Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice: Ch. 7

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Chapter 7

Mr. Bennet's property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entailedw, in default of heirs male, on a distant relation; and their mother's fortune, though ample for her situation in life, could but ill supply the deficiency of his. Her father had been an attorneyh in Meryton, and had left her four thousand pounds.

She had a sister married to a Mr. Phillips, who had been a clerk to their father and succeeded him in the business, and a brother settled in London in a respectable line of tradeh.

The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton; a most convenient distance for the young ladies, who were usually tempted thither three or four times a week, to pay their duty to their aunt and to a milliner's shop just over the way. The two youngest of the family, Catherine and Lydia, were particularly frequent in these attentions; their minds were more vacant than their sisters', and when nothing better offered, a walk to Merytonh was necessary to amuse their morning hours and furnish conversation for the evening; and however bare of news the countryh in general might be, they always contrived to learn some from their aunt. At present, indeed, they were well supplied both with news and happiness by the recent arrival of a militia regimentw in the neighbourhood; it was to remain the whole winter, and Meryton was the headquarters.

Their visits to Mrs. Phillips were now productive of the most interesting intelligence. Every day added something to their knowledge of the officers' names and connections. Their lodgings were not long a secret, and at length they began to know the officers themselves. Mr. Phillips visited them all, and this opened to his nieces a store of felicity unknown before. They could talk of nothing but officers; and Mr. Bingley's large fortune, the mention of which gave animation to their mother, was worthless in their eyes when opposed to the regimentals of an ensignw.

After listening one morning to their effusions on this subject, Mr. Bennet coolly observed:

"From all that I can collect by your manner of talking, you must be two of the silliest girls in the countryd. I have suspected it some time, but I am now convinced."

Catherine was disconcerted, and made no answer; but Lydia, with perfect indifference, continued to express her admiration of Captain Carter, and her hope of seeing him in the course of the day, as he was going the next morning to London.

"I am astonished, my dear," said Mrs. Bennet, "that you should be so ready to think your own children silly. If I wished to think slightingly of anybody's children, it should not be of my own, however."

"If my children are silly, I must hope to be always sensible of it."

"Yes—but as it happens, they are all of them very clever."

"This is the only point, I flatter myself, on which we do not agree. I had hoped that our sentiments coincided in every particular, but I must so far differ from you as to think our two youngest daughters uncommonly foolish."

"My dear Mr. Bennet, you must not expect such girls to have the sense of their father and mother. When they get to our aged, I dare say they will not think about officers any more than we do. I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well—and, indeed, so I do still at my heart; and if a smart young colonel, with five or six thousand a year, should want one of my girlsh I shall not say nay to him; and I thought Colonel Forster looked very becoming the other night at Sir William's in his regimentals."

"Mamma," cried Lydia, "my aunt says that Colonel Forster and Captain Carter do not go so often to Miss Watson's as they did when they first came; she sees them now very often standing in Clarke's libraryh."

X [w] entailed

Custom & Law

Meaning that restrictions are attached to the estate. The two described here are routine for the time: it must pass to a male descendant and, to keep the estate intact, there are limitations upon the sale or disposal of any part of it. In the absence of a son the estate must go to the nearest male descendant, now a "distant relation." The entail has the effect of making any inheritor of Longbourn a steward or tenant-for-life rather than an owner free to do as he chooses.…

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X [h] an attorney

People

A country attorney does not rank high on the social scale and, unlike a London barrister, is in the eyes of the gentry scarcely superior to a tradesman. Like any haberdasher or greengrocer, the attorney has, Austen notes, a "business" and is the direct recipient of money for services or goods. So do the landed gentry and aristocracy, who sell their corn and wheat or build apartment blocks in Bath or London, but their class insulates them from the "cash-nexus." …

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X [h] respectable line of trade

People

Not a slumlord, not a doss house or pawn shop; "respectable" here means a line of trade that does not diminish Mrs. Bennet and her relations in anyone's opinion. Worth noting is how one's "connections" bear upon the society's estimate of one's own respectability.    

X [h] a walk to Meryton

Amusements

We glimpse from this how stiflingly dull the days in the country could be for young people, especially women, who did not shoot, hunt, or ride and had few demands upon them other than the management of the household's servants. Though Mr. Bennet is a reader, neither he nor his wife takes any interest in educating the two youngest daughters. 

Female boredom reappears with some frequency in Austen and helps to drive events in Mansfield Park and Emma. Boredom sharpens Lydia's preoccupation with the officers.

X [h] the country

Places

Austen means the neighboring manor houses or the county.

X [w] militia regiment

Military

Not the regular army but the local regiments inducted under the authority of the highest-ranking male member of a county. These regiments were garrisoned within England, Scotland, and Ireland for protection against invasion and for putting down civil unrest, there being then no police force. They moved about but were often billeted during the winter in private homes, inns, and farms. Jane's brother Henry joined the militia in 1793.…

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X [w] the regimentals of an ensign

Military

The regiment's distinguishing uniform; an ensign carried the regiment's colors and was the lowest ranking commissioned officer.

X [d] the silliest girls in the country

While Mr. Bennet can be harsh, he doesn't mean the entire nation but the surrounding gentry families. He treats his daughters' silliness with ironic disdain for his own amusement and his wife's and daughters' discomfort. Nevertheless, he does nothing to correct the situation except observe it.

X [d] When they get to our age

Love & Marriage

Although an over-determined strategist on behalf of daughters, there is yet something appealing about her candor regarding the physical and sexual and what appears to be her own appetites. Not a good mother in some ways, she has remained youthful and energetic (she may be compared with the phlegmatic Lady Bertram of Mansfield Park.).

We should recall that she's forty. She's been married twenty-three years, and we'll learn that she married at seventeen.

X [h] should want one of my girls

Love & Marriage

The £5-6000 is either Mrs. Bennet's humorous exaggeration (a Bennet daughter on the market would go for considerably less in income and rank) or refers to his income from other sources.

Mrs. Bennet speaks of her girls as so many head of sheep and of the men as strictly a compound of looks and money. Yet she is influential, for it was typical that the mother managed the marriages of the female children.…

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X [h] Clarke's library

Writing & Reading

A circulating (rental) or subscription library, often housed with a bookseller or publisher or in a village as part of a shop such as a draper's. The circulating libraries were particularly important in the dissemination of books such as novels that were relatively expensive and that many women could not afford but ardently desired to read. …

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