Saturday, April 20, 2013

"The Feelings Immediately Consequent Upon Stating the Case": Conduct in the Regency Applied to All

This portrait by G. M. Woodward (Curtesy 1797) is actually two images on a single plate, satirizing with some remarkable detail the extent complexity of the manners and politeness that most people were expected to know. The top shows two men bowing to one another at a prescribed angle to indicate their social statues in reference to each other. The bottom shows similar rules for the curtseys of the women and their social relationship. The precise angles of the bows and curtseys may or may not be recorded as numbers within the drawing itself, but the satire of manners shown here is made plain by the lines and facial expressions of the characters. Even in the Regency people knew that standards of conduct were so outrageous and complex that they made fun of them with works of art such as this. 


And yet, while we think of the standards of conduct in the Regency being especially hard on women, historical documents such as John Akin's Letters From a Father to his Son concerning a multitude of topics also addressed proper conduct not just for women or for men but for all people. Akin assumes that when young people are keen on receiving the truth and accurately perceiving what is placed before them, "a question of moral conduct is almost always best decided by the feelings immediately consequent upon stating the case" (235). This means that when someone is accurately perceiving what is before them, they can be trusted to allow their feelings to determine the best course of behavior. Perception of what is before them is readily available among the characters of Pride and Prejudice, such as soon after Lydia's wedding when Jane attempts to make herself and others believe that she has no desire to see Mr Bingley when he arrives and that it makes no difference to her. "In spite of what her sister declared, and really believed to be her feelings, in the expectation of his arrival, Elizabeth could easily perceive that her spirits were affected by it. They were more disturbed, more unequal, than she had often seen them" (Austen 373). Jane later confides in Elizabeth, and all the while Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Bennet are arguing on the etiquette of whether or not Mr. Bingley should be coming to visit and whether they should wait on him at all. Elizabeth does her best to console her sister but when Mr. Bingley arrives and she sees that he's brought Mr. Darcy with him, she and Jane face the same predicament together and behave much the same way. It is because their perception of the situation is forming their decisions and actions that they do what they do. They are behaving in a way that reflects the Regency's belief that a person's perception of truth will tell them how to act in any given circumstance.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"A Base and Pernicious Vice": Gambling in the Regency Era

During the Regency period in England, gambling was a very popular pastime, one that both the rich and the poor could enjoy. While providing conversation and entertainment, as well as a way to meet people and pass the time, gambling also had a darker side. In Josiah Woodard’s “A Disswasive from Gaming”, he warns against the evils of gambling, claiming that “all such sports and games, as are manifest temptations to sin, and do many times expose men to ruin, are to be renounced with disdain” (4). As men increasingly began to become addicted to gambling and more and more lost their fortunes and their dignities, a person prone to excessive gambling was looked down upon as being sinful and having “a deplorable character” (8). While it was usually acceptable to play whist or other such card games at dinner parties or other social gatherings, once one began to display overindulgent gaming habits and destructive behavior that is when the problems began. Sir William Addington’s “An Abridgement of Penal Statues”, is a publication that outlines common criminal offenses as well as the punishments related to them. It also recognizes that gaming houses, “being great temptations to idleness, and apt to draw together numbers of disorderly persons, and as such [are] liable to indictment” (363). Gaming houses were seen as dirty, unlawful and sinful places that no man of good moral standing should expose himself to. Fights often erupted within gambling houses over bets lost and won, and people were even occasionally killed over a game of cards gone wrong.


While no one in Pride and Prejudice is murdered over a bad card game, Mr. Wickham proves himself to lead a “life of idleness and dissipation” (Austen 242). He gambles away the money that Mr. Darcy gave him after his father’s death, and greedily pesters Darcy for more. When Darcy refuses to appease Wickham’s voracity, Wickham seduces Darcy’s little sister in the hopes of obtaining the thirty thousand pounds that she was to receive as her inheritance. When he marries Lydia, he does so only because Mr. Darcy forfeits a large sum of money over to Mr. Wickham. As more comes to light about the atrocities that Wickham has committed, the once highly favored man is ruined in both Elizabeth and Jane’s opinions. His marriage to their sister is seen as deplorable, and his character condemned; the sisters react accordingly with Woodard’s claim that men who are ruined via gambling should be avoided and looked down upon. Colonel Forester, a member of the regiment to which Wickham formerly belonged, even expresses changed opinions of Mr. Wickham as more of his character unfolds, “he did not speak so well of Wickham as he formerly did. He believed him to be imprudent and extravagant. And since this sad affair has taken place, it is said, that he left Meryton greatly in debt” (331). The characters in Pride and Prejudice behave in ways reflective of the Regency culture’s attitude toward gambling and gamesters, acknowledging the improper behavior of excessive gambling and condemning it as an immoral character trait.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ladies—manly airs assuming!

Mary Robinson’s “Winkfield Plain; Or a Description of a Camp in the Year 1800” (1804) elucidates and confirms the debauchery, profligacy, and licentiousness associated with army encampments that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice portrays through the miltia. Mary Robinson became famous in London long before she published any of her writing because of her relationship with the Prince Regent ("Mary Darby Robinson"). Although their affair was short, Robinson never escaped the damage it afflicted to her reputation, neither did she receive any of the monetary promises that prince had made to her. Using the nom de plume “Oberon,” Robinson originally published this poem as “The Camp” in the Morning Post and it was reprinted in The Spirit of the Public Journals in 1802. Robinson later included it in her 1804 collection of poetry The Wild Wreath. As the title suggests the poem depicts an army encampment in a series of epigrammatic images. The camp is “All confusion, din and riot,/ Nothing clean—and nothing quiet” (235). The “beer in flagons” and “Many an Eton Boy in whisky” undoubtedly contribute to this noise (234). The camp is a hotbed of licentious behavior with “Girls seducing, beaux admiring” (234). Interestingly, it is the girls in Robinson’s poem who are seducing at the camp, the beaux are admiring, not actively pursuing. Later, Robinson describes “petit maitres” or dandies “in the glad themselves caressing” while “Ladies—manly airs assuming!” (234). The traditional gender roles here are inverted: the men are preoccupied with dress while the ladies assume manly airs.

In Pride and Prejudice, the army is exhibited by the militia and its primary representation: Wickham. Robinson’s inversion of gender roles recalls the scene where Lydia tells Elizabeth and Jane of the fun she had at Mrs. Forsters. She recounts that she, Kitty, and Mrs. Forster dressed up Chamberlayne in women’s clothes as a joke and that Denny, Wickham, and Pratt, having come later, did not discover the truth until Lydia could no longer contain her laughter. In this scene, as in the poem, the women wield the power traditionally attributed to men. While Col. Forster knew of the trick, the women devised, executed, and unveiled it. Lydia and Wickham’s relationship can be read in light of this power inversion. Although Wickham is characterized throughout the novel as the pursuer of Lydia, it is entirely possible and even probable that Lydia was the one who pursued the relationship. Her idea of Brighton was a place where she would be surrounded by officers with whom she is flirting. Even in her reverie, she is the active agent: it is she who is flirting with the men, not the other way around. Wickham’s choice of Lydia because of her lack of fortune, which begs the question: why do they elope? In the letter Lydia leaves for Mrs. Forster, she writes of what a good joke it will be when she writes to her family as “Lydia Wickham.” Her seduction of Wickham will be just another joke that she executes. This feminization of the army officers, however, appears to be relegated only to the camp because in London—away from the Brighton camp—it is clear that Wickham will not marry Lydia without Darcy’s compensation.

"An Impertinent Freedom"

The anonymously penned pamphlet "An Address to the Deists. In Which are Prefixed, Remarks on the Conduct of Our Modern Clergy" links the 18th Century infiltration of Deism into the religious culture of England to the deficiencies the author perceives in the morality and convictions of the modern clergy. The author asserts that there is a strong link between the rapid spread of Deism and the apparent moral weakness and growing apathy of clergy members who do not have a solid grasp on the importance of their position within society: "Thus our Religion suffers through the Neglect of those very Men who ought and are expected to defend it to the utmost Stretch of their abilities" (4). The author then goes on to suggest that the solution to the problem of Deism is for clergy members to move beyond a superficial understanding of the scriptures, and gain a deeper and more sincere appreciation of their Christian faith (13-14). Additionally, the address seems to be taking a direct shot at ministers only concerned with their connections with members of high society when it says, "the Opinions of Men have been so enlightened through the Progress of Learning and Liberty, as in a great Measure to be divested of all superstitious Reverence for mere Names and Authority" (8). This particular quote exemplifies the author's distaste for those members of the clergy who use their positions to gain favor with members of the upper class, and praises those who move beyond this superficial behavior in order to focus on defending the Christian faith.


Although there are no overt references to Deism in Pride and Prejudice, and no clergy members in the novel are identified by Austen as being supportive of Deist beliefs, one can easily draw a comparison between the negative aspects of some clergy membered described in "An Address to the Deists" and Mr. Collins, the most featured clerical character in Pride and Prejudice. The pliable and unquestioning toady of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collin's perfectly fits the description provided in "An Address" of a clergyman preoccupied with earthly connections and rank. His connection with a lady of high society seems to give him an inordinate amount of pride, even once inducing him to improperly introduce himself to Mr. Darcy, a member of a much higher class, at a ball (136-138). Perhaps even more offensive, at least in the opinion of the author of "An Address to the Deists", is Collins' halfhearted association with the Christian faith. While at university he "merely kept the necessary terms" (109), and he chooses to associate his title with a mixture of pride and authority, as opposed to Christian humility, extolled in "An Address to the Deists". This mixture of excessive pride and gross social impropriety exhibited by Mr. Collins, both things specifically attacked in "An Address to the Deists", demonstrates that in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen seemed to echo the general sentiment of upper class citizens during the Regency, which attacked the clergy for being superficial and socially inept.

Monday, April 8, 2013

"He Ought not to be Charged for either of these Servants": Servants Constructed as Property

Servants during the Regency period were identified as seen but not heard. During the Regency period servants were either inferior or superior to their masters. There is evidence that proves how servants held more meaning than property. However, there is also evidence that contradicts this claim of servant’s importance. During the Regency time in London, servants had a relationship to property. Servants, like any property we own today, were taxed. The way these taxes operated were by taxing what the master paid the servant during the year they served them. There were a lot of complications surrounding this system because during Regency culture, younger servants were looked at as charity. In the “Abstract on the Cases and Decisions on Appeals Relating to the Tax on Servants”, we can see that the commissioner is faced with multiple tax fraud cases surrounding the tax on servants. One case against Reverend Mr. Humphreys proves that he had one servant working for him that he did not pay taxes on. Reverend Mr. Humphreys attorney makes his rebuttal by addressing that, “The boy is only twelve years of age, is fatherless, and taken by him out of charity, and is employed by him as an errand-boy; that he pays him no wages, only clothes, and boards him” (Abstract 1). Reverend Humphreys was still forced to pay taxes on this boy servant because he was providing him with clothes and board. This knowledge of taxation on servants shows the ideology of servants holding little importance to Regency Society. Servants became an expectation of the master’s property. A servant’s job was to provide an easier way of living for their master, similar to a piece of land or large estate would. Property and commodities held great importance during Regency period regarding manner. This philosophy can reassure that servants still held importance because they provided their masters with social conduct during the regency time period.

Court suit that was worn during the Regency time period. 

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen exemplifies that servants become a part of their masters property. Throughout this novel we see confirmation that higher class society holds the expectation to own servants. We can also identify in Pride and Prejudice that owning property and land is an expectation of middle to higher class. These two ideas are one in the same. In Austen’s novel she demonstrates that servants are property by portraying them as voiceless. This social construct exists in this novel; specifically when Lady Catherine De Bourgh addresses Elizabeth’s family, “Oh! -- Your uncle!-- He keeps a man-servant, does he? I am very glad you have somebody who thinks of those things” (Austen 45). When Lady Catherine is surprised that Elizabeth’s family keeps a man servant; she implies that Elizabeth is lower-class. Lower-class is associated with not being able to own commodities such as servants. Understanding that Regency Culture taxed servants, we can further understand the importance of servants in Pride and Prejudice. This knowledge of taxation on servants shows that servants are viewed as commodities during Regency culture. Servants portrayed as property importance is reduced because their human classification is being removed. However, Austen's novel proves that servant's importance is increased because in Pride and Prejudice it can be argued that commodities hold more importance than any human in the novel. For example Elizabeth falls in love with Darcy after visiting his huge property, Pemberley. Commodities are held at a higher importance because they shape the class and conduct that Regency culture expects from society.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The More Extravagant a Master or Mistress is, the Better They Live

John Trusler's section on servants, in his books "The London Adviser and Guide" (1790) helps explain to readers the underlying insinuation and significance of a household that has servants in London to reflect positively and exemplify the economic status of the Bennet household in Pride and Prejudice (1813). Trusler's guide on servants warns housekeepers to not be too careful in their choosing of a servant. He explains that servants brought from the country will quickly become "infected with the dissolute manners of town-servants, and become equally bad with them" (48). This implies that even among servants there was some kind of hierarchy of class that determined which servant would be better to have than another. Trusler insists that a servant is only good as long as they do their duty, and are to be gotten rid of if they neglect their duties or masters. Trusler also mentions in response to an asterisk in his book that he has another book published called "Domestic Management" that explains to housekeepers how to properly care for and manage a home and also in regards to servants (48). Trulser also elaborates on the process of how to find a suitable servant and about how much this will cost depending on the quality, denomination, and origin of the servant (48-49). Trusler, in his detailed account of how to go about getting and keeping a servant is extravagant and present an understanding of complexity and cost that a master would need to go through to obtain this economic symbol, that is a servant reflects positively on a household's ability to keep a servant. This would imply that the household was well off enough financially that having a servant would be easy. The image below is an example of a household that is well off and has a servant that reflects their class.


In Pride and Prejudice, the Mrs. Bennet is the character most concerned with the image of the household, and mostly in regards of being seen as a successful and wealthy family. She takes pride in the good aspects of her home and family and she seeks to parade them and for them to be noticed. In chapter thirteen of Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet family has Mr. Collins over to join the Bennets in a meal, Mr. Collins remarks on what a marvelous meal he was presented. When he asks Mrs. Bennet what daughter he though thank for the meal. To this, Mrs. Bennet "assured him with some asperity that they were very well able to keep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do with the kitchen." In this Mrs. Bennet is defending her family's economic status and image. Mr. Collins spends a quarter of an hour apologizing to Mrs. Bennet because he knows very well that he as insinuated that they were not able to keep a cook and in doing so has insulted their economic status.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Inactivity of the Inhabitants of Hertfordshire

A freeholder of Hertfordshire’s “The Necessity of Associating for the Purpose of Obtaining a Parliamentary Reform, Enforced” (1792) helps to explain how the setting of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice contributes to the complete lack of political discussion in it. This essay, anonymously written, explains the lack of political stance of the men of Hertfordshire, where a majority of the novel takes place, and their decisions not to create an assembly of men to promote political reform. The author makes clear that most other counties have already created such assemblies and that Hertfordshire should be next. This author particularly explains the men of Hertfordshire creating an assembly of “Gentlemen [who] are not to be intimidated from a steady pursuit of that object which is so just in itself, and so absolutely necessary for this Country, that in the End it must be attained, notwithstanding all the opposition that interested wickedness may raise against it” (4). The author then gives an account of “all [the government’s] abuses and corruptions” (7) and states that the men of Hertfordshire must want nothing to do with these ignoble causes. This culminates into the idea that the author hopes “the Inactivity of the Inhabitants of Hertfordshire will no longer be complained of” (8) and that they will join their fellow countrymen in support of a massive reform of the political system of England.

 Sir David Wilkie, 1785-1841, British, Chelsea Pensioners Receiving the Gazette Announcing the Battle of Waterloo, ca. 1819, Oil on panel, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

This address insists we understand Pride and Prejudice as being purposefully set in Hertfordshire as one of the few locations in England which would allow for political discourse to not exist. It seems very clear that Austen intentionally left out arguments and discussion on politics as the Napoleonic wars were at the forefront of every Englishman's mind. There are a number of ways to read this, including that although war is at the doorstep of the English people the gentry seem unconcerned or that this novel actually includes a criticism of the apolitical men of Hertfordshire. Having this knowledge of the political viewpoints of the freeholding men of Hertfordshire increases the reader’s interest in what is lacking from the novel and what that indicates in the novel’s view of itself. If the novel imagines itself as a courtship novel which lays out the proper and improper ways to build a relationship, politics would take away from that main idea and may hide the central concept too deeply. Jane Austen had to choose a location where not only would it be acceptable to not discuss politics, but where this was normal. However, if the novel imagines itself as being primarily concerned with economics, there might be more need for interest in politics and the effect imposed taxes for war have on the community. One thing may be assumed safely, the novel does not imagine itself as primarily a political novel because it does not so much as mention anything about the wars or the regency at large. At best Pride and Prejudice can be viewed as having political commentary by its complete lack of politics as allowed in Austen's chosen setting.