In reviewing Pride & Prejudice, one thing stands out to me. Why wasn’t Elizabeth Bennet referred to, or thought of, as a bluestocking? She was, after all, an educated woman, although her education was a result of her own thirst for knowledge, and not because of any schooling, which would have been, in accordance with the prevailing belief, rudimentary at best.
Women were expected to bear children and maintain an orderly house. They were not well educated, as the general opinion was that, other than knowing how to cook and to sew, there was no need for a young woman to learn much of anything else, unless they belonged to the upper echelons of society, and even then they were not taught anything useful. By the time Pride & Prejudice was published attitudes were starting to change, but it was not until much later in the nineteenth century that women were admitted to any of the centers of higher learning in England, and that was still looked upon as unbecoming by a large part of the population.
Elizabeth, however, as well as Jane and Mary, were better educated than most of the young women in Hertfordshire. In Elizabeth’s case we know that she loved to read the books in her father’s library, and I assume the same held true for her sisters, although to a much lesser extent.
Mr. Darcy is attracted to her, not because of her beauty, which he initially derides, but because of her impertinence and ability to carry on an intelligent discussion. He finds these qualities somewhat beguiling and, before he knows what is happening, he has fallen in love with her.
Which brings me to my point. Why, with her level of knowledge, which she was not afraid to display, was Elizabeth not derided as a bluestocking? While the term was not pejorative at first, referring to members of the Blue Stockings Society, by Jane Austen’s time the label was derogatory. In fact, in the eighteenth century, the society membership contained intellectuals of both sexes. The name came about, as far as I can ascertain, because of the attire worn by a Mr. Benjamin Stillingfleet to a meeting he had been invited to attend. He showed up wearing a pair of blue stockings, and was criticized for not wearing the expected formal black ones. In his defense, Elizabeth Vesey, who might have been the person to invite him, said “don’t mind dress! Come in your blue stockings!”
To be called a bluestocking came to be considered an insult, and implied that a woman was too smart for her own good. In 1811, a play called M.P., which was a comic opera by Thomas Moore and Charles Edward Horn, was subtitled The Blue Stocking. It contained a character Lady Bab Blue, who was a parody of bluestockings. William Hazlitt. an English essayist, drama and literary critic, among other things too numerous to mention, held them in contempt, saying: “The bluestocking is the most odious character in society…she sinks wherever she is placed, like the yolk of an egg, to the bottom, and carries the filth with her.”
Jane Austen’s writing often parodied her times, or at least pointed out many of its absurdities. We see this in the very name Pride & Prejudice, which, if not a parody of those two words, at least shows how absurd the two protagonists were in their attitudes and beliefs.
This brings me back to my original question: Why wasn’t she considered a bluestocking? My own supposition is because that would have taken the plot in an entirely different direction, away from the point Ms. Austen was trying to make.
What do you think? Am I on the right track, or out to lunch?
I apologize for the brevity of this blog. In my defense, I was ill much of last week and unable to write as much as a single chapter of the book I had intended to begin editing by now. I was thinking of posting an excerpt of my WIP but thought that might be cruel and unusual punishment, so I refrained.
To end this month’s post, I am including two pictures of my daughter’s dog, Emma, the one I referred to last month. I wanted to post them with my original blog but could not locate them, so I had my daughter send them to me again. By way of explanation, in the first, she is seated on a kitchen stool, participating in one of my frequent WhatsApp video chats with my daughters. Emma likes to be involved so, in frustration, my daughter put her laptop on the island and told Emma if she could get up there, she could watch. Of course, the dog took her at her word.
The other one is Emma again, this time watching a program I think might be called The Voice. Why she would choose to watch anything on TV is beyond me. I haven’t looked at the boob tube in almost ten years, and don’t miss it a bit, but to each his (or hers) own, I guess.
I promise not to bore you with pictures or stories of my family’s dogs any more. You believe me, right?