Regency Manners and Fitzwilliam Darcy

Regency Manners and Fitzwilliam Darcy

Manners back in Regency times were very interesting and different from the manners we see today, especially in certain countries.

The other day I read where an author/reader commented on Fitzwilliam Darcy’s insult of Elizabeth at the Meryton Assembly. There was one aspect in regard to that comment he made that makes one wonder just why he was so insulting.

“Which do you mean?” and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”

When one thinks about it, his words were more than insulting. He actually caught her eye before voicing his very contemptuous comments about a young lady he had never even met. He assumed she was left with no dance partner without noting the lack of men at the assembly, and his comment concerning her looks was not true. Why was he so rude? Was he just irritated at Bingley pushing him to dance or was the whole evening just irritating in general? Or was he sending a message to any of the young ladies at this assembly? “I am Fitzwilliam Darcy, the owner of a huge estate in Derbyshire, and I’m not looking for a wife, most especially NOT in this Podunk town.” Jane Austen never really goes into the reason or reasons why Darcy is so discourteous. But is it any wonder that Elizabeth was more than insulted at his rudeness and disdainful manner. It’s a miracle she ever forgave him for it. (Yes, Podunk is American, not British.)  🙂

In looking at the manners of the Regency period, we might consider them a little restrictive. But in hindsight, they could also be a protection for the young women of that day. Dancing with just anyone that asked could open the door for someone that was undesirable and could pose a danger to a young innocent’s virtue. Although it was considered practically a norm that young men would indulge in immoral behavior, young debutantes were expected to be virgins and of the purest sort. Talk about hypocrisy. In or out of marriage, for some of the husbands, a wife was just an inconvenience except for gaining an heir.

A formal introduction would protect a woman’s reputation and control who would be interacting with her. And her reputation was important. If for some reason it was ruined, it could spoil her chances at a good marriage or even leave her a spinster for the rest of her life.

But what about manners in general? Having a set way of meeting people, gathering for a party, or how one handled friendships could be rather comforting because one knew exactly how to act and what to expect of others. Darcy’s reaction to Bingley’s encouragement was not the norm and not nice as he publicly refused an introduction and insultingly said why he would not dance with Elizabeth. And he said it loud enough that Elizabeth, and probably others, heard everything he said. I doubt he whispered it to Bingley. If he had, Elizabeth would not have been aware of how ungentlemanly he had acted.

Bingley, on the other hand, must have expected Elizabeth to be friendly to Darcy and would accept his invitation to dance. After all, Jane had been the most perfect angel, and he probably felt that Elizabeth would be just as agreeable. Bingley was mistaken. I doubt that Elizabeth would have consented to dance with Darcy as she was aware he had ignored everyone and had danced only with Miss Bingley and her sister. Perhaps, she wasn’t all that surprised at his reaction to Bingley’s entreaty.

Although being of a higher social class, Darcy did display the characteristics of a snob instead of setting a good example. Yes, he was born a gentleman, part of the landed gentry class, and also was the nephew of an earl and countess. However, that did not give him license to display bad manners which he most thoroughly did at the Meryton Assembly. Can we fault the townspeople of Meryton because they thought he was rude and accepted Wickham’s assertions as to Darcy’s cruelty in denying him the living at Kympton? I think not.

Perhaps it all could have been avoided if Darcy had only displayed a measure of good manners while visiting his friend at Netherfield. What do you think? Please let me know in your comments below. 🙂

References:

http://randombitsoffascination.com/2016/09/29/making-introductions-jane-austens-world/

https://savvyauthors.com/community/threads/introductions-in-the-regency-era.21559/

12 Responses to Regency Manners and Fitzwilliam Darcy

  1. I was reading a story on Ffn.net and Lady C is influencing young Darcy into becoming a bit of a snob. A lot of readers were blaming Lady C but in canon, he has quite a bit of her arrogance and condescension at the beginning. Like I said, he’s lucky that E forgave him. He really was rude! Fanon gives him the excuses “I did not realize you overheard” or “I was dealing with impact of Ramsgate and depressed Georgiana”. Enjoyed the photos you posted with your blog.

    • Yes, he was very rude, Linny. In fact, I don’t think he cared if she overheard him as he caught her eye before making that contemptible comment. He was as bad or worse than Lady Catherine at that moment. He’s fortunate that Elizabeth didn’t get up, walk over to him, and slap his face good and hard. I wonder how Jane Austen would have handled that. 🙂 Glad you liked the photos.

  2. If you remember all he had just come from, and still worrying for his sister, dealing with Miss Bingley, and knowing she was the norm, not the singular instance. Yes, he danced with Bingley’s sisters, but out of responsibility to Bingley. (Good manners) he didn’t want to face anyone else, and tho he used Elizabeth as the example, he knew it would save him from others. Even if he had used someone other than Elizabeth, I think she would have taken it pretty much the same. I, too, am glad she was able to forgive him, and think seeing his estate and changing her mind was a bit fishy. Then I remember the letter, and how that had touched her, how Mrs. Reynolds words had touched her, as well as seeing how he ran and cared for his people and estate. They both acted a little fishy, as well as in self preservation.

    • Yes, he had endured a lot, but he also had a temper which he did not govern at the Meryton Assembly. That was the reason he said what he said about Elizabeth without thinking. And that’s what got him in trouble, Teresa. 🙂

  3. I always tried to give him the benefit of the doubt – as in: he was probably forced to go to the dance, he had just been dealing with Wickham, he had to deal with Miss Bingley and people like her that wanted something from him, and he was uncomfortable meeting people. They were all talking about his wealth so if he didn’t allow himself to be introduced, then there wouldn’t be any expectations on him from someone he didn’t know. His experience with unknown females was probably that they were all money grubbers like Miss Bingley. Yes, he was rude in what he said, but maybe the music stopped at that point, otherwise Elizabeth might not have heard him. He did have some reason to be proud of his position and get to choose who he wanted to meet, or not meet – that was also part of their manners at the time. I think he was a nice guy, otherwise people like Mrs. Reynolds wouldn’t have spoken so highly of him, but he was a product of his environment until Elizabeth poked holes in it.

    • Thank you for your comments, Linda. I agree to a degree. 🙂 But it was Darcy himself who said, “I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit…I was spoilt by my parents…to care for none beyond my family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world etc, etc…” I’m sure he was a good little boy, and he grew up to become basically a good man. That is what Mrs. Reynolds saw, but if she had seen him at the Meryton Assembly, she would have been forced to adjust her thinking. Yes, Lizzy certainly punched holes in his complacency. Maria Grace brought out in one of her articles “that Introductions could not be made without permission. After all, that could bring people of quality ‘inconvenient’ connections. (Mary Elliot complained of these in Persuasion, but as
      they were also related to her by marriage, she could not refuse them. Poor dear.) The higher ranking individual (or the woman in the case of two equally ranking individuals) could permit the introduction of an inferior–or not. If the higher ranking person did not desire an introduction, one could not be forced upon
      them. Imagine the imposition of an undesirable thinking they could just walk up and talk to you! The indignity!” Since Elizabeth and Darcy were of the same social sphere, Bingley probably should have asked her if she wanted an introduction rather than having Darcy’s company forced on her. Nancy Meyer in her article (referenced below) mentions ‘But generally…You would ask a lady if you might introduce a man to her. She could say “no.” So one needs to have an idea if the two people will be acceptable to an introduction.’ Neither Elizabeth nor Darcy were amenable to an introduction at that time, especially Darcy.

  4. This is one of the elements of the story a lot of people seem to miss. Darcy is NOT a nice guy, at least at first. It takes Lizzy to slap him into manners. The other element is how intrigued Lizzy become when she sees his house! Boy if that isn’t the most honest emotion ever written I don’t know what is. You start to like a man that you’ve been at odds with, you start learning he’s not quite the oaf everyone has painted him out to be, he’s nice looking, and then you see the mega mansion where he lives! Wow, That would have done it for most women. Sign me up!

    • Hahahahahahaha! No, he was not a nice guy at first. He was really rude and unloving in responses to people he felt ‘were beneath him.’ First class snob. At least he responded to her admonitions. I’m surprised she never slapped him at some point, big mansion or not. Basically he was a good guy. Just didn’t handle it very well there for a while. 🙂

  5. I agree. I think Darcy does have to maintain a little decorum even if he hadn’t be introduced to Elizabeth yet! Fortunately everything works out in the end.?

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