The Engagement of Fitzwilliam Darcy & Anne de Bourgh

The Engagement of Fitzwilliam Darcy & Anne de Bourgh

This post is, primarily, about the “tacit engagement” between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Anne de Bourgh, but also about our role as authors. Before discussing the latter, I wish to speculate on the former, but before discussing the nature of that engagement, there is another question to be considered. How old is Anne de Bourgh? It is not that Darcy cannot marry a woman over a certain age but, rather, that making Anne over a certain age complicates the idea of them wedding, as you shall see.

As to Anne’s age at the time of Pride and Prejudice, I found this clue in the novel, a statement by Lady Catherine: “The engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy, they have been intended for each other. It was the favorite wish of his mother, as well as of hers. While in their cradles, we planned the union…”

A reasonable interpretation of this is that Anne and Darcy were infants at the same time. Darcy is twenty-seven or twenty-eight when Lady Catherine’s statement occurs. This would make Anne at least twenty-six and no more than twenty-nine. Babies do not stay in cradles for very long. If Darcy and Anne were in cradles simultaneously, they are almost certainly within a year of each other in age and more likely within a few months.

A second interpretation is that when Darcy was born, Lady Catherine and Darcy’s mother, Lady Anne, agreed that it would be a good idea that Darcy marry any daughter Lady Catherine subsequently bore. When Anne de Bourgh was born, some years later, this desire was reaffirmed.

Although I usually place Anne de Bourgh in her twenties when I write about her, it makes more sense for her to be about eighteen. It is hard to imagine Lady Catherine accepting Darcy’s not marrying her daughter before she was twenty-eight. Continued hope for and adherence to the engagement would be somewhat dependent on prime birthing years. Lady Catherine would want issue from the union, and encourage the wedding to take place while Anne was as young as possible. This argument also eliminates the possibility that Anne was more than a few months older than Darcy.

Furthermore, Anne’s meek personality might better fit a younger individual. I tend to assume Lady Catherine dominated Anne to the point where she became somewhat withdrawn. However, by her late twenties, Anne may very well have chaffed at her mother’s domineering ways. On top of that, an Anne younger than twenty-one would be much more subject to her mother’s will than one over twenty-one, and Jane Austen portrays Anne de Bourgh as very much under her mother’s influence.

But, putting aside Anne’s age, what was the nature of the agreement? It is possible that there was an agreement between Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Lady Anne Darcy. They really intended for the marriage to take place. In that case, presumably Darcy knew about it. Had he denied it to Lady Catherine or to Anne? We don’t know. If Anne was twenty-seven, it seems unlikely anyone was taking it seriously.

Alternately, there was no engagement. If this is true, it is likely that Lady Anne and Lady Catherine discussed it as a possibility, even something to be wished for, but they did not consider it to be an engagement. This is plausible, even with Wickham saying, “Her daughter, Miss de Bourgh, will have a very large fortune, and it is believed that she and her cousin will unite the two estates.” Lady Catherine could have started that rumor, even if she hadn’t discussed the possibility with her sister. In fact, the rumor could have started with speculation and gone from mere speculation of the possibility to fact.

In either case, it is understandable to assume that Lady Anne would want her son to marry Anne de Bourgh. After all, most estates were inherited by men, making Anne an unusually attractive catch even for Darcy. Darcy is very wealthy in his own right, but to the very rich, there is no such thing as too much money.

On paper, Anne is an excellent match for Darcy. We don’t know the size of her dowry, but if Rosings is even half as wealthy as Pemberley, Anne is a very wealthy heiress. It is possible that Rosings is more valuable than Pemberley. We don’t know.

Obviously, by any modern standard, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Anne de Bourgh were not engaged. An engagement requires a verbal agreement between both parties. At the time, there was no such agreement. If an engagement existed, Lady Catherine would have said so, and Darcy would not have proposed to Elizabeth. Also, breach of promise was taken very seriously, both then and at least until 1875, when Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury was based on breach of promise.

How does all of this relate to our role as authors? I’ve written the draft of a story with a working title of After Anne. The premise of the story is that Anne de Bourgh runs away, and Lady Catherine wants her nephews to find Anne without creating a scandal. In this story, it is pivotal that Lady Catherine fooled herself. She believed there was a tacit engagement, but when she looks over old letters, she finds the engagement between Darcy and her daughter didn’t exist. Lady Catherine and Lady Anne discussed the possibility, but there was nothing more than that.

This happens often outside of fiction. Witnesses to crimes report very different things. Two friends both recall an argument quite differently. If the topic interests you, you can learn a lot more about how memory works at the Sheldon Memory Lab out of McGill University:

After Anne is, in my opinion, a mediocre story. It isn’t a bad story, but it isn’t up to our standards. Summer hasn’t seen it, so you only have my opinion. Thus, I have three questions for you. I’m not a teacher anymore and can’t grade anyone down for an incomplete answer, but it would be nice if you could support your answer for the first two 🙂

  1. Was there really a tacit engagement between Anne de Bourgh and Fitzwilliam Darcy?
  2. How old is Anne de Bourgh?
  3. Should I give After Anne to Summer Hanford (my co-author) and risk publishing a mediocre book?

37 Responses to The Engagement of Fitzwilliam Darcy & Anne de Bourgh

  1. Great post…I’ve wondered about a lot of these things myself:

    Was there really a tacit engagement between Anne de Bourgh and Fitzwilliam Darcy? I think the answer to this lies in how you characterize a character we never get to see — Lady Anne Darcy. If she was like her sister she probably would have wanted to arrange the match. If she was different then it’s very possible (my interpretation) that it was all in Lady Catherine’s head.
    How old is Anne de Bourgh? I’ve also always interpreted this at face value and had her within a year of Darcy. I agree that doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense though since you’d think Lady Catherine would have pushed it to the point or given up by now. Unless she truly was ill for most of her 20s in which case it’s more possible that she wouldn’t chafe at her mother’s rule and that she wasn’t fit to marry.
    Should I give After Anne to Summer Hanford (my co-author) and risk publishing a mediocre book? I say send it to Summer! Maybe she’ll have thoughts on how you can work on any shortcomings.

  2. Glad to know I’m not the only one who questions these things!
    1. I do not believe it was a true agreement because Fitzwilliam was raised to be very honorable, and the fact that he doesn’t believe it exists makes me believe it doesn’t exist anywhere other than Lady C’s mind, and possibly Anne’s.
    2. I have really struggled with the ages. Lady C does say since their cradles, which would most likely make them close in age. But I’ve thought also, that she could have thought it when he was in his cradle, and then again when Anne was in hers. I still can’t see them as more than 4 or 5 years apart, given that Lady C is Lady A’s elder sister.
    3. As far as publishing a mediocre book, if it were me, I might give it to Summer with the thought of Re-working it into a better book, if that’s possible. If not, we won’t judge you harshly for sharing it here with us. ?

  3. I want to complicate my answer a little. If Lady and lady A were in good terms with each other. I think that there may have been a verbal agreement or possibly a wish between the sisters to unite their children. However, given Lady C’s personality…there’s also a chance she may have verbalized that it would be great if the two marries someday and Lady A being more of a placid-nature…may have just given a smile ( neither agreeing or refusing so as not to offend her sister). If they were at odds and Lady A is just tolerating Lady C (because she is her sister), Lady A would probably remain quiet but will not wish for FD to have a controlling mother-in-law. (Maybe that’s why Lady A never mentioned this agreement to FD).

    I just assumed Anne was of the same age as Darcy. My thought was a cradle is that something that swings and it is slightly different than the crib. So a baby less than 6 months are the only ones who can use them. So I assumed their ages are only a few months in difference.

    I say go for it and publish after Anne. Am not sure of the cost and time used when publishing a book, also am not sure how to assess a mediocre book but I have enjoyed you alls stories

    • I agree with you about the cradle. An active nine month old child would not be safe in a cradle. I suppose that Darcy could have been kept in a crib until he was four or five, but I have no idea if that was done.

      I agree with you about Lady Anne possibly being unwilling to fight with her sister about the issue, especially since anyone with common sense would realize the wishes of the mothers were just that: wishes.

  4. Dear Renata
    – I think there was no tacit engagement
    – People can be made weak by domineering people, so I think Ann might be te same age as Darcy
    – Don’t publish something you consider as mediocre – you are worth more!
    Happy writing with a new excellent novel
    Best wishes, Doris

      • Sorry, Renata, my English is not adequate. I wanted to say that I think that when you publish a story, which you declare as mediocre, would you not satify. I assume that you always want to do and show your best. Of course, excellence, mediocrity etc is always a personal view. In any case, I am looking to your next book 🙂

        • Thank you, Doris 🙂 We would never put out a book we don’t both believe is good. I think Renata is more worried about me spending my time trying to make it good, and not succeeding. Then, we’ve both used a lot of time we could use on a better story. Best wishes to you, too and happy reading 🙂

  5. I do not believe there was a tacit engagement between them and I always took the comment about their cradles literally so that they were around the same age. I wouldn’t recommend publishing it if you believe it to be mediocre but I would suggest getting feedback to see what others think about it. Perhaps, posting the story on one of the jaff sites so that readers can comment upon it might be helpful.

    • Putting it up on a website is a possibility I hadn’t thought of, but that has a down side as well. The current version is about 21,000 words long. If Summer puts in her input, it will probably be over 60,000 words. People would have to read it mainly for plot, which is my major contribution to the partnership.

      It might be an interesting experiment. We could put it up on the Renata McMann website and see what happens. If people think it is too awful, we could take it down.

      By the way, Summer has a full length story I sent her before we finished “Love, Letters and Lies.” The draft is about the same length as “After Anne” and has a working title of “The Duel.” (For people who are curious, Darcy is neither one of the participants, nor a second.)

  6. I do not because Darcy would have upheld it if it really existed. A true engagement would have had a signed marriage settlement.

    I always thought they were the same age due to the in their cradles comment. Cradles is plural and not singular which I understood to be at the same time.

    • Yes, if you take the cradles comment literally, that had to be within a few months of each other in age. A cradle is downright dangerous for a child of six or seven months and when I had children it was recommended that they be only used for the first three months.

  7. There was no agreement between AdB and FD at all. The only agreement mentioned was between Lady C and Lady A which would not be legally binding. Perhaps the engagement would be binding if between the two fathers.

    I always picture Anne as around 25. I also always picture Lady C as older than Lady A, so it would make sense if Anne was older than FD, but JA didn’t establish that. Lady C could have been the younger daughter. An older Anne might have been allowed to remain single longer because of her poor health.

    Sometimes it helps to have an extra reader to improve a story. Feedback from Summer or other Beta readers could strengthen what you consider a mediocre story. If you still think it only mediocre, it would be better to shelve it unpublished than risk your reputation for quality stories. Just my own opinion.

    • Yes, I don’t want to risk my reputation. I actually unpublished a book I wrote under my real name, because of that. (Not that my other books written under my real name are that good, but this was the worst of them.)

  8. My thoughts: (1) No tacit agreement, otherwise, Lady Catherine would demand Darcy follow through to avoid scandal (2) Anne is younger than Darcy. Could be a little or a lot. (3) What’s mediocre? The premise or the plot? The premise and the plot of a book are two different things. The premise is the concept of the book. The plot, on the other hand, is what happens in the book — all the events that make up the story.

    My suggestion is that you give it to Summer and see what she can come up with. I have a feeling that the final product will be more than just mediocre. 🙂

      • To that point… yes, I am generally short on time, but I am sure that, between us, Renata and I can make any story good. She can work more on the plot and I can work more on… I’m not sure how to define what I do 🙂 Either way, I do suppose that so long as we have other ideas to work on, that Renata likes better, we should work on those. After all, I am always behind Renata. Usually by at least two books 🙂

  9. I would say only publish the story if it can be brought up to ‘good’ status. That’s just my personal preference, as certain authors (including you!) are on my mental ‘automatic read’ list. If I get a poor story, or one that simply doesn’t hold my attention, I am much more cautious as to whether or not I read any more books by that author. Admittedly, I am much more willing to keep on reading if the books are available on KU, but I am unlikely to automatically purchase a book if there has been a lousy one before. Unless the premise is particularly intriguing, I am likely to skip purchasing new ones by that author until I’ve had plenty of time to read reviews.

    As to Anne de Bourgh’s age, I’ve always thought she was near Darcy’s age or slightly younger. It makes her even more of a pathetic figure that way. After all, nearly every mention of Anne is in the context of Darcy or her ill health. Elizabeth describes her as looking ‘sickly and cross.’ Her features are ‘insignificant’, she would excel at everything ‘if her health had allowed her to apply’, etc. I’ve often thought she’s somewhat lazy and playing on her less-than-robust health allows her to have everyone else do the tedious tasks and she can only exert herself where she wants. After all, in the entire novel, the greatest exertion she shows is to offer her hand to both Elizabeth and Maria when they leave Hunsford. In many ways, she is even more ridiculous to me than Mr. Collins, although she is, on paper, an exceptional catch.

    As far as an engagement, Lady C seems to be of the persuasion that if you say and push it enough, it will become true. Most likely some idle speculation in their young days, or even an agreement between sisters, but definitely nothing formal. Darcy obviously doesn’t consider himself bound at all. I sometimes wonder if he thought of Anne as a back-up in case he couldn’t find anyone to his liking. I don’t think anyone would hold that a ‘tacit’ engagement, or a peculiar one, would have any real validity except in the minds of its proponents.

    Just my opinions, and admittedly thrown together quickly.

    • I’ve wondered if Anne’s lack of accomplishments was due to genuine poor health or using normal illnesses to avoid the work needed to acquire accomplishments.

      Your statement that a bad book makes you less likely to buy future books is exactly why I’ve considered not giving it to Summer. I’ve (not seriously) considered selling the book for $0.99 and put in the description that this book is below our standards. I do wonder how that would affect sales. I’m a little concerned that more people would buy the cheaper book, and we would have more people not wanting to read our future books.

      I asked for opinion, so I’m not going to be critical of “Just my opinions.”

  10. I do not believe there is anything binding, based on the facts from P&P which you mentioned, that would force them to marry. I agree with the idea that the mothers discussed the possibility when each of their children were in their cradles, but I always pictured Darcy as older than Anne by at least three years. I have never considered her to be younger than Elizabeth.

    Definitely give it to Summer. We are our own worst critics. What you see as mediocre, she might be able to weave into wonderful.

      • I thought you were going to say, Summer is definitely critical of it, and I was about to protest 🙂

        Honestly, I can’t fathom a story that can’t be reworked into good. That said, sometimes (*cough – always) we tend to have a disparity where you are ahead of me 🙂

        Not to mention that any time I get more time, I do something crazy like get a puppy or travel a lot or move, or all three at once… 🙂

  11. I have always felt that Lady Catherine is self-deluded about this matter. Children under age, at that period, were the property of their fathers, not their mothers. Any formal arrangement (which would in any case have required the consent of Darcy and Anne once they came of age) would have required the involvement of Mr Darcy senior and Sir Lewis de Bourgh, and Lady Catherine makes no mention of them. We have only her word that Lady Anne was all that keen on the match – she might well have considered that it was a waste of energy arguing with her sister. There may be a clue in the fact that she does not appear to have made any effort to further the match – she could have tried to influence her son in favour of it or even exact a promise from him on her deathbed but so far as it is possible to tell she did not. She may well have realised early in his life that her son was a strong-minded individual likely to make up his own mind about his future.

    • That’s great, Kathleen, about how Lady Anne may not have wanted to argue the point with her sister. I hadn’t thought of that, but it rings so true!

  12. I think the same U think Lady Catherine was for the marriage more than old Mr Darcy. Lady Catherine is a dominant personality and used to getting what she wants!

  13. Hello All 🙂 Two things – One, Renata will be offline most of the day, but she will reply! She’s looking forward to your comments. Two – For the record, this is how she felt about The Forgiving Season, and I think that turned into a nice little novella. I’m very pleased with Mary’s story in that (which I can’t recall if Renata added or I added). The Forgiving Season is a bit sentimental, but then, it is about Christmas time 🙂

    • I will be leaving for the airport in about an hour and my laptop will go in the checked luggage, which is why I will be offline.

      In the Forgiving Season, I briefly mentioned Mary’s story, but Summer took the few sentences I wrote and expanded them greatly.

  14. Mediocre drafts can be re-worked into excellence. If you see the potential to bring it up to snuff, at least let Summer take a look. I have always believed that the “engagement” was wishful thinking on the part of Lady C, and that in the absence of anyone who could authoritatively contradict her, she came up with a story and stuck to it hoping it would be believed at some point. In my mind, even if Lady Anne had been for a marriage, Old Mr. Darcy probably wasn’t. Lack of encouragement toward that end by his father would reinforce the idea that there was no true engagement. And you are right about how different people remember the same events differently. I’ve even encountered situations where I was CERTAIN that my memory was correct but it turned out I was wrong. That’s actually a fun premise to play with. I have always interpreted what Lady C. said as meaning that Darcy and Anne were roughly the same age.

    • I think it more likely Lady Anne was for the marriage than old Mr. Darcy, but who knows? (Jane Austen knew, but she is unavailable.)

      I’ve also had situations where I was both certain and wrong.

      Summer always improves my drafts. Why would I work with her if she didn’t? But some need more improvement than others.

      • My favorite ‘hot off the presses’ (and that doesn’t mean it’s my favorite all said and done because that would be too difficult to decide)… where was I? Right – My favorite at first read straight from Renata is Hypothetically Married. I love the premise. I love all the situations. It is just so fun.

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