Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice: Ch. 8

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Chapter 8

At five o'clockd the two ladies retired to dress, and at half-past six Elizabeth was summoned to dinner. To the civil inquiries which then poured in, and amongst which she had the pleasure of distinguishing the much superior solicitude of Mr. Bingley's, she could not make a very favourable answer. Jane was by no means better. The sisters, on hearing this, repeated three or four times how much they were grieved, how shocking it was to have a bad cold, and how excessively they disliked being ill themselves; and then thought no more of the matter: and their indifference towards Jane when not immediately before them restored Elizabeth to the enjoyment of all her former dislike.

Their brother, indeed, was the only one of the party whom she could regard with any complacency. His anxiety for Jane was evident, and his attentions to herself most pleasing, and they prevented her feeling herself so much an intruder as she believed she was considered by the others. She had very little notice from any but him. Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr. Darcy, her sister scarcely less so; and as for Mr. Hurstw, by whom Elizabeth sat, he was an indolent man, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards; who, when he found her to prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to her.

When dinner was over, she returned directly to Jane, and Miss Bingley began abusing her as soon as she was out of the room. Her manners were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence; she had no conversation, no style, no beauty. Mrs. Hurst thought the same, and added:

"She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wildd."

"She did, indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsyw!"

"Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it not doing its office."

"Your picture may be very exact, Louisa," said Bingley; "but this was all lost upon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well when she came into the room this morning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice."

"You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure," said Miss Bingley; "and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see your sister make such an exhibition."

"Certainly not."

"To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! What could she mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorumd."

"It shows an affection for her sister that is very pleasing," said Bingley.

"I am afraid, Mr. Darcy," observed Miss Bingley in a half whisper, "that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes."

"Not at all," he replied; "they were brightened by the exercise." A short pause followed this speech, and Mrs. Hurst began again:

"I have an excessive regard for Miss Jane Bennet, she is really a very sweet girl, and I wish with all my heart she were well settledh. But with such a father and mother, and such low connectionsd, I am afraid there is no chance of it."

"I think I have heard you say that their uncle is an attorney on Meryton."

"Yes; and they have another, who lives somewhere near Cheapsideh."

"That is capital," added her sister, and they both laughed heartily.

"If they had uncles enough to fill all Cheapside," cried Bingley, "it would not make them one jot less agreeable."

X [d] five o'clock

Daily Life

The hour and a half for dressing indicates the Bingley sisters' interest in London manners and clothes; the dinner hour, 6:30, is late for the country (3-4p generally) and is an import from London.

 

X [w] Hurst

According to the OED a "hurst" is "An eminence, hillock, knoll, or bank, esp. one of a sandy nature." Mr. Hurst has no more mettle than sand, and as an eminence he's of the foothill sort.

He's only an appendage to the plot, or, as J. Alfred Prufrock would say, merely called upon "to swell a scene or two," but Austen makes him typical of the London gentleman: no work, no interests b…

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X [d] wild

Manners & Morals

Miss Bingley's view is absurdly exaggerated.

Elizabeth's action expresses her concern for her sister's health, and nothing in Austen's novels supersedes in importance family feeling. Her own brothers and sister as well as some nieces and aunts formed a tight, concerned nucleus. Moreover, a cold could rapidly develop into pneumonia or be mistaken for TB. …

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X [w] blowsy

The word encompasses everything from bloated to coarse to rustic, and for hair "disheveled, frowzy, slatternly" (OED). The Bingley sisters are pitiless in their judgments.

X [d] country-town indifference to decorum

Manners & Morals

Versus the real town, London. The fashionable elite of London, England's only metropolis at the time, routinely condemn the provinces as cloddish in dress and manners.  

Austen, especially in Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park, pits the urbane, "worldly" Londoner against the country population, where "worldly" has for her a negative connotation of an easy tolerance for immorality. …

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X [h] well settled

Married to a rich man preferably not in trade, though the comment is patronizing and suggests she's not eager to have Jane as a sister.

X [d] such low connections

Although the two uncles are cited, there is also the question of Mrs. Bennet herself and her daughters' conduct.

X [h] Cheapside

Places

Cheapside in London bustles with commerce. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst are naturally quick to forget that the origins of their wealth are in trade.

The respectability of grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins were all factored into a woman or man's pedigree. Mr. Bingley represents a comparatively enlightened view that is focused on the individual, not on her family.