On Pride and Prejudice
"Does this petticoat make me look fat?"
Having It All in Jane Austen’s Time and Today
Saturday night at the Netherfield estate and the claws are coming out: Elizabeth is chatting with Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley about the qualifications of a truly “accomplished” woman. Mr. Darcy claims that through his entire life he has known only half a dozen women worthy of that title. SY can practically see Elizabeth rolling her eyes as she replies he must have some pretty stringent requirements of womanhood. At this point, Miss Bingley jumps in and says no lady can be deemed accomplished unless she can: dance, sing, draw, converse fluently in the modern languages, net purses, cover screens and also possess a certain je ne sais quoi that announces to the world her inherent fabulousness. (So Beyonc© meets Martha Stewart, basically.) Darcy declares that on top of all that, an accomplished woman must also be well-learned and love to read. (Okay, Beyonc© meets Martha Stewart meets Marie Curie.)
Granted, Miss Bingley is only saying this because she wants Mr. Darcy to think she herself embodies the Beyonc©-Martha-Marie triad of perfection, but the point remains that women are harder on one another than men ever could be. When Mr. Wickham drops his flirtation with Elizabeth to pursue the more solvent Miss King, do the Bennets blame him for leading on one of their own? No. They excuse his behavior as the practical actions of a man with little fortune while denouncing Miss King as a “nasty little freckled thing.” (Lydia says it, but Elizabeth agrees.) Bet she can’t speak …