There is a passage in Pride and Prejudice that always makes me ponder on how women have changed in time. If they have changed. It’s when Caroline Bingley explains what a woman should do or should be to get the trophy of the “true accomplished woman”, therefore worthy of a great matrimony:
“A(n accomplished) 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 “.
The reaction of the public she is lecturing to is quite interesting: for Mr Darcy this definition is not enough to match his high standards and adds that such a woman should work on the “improvement of her mind by extensive reading“, Elizabeth asserts that there are just a few women who possess such talents and she doesn’t know any and Mr Bingley……well, he doesn’t really care much. However, if these were the “qualities” required, the draft of the nineteenth century upper class woman is that of a “look at me” kind , whose main concern is the exhibition of her self in order to be admired and hopefully marry the man she thinks to deserve.
Jane Eyre is the first heroine that defies those cultural standards of the nineteenth century, that’s why she bears the stamp of the proto-feminist. She has been brought up to rely on herself only and not on a male figure. Her job as governess makes her independent and she doesn’t seem to be intimidated at all by her master Mr Rochester:
“I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.”
She feels mortified when Mr Rochester wants to lavish her with expensive gifts in occasion of their imminent wedding:” the more he bought me, the more my cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradation.” and she has the courage to refuse matrimony not once but twice. Therefore Jane represents woman’s awareness of being able to do well in the world thanks to her effort, power, self respect, dignity without all that exhibition of accomplishments required to find the support of a man. The only thing is that I am not totally convinced we have really left behind Caroline Bingley’s phase, but rather Jane’s and Caroline’s phases, co-exist in a modern woman.
Nowadays, in fact, all these “accomplishments” would be mostly defined as hobbies. I myself used to play the guitar, I did some karaoke, I love dancing, I speak many languages and I also try to improve my mind ” by extensive reading” , but in addition to this, just like any other woman in the world, I have to work, look after the house and family, take care of old parents, without ignoring the importance of that ” certain something in her air and manner of walking“, hence I try to keep fit and do whatever is possible to be attractive, and for what concerns “ the tone of the voice”, well, it depends on how I feel, when I come back home after a day like this. Don’t know, haven’t you ever been under the impression of being born in the wrong century?
P.S. Mr Run wants everybody to know that he wakes up six o’clock in the morning to go to work and when he comes back home, he goes running, of course, but once back he diligently prepares dinner. He is in charge with the cooking, the ironing and washing as Mrs Run doesn’t seem to possess such “accomplishments” 🙂