the "genteel", those socially recognized as being invitable; but as pointed out by Craik, this actually covers a fairly broad financial range -- thus Mrs. Phillips comes in social contact with Darcy, and Mr. Knightley with Miss Bates. Anyone with any pretensions to gentility can afford to hire servants (even Mrs. Bates in Emma has one servant, as would Edward Ferrars and Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility in their state of poverty as imagined by Mrs. Jennings). In a letter of October 27, 1798, Jane Austen wrote: "Earle and his wife live in the most private manner imaginable at Portsmouth, without keeping a servant of any kind. What a prodigious innate love of virtue she must have, to marry under such circumstances!" -- obviously, this is the abyss of genteel poverty.

One thing that may not be obvious is that it is always more "genteel" to be a rural land-owner than to be actively involved in commerce, no matter how much money you're making in business (thus "trade", or business, can be a disparaging word). This is why Mr. Gardiner is looked down upon by the Bingley sisters and Lady Catherine. Charlotte Lucas is a victim of Sir William Lucas being taken in by this myth of rural land-owning gentility.


Minor notes

"Not a syllable..."

This paragraph in chapter 45, during the visit to Pemberley, after Miss Bingley's snide remark about the militia being removed from Meryton, does in fact mean that Darcy had hoped that his sister would marry Bingley; here's a version of the paragraph with annotations supplied by Arnessa:

"Had Miss Bingley known what pain she was then giving her beloved friend [Miss Darcy], she [Miss Bingley] undoubtedly would have refrained from the hint; but she had merely intended to discompose Elizabeth, by bringing forward the idea of a man [Wickham] to whom she [Miss Bingley] believed her [Elizabeth] partial, to make her betray a sensibility which might injure her in Darcy's opinion, and perhaps to remind the latter [Darcy] of all the follies and absurdities by which some part of her [Elizabeth's] family were connected with that corps. Not a syllable had ever reached her [Miss Bingley] of Miss Darcy's meditated elopement. To no creature had it been revealed, where secresy was possible, except to Elizabeth; and from all Bingley's connections, her brother [Darcy] was particularly anxious to conceal it, from that very wish which Elizabeth had long ago attributed to him [Darcy], of their [the Bingleys] becoming hereafter her [Miss Darcy's] own [connections]. He [Darcy] had certainly formed such a plan, and without meaning that it should affect his [Darcy's] endeavour to separate him [Bingley] from Miss [Jane] Bennet, it is probable that it might add something to his [Darcy's] lively concern for the welfare of his friend. [Bingley]."

"The King"

This refers to George III (father of the Prince Regent), before his final decline into madness.

"Rector", "rectory"

A "rector" was a Church of England clergyman on the highest rung of the hierarchy of ecclesiastical endowment (entitlement to agricultural tithes, and security of tenure): curate, vicar, rector.


The word "country" can be used to mean the countryside (as opposed to the cities, especially London), or it can mean a local district of Britain (such as a "county" or "shire" -- see the map of England); it less often means a whole nation (cf. "of all the views which his garden, or which the country, or the kingdom could boast...")


Conversely, "town", when unpreceded by a definite or indefinite article, means London.

"Blue Coat"

Supposedly, the height of masculine fashion.


Literally, a French masculine plural adjective, meaning "handsome ones"; used to mean handsome, pleasant men, especially marriageable men. In Jane Austen's novels this word tends to be used only by vulgar or unsympathetic characters.


To be "out" meant being permitted to attend the more grown-up social events, such as balls and assemblies; in effect it means that a young lady has entered onto the "marriage market" (cf. the "debutante balls" of later periods -- the younger Lucas girls speak of their "coming out"). This was not one of Jane Austen's favorite social customs, as she makes abundantly clear in a passage in her novel Mansfield Park; see also the hilarious parody, in one of her Juvenilia, of a mother's bringing her daughters "out". (She also wrote, in a letter of August 10, 1814: "What he says about the madness of otherwise sensible women on the subject of their daughters coming out is worth its weight in gold.")

"Jane, I take your place now, and you must go lower, because I am a married woman."

"...talking of the confidence of Sir Rd. Ford's new-married daughter; though she married so strangely lately, yet appears at church as briscke as can be and takes place of her elder sister, a maid."
-- Pepys, November 30, 1662

Precedence (i.e. the regulation of who goes first, or gets a more favorable position) was a part of everyday activities, and a not uncommon source of tension (as in Persuasion, when Mary Musgrove, a baronet's daughter, insists on taking precedence over her mother-in-law). The basic rule of precedence referred to here is that the daughters of a family take precedence according to seniority (i.e. are ranked in order of date of birth), except that all married daughters take precedence above all unmarried daughters. This is why Lydia, even though she is the youngest daughter, now takes precedence over the eldest, Jane -- at least until the time when Jane too marries (thus at the end of Persuasion, youngest daughter Mrs. Charles Musgrove [Mary] has "something to suffer" in seeing her newly-married elder sister Anne "restored to the rights of seniority"). Note that the precedence between sisters can also be affected by further complicating factors (such as the ranks of the husbands that they marry), and that the whole subject of precedence is rather involved.


A French dance ("The Baker"). See the music and the (somewhat illegible) instructions for this dance ("Co:" is an abbreviation for "couple", and apparent "f" without a crossbar is an "s").

Lydia's Wedding "in the papers"

In a letter of late 1814, Jane Austen wrote, "Miss Bigg... writes me word that Miss Blachford is married. but I have never seen it in the Paper. And one may be as well be single, if the Wedding is not to be in print."

"Trimming a hat"

Elizabeth "employed in trimming a hat":
In one of Jane Austen's own letters to Cassandra (October 27th 1798) she says "next week [I] shall begin operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend".

"...the gown which had been let down to hide her petticoat..."

``Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it not doing its office.''
-- Louisa Hurst, Chapter 8

The petticoat would have been slightly shorter than the outermost layer (the gown), and made of a coarser, cheaper, and easier-to-wash material than the gown, so that when Elizabeth walked through the mud, she would have lifted up her gown and let the petticoat underneath take the brunt of the dirt (thus protecting the gown, while still being decently covered down to near her ankles; at that time, the lower part of the outer petticoat was not really considered underwear, and was often decorated in the expectation of its being publicly seen). The idea was that when she arrived at Netherfield, she could let down the down the gown (the outermost and most fragile layer that she had been trying to preserve) so that it would cover the muddy petticoat, so that she would have a more presentable (externally undirtied) appearance -- only there was so much mud that this plan apparently wasn't entirely successful (in the hyper-critical eyes of the Bingley sisters, at least...)


"...the very shoe-roses for Netherfield were got by proxy"
A "shoe-rose" is a piece of shoelace or ribbon tied in a rosette pattern, and worn on one's shoe-front.

"Not unseldom"

It says in chapter 28: "When Mr. Collins said anything of which his wife might reasonably be ashamed, which certainly was not unseldom, she [Elizabeth] involuntarily turned her eye on Charlotte."

Here if you strictly follow through the logic of the triple negation (NOT (NOT (NOT FREQUENTLY))) then the "compositional semantics" of the way the phrase's component parts are put together would lead one to expect that "not unseldom" should mean "infrequently". However, a quick perusal of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) shows that "not unseldom" was simply a fixed phrase or idiom with the meaning "not infrequently" (which comes to pretty much the same thing as "frequently"). In fact, the word "unseldom" was really only used as part of the phrase "not unseldom".

"Saturday se'nnight"

When Mr. Collins declares that he will "trespass on your hospitality" from "Monday, November 18th" to "the Saturday se'nnight following", this means he will stay twelve days, until November 30th, the first Saturday which is more than a week after his arrival ("Saturday week" in modern British English). His visit is timed so that he will only have to find a clerical substitute for one Sunday. (See Chapman and McKinnon's chronology.)

Why didn't the Gardiners bring their children with them when they came to stay at Longbourn over Christmas?

(According to the chronology of the novel, the Gardiners arrive on Monday December 23rd, and leave to return home, taking Jane with them, on Monday December 30th -- and three months later, when Elizabeth travels through London, it is revealed that she has not seen the Gardiner children "for a twelvemonth".)

First, Christmas day itself didn't necessarily have that much cross-generational family ritual associated with it. The Christmas / New Year's season was the occasion of some general feasting and merriment among adults (as in George Eliot's Silas Marner), and children would often be given some kind of informal treat in connection with such year-end festivities, as among the Musgroves at Uppercross in chapter 14 of Jane Austen's Persuasion (and at this time of year children came home from boarding schools, as also mentioned there). However, there generally weren't any major "child-centered" rituals marking Christmas, and Jane Austen's period was actually kind of a low point for special Christmas-specific customs among the English gentry classes (the days when "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" was practically the only Christmas song known to the general English population at large, and when in the southern English cities Christmas carols were mostly sung only as a lower-class begging technique); this period was towards the end of a long period of slow decline in Christmas customs which followed the Puritan attacks on Christmas in the 17th century, and was before the revivals of the 1840's (Dickens' Christmas Carol, the importation of the Christmas tree into Britain from Germany by Prince Albert, etc.).

Second, the Gardiners' visit over Christmas was very short by pre-railway standards (a flying visit of only a week long), and if the Gardiners had chosen to bring their children along, this would also have meant taking along a set of nurserymaids (and possibly some additional other servants), as John and Isabella Knightley do when they visit Hartfield in Emma, which would have made at least one additional carriage necessary (probably two) and greatly increased the expense and inconvenience of the journey.

So it was not surprising according to the standards of the time that the Gardiners did not choose to complicate their very brief visit in this way, and they were not necessarily depriving their children of any expected celebration in doing so.

View an 1826 caricature, "`At Home' in the Nursery, or the Masters & Misses Twoshoes' Christmas Party" by George Cruikshank (1826); this shows children of several different families having a "party" (or play session together) attended by servants, while the adults are no doubt eating, drinking, and making merry in another part of the house.

"Balls will be absolutely prohibited, unless you stand up with one of your sisters."

At semi-informal dance events (but not really at grand formal balls), if there were more young women than young men, then some of the young women would sometimes dance with each other. (Sisters also often danced together at home, to practice their dancing; see this contemporary picture of two sisters dancing.) So here Mr. Bennet is pretending to be an exaggeratedly harsh caricature of an ultra-restrictive parent, for comic effect apparently (always the comedian, Mr. Bennet), and to give vent to his irritated feelings. Elizabeth certainly understands him here, but Kitty doesn't.

Why is Darcy's first name "Fitzwilliam"?

"Fitzwilliam" was Darcy's mother's surname (she was known as "Lady Anne Fitzwilliam" before her marriage to Darcy's father, and "Lady Anne Darcy" afterwards), and at the time it was rather common to give a son his mother's maiden surname as his own first name, especially if his mother's family was in some way prominent or distinguished (or sometimes another prominent family surname different from his own surname). This explains why Darcy's first name is the same as his cousin Col. Fitzwilliam's surname. (See genealogy chart.)

The name "Shirley" has an interesting history in this way: it was originally a surname (and not particularly a girl's first name); then Charlotte Brontë wrote an 1853 novel in which a character who was an only daughter (and so was an heiress) had been given the surname "Shirley" as a first name (as if she had been a boy) -- so that Brontë actually intended "Shirley" to have something of a masculine connotation. But as a result of the novel, "Shirley" started to come into use as a girl's name in real life...


When Lydia is described as "a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humoured countenance", the word "stout" does not really mean "fat", but simply "healthy and robust". Red cheeks and a strong healthy frame were contrasted with paleness and feebleness, and a body made thin or "wasted" with disease. For example, Elizabeth Bennet says earlier in the same chapter: ``Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Every thing nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.''

So Lydia is just healthy, and mature for the age of 15.

"Kitty and me were..."

This "bad grammar" is meant to reflect negatively on Lydia, who does not "improve her mind through reading".

"I wish I could say..."

As pointed out recently on AUSTEN-L, the narration suddenly breaks into the first-person here (it is third-person in the rest of the novel).

"Violently in love"

It is interesting that Darcy is described as "violently in love" near the end of the novel, since earlier Mrs. Gardiner had engaged in just criticisms of this very phrase as a "hackneyed expression". (See "Jane Austen's Limitations".)


I.e. a piano.

Card Games

"Twenty-one", or "blackjack". Preferred by Bingley and Jane.
A game in which cards are traded to get the best hand of three cards (where a three of a kind is ranked highest). A "round game" (unlike whist and quadrille) -- i.e. with flexibility in the number of players.
Lottery Tickets
Another "round game", in which you win if you hold a certain card (the winning "lottery ticket").
Another "round game", in three-card and five-card variants.
A game in which the ten of diamonds and the deuce of spades score.
A two-person game, played with a deck from which the deuce to six cards have been removed.
A game played by four persons.
The precursor of bridge; four people play as two sets of partners.

"Fish" are gaming tokens which serve the same purpose as modern "chips".

A "gamester" is a gambler, and "debts of honour" are those incurred in betting, and not legally enforceable.

Fordyce's Sermons

Fordyce's Sermons to Young Women (1766), the object of Lydia's vigorous (though hardly well-mannered) act of naïve criticism, was a conservative work of morality, the pages of which were used by Lydia Languish's hair-dresser as hair-curling paper in Sheridan's The Rivals, and which was scored by Wollstonecraft for being insulting to women (in her Vindication of the Rights of Women -- see Kirkham).

Here's a brief summary and quotation from Fordyce taken from Women's Life and Work in the Southern Colonies by Julia Cherry Spruill:

"In these writings, which exalted the passive and negative qualities of character, and held up masculinity as the most displeasing characteristic ladies could posess, one finds some explanation of the exaggerated gender consciousness and unnatural manners of many women of the period. Dr. Fordyce's Sermons to Young Women was saturated with sentimentality. The author extolled the ``submissive dependence'', ``timidity of temper'', ``lovely meekness'', ``modest pliancy'', and ``complacent deportment'' of the female sex, and thus laid out the province of women: ``Nature appears to have formed the [mental] faculties of your sex, for the most part, with less vigor than those of ours, observing the same distinction here as in the more delicate frame of your bodies... But you yourselves, I think, will allow that war, commerce, politics, exercises of strength and dexterity, abstract philosophy, and all the abstruser sciences, are most properly the province of men... Those masculine women that would plead for your sharing any part of this province equally with us, do not understand your true interests. There is an influence, there is an empire which belongs to you, and which I wish you ever to possess: I mean that which has the heart for its object and is secured by meeknesss, by soft attraction, and virtuous love.'' In spite of their exaggerated notions of feminine delicacy and unnatural standards of conduct, these books were exceedingly popular."

Both Lydia and Mr. Collins are intended to come off badly in the little scene in Chapter 14, as pointed out by Craik, p.173. It is interesting that the speech styles of Lydia and Mr. Collins (as calculated from the use of the most-frequently occurring words), diverge from each other more than do almost all other possible pairings of the speech styles of two different characters in the novel -- see Burrows, p.84

A private flogged.

"In the army... there is an almost impassible gulf between the ranks -- which even Wellington called ``the scum of the earth'' -- and the officers. Although Jane Austen feels no call to dwell upon the degrading conditions suffered by the common soldier, she shows herself as aware as her contemporaries of the brutal discipline enforced." -- Craik, Jane Austen in her Time, p. 75.


Not a ``revue'', but a ceremonious military inspection, in which senior officers "review" the troops.

See a picture of such a "review" ("The Review at Dynes Hall [Essex]: June 1816" -- watercolor by Diana Sperling):
[Sperling military review JPEG Image]


A salon or drawing-room.
A parlour for the reception of guests, and to which ladies withdraw after dinner; the gentlemen remain for a time in the dining room, and then follow them.

"Sore Throat"

In Jane Austen's era, quite serious infectious diseases were sometimes called "putrid sore throat", so we aren't meant to be too complacent about Jane's illness.

"Candid", "Candour"

The words "Candid" and "Candour" did not generally take on the connotation of being brutally frank, as they sometimes do now. The most usual meaning of "candid" according to Dr. Johnson's dictionary, was "Free from malice; not desirous to find faults", though according to the OED, it could also have the connotations "unbiased, impartial, open, sincere".


Generous, broad-minded.
Narrow-minded, ungenerous, selfish. There is an implication that the uneducated tend to be "illiberal" (See education).
(Sorry, Rush Limbaugh!)

*Go to start of notes. *Go to chronology. *Go to charact. list.
*Go to Pride&Prej. motifs. *Go to place list/map. *Go to table of contents.

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