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Elizabeth Bennet information from the Jane Austen Centre

Jennifer Ehle

Elizabeth Bennet

Jennifer EhleElizabeth Bennet, or Lizzy Bennet, or Eliza, is the main character of the Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice (1813). She is a witty young girl of twenty with dark eyes and hair. Elizabeth Bennet is the second of five sisters and resides in a small house called Longbourn outside the town of Meryton. Her closest companions are her eldest sister Jane Bennet and her friend Charlotte Lucas. ElizabethBennet is closest to her father, she is his favourite daughter and he tries to look out for her as best he can. Her other sisters are Mary, Lydia and Kitty. She has no fortune of her own and her welfare depends on the wealth of her marriage. Pride and Prejudice is the story of how Elizabeth Bennet meets and falls in love with Mr. Darcy, a wealthy man who could solve all her problems of fortune. Elizabeth loves to laugh at the folly of others and is a bright energetic girl. She also has in her character a tendency to judge others on first appearance. This is how she establishes Mr. Darcy as a proud, hateful man and what guides her in her trust of the charming and handsome militiaman, Mr. Wickham.
Elizabeth Bennet receives three a proposals of marriage in the course of the novel. The first is from her distant cousin Mr. Collins, who is to inherit her family’s estate. He is a very foolish, ridiculous man and she flatly refuses him. The second two are from Mr. Darcy who first applies for her hand in a way that asks for her favour while at the same time insulting her family and low social status. She refuses him too after pointing out the flaws in his offer of marriage. In this way Elizabeth Bennet is thought of as a modern girl. Women in the eighteenth century were not supposed to have opinions. They were supposed to be pleasant to look at and conduct pleasant conversations. Elizabeth Bennet is headstrong, lively, and never holds back to defend herself or her relations. This is the character of a modern heroine who stands up to injustice and fights for what she wants.
There have been five direct film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet has been portrayed by Kiera Knightly, Jennifer Ehle, Greer Garson and Elizabeth Garvie. The modern takes of the story include a Bollywood version called Bride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary where Renee Zellweger is the modern Lizzie Bennet.
Useful Sources:
2005 Adaptation of Pride and Prejudice
BBC version of Pride and Prejudice 1995

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Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte wearing a double strand pearl choker.

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, by Quinçon

“She possessed the pure Grecian contour; her head was exquisitely formed, her forehead fair and shapely, her eyes large and dark, with an expression of tenderness that did not belong to her character; and the delicate loveliness of her mouth and chin, the soft bloom of her complexion, together with her beautifully rounded shoulders and tapering arms, combined to form one of the loveliest of women.”
-quote about Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, by an unknown admirer

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte was born Baltimore, Maryland,  February 6 1785, the eldest of 13 children .  Known as “Betsy”,  she was the daughter of a Baltimore, Maryland merchant, the first wife of Jérôme Bonaparte, and sister-in-law of Emperor Napoleon I of France.

Elizabeth’s father, William Patterson, had been born in Ireland and came to North America prior to the American Revolutionary War. He was a Catholic, and the wealthiest man in Maryland after Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. Elizabeth’s brother, Robert, married Carroll’s granddaughter, Marianne Caton (but more on her later…)

How they met is a mystery,  but Elizabeth and Jérôme Bonaparte (at the time 18 and 20, respectively) were married on December 24, 1803, at a ceremony presided over by John Carroll, the Archbishop of Baltimore. Betsy quickly became known for her “risqué” taste in fashion, starting with her wedding dress.

Elizabeth Patterson's Wedding Dress, described as a dress so small that it “would fit easily into a gentleman’s pocket.” Image courtesy of MET

Jérôme’s brother Napoleon ordered him back to France and demanded that the marriage be annulled. Jérôme ignored Napoleon’s initial demand that he return to France without his wife. When Napoleon threatened to imprison him, Elizabeth’s brother rushed to France to intervene, but nothing would change the mind of the French dictator who had far grander plans for his brother than some American socialite.

When James Madison and even Tallyrand could do nothing about the situation, Jérôme and a pregnant Betsy attempted to travel to France. It was the fall of 1804 and they hoped to arrive in time for Napoleon’s coronation, but a number of false starts delayed them. When they finally arrived, Elizabeth was denied permission to set foot in continental Europe by order of Napoleon. Jérôme traveled to Italy in an attempt to reason with his brother, writing to his wife,

“My good wife, have faith in your husband. The worst that could happen now would be for us to have to live quietly in some foreing country….My dearest Elisa, I will do everything that must be done.”

After remaining in limbo, unable to disembark in either France or the Netherlands, Betsy made her way to England, where she gave birth to a son on July 7, 1805, at 95 Camberwell Grove, Camberwell, London.

She would never see her husband again. Jérôme, threatened with loss of rank and title, and being forced to account for his staggering debt, gave in to his brother, returned to the French Navy, and was created 1st Prince of Montfort and King of Westphalia, which he ruled from 1807 until 1813. The Pope had refused to allow a divorce or annul his marriage to Elizabeth, but that did not stop Napoleon– the man who crowned himself emperor–from dissolving it himself, and forcing his young brother to marry a German princess Catharina of Württemberg.

Jérôme Bonaparte, King of Westphalia and Queen Catharina

Once king of Westphalia, his lavish lifestyle and constant philandering brought censure and as Napoleon’s hold on the empire fragmented, Jérôme’s fortunes fell as well. Eventually, he had two more children with his German wife, before marrying an Italian widow. His final placement came as governor of Les Invalides, Paris, the burial place of his lauded brother.

As King of Westphalia, Jérôme offered Elizabeth a home within his dominions, with the title of Princess of Smalcalden and a pension of two hundred thousand francs per year. In regard to the former, she replied that Westphalia was a large kingdom, but not quite large enough for two queens, and with regard to the pension, having already accepted Napoleon’s annuity of sixty thousand francs, she made the oft-quoted response that she preferred “being sheltered under the wing of an eagle to being suspended from the bill of a goose.” Famous American Belles of the Nineteenth Century, Virginia Tatnall Peacock, K. B. Lippincott Company, 1901

Betsy returned to Baltimore with her son, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, called “Bo” by his mother, and lived with her father while she continued to flaunt her royal connection and skimpy attire. After the Battle of Waterloo, she returned to Europe, She styled herself “Madame Bonaparte”. Here, she was well received in the most exclusive circles and much admired for her beauty and wit.

In 1815, by special Act of the Legislature of Maryland, she at last secured a divorce. Her last years were spent in Baltimore in the management of her estate, the value of which she increased to $1.5 million. Betsy died in the midst of a court battle over whether the state of Maryland could tax her out of state bonds. The case reached the Supreme Court (Bonaparte v. Tax Court, 104 U.S. 592) where the Court decided in favor of Maryland.  She is buried in the Greenmount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland.

Her grandson, Charles Joseph Bonaparte, served as United States Secretary of the Navy and United States Attorney General. He founded the precursor of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1908.

Marianne Caton and Richard Wellesley, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, at Dublin Castle, 1826.

Ironically, Betsy’s brother’s widow, Marianne (Caton) Patterson, married Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, older brother of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. The Caton sisters, born to the wealthiest man in Maryland (and the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, who built what he claimed was “the most English house in America” ) were social climbers in the extreme. Of this six marriages made by the four sisters (Marianne, Bess, Louisa and Emily) three of them were to titled English nobility. Like the Irish Lennox sisters, a generation before, these heiresses, to quote a Carroll cousin, had the privilege ,  “[Had] the liberty of refusing those we don’t like, but not of selecting those we do.” Obviously, they, like so many American heiresses to come, liked titles and land, however entailed the estate might be.

That two women, so closely related to an orchestrator of the American Revolution should marry a Bonaparte and a Wellesley– that their respective brothers-in-law should be arch enemies and international heroes, seems beyond believing , but as they say, “truth is stranger than fiction”. The stories of these amazing ladies have been told both in print and on film. Biographies include, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: An American Aristocrat in the Early Republic and  Sisters of Fortune: America’s Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad.   The story of Elizabeth and Jérôme’s marriage and annulment is the basis for the 1908 play Glorious Betsy by Rida Johnson Young and the two film adaptations, Glorious Betsy (1928) and Hearts Divided (1936). She was portrayed by Dolores Costello in the former and by Marion Davies in the latter. The episode “Duty” of the Hornblower television series features Elizabeth and Jérôme trying to land in France and the diplomatic difficulties.



Information from:


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The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After: A Review

The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After

In her book, The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, Elizabeth Kantor asks the question, “Just what is it about Jane Austen that has us coming back year after year, decade after decade, making her by far the most famous female writer of her time. Why DO we read Jane Austen?” It’s more than just wanting a good read or to be part of a perfect world, set apart in time. She theorizes that “We wish we could be Jane Austen heroines in our own lives, dealing with everything—especially men—with the sophistication and competence we admire in characters like Elizabeth Bennet. Women see something in Jane Austen  that’s missing from modern relationships, and we can’t help wondering if there might be some way to have what we see there—without going back to empire waistlines, horse-drawn carriages, and the bad old days before the Married Women’s Property Act.”

“I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness”
-Elizabeth Bennet

My mother’s favorite axiom is, “Your attitude is your choice”. After researching all of Jane’s work, using not only her six published novels, but also the fragments, Juvenilia and surviving letters, Kantor has come to a similar conclusion. Your happiness—or lack thereof, is the result of your own choices in life. Sure, we can be dealt situations less than idyllic—not everyone can be born a gentleman’s daughter in Hertfordshire, but the first question she would have us ask of ourselves is whether or not we are acting in the pursuit of long term happiness. Not the “of course I want to be happy” kind of happiness, but the “Will this choice (boyfriend, relationship, marriage) contribute to long term, lasting happiness?” Here, she contrasts the life styles of Lydia Bennet, who lives for the thrill of the moment, and Elizabeth, who weighs her choices in light of the effect they will have on her future. By consciously choosing happiness (over immediate gratification, or even instant security—think Charlotte  Lucas) Kantor proposes that we have made the first step in shedding modern cynicism about happiness in general and in taking control of our future.

This may free you to release a long over relationship, or begin a new one. It will certainly cause you to begin being responsible for your own choices, looking ahead at the consequences of each one and choosing whether or not they are in line with future you want for yourself.

“How despicably have I acted!” she cried. — “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! — I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. — How humiliating is this discovery! — Yet, how just a humiliation! –I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”
-Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Each one of Austen’s heroines reached a crisis point in which she was unsure of her own actions or behavior, and each one had to evaluate whether or not she would continue the path she was on or choose to turn back and change her way of dealing with life. For some, this meant metamorphical thinking, for others, like Anne Elliot and Elinor Dashwood, it reaffirmed the correctness of their original behavior. By choosing to change or stay the course, each one of us becomes responsible for our own, ultimate happiness in life.

Kantor’s book is divided into sixteen easy to read chapters (I devoured it in one sitting!) with titles including  In Love, Look for Happiness, Work on All your Relationships, Jane Austen’s Skeleton Keys to a Man’s Potential, The Real, Original “Rules”, and Arrange Your Own Marriage—In the Most Pleasant Manner Possible. Each chapter pulls scenarios from not only the Austen canon, but also from pop culture, news headlines and even Kantor’s own relationship history, and ends with three bulleted sections: “Adopt and Austen Attitude” (take a minute for Jane Austen-style “serious reflection”) “What would Jane Do?” and “If We Really Want to Bring Back Jane Austen…” Also sprinkled among the pages are “Tips just for Janeites”; catchy summaries of each section, like “Drama is not the same thing as Love”. Additional essays, such as “Choose Your Entertainment Carefully—And Notice What It’s Doing to You” and “A Jane Austen Heroine in the Twenty-First Century” can be found augmenting select chapters. An impressive Appendix, exhaustive Chapter Notes and Index finish my edition of this book.

Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he told her of feelings, which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.
–Pride and Prejudice

All in all, I didn’t know what to expect when I opened this book, so I was delighted to find it a well-researched, entertaining read that still packed a punch. Kantor’s top advice to women might be summarized by saying, “Grow up! Take responsibility for your own happiness. Work on all your relationships. Don’t sit around waiting for “Mr. Darcy” to sweep you off your feet—be worth sweeping for! Don’t sell yourself cheaply.” This book is aimed at single women desiring long term/marriage relationships. It realizes however, that that may not be the outcome for each reader. Does that mean that you have no chance at “Happily Ever After”? Absolutely not.

Jane Austen, as far as we can tell, lived life by the same code of conduct she instilled in each of her heroines. She may not have been as instantly eloquent as Elizabeth Bennet or as supremely self-controlled as Elinor Dashwood, but neither was she willing to settle for less that complete happiness in marriage. Did she then live an unfulfilled and dull life? Of course not. After all, happiness is a choice.

I think my mother would approve.

Elizabeth Kantor is author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature and an editor for Regnery Publishing. An avid Jane Austen fan, she is happily married and lives with her husband and son in Maryland, USA.

  • RRP: £16.99
  • Hardcover: 304 pages (also available for the Kindle)
  • Publisher: Regnery Publishing (19 April 2012)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1596987847
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596987845



Laura Boyle runs Austentation: Regency Accessories. Her book, Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, is available from the Jane Austen Centre Giftshop. Visit Austentation for a large range of custom made hats, bonnets, reticules and Jane Austen related items.

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Free Iphone App

Jane Austen App


Jane Austen App
The Free Jane Austen App.

How odd that an 18th century author finds her work being promoted and enjoyed via the medium of 21st century technology.

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath has been busy working on an Iphone app which will deliver a witty or meaningful quote from Jane Austen’s novels or letters to your phone every day.

These quotes, compiled over the past 6 months are as relevant to life today as they were in the C18th! Jane Austen speaks of love, marriage and friendship. Here are some examples that may chime with you;

“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.” Pride and Prejudice

“I do not like to have people throw themselves away; but everybody should marry as soon as they can do it to advantage.” Mansfield Park

“To flatter and follow others, without being flattered and followed in turn, is but a state of half enjoyment.” Persuasion

“A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment.” Pride and Prejudice

“I think very highly of the understanding of all the women in the world — especially of those — whoever they may be — with whom I happen to be in company.” Northanger Abbey

The app is free and can be found at the appstore by searching for Jane Austen Centre.

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Account of Joseph Paisley: ‘The Celebrated Gretna-Green Parson’


You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise to-morrow morning, as soon as I am missed.

I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel.

I should never be happy without him, so think it no harm to be off.

You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater when I write to them and sign my name Lydia Wickham.
What a good joke it will be!
Pride and Prejudice

This account of the life of Joseph Paisley (with an etched Likeness), styled as ‘The Celebrated Gretna-Green Parson’, appeared in the Lady’s Magazine, or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated solely to their Use and Amusement, May, 1811, as a letter to the editor.

To the Editor of the Lady’s Magazine

I inclose you an Account (from the Carlisle Journal) of the Gretna-Green Parson, who died a few days ago, as also an etching, which is an excellent likeness, and was taken some years ago, by a neighbouring country lad, without the knowledge of the Parson; he not being willing to sit for such a purpose. If you think them worth publishing, they are at your service. In addition to the printed account, I can assure you that, about eighteen months ago, in the presence of a friend of mine, who called upon him, (although in the afternoon, and having previously drank a great deal, as usual) he swallowed seventeen glasses of raw brandy.
I am, &c.

Kirkandrews, near Carlisle,
January 26th, 1811

In a subsequent letter, Mr. Norman informs us that the young man who took the likeness (Robert Nixon, now some time dead) never published it, but only struck off a few impressions for his own amusement, and that of his friends.—He adds, that the report (noticed in our January Magazine) of the Parson’s having been a blacksmith, is erroneous.)

Joseph Paisley, of coupling celebrity, was born on the borders of England, in the year 1728, or 1729, at the obscure hamlet of Lenoxtown, about a mile distant from Gretna-Green; at which place, and at Springfield (its immediate neighbour) the subject of this memoir had, for half a century, continued to weld together the chains of matrimony, and to render happy or miserable great multitudes of anxious lovers,—Early in life, Paisley was bound apprentice to a tobacconist; but, becoming disgusted with this employment, he changed it for that of a fisherman, and was allowed by his brethren to bear the palm on all occasions where strength and agility were required. It was in this humble capacity that he was initiated into the secrets of a profession, which he managed with such address. He had formed a connexion with one Walter Cowtard, who lived very near to Sarkfoot, upon the sea-shore; and who, strange thought it may appear, was both a smuggler and a priest! Old Watty had the misfortune to be but indifferently lodged, having “a reeky house,” and, what is perhaps worse, a scolding wife, so that he was necessitated to perform the marriage ceremony on the open beach, among the furze, or, as it is provincially called, whins. On these occasions, young Paisley officiated as clerk. But our hero had ambition, and he only wanted an opportunity for its exertion. An occasion soon offered itself;—one time Watty went to the Isle of Mann, for the purpose of fetching over a cargo of contraband brandy; whilst his assistant remained at home to perform the necessary rites during the absence of the former. Finding that he could rivet the matrimonial bond equally as well as his master, and being at the same time under some pecuniary embarrassment, he began business on his own account, and, by his ability and address, soon overcame all competition.

About the year 1794, he was served with a subpoena to give evidence at Bristol respecting the validity of a marriage. It was expected by thousands that the event of the trial would put an end to Joe’s matrimonial career; the contrary, however, took place; for, by his dexterous management, he not only succeeded in rendering the match valid, but was enabled to follow his favorite profession with increased security. During this journey, he visited the metropolis, where he was much noticed by the nobility and gentry. Had he been of a covetous disposition, he might speedily have accumulated a considerable fortune; but, since the time to which we allude, he has never been distant a single mile from Springfield.

Of Joseph’s personal strength I have heard many well-authenticated accounts, which I well believe from feats which I myself have seen him perform. His strength of arm was prodigious:—he could have taken a large oaken stick by the end, and continued to shake it to and fro, until it went to pieces in the air!!! The excellence of his constitution was likewise often tried; though it must be allowed that his intemperance was proverbial, yet he reached his 82d year. He was accustomed to relate with great pleasure a celebrated achievement, in which he and a jovial companion, a horse-breaker, were once engaged; when they consumed the amazing quantity of ten gallons of pure brandy in the short space of sixty hours; and, what is more, these two thirsty souls kicked the empty cask in pieces with their feet, for having run dry too soon. It may be conjectured that the conversation of such a character could not be very engaging; juvenile feats of activity, and his beloved brandy, formed the chief topics of his discourse, which, until very lately, never turned upon religious subjects.
But let justice be done to the character of the man. It must be allowed, indeed, that he was too fond of a stoup of liquor, and was of coarse and unpolished manners; but he certainly was not addicted to profane talking, and obscene discourse, as a neighbouring journalist has roundly asserted. Without hazard of contradiction, it may be averred, that he was a very honest and charitable man, and inoffensive neighbour, and that he was generally respected by all who knew him.

Paisley is succeeded in the capacity of coupler by a young man, a friend of his; and there is no fear that the business will fall off, as three weddings have already taken place since the interment of the old man.

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See they come, post haste from Thanet

Lovely couple, side by side;

They’ve left behind them Richard Kennet

With the Parents of the Bride!

Canterbury they have passed through;

Next succeeded Stamford-bridge;

Chilham village they came fast through;

Now they’ve mounted yonder ridge.

Down the hill they’re swift proceeding,

Now they skirt the Park around;

Lo! The Cattle sweetly feeding

Scamper, startled at the sound!

Run, my Brothers, to the Pier gate!

Throw it open, very wide!

Let it not be said that we’re late

In welcoming my Uncle’s Bride!

To the house the chaise advances;

Now it stops–They’re here, they’re here!

How d’ye do, my Uncle Francis?

How does do your Lady dear?

Jane Austen


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The Marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth

One Reader’s Response

It is a truth universally acknowledged that upon turning the last page
of Pride and Prejudice the reader feels joy at seeing Elizabeth and Darcy
married, but upon closer examination can the reader admit reservations?

Professor Wallace is content with the assertion that Austen (just like
Mozart) wrote in a classical (or neoclassical) style in which the comic
ending was conventional. But isn’t a happy ending a kind of escapist
fantasy? I will a priori set aside minor factors which might account
cumulatively for the reader’s happiness at the end: in her study entitled
Jane Austen on Love, Juliet McMaster asserts for example: “In a discussion
of the erotic response of Jane Austen’s women to men, it is worth
considering her use of the rescue, which is often a stimulus to love.”
Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet
To what extent do the readers of Pride and Prejudice respond to this or to
Darcy’s open manifestation of physical attraction to Elizabeth? Such a
question would be interesting to answer but it is beyond the scope of this
essay. Will modern, skeptical readers unwilling to accept the fairytale
ending look for problems over which Jane Austen might have glossed? Is the
excitement the reader feels at the satisfying conclusion to be tempered with
sober yet cynical thoughts about what marriage really entails and what
experience teaches us? Or does the very unreality of a happy marriage become
a satiric reflection on the very real limitations of society and
individuals? It appears reasonable to consider the ending as many critics
have, as both “romantic” and as a significant culmination of the moral
concerns of the plot. The prominence Austen gave to marriage as a subject
was not simply a matter of form: it was a social truth — marriage was the
origin of change for families and individuals. Pride and Prejudice does
not ignore the realities of marriage; in fact other less suitable marriages
are examined at length in the novel. Pride and Prejudice is a romantic
comedy, “comedy” here understood as the opposite of tragedy: a positive view
of life which presents happiness and ideals as possibilities. As in many
of Shakespeare’s plays, we have here a marriage which symbolizes
reconciliation and harmony. I venture to say that the response of the
reader proceeds (as in Much Ado About Nothing) from a consciousness of an
opposition first yielding anger and irritation to one producing pleasure and
vitality all the while realizing that things could have gone very wrong at
many points in the story.

I shall examine the different views of marriage and compare them to
Elizabeth’s view of a “happy marriage”, the marriage which of course takes
place at the end of the story. In the opening chapter we are immediately
offered a view of marriage as a purely economic contract:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man
in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man
may be on his first entering the neighbourhood, this truth
is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families
that he is considered as the rightful property of some one
or other of their daughters. (Chapter 1)

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy
Immediately at work, Jane Austen’s irony hints that the first line is
not the universal truth but rather the opinion of the surrounding families.
The author knows our assumptions are that “feelings and views” or
affection ought to be the deciding factor but yet from the very beginning
she has established the important opposition: love and money. The word
“property” is particularly interesting here since it suggests an odd
relationship between husband and wife: one of possession. As modern
readers, we are most eager to oppose it to the idea of marriage as
partnership, a sort of moral contract not a property contract. Another
important view of marriage proposed in the novel is that of Charlotte Lucas:

I wish Jane success with all my heart; and if she were married to
him tomorrow, I should think she had as good a chance of
happiness as if she were studying his character for a twelve-month.
Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions
of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar
beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always
continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of
vexation, and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of
the person with whom you are to pass your life.
(Vol.1, Chapter 6)

This cynicism and resignation in a woman of 27 may surprise us.
Charlotte is older, plainer and more desperate to find a husband. She will
follow her own advice in accepting Mr. Collins’s proposal almost
immediately. Questioned by Elizabeth, she replies:

You must be surprised, very much surprised — so lately as Mr.
Collins was wishing to marry you. But when you have had time to think it
over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not
romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and
considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life, I
am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people
can boast on entering the marriage state.

Elizabeth quietly answered, “Undoubtedly” — and after an awkward pause,
they returned to the rest of the family. Charlotte did not stay much
longer, and Elizabeth was then left to reflect on what she had heard. It
was a long time before she became at all reconciled to the idea of so
unsuitable a match. The strangeness of Mr. Collins’s making two offers of
marriage within three days was nothing in comparison of his being now
accepted. She had always felt that Charlotte’s opinion of matrimony was not
exactly like her own, but she could not have supposed it possible that when
called into action, she would have sacrificed every better feeling to
worldly advantage. Charlotte the wife of Mr. Collins was a most humiliating
picture! — And to the pang of a friend disgracing herself and sunk in her
esteem was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that
friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.
(Chapter 22)


Collins'- P&PWe know that Elizabeth’s judgment is very often fallible and she may not know what will make Charlotte happy; her view of felicity in marriage and Charlotte’s are obviously very different but even the reader cannot but wonder as to Charlotte’s decision of marrying a man whose “deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society.” She has made it clear that what she wants in marriage is a modicum of material comfort and financial security and it is equally evident from the above passage that Elizabeth has but contempt for such concerns. Elizabeth’s exclamation: “Engaged to Mr. Collins! My dear Charlotte — impossible!” is the very expression of her complete incredulity at seeing her best friend marrying without affection. In this instance, Elizabeth echoes Jane Austen’s sentiments on the matter. In a letter to her niece Fanny Knight, Jane Austen wrote: “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.” And later : “Nothing can be compared to the misery of being bound without love, bound to one and preferring another.” (November 30, 1814). Sadly, Elizabeth will resign to her friend’s situation. During her visit to the parsonage at Huntsford, she observes how cleverly Charlotte is acclimating to marriage to Mr. Collins: ” When Mr. Collins could be forgotten, there was really a great air of comfort throughout, and by Charlotte’s evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposed he must be often forgotten.” (Vol.2, Chapter 5). And a little later: “Elizabeth in the solitude of her chamber had to meditate upon Charlotte’s degree of contentment, to understand her address in guiding, and composure in bearing with her husband, and to acknowldege that it was all done very well.” (Vol.2, Chapter 5).

Another marriage offered to Elizabeth’s observation is that of her parents. Jane Austen offers here a chilling analysis of what amounts to a conjugal malaise; it seems certain of repetition in the next generation of couples, the Collinses and the Wickhams for example:

Had Elizabeth’s opinion been all drawn from her own family, she could not have formed a very pleasing picture of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort. Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence, had vanished forever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown. But Mr.Bennet was not of a disposition to seek comfort for the disappointment which his own imprudence had brought on in any of those pleasures which too often console the unfortunate for their folly or their vice. He was fond of the country and of books; and from these tastes had arisen his principal enjoyments. To his wife he was very little otherwise indebted than as her ignorance and folly had contributed to his amusement. This is not the sort of happiness which a man would in general wish to owe to his wife; but where other powers of entertainment are wanting, the true philosopher will derive benefit from such as are given.

Bennets- P&PElizabeth, however, had never been blind to the impropriety of her father’s behaviour as a husband. She had always seen it with pain; but respecting his abilities, and grateful for his affectionate treatment of herself, she endeavoured to forget what she could not overlook, and to banish from her thoughts that continual breach of conjugal obligation and decorum which, in exposing his wife to the contempt of her own children, was so highly reprehensible. But she had never felt so strongly as now the disavantages which must attend the children of so unsuitable a marriage, nor ever been so fully aware of the evils arising from so ill-judged a direction of talents, talents which rightly used might at least have preserved the respectability of his daughters, even if incapable of enlarging the mind of his wife. (Vol.2, Chapter 19).

Here, Elizabeth’s observation reflects understanding of the function of marriage such as it was understood at the end of the eighteenth century, meaning that selection of a spouse is of crucial importance to the individual because it is the agent of a social purpose, which is the moral education of children. Finally there is the union of Lydia and Wickham which Elizabeth judges in these terms:

How Wickham and Lydia were to be supported in tolerable independence, she could not imagine. But how little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue, she could easily conjecture.
(Vol.3, Chapter 8)

In the last chapter of the novel, the narrative voice hints at a very tawdry future for Lydia and Wickham:

Wickham and Lydia- P&PTheir manner of living, even when the restoration of peace dismissed them to a home, was unsettled in the extreme. They were always moving from place to place in quest of a cheap situation, and always spending more than they ought. His affection for her soon sunk into indifference; hers lasted a little longer; and in spite of her youth and her manners, she retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her. (Vol.3, Chapter 19)

Undoubtedly we have to acknowledge that in Austen’s world defective persons make defective marriages. Stupid, shallow or self-obsessed characters invite conflicts or even worse non- communication, such as in Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s case. Unique and apart from that world, Elizabeth is an unusual woman with rare capacities for growth and individual self-sufficiency. She is not the average woman whose personality is shaped by prevailing notions of woman as the subordinate sex. Elizabeth, making her progress towards union with the hero invites the reader therefore to confront many previews of her own potential fate in the marriages of the older characters who surround her; and in this way we are given some inklings of the possibilities beyond the limits of the last page. Jane Austen doesn’t follow her women beyond the altar but there is nothing to keep the reader from imagining. When Elizabeth is regretting her lost chance of marrying Darcy, she reflects that “No such happy marriage could now teach the admiring multitude what connubial felicity really was.” She has just envisioned what true connubial felicity really was:

She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both — by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.
(Vol.3, Chapter 8)

She is not oblivious of the fact that he will have to be improved. Most notably as we find out later she will have to help him develop a sense of humor: “…she checked herself. She remembered that he had yet to learn to be laughed at, and it was rather too early to begin.” Some might bristle at the thought of Elizabeth checking herself and yet we know that her impertinence is exactly what Darcy admired in her :”Now be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence? — For the liveliness of your mind, I did.” Reciprocally she will learn from him. Theirs will be a true partnership. We also see that her new status impels her to be very protective of him when he is confronted with Mrs. Bennet or Mrs. Phillips:

Elizabeth did all she could to shield him from the frequent notice of either, and was ever anxious to keep him to herself and to those of her family with whom he might converse without mortification; and though the uncomfortable feelings arising from all this took from the season of courtship much of its pleasure, it added to the hope of the future; and looked forward with delight to the time when they should be removed from society so little pleasing to either, to all comfort and elegance of their family party at Pemberley.
(Vol.3, Chapter 19)

Wedding- P&PI think most readers find the thought of superior Darcy being protected by Elizabeth rather pleasant. In an ending looking resolutely to the future we see Georgiana Darcy herself learning from Elizabeth’s conduct as partner in the Darcy household:

Her mind received knowledge which had never before fallen her way. 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.
(Vol.3, Chapter 19)

The end of the novel is not offering a simplistic view of happiness but one which recognizes that, though the heroine might find contentment, things in Meryton, Longbourne, Huntsford and Rosings go on much as before on the whole. Throughout we have been asked to judge between material and moral criteria, yet at the end the heroine is rewarded with both and this adds to our pleasure in no small measure for as Lord David Cecil once remarked: “It was wrong to marry for money, but it was silly to marry without it.”

Françoise Coulont-Henderson teaches French language and literature in a small liberal arts university in the US. She has discovered Jane Austen late in life.


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The Regency Debutante

“Yes, Ma’am, all.”

“All! — What, all five out at once? Very odd! — And you only the second. —

The younger ones out before the elder are married! — Your younger sisters must be very young?”

“Yes, my youngest is not sixteen. Perhaps she is full young to be much in company. But really, Ma’am, I think it would
be very hard upon younger sisters, that they should not have their share of society and amusement because the elder may not
have the means or inclination to marry early. — The last born has as good a right to the pleasures of youth, as the first. And
to be kept back on such a motive! — I think it would not be very likely to promote sisterly affection or delicacy of mind.”

Pride and Prejudice

The Regency debutante comes in very handy for authors like me, even though she is as individual as the writers who create her.
She can appear in any shape or size–within a framework of having the ability to attract “Mr. Right,” of course. (In other
words, she can be anything as long as it’s attractive enough for the purposes of a romance.)

Half the fun of a Regency (or any romance) is being able to understand and relate to the heroine; therefore, she must be
wonderful in some ways and definitely lacking in others; she must be attractive but not so perfect that you can’t believe in
her; she must strike a chord in every female reader who picks up your book, and any writer can create such a character simply
by making her human. That is the one thing we ALL have in common, our humanity, with all its foibles and faults.

But what is a Regency debutante? How is she different from other fictional heroines?

A dictionary will tell you that a debutante is “a young woman making a formal debut into society.”
Originally, this meant that the young woman was eligible for marriage, and part of the purpose was to display her to eligible
bachelors and their families with a view to marriage within a select upper class circle. Until 1958, debutantes in London were
presented at court at the start of the social season. Only ladies who had already been presented were entitled to present
another lady, which ensured the social exclusivity of the privilege. Most women were presented by their own mothers, but this
would not be possible if their own mother had not been presented, or had died or was for any other reason unknown at court. Hence,
it was possible to be presented, instead, by another eligible woman, provided she personally knew and could vouch for the lady
being presented. Thus the idea of sponsoring girls
for the season began among courtiers and like other court fashions and trends,
trickled down to all the upper class, and eventually the middle classes as well.
Therefore, in addition to debutantes properly so called, older women and married women who had not previously been presented
could be presented at Court. A mother-in-law might, for example, present her new daughter-in-law.*

In our case, it is Regency society, and this is the other half of the fun of a Regency novel. No other time period was quite
like the Regency; Jane Austen taught us how to poke gentle fun at it while also caring about those who were part of it;
Georgette Heyer showed us ways to really turn up the volume (of fun), concocting plots full of characters plucked from many
layers of that society.

The interesting thing about the Regency debutante is that she could be most anyone
from any middle-to- upper class home in England. Most of the time, the young lady would
be from a monied family, and was therefore supremely ‘qualified’ to join the “marriage mart.” But she might also be hiding a bankruptcy—it wasn’t always
easy to discover the truth in those days of slow travel and communication (by today’s standards).

Therefore, any country miss and her mama might aspire to a London “season” and there was always the chance of making an
astounding success. (You see how it easily makes for the stuff of romance novels?)

So the Regency Debutante was any young lady of gentle birth making her “come out” into the wider society of adults of her
community; If she were wealthy or could gather enough financial backing, (or had good connections) she could make that debut
into London or Bath society, circles where the possibility of making a good match (marriage) were greater.

Not all Regency novels use debutantes as their heroines, but to understand what “the season” was about, one must recognize this
formal female creature! She often was not in for fun and games, despite the whirl of social entertainments on her schedule, but
if she happened to be pretty, and even more important, wealthy, then upper class society was sure to welcome her.

Another aspect that makes Regencies so enjoyable is the clothing needed for the debutante’s season. The quantity AND the
quality–it all counted, and it all makes for fun reading.Furthermore, gowns worn for a court presentation to the Queen had to conform to elaborate standards, and even constituted their own catagory of fashion called court dress, which was highly formal. In particular, being prepared for the ritual included that the lady either carried feathers (usually in the form of an ostrich feather fan), or wore them as part of her headdress. These kinds
of details, along with descriptions of social customs and manners, make delving into the era an experience you can enjoy again and again. Welcome to the Regency romance!

Linore Rose Burkard is the author of Before the Season Ends, an Inspirational Regency Romance that readers love. She
spent a great deal of time researching the period while writing her book. Coming soon from Harvest
House Publishers: a new edition of Before the Season Ends, (Dec. 2008) followed by its sequel, The
House in Grosvenor Square.
( April, 2009)Visit her website to learn more about Ms. Burkard, or to subscribe to her free monthly eZine, “Upon My Word! Facts, Fashion and Figures of the


Illustration from Tom Tierney’s Empire Fashions Colouring Book a
fascinating look at fashion from Jane Austen’s lifetime. Buy it today for £3.98.

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