An Accomplished Woman, by Bronwen Chisholm

An Accomplished Woman, by Bronwen Chisholm

“No one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”

“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 8

Oh, how blessed we are that we need not live up to these impossible standards of an accomplished woman as stated by Miss Bingley and confirmed by Mr. Darcy himself. But is this truly the complete, write-it-in-stone, must have accomplishment list that Miss Bingley believes it to be? And what does that say of us today?

I have several books which I use to confirm little tidbits when I am writing so as not to be tweaked by reviewers for something I thought insignificant at the time. When I chose to blog on accomplishments, I pulled them all out and found … next to nothing. They all agreed that a woman of the Regency era must be accomplished in order to find a suitable husband, but none of them actually provided a list of what was expected.

Wait! Let’s take a look at that sentence again. They all agreed that a woman of the Regency era must be accomplished in order to find a suitable husband … Within this phrase we find the answer. A woman’s accomplishments would be linked to the type of man she sought.

Certainly Mr. Darcy, grandson to an earl and a member of the first circle, would require his wife to have the accomplishments required for his society. A member of the government’s wife might be required to entertain foreign dignitaries and speak their language. A gentleman aspiring to office would look for a woman who could 1) improve his station, and 2) assist his ambitions by being a superb hostess. These same skills might not be expected by a gentleman farmer who preferred the quiet country life. So what would a simple country lady require to impress a gentleman sufficiently to entice a marriage proposal?

Of course, no matter the status, a woman would be required to read, write, and perform basic mathematics. How else could she run an efficient home? In addition, needlework would be necessary. A seamstress may be paid to create the lady’s wardrobe and a maid to mend it, but would the expense be deemed necessary for a child’s gown? And what of charity work? If times were difficult and funds limited, could she make necessary alterations herself? And what of decorating? Cross stitch, embroidery, knotting, netting? Would it not be economizing as well as fulfilling to embellish some things yourself?

Thinking of the actual necessities of life, could Elizabeth Bennet not simply responded to Miss Bingley’s somewhat bizarre assertions of a certain something in her air with a Biblical reference?

“I wonder, Miss Bingley, if the virtuous woman King Lemuel’s mother praised in Proverbs 31 would meet your exacting standards.”

Though some might see The Proverbs Woman also as an unreachable goal, another view might be to look at her as a list of Godly traits. I like the way Brittany at Equipping Godly Women explained it:

(And even if the Virtuous Woman WAS a real person, the text seems to indicate she wasn’t a young mom with little ones at home, but an older woman with years of experience. And also that she didn’t do ALL of the things all at the same time. Proverbs 31 is simply the highlight reel of the BEST things she did in various seasons over the course of her entire life.)

I grew up in the 70s and 80s, as I might have mentioned in the past. This was the era of the Super Mom. Bringing home the bacon and frying it up in the pan. My takeaway from what I saw was “Mom can’t do it all, and if she tries, it will drive her batty.” I’m sure my husband wishes I attempted it a bit more than I do, but I did learn how to sew, crochet, do needlepoint and cross stitch, paint ceramics, play the piano tolerably, and speak Spanish. Perhaps I’m more accomplished than I once believed.


Are you an accomplished woman?

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March 31, 2022 9:04 PM

My father told me that I needed to learn to cook, clean and sew because my husband wouldn’t love me for being beautiful. I can cook, clean, sew, crochet, needlepoint, do mosaics, scrapbook, paint, bake, and my husband doesn’t love me for any of these reasons. He loves me for me.

October 27, 2018 4:05 PM

Am not sure I could say i would fit Ms Bingley’s criteria for an accomplished lady. I do know how to sew, could probably alter a dress (basic alterations) but very poorly. I can speak 2 languages as I am not from North America. I do chopstick piano playing 😉 very poor at dancing (since I have 2 left feet, i need to partner with someone who has 2 right feet). Can’t really draw than the different shapes in geometry…

But I do have a stable job, and have wonderful kids. These I am proud of as my accomplishments

October 25, 2018 7:40 AM

I wish I would have paid more attention and helped more growing up so I could have learned more useful skills.

October 24, 2018 7:34 PM

Wonderful post, Bronwen! Thank you for sharing!

Nancy Lawrence
October 24, 2018 12:01 PM

I grew up sewing my own clothes, crocheting, and embroidering. I also drew pretty well, learned Spanish, took a few piano lessons and sang in the youth choir. But if “extensive reading” qualifies me as an accomplished woman, than I’m definitely in the club! Thanks for an enjoyable post, Bronwen.

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
October 24, 2018 10:59 AM

Delightful post. I agree about the Proverbs woman and love the take you have on it. I didn’t think in terms of it being an older woman full of experience. Great observation. Poor Caroline. She was desperately listing all her accomplishments, while hoping they met the requirements of Mr. Darcy. Then for him to add something where she was lacking must have stung smartly. I like that he put her in her place.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
October 24, 2018 9:03 AM

I like to think so. My Dad has been gone 21 years and I think my Mom and I both have come a long way! I can sew to a degree, I am a great reader, I learned to play the clarinet(in high school) lol. Yes I think I am an accomplished woman.

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