Study Guide

Pride and Prejudice Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

Chapter 1
Mrs. Bennet

"It will be no use to us, if twenty such should come, since you will not visit them." (1.32)

Right away, we learn how powerless women are: there's literally no respectable way for the Bennet girls to meet Bingley unless their dad makes the first move.

Chapter 8
Miss Caroline Bingley

[Miss Bingley:] "Oh! certainly," cried his faithful assistant, "no [woman] can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with.  A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the 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."

Here's a good look at some of the expectations for upper class women: music, singing, drawing, a nice voice, and a graceful walk. Notice anything missing? Oh yeah: any skills or accomplishments that aren't purely decorative. No calculus. No economy. No critical thinking. Only things that will help her attract a dude.

Chapter 20
Mr. Collins

"Pardon me for interrupting you, madam," cried Mr. Collins; "but if she is really headstrong and foolish, I know not whether she would altogether be a very desirable wife to a man in my situation, who naturally looks for happiness in the marriage state. If therefore she actually persists in rejecting my suit, perhaps it were better not to force her into accepting me, because if liable to such defects of temper, she could not contribute much to my felicity." (20.4)

Mr. Collins wants to be happy when he's married. Fair enough. But he doesn't seem overly concerned—or, well, concerned at all—about his wife's happiness. Obvi. That's totally not the point.

Chapter 26
Jane Bennet

My dearest Lizzy will, I am sure, be incapable of triumphing in her better judgement, at my expense, when I confess myself to have been entirely deceived in Miss Bingley's regard for me. But, my dear sister, though the event has proved you right, do not think me obstinate if I still assert that, considering what her behaviour was, my confidence was as natural as your suspicion. I do not at all comprehend her reason for wishing to be intimate with me; but if the same circumstances were to happen again, I am sure I should be deceived again. (26.26)

Regina George has nothing on Caroline Bingley: we know that Caroline Bingley befriended Jane because she was the only tolerable woman around Netherfield. As soon as they were back in London—and as soon as she figured out that her brother thought Jane was pretty nice, too—she friend-dumps her.

Chapter 29

When the ladies returned to the drawing-room, there was little to be done but to hear Lady Catherine talk, which she did without any intermission till coffee came in, delivering her opinion on every subject in so decisive a manner, as proved that she was not used to have her judgement controverted. She inquired into Charlotte's domestic concerns familiarly and minutely, gave her a great deal of advice as to the management of them all; told her how everything ought to be regulated in so small a family as hers, and instructed her as to the care of her cows and her poultry. Elizabeth found that nothing was beneath this great lady's attention, which could furnish her with an occasion of dictating to others. (29.11-15)

You'd think that, as an actual aristocrat, Lady Catherine would have a lot more to care about the poultry. But nope. She's basically telling Charlotte how to keep house—which is pretty rich coming from someone who must have dozens of servants.

Chapter 39
Lydia Bennet

And when her sisters abused [the bonnet] as ugly, she added, with perfect unconcern, "Oh! but there were two or three much uglier in the shop; and when I have bought some prettier-coloured satin to trim it with fresh, I think it will be very tolerable. Besides, it will not much signify what one wears this summer, after the ——shire have left Meryton, and they are going in a fortnight." (39.3-4)

Truth: we all know someone like this. And, just like now, some (thankfully, a lot more than today) people thought that all girls were ditzy idiots who wasted money on clothes and thought only about boys. Pride and Prejudice was so revolutionary in part because it showed that women could be lots of ways. (Check out "Brain Snacks" for a fun quote about that.)

Chapter 51

Lydia was Lydia still; untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless. She turned from sister to sister, demanding their congratulations; and when at length they all sat down, looked eagerly round the room, took notice of some little alteration in it, and observed, with a laugh, that it was a great while since she had been there. (51.4)

Argh. Lydia makes us want to pull our hair out, and we're not even related to her. Here, she's just been rescued from social suicide by some anonymous benefactor, and all she can do is congratulate herself for being married. We're seriously glad she didn't have Facebook.

Chapter 56
Lady Catherine de Bourgh

"Miss Bennet I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find a more reasonable young woman. But do not deceive yourself into a belief that I will ever recede. I shall not go away till you have given me the assurance I require." (56.56)

And by "reasonable young woman," Lady Catherine means "someone who, like everyone else, will do exactly what I say." Lady Catherine is ridiculous, of course, but these moments really show us how awesome Elizabeth is.

Chapter 61

Pemberley was now Georgiana's home; and the attachment of the sisters was exactly what Darcy had hoped to see. They were able to love each other even as well as they intended … By Elizabeth's instructions, she began to comprehend that a woman may take liberties with her husband which a brother will not always allow in a sister more than ten years younger than himself. (61.15)

This is sweet: at the end, we get a nice model of female friendship. Lizzy and Georgiana end up best friends, and Lizzy even shows Georgiana that it's okay to, you know, tease your husband a little. It turns out that women need role models just as much as men do. (Also, can we point out here that Lizzy and Georgiana are basically the same age? Georgiana is about 18 here, and Lizzy is probably 21.)

Mr. Darcy

"All this she must possess," added Darcy, "and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading." (8.51-52)

Mr. Darcy agrees with the superficial "accomplishments" that women should have, but his standards are even higher: she should also "improve" her mind through "extensive reading." But not, we suspect, so she can actually have ideas of her own—just so she can actually know what she's agreeing with, when she agrees with all of Mr. Darcy's opinions. (At least until Lizzy teaches him better, that is.)

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