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The Complete Jane Austen "Pride and Prejudice" by Seth Cassel

Masterpiece Classic

Jane Austen's Lady Catherine

One of my favorite characters in Jane Austen's novel, Pride and Prejudice, is the oft-overlooked minor character of Lady Catherine De Bourgh. Besides her hilarious comments, I love how Austen uses her to elucidate the characters of Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy, and Mrs. Gardiner. Lady Catherine's unintentional acts bring Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy together by influencing Mr. Collins to marry and then later by disapproving of the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh.gif

Lady Catherine's unintentional acts bring Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy together by influencing Mr. Collins to marry and then later by disapproving of the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.

However, Lady Catherine's proud, status-oriented character primarily helps establish Elizabeth as a strong-willed individual, highlights Mr. Darcy's change in personality, and accentuates the caring nature of Mrs. Gardiner. In a more global sense, Jane Austen uses Lady Catherine as a means of criticizing the social status of young women during early 19th century England, but more importantly, as a way of debunking rank as an indicator of character.

BBC's version of Lady Catherine stays so strictly to the wealthy widow's portrayal, while wonderfully accentuating her status-obsessed and proud nature. One of my favorite moments is when Lady Catherine takes great pleasure in asserting her rank as when introduced to Elizabeth, Sir William, and Maria. In the book, Austen says, "her air was not conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them, such as to make her visitors forget their inferior rank" (139).

How ironic is it that twice Lady Catherine unknowingly aids in encouraging the relationship of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. The first time occurs when Lady Catherine demands that Mr. Collins must marry. Lady Catherine's request starts a chain of events that leads Mr. Collins to marry Charlotte Lucas. Elizabeth then goes to visit the Collins' while Mr. Darcy is staying nearby with Lady Catherine. This proximity causes the two to meet and starts breaking down the figurative "wall" that has built up between them. However, the most important impact Lady Catherine has on the plot comes when she voices her disapproval of the possibility that Elizabeth might become married to Mr. Darcy. Her desire to break off any possible engagement between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy instead forces Elizabeth to reconsider the idea of a relationship with Mr. Darcy and to admit that he might have obtained her affections. Lady Catherine's objections to Mr. Darcy about his relationship with Elizabeth actually encourage him to propose to Elizabeth a second time. He reasons when speaking to Elizabeth after they are engaged, "had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly" (306).

While Lady Catherine does have a role in the plot of Pride and Prejudice, her primary function is to give us a better understanding of other characters in the novel. Lady Catherine's bout with Elizabeth over her relationship with Mr. Darcy is used to reinforce Elizabeth's character as strong and impertinent. Austen sees Elizabeth's nature in a positive light and sets her apart from the other women in the novel as a type of heroine, standing up to Lady Catherine by saying "I am only resolved to act in a manner which will... constitute my happiness, without reference to you" (298). Another fascinating use of Lady Catherine is how she is used to spotlight the personality change of Mr. Darcy. Lady Catherine and Mr. Darcy have similar amounts of wealth, which puts them fairly close in terms of rank. However, while Lady Catherine disapproves of Elizabeth's "obstinate, headstrong" nature (296), Mr. Darcy relishes Elizabeth's character, which the reader observes in her confrontation with Lady Catherine. Mr. Darcy's differing opinion from Lady Catherine, despite their common rank, helps establish his divergence from the social norm. The juxtaposition of the two characters highlights Mr. Darcy's change from prideful and conceited, which characterizes Lady Catherine, to not being "selfish and overbearing" (308). A minor use of Lady Catherine is to help establish the character of Mrs. Gardiner as compassionate and understanding, as they are both aunts. Lady Catherine's interaction with her nephew, Mr. Darcy, can be clearly identified in her antiquated insistence upon an arranged marriage between Mr. Darcy and Miss De Bourgh. This relationship is contrasted with that between Mrs. Gardiner and her niece, Elizabeth. Mrs. Gardiner simply offers suggestions to Elizabeth, such as recommending the "understanding and opinions" of Mr. Darcy (271). The difference in the way the two aunts offer opinions to their relatives makes the caring and nurturing nature of Mrs. Gardiner apparent to the reader.

In a historical perspective, through the character of Lady Catherine, Jane Austen and the PBS series give the reader an image of the roles of women in early 19th century England. Lady Catherine's suggestions such as "young women should always be properly guarded and attended," characterize how women were regarded as objects to be won and prized (179). However, Jane Austen subsequently suggests that this image is flawed. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth rebel against Lady Catherine's mores by valuing a woman's ability to be "frank... and open..." (306). As portrayed in series, Austen also uses Lady Catherine to put forth her more prominent theme, suggesting that even with limitless wealth and higher rank, one is not superior to those less fortunate. In fact, she implies that true nobility can be found among the working class, such as in the case of Mrs. Gardiner. Austen thus concludes that wealth and rank as a means of ordering society and determining one's character is overvalued and flawed.

Comments

Seth, what excellent comments and observations on Lady Catherine. She is one of my favorite P&P characters. The scene with her and Elizabeth in, "the prettyish kind of a little wilderness", in the Longbourn garden when Lady Catherine asserts all of her position and mental strength to obtain a confirmation from Elizabeth that she will not become engaged to her nephew Mr. Darcy is one of the most powerful acerbic repartee's in literary history! When two obstinate headstrong women are challenged by each other's sharp and quick minds to lock words, the reader is quite pleased when Lizzy puts her in her place, "I do not pretend to possess equal frankness with your ladyship. You may ask questions which I shall not choose to answer."

Thank for reminding me how wonderfully arrogant Lady C. is. Cheers, Laurel Ann

Some of my favorite lines in Pride and Prejudice are uttered by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who is simply so ridiculous at times that she makes me laugh out loud. Your comments about the difference in conduct between Lady Catherine and Mrs. Gardiner are spot on. Indeed, it is Mrs. Gardiner who exhibits true class, while Lady Catherine's conduct is crass and lacks compassion or understanding. I am willing to bet that the mature actresses who are asked to play Lady Catherine loved sinking their teeth into this rich role.

I find it interesting that Jane Austin used the same plot device in Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility,that of an upper class woman objecting to the marriage of a wealthy man to a woman of lesser means. especially in P & P, Lizzie is forced to face the fact of her love for Mr. D'arcy, when Lady Catherine insists she not marry her nephew. The characters in all of her novels point up the way in women were dependent on men to "care" for them in the early 18th century, since there was no way for a woman to earn a respectable living. It also shows that this was was probably a reflection of Jane's own situation regarding her own status as a prospective wife. Tom Lefroy seems to be in love with Jane, but realizing that she had nothing to bring to the marriage as far wealth was cincerned, and Tom having limited means himself, he must turn his attentions elsewhere. And of course, since he has limited means he must find a woman who will help him take care of his siblings. This was also played out in Mansfield Park. Mrs. Bennett may seem very crass to our sensibilities today, however, she knows she must marry her daughters off to a man of wealth, else who would care for them after she and her husband died. Knowing as we do, that she must marry her daughters off, she is somewhat of a sad character because of this burden to secure her daughters' future. Lizzie however, is unwilling to be "attached" Mr. Collins, despite the fact of her home being entailed to him, because he is a stupid man, and she won't marry a man she doesn't respect, just to secure the family's home.

I agree with the previous comment that the acting of the actress playing Mrs. Gardiner, Elizabeth's aunt, is of crucial importance in the drama, and although I have seen "Pride and Prejudice" a number of times, in this version and several others, the importance of her contribution completely escaped me before.

When Elizabeth and her uncle and aunt (Mrs. Gardiner) visit Darcy's "Pemberly" estate, and Darcy is so attentive to them, what I call the "fulcrum" of the telecast occurs when Darcy is so attentive to her and the Gardiners after their chance meeting with him there. Mrs. Gardiner's character says, to the effect that "I cannot see why you said he was haughty when he was so attentive to us." Elizabeth answers, to the effect, "I cannot understand why he was so attentive." Then, Mrs Gardiner responds with what I call the "fulcrum moment" when, with just a slight inflection to show that she knows Elizabeth is notrevealing her true feelings for Darcy,the instant that we all know where this story is going and how it will all turn out,she says something like "Oh, you do not?"

This means, to me, that as a mature woman, she sees exactly where this relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth is going, and that Elizabeth is trying to pretend she does not really care for Elizabeth, when Mrs. Gardiner can clearly see, from her vantage point, that he does, and that she cares for him as well.

The skill of the actress playing Mrs. Gardiner is the keynote here. She must say "Oh, you do not?" to Elizabeth's protestation of ignorance of why Darcy is so attentive, in just the right way. If it was said too strongly, it would just portray her as a know-it-all. Had she done it with less emphasis, it would have passed without notice. The way this actress did it, however, it appeared as someone who cared for her niece, Elizabeth, but knew Elizabeth was not being completely honest with herself about the strength of her feelings for Darcy.

Although the lead players, in the roles of Darcy and Elizabeth, naturally get the most press, the lady playing Mrs. Gardiner was extremely important for her "Do you not?" line, which required her skillful development of her kindly role as Elizabeth's Aunt in the scenes just before that line.

(PLEASE DO NOT EXPOSE MY ACTUAL NAME, JUST SIGN MY COMMENTS "BILL")

I would like to have comments as to why no one has commented yet on the line Elizabeth delivered upon taking in all the magnificance of Mr. Darcy's estate, "I'll should love to live here" (or something to that effect). I don't like that line because it makes it seem as though she decided she liked Mr. Darcy more once she saw what his wealth was. I don't think she really just began to rethink her attraction for him based on he wealth and I wonder if Jane Austen wrote that in her book.

In the book Elizabeth does think to herself, "I could have been mistress of all of this." In the movie, Miss Austen Regrets, the doctor teases Jane that Elizabeth does not fall in love with Darcy until after she sees his Pemberly estate. But I don't think that Jane Austen wants us to think that Elizabeth is only interested in Darcy for that estate. If Elizabeth was only interested in Darcy's money, she could have accepted his first proposal. At Pemberly, Elizabeth is seeing Darcy in a new light. She now knows the truth about Mr. Wickham and has the housekeepers description of Darcy as a good master and a good landlord. I believe that Darcy wins Elizabeth's heart when he gets Wickham to marry Lydia and then brings Bingley back to Jane. Pemberly is the location of the revelation of Darcy's true character.

I agree with you April. I did not want to believe Elizabeth was interested only after seeing Darcy's estate and if that were so she would have accepted his first proposal. I just thought that was an odd line for her to deliver. Thank you for the facts you present and your insights.

Elizabeth Bennett was basically a small town girl and was floored when she first saw the magnificence of Mr. Darcy's estate. I know I was. She was only teasing when she told Jane she began to love Mr. Darcy after she saw Pemberely. Rest assured, Elizabeth loved Mr. Darcy for the same reason we all do; he is truly noble.

After Lizzie tells Jane that her affection for Darcy dates from her seeing Pemberly, Jane entreats her to "be serious", and thereupon receives "solemn assurances of attachment" from her sister. Thus, I believe Angela is correct in her comments about this and that Jane Austen never meant this statement by Elizabeth
to be taken seriously.

I have to basically agree with April. I always interpreted Elizabeth's reaction to Pemberley a little differently. Elizabeth didn't want the magnificance of Pemberly for herself, in a greedy way. Pemberley is where Darcy's true character comes to light. It seemed to me that witnessing Pemberly in all its grandeur gave Elizabeth a new context for Darcy's behavior. Elizabeth was already aware of her family's flaws, but seeing Pemberley gave her reason to see why Darcy would be protective of himself and his wealth, resulting in his standoffishness and pride. The estate didn't cause Lizzie to want to live there, really, only perhaps come to a new understanding of Darcy. The housekeeper affirmed that new understanding, since the housekeeper provided information Lizzie had been lacking up to that point. I think my interpretation departs from April's however, in that I believe Elizabeth started to really fall for Darcy when he treated her aunt and uncle with genuine hospitality. His behavior toward them reinforced Elizabeth's new understanding of his character.

To: April Flygar-Smith

Just curious are you the same April that was my classmate in Univ of Hawwi WestOahu in 2000/2001? I'm just curious. Please email me at inezd56@sbcglobal.net I want to hear from you.

it is marvallus

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