The Regency Interpreter, part 2
A few years ago, my husband and I were able to attend a performance of Japanese Kabuki theater company. The performance was in Japanese, so the entire audience had headsets that allowed an interpreter in translate the performance for us. His little tidbits added so much to the performance and helped us enjoy it far more than we otherwise would have. I have found myself offering the same service to my family when we watch period movies, particularly Regency era ones. When my boys studied Pride and Prejudice in high school, I watched with them and explained an entire subtext that they were entirely unaware of. While they made some noises about appreciating it, I’m not sure how welcome my interpreting was to them.
But you, gracious readers, are an entirely different class all together! You share my joy and fascination with all things Regency. I cannot wait to sit down and watch Pride and Prejudice with you who will allow me to have my share of the conversation and not give me rolled eyes and pats on the head for it.
In case you missed Part 1, click here to find it.
Episode 1 part 3
In the opening sequence, we see Bingley walking Jane back to her friends, as any proper gentleman would at the end of a dance. Though amiable, he he is not demonstrating any great favor, just showing his all around good manners. The same good manners are the reason he scolds Darcy for not dancing. Gentlemen were expected to dance with a variety of partners throughout the evening and Darcy’s refusal to do so is an insult to the entire community of Meryton and a display of notably bad manners. The also explains Bingley’s irritation with him. Darcy’s concern about ‘giving consequence to young ladies’ was not unfounded though. He was so eligible a bachelor that he had to be very aware of raising expectations among single women.
The public laughter we hear next must have been further proof to Darcy of the very unacceptable country manners of Meryton. In general, such public displays were considered unladylike and ill-befitting proper society. Even the broad smiles worn by many of the young ladies bordered on too much of a display to be considered polite.
Back at home, as the assembly is recapped we see Lydia’s atrocious posture–a lady should always keep herself upright and not lounge about. However, Lydia is not exaggerating, the style of dancing they enjoyed was a strenuous exercise and to have danced all the dances mean that she would have been hopping, skipping and jumping about the assembly hall for several hours. Exhausting activity indeed.
That she and Kitty danced every dance is a mark of their popularity as typically men outnumbered women at these evens and many young ladies had to sit out, like Mary, for lack of partners. Mrs. Bennet’s ill-humored pronouncements regarding Mr. Darcy, though extreme sounding, were probably echoed throughout Meryton for his insults to the community.
Miss Bingley keeping house for her brother is a very significant role. In keeping house, Miss Bingley will effectively run most of his social interaction and interaction in the community. Most social invitations for teas, dinners and parties will be made by her. She will largely control who is admitted into Netherfield’s society and who is not . It seems Miss Bingley’s desire to allow Jane Bennet into that circle stems mostly from a desire to tease Mr. Darcy than true affection for Jane–a decision she will later come to regret.
The last sequence takes up to the garden to eavesdrop on a conversation between Jane and Lizzy. Notice how both of them are in the garden wearing white gowns and lace fichus. Wearing white was a mark of wealth, it indicated that the family could afford the servants and the soap necessary to keep such an impractical color clean. Lace covers at the neckline were worn during the day, though for evening necklines could plunge quite deeply and still be considered appropriate.
Episode 1 part 4
As we start part 4, we see Lucas Lodge filled with guests for a party. Sir William tells the Bingley sisters of the easiness that they enjoy. Ironically, it is likely that this very boast continues to poison the Bingley sisters against Meryton, for without ceremony and formality, how is one to know their place and to make it known to others? Such ceremony was the very foundation of society and to flaunt the lack of it might be considered very gauche indeed.
Though speculating about potential matches and gentlemen’s incomes was commonplace, Mrs. Bennet demonstrates a great want of manners in doing so so loudly, in a large gathering. Such gossip was considered unseemly and certain should not take place where there might be an audience. Poor Lizzy, looking on in such discomfort, clearly knows this only too well.
Colonel Forster mentions the warm welcome his militia regiment has received. Often militia regiments were not so well received. Since the regiment would be in town only a short time, their ranks often took advantage of local merchants and local ladies. They were out of town before the consequences caught up with them. Although the officer were supposed to come from landowning families, many times it was difficult to fill the lower ranks. Men like Wickham, who were not gentlemen, could purchase a place in cadre of militia officers and pass themselves off as a gentleman though they did not actually deserve the title. Wise families kept a wary eye on officers where their daughters were concerned.
Though Sir William’s offer to introduce the Bingley ladies at court is well intended it does brand him as a bit of a backward country fellow. Though titled, he has little wealth and what he has came from keeping shop. Clearly he takes pride in his status and his local community allows him to. However, the Bingleys, with their far greater wealth are already admitted to far better society than Sir Lucas enjoys.
This is further evidenced by the presence of the presumable Lucas children at the gathering. Children of this age would generally not be permitted in company. Their presence suggests Sir William and Lady Lucas are not very attentive to the proper upbringing of their children who are too young to be ‘out’ in society.
Lydia and Kitty, though, once again demonstrate their own lack of preparation to be in society when the refer to ‘Denny’ and ‘Saunderson’. A proper young lady would never drop the use of ‘Mr.’, especially not on such short acquaintance. The degree of familiarity they demonstrate is most unbecoming. Lydia only compounds the dreadful scene with her rude demands of Mary to play a dance, overstepping her role as guest in the Lucas’s home.
Charlotte’s famous speech to Lizzy reflects a most practical and common approach to marriage the era. It is Lizzy, not Charlotte whose ideas border on ridiculous.
When Lizzy refuses to dance with Mr. Darcy, she effectively states she will not dance the entire evening. In a private setting, if one refused one partner, she could not dance with anyone. The same stricture was not applied in a public setting, like the previous assembly, when young lady risked being approached by a young man to whom she had not been introduced. Without a proper introduction, a young lady could not accept an invitation to dance. Moreover, the mixed company of a public ball made it possible for inappropriate partners to make invitations to dance, so a lady was allowed to refuse without giving up dancing all together.
Part four ends with the Bingley sisters inviting Jane to dine at Netherfield. Mrs. Bennet snatches the letter away from Jane and reads it. While letters were commonly read aloud, it was considered very bad manners to read someone else’s mail yourself. Often times letter writers would indicate through underlines or other marks parts of a letter which should not be read aloud. Reading aloud protected privacy for the author and the recipient of the letter. Clearly Mrs. Bennet does not have much concern for that in her home. Not does she care for propriety when she instructs Jane to ride horseback to Netherfield. A proper lady did not ride alone, she required an escort to protect her reputation.
Despite their fine manners and elegant table, the Bingley sisters also demonstrate little concern for good manners when they ply Jane with all manner of very personal questions, none of which are appropriate on so short an acquaintance.
I have probably waffled on long enough for now. So what do you think? What any of this new to you. Did I miss something just screaming for attention? Let me know in the comments!