I do not know if you ever read or watched any adaptation of the Pride and Prejudice novel by Jane Austen but you may have heard the quote below. What I will talk to you today about will be the notion of being an accomplished person. I know very well everyone has his/her very own opinion over what that means, but let us look over how Jane Austen presented this and what people think now.
“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?”
“Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time without being informed that she was very accomplished.”
“Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse, or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.”
“Nor I, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley.
“Then,” observed Elizabeth, “you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman.”
“Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it.”
“Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “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, all 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.”
“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”
In the 19th century Jane Austen came with very open minded ideeas about women. One of them being the freedom of speech, presented by Elizabeth Bennet. Because Austen's novels failed to conform to Romantic and Victorian expectations that "powerful emotion [be] authenticated by an egregious display of sound and colour in the writing", 19th-century critics and audiences generally preferred the works of Charles Dickens and George Eliot. Jane did not wrote by the book and that is what made her so special. She was writing from her heart, giving the characters the perfect ending of their story - unfortunately she and her sister Cassandra could not have a happy ending so she decided that at least her stories will have a happy ending and for me it sounds fair! Now if you look at the writings of the time (and of course before) women were not supposed to think - they should just be pretty and smile and make children. Even Bingley is surprised on how accomplished women are at the time - it is amazing for him that women are able to write and read and sing and dance and draw... it is like their "small minds" would not be able to hold all this information. Bare in mind that women back then were not allowed to have any higher education still ;) In summary, a woman of that age must have a thorough knowledge of:
- modern languages
- must possess a certain something in her air
- manner of walking,
- proper gesture,
- the tone of her voice,
- her address and expressions
- she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.
These are what respectable men in that day wanted as wives. They certainly did not want silly wives - you know, the likes of Kitty and Lydia!
Now when you look at today - 200 or so years later - things did not change that much. True, ladies have more liberties - we can vote and go to universities and have our own careers, but do you not see still that there is discrimination in our day to day jobs? We are still expected to know that our place is not in a leading position. We should be humble and thankful for the rights we were given. We should read and broaden our minds but at the same time not think too highly of ourself. God forbid there would be a Team Leader / Project Manager or so on that would be a girl... that would be unthinkable... I know, there are persons and persons and I have met people who see no difference between a man and a woman as long as you get your job done and you do it right. On the other hand there are some people who just dismiss you at first glance only because you are a woman... It is still sad to see this nowadays but I should be glad that time has changed people and how women are percieved in society - I think I would not be able to wear 24/7 a skirt/dress! I would just have stolen a pair of pants ;))) How about you? Would you have been settled to sit indoors and read books and have ocasional walks while your brother/cousin went to university in order to broaden his mind?
The Accomplished LadyBug :)