Today is the second installment in a week’s worth of Pride and Prejudice character studies leading up to next Monday’s 200th anniversary of the Austen novel.
If there is a truth universally known in the world of Austen it is that the rich play by a different set of rules than the poor or middle class. Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Miss Caroline Bingley are two of her richest women and they play to win.
Lady Catherine was born to her title. Her father was an Earl, so “She is referred to as “Lady” followed by her first name because she is the daughter of a higher nobleman” [Pemberly.com]— (as was her sister Lady Anne Darcy, Darcy’s mother.) She married well, taking for her husband the landed Sir Lewis de Bourgh. She has one daughter, the sickly Anne de Bourgh, whom she hopes to marry off of to Darcy. (It was”the favourite wish of his mother, as well as of her’s. While in their cradles,” they “planned the union.” )
She is from old money and represents the old way of doing things. She follows the rules of society strictly and “likes to have the distinction of rank preserved.” [Pride and Prejudice] In fact she spends most of her time CONDESCENDING to her inferiors and giving them advice. Staying in Lady Catherine’s good graces has its benefits — you might be offered a ride home in the Barouche — but it is hard to hold one’s tongue. The woman had an…
opinion on every subject in so decisive a manner as proved that she was not used to have her judgment controverted. She enquired into Charlotte’s domestic concerns familiarly and minutely, and gave her a great deal of advice as to the management of them all;… Elizabeth found that nothing was beneath this great lady’s attention, which could furnish her with an occasion of dictating to others. [Pemberly.com quote from Pride and Prejudice]
She is a large, imposing woman who may have once been handsome. “…Whatever she said, was spoken in so authoritative a tone, as marked her self-importance…” [Pride and Prejudice] She is not used to people disagreeing with her. So she’s surprised when Lizzie answers her personal questions candidly.
I’ll give Lady Catherine one thing– for being such a traditionalist she represents a progressive, for the time, position on woman’s property rights.
Your father’s estate is entailed on Mr. Collins, I think. For your sake, I am glad of it; but otherwise I see no occasion for entailing estates from the female line. [Pride and Prejudice]
By actively seeking an eligible partner for her sickly daughter she is attempting to secure Anne’s future by getting a strong husband to run the estate. . “It’s ironic”, says Karen Hornig, of JASNA Maryland, that “one of the least liked characters in the novel is the one established figure who has the most progressive view with respect to women inheriting property and fortune.”