P&P200: Lady Catherine, Alone at Rosings


Rosings! Poor, poor Rosings. No longer allied with Pemberley, no longer a shining crown in the Darcy panoply of great houses, Rosings now stood alone and forlorn. There would be no more visits from the young men with whom Lady Catherine had been so proud to be connected. Mr. Darcy would never come to Rosings now, and Colonel Fitzwilliam, shamefully loyal to his cousin rather than to his aunt, would not pay his respects to her there either. The new Mrs. Darcy, and the deluded Miss Darcy alike, would be henceforth dead to the mistress of Rosings. For Lady Catherine de Bourgh had cut them all off at one stroke: her abusive letter regarding Darcy’s disgraceful marriage had been decisive.


Belton House, model for Rosings

Not that Lady Catherine would admit to administering anything more than a mere corrective, though admittedly it was rather like whipping a horse’s empty stall, after the beast itself had jumped its traces and escaped. Never mind; she had given her opinion, and stated what she felt to be right, no matter how unpleasant the consequences might be to her personally. But that was her character, for which she was so justly famed. She would brook no compromise. It would be the young men who were the losers, no longer having the entree to the superior society of Rosings.

At Rosings, then, Lady Catherine sat alone in splendid solitude, with nothing but the satisfaction that she had been right: as she always was. No, not quite alone; for there was Anne, to be sure, and her companion Mrs. Jenkinson. Even to a mother’s eye, disposed to be prejudiced until inevitable disappointment set in, it was plain that Anne was not the sort of company to satisfy a woman of the world, with education, fortune, and wisdom such as Lady Catherine’s. A lifetime of maternal homilies had been directed toward making Anne such another as herself, and by extension, the perfect wife for Mr. Darcy of Pemberley. What was her chagrin, then, to have a daughter who would hardly ever speak, and silently put sickliness up as a wall between herself and every thing her mother required her to do.

Lady Catherine occasionally had an uncomfortable inkling that it was her own incessant decrees that had rendered Anne silent; but no, that was impossible. It had all had been done with the best intentions; who could have been a better mother than herself? No one could say where she had failed. Lady Catherine could hardly suppose such a thing. Had not her instructions always been calculated to bring Anne out, to develop her powers of attention, of conversation? No, it was Anne’s ill health, unquestionably, that prevented her from attaining the character, the reputation, of the great lady she should not have failed to be. And now she would be an old maid, unless another man like her father, Sir Lewis de Bourgh, could be found for her. Lady Catherine shuddered.  She knew that there was not another Mr. Darcy.

A bride of 1810, named Eliza

At Rosings, apart from Anne, who was there? Jenkinson was an inferior, a distant connection, a widow fallen on destitute times; and most praiseworthy it had been of Lady Catherine to take her in and give her occupation. However, in accepting her condescending charity,  the woman had become no more than a servant, and a lady of Lady Catherine’s degree could not treat such a one as an equal.

There were other families of fortune in the neighborhood, but none of a lineage to compare with Lady Catherine’s own, and what with long standing feuds, and insulting instances of patronage, and intolerable neglect, and bitter enmities that never could be wiped away, there were few families of quality who had anything to do with her any more. All the blame was on the side of these upstart families, of course, for Lady Catherine chose to connect herself only with the best, and there was precious little of that in this sad part of Kent.

It was not surprising, then, that she had placed such great importance on the sort of clergyman who should come to Hunsford. As he would necessarily become an important intimate of her household, he must be someone she could at least endure, if not respect. Mr. Collins had been recommended to her by chance; and when summoned for the all-important interview, he had shewn himself most properly respectful of all her benefits. So, she smiled graciously upon this gentleman, and in due course, accepted his wife. Mrs. Collins was a very proper, sensible, submissive sort of body, and not unladylike; good enough for him, and already well instructed in what her position in the parish must be.

A wedding dress of 1810

 But where were these tame Collinses now? Gone; and most humiliatingly, they had followed her own aristocratic relations. That is human nature, she thought vengefully. The Collinses – how had she ever thought them biddable? They had seemed to know their station so well! Yet it was they who had promoted the marriage between Mrs. Collins’s pretty friend and her own nephew, and baser betrayal had never been seen and could not be borne. A pity one could not sack a clergyman, thought Lady Catherine, grinding her teeth; just as one might a thieving bailiff.

Anne had retired to bed, and Mrs. Jenkinson had scuttled off somewhere to hide. Lady Catherine was left alone, in the principal parlour at Rosings, as the sparkling December day outside, pale sun shining on crisp snow, began early to darken into twilight. She irritably removed to the long dining-table to eat her roasted beef and vegetable ragout in silence, before calling for a fire. No venison, no plump little birds shot and killed by the young men, and kept for a winter’s evening to be enjoyed, she thought bitterly; her meat now was bought at the butcher’s.

The evening sky outside was a velvety indigo, with a sweeping of little twinkling white stars in such profusion as had never been seen in the heavens before; but Lady Catherine would not look out a window to see such vulgar omens. She knew very well, with astronomical exactitude, what tonight was. It was the wedding night of Darcy and Elizabeth. And she was spending it alone.


Lady Catherine’s Bed

 Resolutely, she picked up the nearest book, but it was Fordyce’s Sermons, and she felt she required something more entertaining. No comfortable game of cassino for her, however, no light diverting novel left by an animated young visitor. It came to her, of a sudden, that she was unhappy, and a strange sound emerged from her corsetted, iron midsection, that a listener might have thought was almost a wrenching sob. But there were no listeners.

Then, from some remote place long dead within her, arose a memory, of what she had endured from Sir Lewis de Bourgh, so many years ago now. She had not thought of it – oh, almost since it happened. She had firmly suppressed the memory, as one must press down such unsuitable things.

It had been a very proper, approved match, for the de Bourghs were both a rich and ancient family, and Lady Catherine had retained all the rights to be her own mistress, as a strong minded heiress, rising thirty. She intended from the beginning to rule the roost; and Sir Lewis, timid in temperament and frail in health as his only surviving daughter would be, was not the man to gainsay her. Still, there had once been a wedding night, and for what reasons she could not say, with her back to the dark window, gazing at a low glowing fire, Lady Catherine thought of it now.  Images rose up in her mind, unbidden.

A Regency firescreen

Sir Lewis had emerged from the closet, his knees knobbly in his nightshirt, and he clambered onto the cold satin sheets. Lady Catherine lay stolidly in the center of the bed and did not move. “My dear, will you make room for me?” he bleated timorously. “Certainly not,” she answered. “That is not the proper method of proceeding, at all. Do not you know that a gentleman never approaches his lady on the wedding night, or indeed, ever, until and unless he is invited? And I do not recollect giving you the invitation.”

Sir Lewis had meekly gone into another bedchamber, his white shirt pale in the darkness like a ghost. And that was that, until, several years later, her own brother, then Viscount Fitzwilliam, came to visit at Rosings, bringing his lady and their little boys. He had expressed himself surprised at his sister’s childlessness, and a few shrewd questions to his brother-in-law had ascertained the state of affairs. A walk in the shrubbery; a hint to Lady Catherine that if Sir Lewis died with the marriage incomplete, unknown heirs might appear to challenge her widow’s possession of Rosings.

So she had reluctantly, and with infinite distaste, allowed Sir Lewis to have his fumbling way; the puling sickly Anne had been the result; and the father had faded away soon after, like a gentleman spider eaten by his lady, and not regretted by her in the slightest.

As a full, majestic, bright jubilant winter moon rose at midnight over Pemberley, it rose over Rosings too; but it only gleamed in on a widow in her own majestically caparisoned bed, which reflected white in the moonshine, like a galleon. Lying awake, Lady Catherine allowed her thoughts to drift to her benighted nephew and his bride. Would the new Mrs. Darcy be likely to know how a lady managed her husband on the wedding night? Humph! she thought. That coarse girl, how could a knowledge of proper behavior be expected from her? Why, they were probably behaving like barnyard animals at this very moment…

No. She would not think about such things. Resolutely she turned over, away from the window, and closed her eyes, to sleep the dreamless and undisturbed sleep of the just.Starry night

 This was the tenth “Lady Catherine” story that I’ve written for the P&P200 series!   In a previous incarnation I was Mrs. Elton for the longest time.  What is this morbid fascination that attracts me to Austen villains?  Am I going to wake up one morning to find myself channeling General Tilney?  Is this normal?  Is this healthy?  (Don’t answer that.)  Perhaps it’s because Jane Austen’s villains are so brilliantly, richly conceived and drawn, that the study of what makes them tick is so endlessly instructive.  Well, let’s see, who’s up next?  Anyone but Mrs. Norris…please, not her…


23 comments on “P&P200: Lady Catherine, Alone at Rosings

  1. Susan Mason-Milks

    The image of Lady Catherine on her wedding night telling her husband, “That is not the proper method of proceeding at all” almost had me choking with laughter, but at the same time, I feel sorry for her. Wonderful scene! No, I don’t think you’re ever going to be Colonel Tilney nor Mrs. Norris! Just a feeling! Thanks for this, Diana.

  2. Monica P

    I wonder if Sir Lewis was more disappointed or relieved to be shown the proper way of proceeding? This is great, Diana – humorous but also a bit sad.

  3. Beatrice

    What about Mary Crawford?
    Thank you for yet another charming glimpse of our new favourite villain.
    I’m sure the more Lady Catherine dwells on the insult of her new and unworthy Darcy relative, the more incensed she will become. Hers would never be a happy existence; hers only the conviction that SHE -out of all the world- knows the right path.
    But wouldn’t she take at least a little pleasure in the certainty that Darcy will soon regret this night and his choice of bride? His next letter to her will surely state how sorry he was not to recognize the wisdom of her advice and to beg her help in extricating himself from an impossible marriage.
    What I want to know is the composition of the humble pie involved in the reconciliation between Rosings and Pemberley. Will you be creating/reporting that recipe next??

  4. Abigail Reynolds

    Like barnyard animals indeed! Poor Lady Catherine – just enough sense to have a hint of her own failings, but not enough to make any changes. I’d love to hear more of that scene where Viscount Fitzwilliam took his sister for a walk in the shrubbery!

  5. blodeuedd

    Oh Lady Catherine will never change, I almost feel sorry for her

  6. Diana Birchall

    Oh, yes, Beatrice, that is my plan! I am indeed going to report on the Reconciliation, when Lady Catherine visits Pemberley. Can hardly wait, that should be enough material for a book in itself! And Abigail, you make me twitch to write that scene, In the Shrubbery: Lady Catherine Receives Advice from her Brother. Maybe it could be worked in retrospectively…

    1. Monica P

      I’d love to read that, too! Nothing like discussing an awkward topic with your obnoxious sister and her husband.

    2. Susan Mason-Milks

      Please, please write that, Diana!

  7. Kim Withey

    Funny how you can write of a woman in a different time and it still reminds you of someone today. I know a few self righteous overbearing woman. It is taxing to be around them for even a few minutes.

  8. Julie Freeman

    I can see her telling home to get out and how it is to be done.

  9. Lisa S

    What a sad pathetic life Lady C leads. I think you captured her so perfectly — exactly what I would expect from her on the occasion of D&E’s wedding. Definitely looking forward to the story of their reconciliation. :)

    Thank you Diana!

  10. suzan

    I loved the pics you put with this. They were magnificent. Boohoo poor Lady C. It’s always someone else fault. The neighbors, Anne, Darcy, Sir Lewis. I’m surprised tho’ that she didn’t realize that Sir Lewis could just turn elsewhere if she didn’t straighten out (and lose everything) insert wicked laugh here. Poor sir Lewis did she ever even fake being nice in order to catch him. I would have liked to have heard that shrubbery talk also. Please not Mrs. Norris….I second that motion. almost anyone but her.

  11. Sophia Rose

    Poor Sir Lewis! I don’t even feel sorry that she is all alone now. She drove anyone off who might have been close to her.

    I appreciate the vignette, Diana, but I don’t envy you having to get inside Lady C’s head.

  12. Carole

    And to wish a loveless marriage for her own daughter? Self-serving and manipulative and one can only pity her. The indignation she would have if she only knew that that is what most people feel about her. You have captured her brilliantly. What about Fanny Dashwood? She was a nasty piece of work.

    1. Diana Birchall

      Hahahahah! Carole! I HAVE been Fanny Dashwood! In the play Syrie James and I recently wrote and presented at the JASNA meeting in Brooklyn. You can see excerpts from it on YouTube (search for Austen Assizes). We’ve cut down the hour long play to 15 minutes, as a “highlights” video, and only one line of my Fanny remains, but she’s meaner than heck. Check it out!

  13. BeckyC

    Money can’t buy you everything! Lady Catherine is setting herself to be very lonely!!! So sad!

  14. Danielle C

    Lol…..I should not be surprised that she would even want to dictate how her wedding night was supposed to be.

  15. Lisa S

    Oh, I forgot to say that I loved the images you included, although ‘Eliza’ seems much more a Jane to me – very soft and placid. :)

  16. Patricia Finnegan

    For some reason I have always imagined Sir Lewis de Bourgh to be alot like Lady Catherine.

  17. Nina Benneton

    Hey, I love Mrs. Norris. I’d channel Mrs. Norris and you can have Mrs. Elton!

    A villain is the hero of her own story, and you have masterfully shown that here, taking us into Lady C’s mind. God, I can totally see her in therapy–denial to the very end she’s her own worst enemy.

  18. Krista

    I don’t think I could ever feel sorry for Lady Catherine, but she is a great character. :mrgreen:

  19. Regina Jeffers

    Lady Catherine has many depths to her character. Thank you, Diana.

  20. Krista

    I would agree Lady Catherine does have many depths to her character so many I just love to read. But she is the kind of character you love to love and love to dislike! LOL