“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, 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.”
“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.”
Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 8
Oh, how blessed we are that we need not live up to these impossible standards of an accomplished woman as stated by Miss Bingley and confirmed by Mr. Darcy himself. But is this truly the complete, write-it-in-stone, must have accomplishment list that Miss Bingley believes it to be? And what does that say of us today?
I have several books which I use to confirm little tidbits when I am writing so as not to be tweaked by reviewers for something I thought insignificant at the time. When I chose to blog on accomplishments, I pulled them all out and found … next to nothing. They all agreed that a woman of the Regency era must be accomplished in order to find a suitable husband, but none of them actually provided a list of what was expected.
Wait! Let’s take a look at that sentence again. They all agreed that a woman of the Regency era must be accomplished in order to find a suitable husband … Within this phrase we find the answer. A woman’s accomplishments would be linked to the type of man she sought.
Certainly Mr. Darcy, grandson to an earl and a member of the first circle, would require his wife to have the accomplishments required for his society. A member of the government’s wife might be required to entertain foreign dignitaries and speak their language. A gentleman aspiring to office would look for a woman who could 1) improve his station, and 2) assist his ambitions by being a superb hostess. These same skills might not be expected by a gentleman farmer who preferred the quiet country life. So what would a simple country lady require to impress a gentleman sufficiently to entice a marriage proposal?
Of course, no matter the status, a woman would be required to read, write, and perform basic mathematics. How else could she run an efficient home? In addition, needlework would be necessary. A seamstress may be paid to create the lady’s wardrobe and a maid to mend it, but would the expense be deemed necessary for a child’s gown? And what of charity work? If times were difficult and funds limited, could she make necessary alterations herself? And what of decorating? Cross stitch, embroidery, knotting, netting? Would it not be economizing as well as fulfilling to embellish some things yourself?
Thinking of the actual necessities of life, could Elizabeth Bennet not simply responded to Miss Bingley’s somewhat bizarre assertions of a certain something in her air with a Biblical reference?
“I wonder, Miss Bingley, if the virtuous woman King Lemuel’s mother praised in Proverbs 31 would meet your exacting standards.”
Though some might see The Proverbs Woman also as an unreachable goal, another view might be to look at her as a list of Godly traits. I like the way Brittany at Equipping Godly Women explained it:
(And even if the Virtuous Woman WAS a real person, the text seems to indicate she wasn’t a young mom with little ones at home, but an older woman with years of experience. And also that she didn’t do ALL of the things all at the same time. Proverbs 31 is simply the highlight reel of the BEST things she did in various seasons over the course of her entire life.)
I grew up in the 70s and 80s, as I might have mentioned in the past. This was the era of the Super Mom. Bringing home the bacon and frying it up in the pan. My takeaway from what I saw was “Mom can’t do it all, and if she tries, it will drive her batty.” I’m sure my husband wishes I attempted it a bit more than I do, but I did learn how to sew, crochet, do needlepoint and cross stitch, paint ceramics, play the piano tolerably, and speak Spanish. Perhaps I’m more accomplished than I once believed.
Are you an accomplished woman?