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Archive for the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Category

Austen Opera 001Pride and Prejudice, an opera written by Kirke Mechem, will make its debut November 20th-23rd at the Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall, located at historic Mt. Vernon Place in Baltimore. This event is part of the Peabody Opera Theatre, Johns Hopkins University.

I had the privilege of attending a preview at Goucher College last Wednesday. Managing artistic director, Samuel Mungo, explained the origin of the opera (“Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice practically begs to be set to music!”). In the early 20th century, atonal music was all the rage and did not lend itself well to a novel set in the Regency era. Mr. Mechem writes tonal music, which is perfectly suited to Jane Austen’s most famous work.

In his extensive and successful career, Mr. Mechem has written over 250 works, many of which are produced the world over. His three-act opera, Tanuffe, has been performed over 400 times. Songs of the Slave from the opera John Brown had its 100th performance in Boston in 2018. The premiere of Pride and Prejudice the Opera will be held in Baltimore this fall.

During the Goucher College preview, the audience heard 3 songs from the opera. In order, they were:

  1. Claire Cooper and Kyle Dunn as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Wickham

    Claire Cooper & Kyle Dunn. Photo: V. Sanborn

    Wickham’s and Elizabeth Bennet’s first meeting, in which they discuss Mr. Darcy. Wickham’s opinions confirmed Lizzie’s first impression of Darcy. Singers: Claire Cooper and Kyle Dunn

Noted Austen scholar, Juliette Wells, who teaches at Goucher, observed that Mr. Dunn, who sang Mr. Wickham’s role, was wickedly handsome!

 

  1. Claire Cooper and Joshua Scheid as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy

    Claire Cooper & Joshua Scheid. Photo: V. Sanborn

    Darcy expresses his feeling for Elizabeth (much against his good judgment). The scene is dramatic. Bingley has left Jane, due to Mr. Darcy’s influence, and Mr. Darcy explains his actions while declaring his love.

Joshua Scheid, who sang Mr. Darcy’s role, has a strong, assertive voice – one that suits Austen’s hero. Both he and Kyle Dunn (Wickham) sing baritone, so that the men are dramatically matched during their scenes.

  1. 20190918_170600

    Joann Kulesza. Photo: V. Sanborn

    Lizzie reads the letter from Darcy, which explains Wickham’s behavior towards Georgiana and Darcy’s role in saving his sister from Wickham’s machinations.

Joann Kulesza, Music Director of Peabody Opera (right), explained this scene beautifully. Darcy slowly and methodically enunciates his words in the letter as Elizabeth reads it. Her reactions to his explanations are quick, dramatic, and emotional. This scene is quite effective and a delight for Austen fans, who can probably recite the words of the letter to a tee.

After the songs, Dr. Mungo and the singers answered questions from the audience. The opera is a little over 2 hours long, which necessitated drastic cuts to the plot. The Bennets have only three daughters (Mary and Kitty are cut out, as is Jane Bennet’s illness), and the focus is on Darcy’s and Lizzie’s story. While Mr. Bennet is featured, Mrs. Bennet appears more often and has one of the major roles.

The three singers who performed are young, and it was amusing and informative to hear their interpretations of their characters. One had not read P&P before, and two had not read the novel since high school (which was not too long ago). Their characters’ voices are telling. Lizzie is a mezzo-soprano, for she is too sensible to be a soprano. Jane is a soprano and Mr. Bingley a tenor. Their tender hearts are reflected in their voices. Both Darcy and Wickham are baritones, which should create interesting vocal confrontations.

Interestingly, Mr. Collins has a bass-baritone, a voice with a low register. If you read Austen’s description of Mr. Collins, he is a “tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty.” I rather like the choice that Kirke Mechem made for Mr. Collins, as well as for the shrill Mrs. Bennet, who is a high soprano. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a contralto, the lowest female singing voice. I can’t wait to hear the scenes between Lizzie’s mezzo and Lady Catherine’s imperious contralto demands.

The stage sets are still in the design phase, although almost completed. The main part of the stage will be a gazebo with four wings that open or close to represent Netherfield or Longbourn. The set designers are still figuring out how Rosings will look. A garden is also included.

Sketches of the movable wings

Tickets, which are free, will be available October 1: https://peabody.jhu.edu/event/kirke-mechem-pride-and-prejudice/

Kirke Mechem http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/work/43050

Short biography of Kirke Mechem: http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/short-bio/Kirke-Mechem

Peabody Opera Theater Presents Pride and Prejudice: About Samuel Mungo, DMA: https://www.goucher.edu/learn/graduate-programs/sage/programs/pride-and-prejudice

Images published with permission from Samuel Mungo

 

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Much has been said about proper greetings, curtsies, nods, and bows in Jane Austen’s novels, but familiar greetings that occur between close friends and family members are just as fascinating. In fact, a close inspection of the novels reveals more kissing, embracing, and hand-holding than one might first imagine.

Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham." Pride and Prejudice illustration by C.E. Brock (1895), British Library.

Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham.” Pride and Prejudice illustration by C.E. Brock (1895), British Library.

Austen’s own family is described as affectionate by many of her biographers; her letters reveal the same. In her novels, the degree of physical touch and affection (or the lack thereof) shown by her characters and families can provide us with interesting insights.

Pride and Prejudice

In Pride and Prejudice, Austen uses physical touch to offer clues about her characters in several instances. For example, when saying goodbye to Jane and Elizabeth, Miss Bingley embraces Jane and shakes hands with Elizabeth. With these gestures, she communicates her feelings toward Jane and Elizabeth; the narrator aids our further understanding:

“On Sunday, after morning service, the separation, so agreeable to almost all, took place. Miss Bingley’s civility to Elizabeth increased at last very rapidly, as well as her affection for Jane; and when they parted, after assuring the latter of the pleasure it would always give her to see her either at Longbourn or Netherfield, and embracing her most tenderly, she even shook hands with the former. Elizabeth took leave of the whole party in the liveliest of spirits.” (Chapter 12)

Later, when Elizabeth leaves Hunsford, Miss de Bourgh makes an effort at friendliness in her parting: “When they parted, Lady Catherine, with great condescension, wished them a good journey, and invited them to come to Hunsford again next year; and Miss de Bourgh exerted herself so far as to curtsey and hold out her hand to both” (Chapter 37).

After Lydia’s marriage, Mr. Wickham and Elizabeth’s greeting speaks volumes about what she knows and what he suspects she knows: “She held out her hand; he kissed it with affectionate gallantry, though he hardly knew how to look, and they entered the house” (Chapter 52).

These strained greetings and leave-takings stand in stark contrast to the warm affection shown in the Bennet family. For example, Elizabeth greets her little cousins with a kiss when she returns to Longbourn. Even though she’s in a hurry, her greeting provides a glimpse into their normal family interactions:

“The little Gardiners, attracted by the sight of a chaise, were standing on the steps of the house as they entered the paddock; and, when the carriage drove up to the door, the joyful surprise that lighted up their faces, and displayed itself over their whole bodies, in a variety of capers and frisks, was the first pleasing earnest of their welcome. Elizabeth jumped out; and, after giving each of them a hasty kiss, hurried into the vestibule, where Jane, who came running down from her mother’s apartment, immediately met her.” (Chapter 47)

This scene also reveals that the Gardiner children have a wonderful relationship with their parents and cousin. They’re so full of joy that they’re unable to hold still. Even their movements show their enthusiasm.

Furthermore, Austen uses physical touch to illustrate special fondness between the other Bennet family members. When Elizabeth speaks to Mr. Bennet about her family’s reputation, Mr. Bennet reaches for her hand, in a moment of seriousness, and comforts her:

“Mr. Bennet saw that her whole heart was in the subject, and affectionately taking her hand said in reply: ‘Do not make yourself uneasy, my love. Wherever you and Jane are known you must be respected and valued; and you will not appear to less advantage for having a couple of—or I may say, three—very silly sisters’” (Chapter 41).

Elizabeth and Jane embrace when they are in great trial: “Elizabeth, as she affectionately embraced her, whilst tears filled the eyes of both, lost not a moment in asking whether anything had been heard of the fugitives” (Chapter 47). And again, when they are extremely happy: “Jane could have no reserves from Elizabeth, where confidence would give pleasure; and instantly embracing her, acknowledged, with the liveliest emotion, that she was the happiest creature in the world” (Chapter 55).

When Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth first meet as future brother and sister, there is genuine affection and joy on both sides:

“He then shut the door, and, coming up to her, claimed the good wishes and affection of a sister. Elizabeth honestly and heartily expressed her delight in the prospect of their relationship. They shook hands with great cordiality; and then, till her sister came down, she had to listen to all he had to say of his own happiness, and of Jane’s perfections…” (Chapter 55)

Finally, Jane kisses Mr. Bennet when he gives his permission for her to marry Mr. Bingley: “[H]e turned to his daughter, and said: ‘Jane, I congratulate you. You will be a very happy woman.’ Jane went to him instantly, kissed him, and thanked him for his goodness” (Chapter 55). It’s easy to see how much it pleases Mr. Bennet to see his daughter happy and how much it pleases Jane to make her father happy.

We find examples of kissing and embracing in each of Austen’s novels. Some of her novels have multiple instances and others have very few, depending on the families in question and how they tend to interact with one another. Austen uses these interactions to create a warmer or cooler atmosphere in each family and relationship.

These are just a few scenes from Pride and Prejudice. I’m sure you can think of others. What do these examples say to you about the characters in Pride and Prejudice?

________

Rachel Dodge is a regular contributor to Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is a college English professor and the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can find her online at www.RachelDodge.com, on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/kindredspiritbooks/, or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/racheldodgebooks/.

 

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I’ve just discovered the beneficial qualities of chamomile tea. This was quite by accident. I suspect I might be developing an allergy to food, specifically tomatoes or onions or spicy foods containing these ingredients. I only know that for weeks I’ve been subjected to frequent stomach and intestinal upsets and so I began to search for tried and true methods of relief. As a Janeite I asked: “What would Jane have done?”

Women during the Georgian era, including the Austen women, made their own medicinal remedies for all sorts of ailments. Many recipes were handed down in the family over the generations, others were acquired in Cookery Books.

chamomile2

Thumbnail image from Cup & Leaf

One common easy-to-make remedy for an assortment of ills was herbal tea or tisane. I looked up information online, found teas that aided digestion, then checked my tea shelf and found four of the suggested herbal teas for indigestion: chamomile tea, green tea, ginger tea, and hibiscus tea. (There are more.)

I chose the chamomile as being a likely candidate, for I like the taste. After a few days my indigestion largely calmed down. According to the Dictionary of 18th Century Herb Usage from Chadds Ford Historical Society,

Chamomile [is] infused as a tea for indigestion, gas, and stomach aches. Also used as a strewing herb and insect repellent.” Link to  Dictionary of 18th Century Herb Usage PDF doc

In European records, medicinal use of Chamomile was practiced for centuries.

Ancient physicians prescribed herbal teas regularly to aid in digestion and help relieve symptoms of the common cold and flu. Before the advent of cold medicines and antibiotics, herbal teas were often the only way to treat illnesses.” – Greek Mountain Tea, Chamomile, and Fennel

Chamomile tea is commonly infused from a plant known as Matricaria recutita. The tea is made from the dried flower, not the stems and leaves. The brew is delicate and yellowish and has a lovely floral or fruity aroma. It is often flavored with mint leaves or shaved fresh ginger, but I like it plain. Three cups a day did the trick.

Image of Bingleys teas, chamomile flowers, and favorite teapot/cup

A product description for “Compassion for Mrs. Bennet’s Nerves” on Bingley’s Teas can be seen on my large monitor screen. Chamomile flowers screenshot sits on my laptop (love my standing desk). Sitting on the top ledge are my favorite tea pot/cup and an annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice (I recommend the DK Illustrated Classic edition for newcomers to the Jane Austen oeuvre, like my sister-in-law). Image by Vic Sanborn.

The tea’s success in reducing my symptoms prompted me to research 18th century recipes. So far I’ve had no success, but that means nothing (there should be references that a dedicated researcher would find). I also looked up to see if Jane Austen mentioned the brew in her letters, but found no references. Still, the flower, which looks like a daisy, is common in Europe and easy to grow in an herb garden. One cannot help but surmise that Mrs. Austen and her two daughters knew exactly how to make a cuppa with freshly harvested chamomile flowers.

Cropped illustration of Mrs. Bennet by Hugh Thompson

Hugh Thompson illustration

While I could not find references to Jane’s having made chamomile tea (its properties, aside from soothing intestinal ailments include reducing anxiety, tension, and headaches and promoting sleep), I did find this delightful product description by Bingley’s Teas for a modern tea named “Compassion for Mrs. Bennet’s Nerves.”  

At last there is compassion for what poor Mrs. Bennet suffers with her nerves! A tisane of chamomile, peppermint, passion flower, rosehips, and lavender, sooth the most agitated of moments in a delicious cup. We recommend a touch of local honey for added bliss!”

As for chamomile tea’s efficacy,

The National Institutes of Health funded a study at the University of Pennsylvania on people with generalized anxiety disorder where the anxiety interferes with their lives. Chamomile was shown to to have promising results in reducing the participants’ anxiety.” – The Tea Maestro

Sources:

  • Greek Mountain Tea, Chamomile, and Fennel, October 4, 2016, The National Herald, click on this link. 
  • Introduction to chamomile, PDF document from abc.herbalgram.org. Click on this link.
  • Tea Time at Reverie: Compassion For Mrs. Bennet’s Nerves Herbal Tea from Bingley’s Teas, pA bibliophile’s Reverie. Click on this link.
  • The Health Benefits of Chamomile Tea, The Tea Maestro. Click on this link.
  • How to Make Chamomile Tea: 5 Recipes From Simple Tea to a Hot Toddy, Cup & Leaf. Click on this link.
  • Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future, Janmejai K Srivastava, Eswar Shankar,and Sanjay Gupta, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 11-1-2010. Click on this link.

 

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13 vignettes 1790 rowlandson

Image, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

I love this 1790 hand-colored etching by Thomas Rowlandson from the Royal Collection Trust, which depicts 12 vignettes of everyday life and work in Georgian England. Sketches like these offer us a glimpse of ordinary life in the 18th century, much as photos and videos today. These vignettes are drawn from life, and unlike the serious, well-thought out poses of formal portraits, they show people of a bygone era going about their ordinary business.

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen wrote of the militia visiting Meryton and Brighton. In her day, soldiers were encamped throughout Great Britain, ready to go to war at a moment’s notice or defend the homeland from invasions. Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, and Kitty were enamored with the smart bright uniforms of officers, who they regarded as quite the catch. The men passing through town provided new faces as well as relief from the routine of village life, for village folk (most of whom rarely traveled beyond the confines of their counties) moved in small and familiar social circles, for better or worse. (Mrs. Elton, anyone?)

new recruits

A soldier assessing new recruits for the army

The well-fed officer above assesses new recruits, who are obviously not officer material. One imagines that their lives in the army will not be as cushy as Captain Denny’s or Mr. Wickham’s, and that they would perform the most plebeian tasks.

A woman driving a phaeton

A woman driving a phaeton

High perch phaetons were the race cars of their day and a status of wealth. It is obvious that this woman is a skilled driver, but her escort remains close at hand to ensure her safety.

detail

Detail of the driver with her mannish driving habit, which was created by a tailor, not a seamstress.

Increasingly throughout this century, women were allowed to marry for love, but ensuring one’s future as a wife could be a risky business. What if she married for love and her husband turned out to be a ne’er-do-well, barely able to support his family, as with Fanny Price’s father? Aristocratic women had no choice but to follow family dictates in order maintain the family’s status or improve their fortune. Other families sought to move up social ranks through their daughter’s mate. One wonders  in the image below if the young woman is married to her escort … or if she is simply taking a stroll with her father or uncle? We can only guess.

Couple walking. Father and daughter? Or old man with his young bride?

Couple walking. Father and daughter? Or old man with his young bride?

The trio below seems to be promenading along a street (or park). The women look chic in their walking outfits, the younger one wearing a hat with feathers and carrying a fan; the older woman, no doubt, making sure that her charge’s reputation remains spotless. Jane Austen began writing Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice at the end of the 18th century, when these garments were fashionable. It’s one of the many reasons why we glimpse such a variety of costumes in various Austen film adaptations. In creating movie costumes, some costume designers choose the era in which Austen wrote the first drafts of those early novels; others choose to dress their actresses in the filmy empire gowns that were popular when the books were published.

4_1790

A solder escorting two women. Is the older woman on the right the mother of the younger woman he is courting, or her governess?

Taking tea was not as formalized a ceremony at the end of the 18th century as it would become later during the 19th century. Tea was quite an expensive commodity, kept under lock and key by the mistress of the house. At Chawton Cottage, Jane was in charge of the tea chest and making tea in the morning. Servants often brewed tea from leaves that had been used by their betters, thereby imbibing a much weaker beverage.

A tea party

A tea party

In this group, the hostess at right dispenses the tea one guest at a time, which her footman delivers to each in turn, with the ladies having been served first. It is an afternoon tea, for the ladies are not dressed for the evening. Mrs and Miss Bates would have been often invited to tea to Hartfield, but rarely to dine, a privilege reserved for more exalted guests, like Mr. Knightley. This was just the way of the world.

An equestrienne about to go on a ride

An equestrian about to go on a ride

It is hard to tell if this young woman is about to ride in Hyde Park or in the country. For both instances, she is suitably dressed.

Sewing, woman's work

An industrious woman sewing

One can only imagine how boring the daily routine was for the average Georgian woman, whose life was constrained by society’s strictures and who was not allowed to “work” for a living. Woman’s work consisted of sewing, overseeing the kitchens, or, as in Mrs. Austen’s case, actively taking a part in cooking, and making wines and preserves. While many ladies of the house did not sully their hands in the kitchen, they actively collected recipes, which they passed down to their cooks. On an interesting note, while tailors made men’s clothes, they did not sew the shirts. This task was left to the women, who hand-stitched shirts for their men and made clothing for their babies and the poor.  Jane and Cassandra Austen often made shirts for their brothers, a fact mentioned in letters.

A well-dressed couple

Flirtation: A well-dressed man peers at a woman through his eye-glass. She is without an escort and seems to encourage his perusal.

The image above causes me to believe that the woman being ogled may not be entirely suitable for polite company, or she may well be a widow who cares not a fig about her reputation. Her companion is openly eyeing her through his eye glass. To be sure, they might well be standing in the Pump Room in Bath, where they would be surrounded by a crowd of people. Can you imagine Lizzy Bennet holding still under such scrutiny? Methinks not.

A musical interlude

A musical interlude with two ladies.

Entertainment was left to professional performers, many of whom roamed from town to town, and to talented family members. One can imagine how quiet and uneventful life in the country must have been! Had Emma liked Jane Fairfax, this scene could have shown Jane playing the pianoforte as Emma sang. Women in general contributed much to a family’s entertainment.  Jane Austen wrote comedic plays in her younger years (and made up fanciful stories for her nieces and nephews as a spinster), and her mother wrote poetry. Lady Catherine de Bourgh would have been a proficient if she had ever bothered to apply herself to the pianoforte (Hah!). Modest Elizabeth Bennet considered her musical skills merely pedestrian, although Mr. Darcy was charmed by her efforts. Marianne Dashwood probably found an outlet for her passions while at the pianoforte. Austen characterized her heroines by their talents. Instead of energetically joining the family during impromptu dances, mousy Anne Elliot made herself useful at the instrument. Mary Crawford’s extraordinary talents with the harp made Edmund Bertram fall even more in love with her, whereas poor Mary Bennet committed one social faux pas after another by failing to understand that her musical talents were painful to witness.

An outing

An outing in the country

Emma’s planned outing to Box Hill was no doubt accompanied by servants, who carried the food, plates, and cutlery and laid out the repast for the party. In this scene, it seems that the soldiers performed the offices of serving the food to the ladies. Except for the boatman, I can find no evidence of servants, unless they are assembled inside the tent, which makes no sense. One soldier plays the flute to his companion, another couple promenades as they talk. A group sits on a blanket, finishing their repast and drinking wine or ale.

Detail

Detail of the tent, inside and out

A dog sleeps peacefully among the assembly and a female guest rests while leaning against the tent. Inside, a man sits at a table. It must have taken some effort to transport all that food and equipment, and I wonder if this was done via the boat and river earlier in the day as the rest of the party walked from the country house (visible in the background) to the picnic site. One thing is for certain, Rowlandson’s contemporaries would have known first-hand how such a picnic was contrived.

detail

Detail of the riverside, with a country house in the background.

A foppish gentleman in the image below examines a bill, while the inn keeper (?) looks on and a servant carries his case. This image must have been duplicated at many roadside inns and coach houses, and would not be unusual today. This scene was labeled “exchanging” money, which explains the merchant’s/innkeeper’s outstretched hand.

Arrival at an inn, or examining his accounts?

Arrival at an inn, or examining his accounts?

The man below is peering through a telescope at … what? A balloon ascent? Birds? A boat on the horizon? Curious minds want to know.

Bird watching or gazing at ships along the sea shore?

Bird watching or gazing at ships along the seashore?

The last scene depicts vendors selling their wares, either from a stall, from containers on the pavement, or from baskets attached to donkeys. A variety of shoppers, some better dressed than others, are shown examining goods or purchasing items.

Market scene

Street vendors

Our moderns sensibilities are struck by the unhygienic way that food was sold by street vendors back then. There were no disposable plates, so one can only assume that used plates and cups were merely wiped with a wet cloth before food was ladled out to serve another diner. Many individuals lived in small one or two room “apartments” that had no kitchens. For them, eating street food was common … if they had the money.

Street food

Street food

detail

Detail of vendors with donkeys

Items of clothing seem to be sold in the stall, while bulk food (potatoes, grain?) is carried by the donkeys. When the Austen family moved from Steventon to Bath, their diets changed drastically, for they had to depend on food purchased at local markets. They had grown their own vegetables in the country, and owned a cow and a few chickens and pigs. In Steventon, the Austen family could largely eat off the bounty of their land, stretching their budget, but in Bath they depended on food carted in from surrounding farms and milk from anemic city cows who lived in dank stalls and were put out to pasture in public parks. Purchased food was often doctored, and it was almost impossible to eat fresh seafood, unless one lived near the coast. For many reasons, including the matter of finding fresh and affordable food, Jane Austen must have been in shock the entire time she lived in Bath.

More about the image:

Creator: Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) (etcher)
Creation Date:
27 Jun 1790
Materials:
Hand-coloured etching
Dimensions:
38.5 x 28.0 cm
RCIN
810396

Description:
A hand-coloured print with 12 vignettes of everyday life and work. Included in the designs are: Assessing new recruits for the army; carriage driving; promenading; a tea party; horse-riding; a woman with needlework; flirtation; a woman playing the harpsichord whilst another woman sings; a picnic by a river; a man looking through a telescope; an exchange of money between one man and another man and street vendors. Plate 7.

Inscribed in the plate: Pub June 27 1790 by S.W. Fores N 3 Piccadilly. Click here to go to The Royal Collection.

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Part One of this four-part series left me salivating to meet Darcy’s aunt, for up to now we have experienced her only through Mr. Collins’s observations, which, the astute reader has come to surmise, MUST be suspect. After Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s daughter Anne stops by to visit Hunsford in her carriage, Charlotte announces to the group that they are invited to dine at Rosings. Even if Mrs. Collins hadn’t opened her mouth, Lizzy would have realized that something was up, what with an ecstatic Mr. Collins performing cartwheels and Irish jigs in the background and his chest puffed up with so much consequence and triumph that he nearly topples over from imbalance.

He cannot stop gloating about Lady CdeBs graciousness and affability, and pops up here and there like a Regency era whack-a-mole as the ladies and Sir William Lucas prepare for their walk to Rosings, constantly admonishing them with  – “Lady CdeB wants this” – ” Lady CdeB expects that” – ” Lady CdeB says” — until he has Sir William and his daughter Maria quaking in their boots and practically passed out from fear.

Only Lizzy remains unperturbed. Mere stateliness of money or rank do not overly impress her, and this is one of the many reasons why this heroine, conceived in the late 18th century, retains her appeal over two hundred years after her conception. Her attitude is so modern that we readily understand the motives of this educated, independent-minded woman, who, despite having some serious socio-economic cards stacked against her (she has no legal rights under British law and her dowry is but a mere pittance), refuses to buckle under pressure or kowtow to Society’s dictates. Unlike many fictional heroines of her day, she will chance fate and wait for a man she can respect AND love. You go girl!

Much to our chagrin, Jane Austen continues to delay that first meeting between Lizzy and Mr. Collins’s benefactress. Jane first takes us over hill and dale to enjoy the beautiful vistas and prospects and forces us to listen to more of Mr. Collins’s blathering until we readers begin to skim-read with impatience. Then Rosings comes into view and Jane swiftly takes us inside the manse’s impressive entrance hall and to the room where Lady CdeB receives her visitors (the Hunsford party and us). Our hostess rises to greet us with great condescension and for a second we wonder if she might not be all that Mr. Collins promised. Much to our delight, the lady is MORE than was advertised. (Thank you, thank you, Ms. Austen.). Lizzy calmly  takes in the scene and inspects Lady CdeB.

Lady Catherine was a tall, large woman, with strongly-marked features, which might once have been handsome. Her air was not conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them such as  to make her visitors forget their inferior rank.”

Lady CdeB much as I envision her in her younger years. Painting by Gainsborough.

Lady CdeB much as I envision her in her younger years: Haughty and Handsome. Painting by Gainsborough.

In fact, the lady’s demeanor brought everything Mr. Wickham had said about her to Lizzy’s mind. Undaunted, Lizzy turns her inquisitive gaze upon the daughter, in whose pale, sickly, Gollum-like features and timid presence she finds nothing remarkable. Her inner bad-girl is immensely satisfied that such a mousy specimen is destined to become Mr. Darcy’s bride.

While Lizzy scarcely bats an eye at the sight of Lady CdeB, Sir William  is unable to speak, his tongue cleaving  to the dry roof of his mouth, while Maria is seriously considering rolling over and playing dead. Lady CdeB is more than happy to show off her silver and fine plate and chef’s talents to this humble group, for “the dinner was exceedingly handsome. ” This is about as detailed a description of outer appearances as Jane Austen ever gives. We have no idea of what the guests wore, what dishes were served, and how many servants were in attendance. Such details are unimportant in the grand scheme of Jane’s masterful study of the human character.

Mr. Collins is completely in his element, scraping and bowing and prattling while carving the meat, an honor he finds so great that  it has eliminated any vestige of restraint. As he babbles nonstop, Sir William, having recovered his severe case of nerves, echoes the unfiltered stream of utterances. Lady CdeB laps up their compliments without a sense of irony.  No Mr. Bennet she!

Lizzy, meanwhile, sits unnoticed on the side and twiddles her thumbs, waiting for an opening in the conversation. This fails to come, for Lady CdeB is too busy relating the opinions of “Me, Myself, and I”, an overpowering and determined trio intent on delivering their viewpoint on every subject.

In the drawing room Lady CdeB continues her one-sided discussions, giving Charlotte advice on all matters pertaining to  household management, including the care of her poultry and cows, of all things. Then, just before poor Lizzy falls asleep from boredom, the Lady zeroes in on our heroine, firing off a series of questions.

  • How many sisters do you have?
  • Are they younger or older?
  • Are they handsome?
  • Any chance of them marrying soon?
  • Are they educated as a young lady ought to be?
  • What is your mother’s maiden name?
  • What year and make is your father’s carriage?

Lizzy hides her outrage but feels all the impertinence of this inquiry. Lady CdeB attempts to rattle her again. “Your father’s estate is entailed on Mr. Collins,” she drops, before abruptly switching the topic. Seasoned interrogators use this technique to catch their subjects off guard, but our Lizzy remains unflappable:

“Do you play and sing, Miss Bennet?”

“A little.”

“Do your sisters play and sing?”

“One of them does.” (Mary. Hah!)

Undeterred, Lady CdeB keeps  the chandeliers spotlighted over Lizzy’s head and continues her inquisition:

You ought all to have learned, the Miss Webbs all play.”

Still trying to rattle Lizzy’s chain, she resorts to insulting Mrs. Bennet’s mothering skills. The reader guffaws from the irony of it all.

“What, you don’t draw? Strange, but your mother should have taken you to town for the benefit of masters.”

“No Governess! How is that possible. You must have been neglected.”

And on and on she goes. Elizabeth plasters a polite smile on her face and refuses to cower. I recall reading this passage with the speed of a Ferrari on an open road  racing to the finish. I so enjoyed the heady ride Jane Austen was taking us on that I had to read how it ended as swiftly as possible! (In fact, I finished my first reading of P&P in one sitting, then reread it a short time later, slowly savoring each word.)

Lady CdeB asks one more question —

Are any of your younger sisters OUT, Miss Bennet?”

“Yes, ma’am, ALL.”

“ALL?!!” You could have thrown the feathers on top of Lady CdeB’s aristocratic head for a loop when Lizzy calmly explains the fairness of her mother’s decision.  “You give your opinion decidedly for so young a person, ” she sniffs, but the reader already knows the score:

Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn, One

Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings, Zilch

GO TEAM LIZZY!”

After this scene one can only conclude that Lost in Austen got it right when the series transported Elizabeth Bennet to the future and had her land on her feet,  embracing smart phones, automated teller machines, and iPads as if to the Internet born. In this time travel fantasy series the viewer can readily imagine Jane’s prototype of a modern heroine wanting to free herself from the restraints of her era. In my estimation, Lost in Austen lost its way when it followed the story line of boring Amanda Price discovering life in the past in favor of Lizzy’s more interesting journey into the future.

As for Lady CdeB, I will next examine her as a Proficient. Read Part One of the Lady CdeB series here.

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