Late European History
21 November 2012
Do’s and Don'ts of Pride and Prejudice
In 19th century England, manners played a big role. In her book Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen portrays many different aspects of English social manners in the 1800s, and these facets of English etiquette, including traveling etiquette, social propriety, and dancing, greatly affect the plot of the book. One aspect of English social etiquette was the set of strict rules for how one was to act to appear as a socially adept person and therefore a desirable match for marriage. They were for the most part unspoken rules, but during the 19th century there began to be a growing selection of etiquette books available, for instance, Dr. Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women. Mr. Collins’ attempt to read this book aloud to the Bennet girls is received with little enthusiasm, especially from Lydia (Austen 321). One wanted to follow these rules well so as not to appear socially awkward (Article). Most rules were quite commonsensical, like one that states that a gentleman must always be introduced to a lady (Article). Making introductions the other way round would be quite unacceptable. There were some rules that were aimed towards protecting the respectability of a young lady. Two such rules were that a lady was never to wear pearls or diamonds before noon, and that she should never call on a gentleman unless it was a matter of business. Doing either of these things would establish a woman as a lady of loose reputation (Article). However, it was possible to follow the rules too well (Article). Mr. Darcy’s main criticism of Jane Bennet is that, in his opinion, she does not love Mr. Bingley; he says, “… [Jane] I also watched. Her look and manners were open, cheerful, and engaging as ever, but without any symptom of peculiar regard, and I remained convinced from the evening’s scrutiny, that though she received his attentions with pleasure, she did not invite them by any participation of sentiment” (Austen 413-414). In other words, Mr. Darcy does not think that Jane is in love with Mr. Bingley because of her calmness and collectedness while speaking to him. Jane is following the rules, but a little too well. These circumstances affect the plot greatly. Because of this, Mr. Darcy is determined to break up Mr. Bingley and Jane’s relationship since he thinks there is no real affection involved. Mr. Darcy takes the first opportunity to do this, which happens to be when Mr. Bingley goes back to London for a while. Convinced that Jane does not love him, Mr. Bingley decides to stay in London the entire winter. These are major events in the plot, and they come about because of the strict social rules of English society. In the 19th century, dancing was a cultural and social staple. It was enjoyable and served many purposes, one being an opportunity to show off the figure and gracefulness in movement of a young lady or gentleman; “[Dancing] allowed the figures of young people to be exposed to public gaze at parties, dances and balls” (Article). This was often advantageous to the dancer: a chance to show off their elegance. However, in some cases it had the opposite effect; “Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologizing instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave [Elizabeth] all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give” (Austen 337). When Mr. Collins dances with Elisabeth, he shows himself to be an awkward dancer, and this inelegance seen here in dancing is observed also in his social life. As with Mr. Collins, dancing also served to provide a look into the character of a young lady or gentleman (Article). In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy’s offensive behavior with regard to dancing during the ball reinforces the public opinion of his disagreeable nature. His refusal to dance with anyone but Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley shows his pride, especially after he slights...