I want to be the first to say that this paper is by and far NOT MY BEST. I based the majority of the essay off the presentation of P&P I did a few weeks ago, and ended up making up the rest as I went along. I feel like, under the right microscope, it could hold up, but for the most part, I had no idea what I was going to write about so I just let it slide. And slide it did. The second half about Pemberley is quite obviously the worst part of this essay.
I will probably be going back and editing and expanding this to create my final paper (I’ll probably be comparing houses across several different books, including S&S and NA), so please give me any tips you might have in order to help me with this!
And, without further ado, here we go:
Estates in Pride and Prejudice
While everyone is busy wooing their lovers and avoiding the undesirables in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, something else is working hard in the background: the houses. It is an undeniable truth that those who are in possession of great fortunes also possess great houses, and these houses are what make or break the characters in the story. Two estates in particular – Rosings and Pemberley – are compared throughout the course of Pride and Prejudice, causing the reader to compare the owners of the estates as well. Both of the estates characterizes its owner, leaving our protagonist, Elizabeth Bennett, more aware of the person behind the mask.
Rosings Park is owned by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and is constantly pandered about by Mr. Collins during the man’s stay with the Bennets. Mr. Collins sets the reader’s expectations for Rosings throughout the first part of the novel, revealing how in awe of Lady Catherine he is. At one point he even compares Mrs. Philips’ entire apartment to the “small summer breakfast parlor” at Rosings: “Mr. Collins had the leisure to look around him and admire, and he was so much struck with the size and the furniture of the apartment, that he declared he might almost have supposed himself in the small summer breakfast parlour at Rosings” (Austen 54). Mrs. Phillips, the receiver of Mr. Collins’s compliment, is at first upset at the comparison, but once she “understood from him what Rosings was, and who was its proprietor, […] she felt all the force of the compliment, and would hardly have resented a comparison with the housekeeper’s room” (Austen 54). Even though her house has just been insulted, the breakfast room that it is being compared to has an £800 chimney, so Mrs. Phillips quickly backpedals. This ostentatious judgement disguised as a compliment shows just how far people are willing to go to make sure others enjoy their houses and estates. Mrs. Phillips lives in an apartment in Meryton, and it is never mentioned that she has an estate elsewhere, so she will take all the compliments she can get in order to be seen as being part of the higher society.
Once Elizabeth finally arrives at Rosings in Part II, Chapter VI, it becomes apparent just how grand, haughty, and overpowering Rosings Park is — just like Lady Catherine herself. The reader is to view Rosings as being pretentious, and they have no choice as in chapter VI of Volume II, Mr. Collins leads Elizabeth and company around the house in order to point out things they are perfectly capable of discerning for themselves: “Every park has its beauty and its prospects; and Elizabeth saw much to be pleased with, though she could not be in such raptures as Mr. Collins expected the scene to inspire, and was but slightly affected by his enumeration of the windows in front of the house, and his relation of what the glazing altogether had originally cost Sir Lewis De Bourgh” (Austen113). Mr. Collins’s constant compliments of the park shows that he is using Rosings in order to qualify his own importance: everything is meant to quantify grandeur in the estate, and thereby equating Mr. Collins with that grandeur. Although Elizabeth can see the estate for herself, Mr. Collins continues to point out, “with a rapturous air, the fine proportion and finished ornaments” (Austen 113). He cannot sit still for even a moment and allow others to see the sights for themselves. Once in the sitting room, “they were all sent to one of the windows, to admire the view, Mr. Collins attending them to point out its beauties, and Lady Catherine kindly informing them that it was much better worth looking at in the summer” (Austen 114). Mr. Collins still cannot hold himself back from pointing out the obvious, which proves the point that he is very afraid that his visitors will not see Rosings as beautifully as he does, and he is going far over-the-top to prove that the house is worth something so that he, by extension, is also worth something. It is also not hard to believe that he might be doing this in order to show Elizabeth what she is missing out on due to her refusal of his proposal.
All of the discussion of Rosings characterizes Lady Catherine as well as Mr. Collins. Lady Catherine, though widowed, is a large and impressive figure, much as her house is. She puts on a large facade throughout the novel, knowing that things can only go her way and no other. Her confrontation with Elizabeth at the end of the story shows the cracks in her foundation, much like the glitz and glamor of her house hides the fact that she is overcompensating for her lack of quality upbringing. When she visits Elizabeth to underhandedly threaten her because Lady Catherine is under the assumption that Elizabeth stole Darcy away from Miss De Bourgh, her lack of charm is on full display: “I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet. I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased” (Austen 245). Instead of admitting defeat and graciously leaving, Lady Catherine fumes, exposing her great trappings and glitter to be simply a farce. She is gaudy and lacking in manners underneath all that gold, much like her house lacks elegance under its expensive decorations. This final confrontation with Elizabeth shows Lady Catherine to have been defanged, because she has turned self-interest into a moral imperative.
While Rosings is built to be impressive and imposing, it lacks the overall elegance of Pemberley. Upon Elizabeth’s entrance to Pemberley, it’s apparent that her reaction is favorable because Pemberley is natural, like Darcy, and not ill-formed. The house is referred to as being “natural,” and that is related to Darcy’s upbringing: for something (or someone) to be natural, the general framework must be there and things are refined through the years with the proper teachings. For example, Pemberley’s stream in the front is noted to be a “natural” stream:
“A stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” (Austen 166).
Bingley mentions one cannot copy the beauty at Pemberley — one must buy it outright, for a copy would just be sad. Austen builds up the description of Pemberley throughout the novel, and at first the reader would expect it to match Elizabeth’s perception of Darcy, with his ostentatious manner, but it does not. As Elizabeth – and by extension, the reader – is shown through Pemberley’s rooms, we hear the phrases “handsome,” “beautiful,” and “good” repeated, which begins to make Elizabeth reflect on what she thinks of Darcy. We learned from Elizabeth’s rejection of Mr. Collins that she wants to marry for love, so it cannot be that all the money at Pemberley is making Elizabeth change her mind about marrying him, although there are certainly ways to read it that way.
As Elizabeth and the Gardiners make their way around Pemberley, they are given the leisure to notice things for themselves instead of having every detail pointed out and forced onto them: “they passed into other rooms, […] from every window there were beauties to be seen. The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with an admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings” (Austen 167). Not once during their tour of Pemberley are things explicitly pointed out to them, but rather things are only explained once they are noticed.
Along with the house, the housekeeper at Pemberley also helps her change her opinion of Darcy. Elizabeth appears to have an epiphany, realizing, “What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant? […] Every idea that had been brought forward by the housekeeper was favorable to his character” (Austen 170). Mrs. Reynolds is someone who has presumably been with Darcy for his entire life, so she is able to offer an opinion over a longer period of time. Elizabeth has only barely arrived at Pemberley, not even having seen the grounds yet, and she has changed her entire opinion of Mr. Darcy. After Darcy’s arrival, Elizabeth becomes even more convinced of the change that has occurred. As they continue the stroll around Pemberley – which is ten miles around! – Elizabeth overhears Darcy’s offer of a fishing trip to Mr. Gardiner (Austen 173).
This change happens at Darcy’s childhood home because Austen wants us to know that Darcy’s character has been good all along, and Elizabeth has been forced into prejudice against him by Wickham. Away from everyone else – Bingley, her sisters, Wickham – Elizabeth finally has a chance to see what the real Darcy is like. It is often said that a person’s true nature comes out when they are behind closed doors, as everyone puts on a farce in public. Darcy’s mask is feigning disinterest and being rude to others he considers below his social station. Once on his own property, where he is in control, he reveals himself to be much more than the crusty jerk who looks down at others at parties. Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth was set at Rosings, which juxtaposed him with the cold and overly gaudy surroundings, making him look just as rude as he was acting, which was rather rude, as he essentially tells Elizabeth he is going down in station just to speak to her. After Elizabeth’s experience at Pemberley, Darcy proposes to her again at Longbourn, showing that he has also grown and learned during their time apart from each other. Darcy learned from her that he was being vain and unpleasant, and that if he ever wanted to have her love, he would have to change his ways. He has finally realized that his own pride is the internal block to his happiness, though he does act a bit dramatic in finally revealing this to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth sees through facades throughout the course of the novel, which is something that her father can do as well, and almost makes the reader think she will end up as old and bitter and in as unhappy as marriage as Mr. Bennet is in. However, Elizabeth’s encounters with Lady Catherine and Mr. Darcy at their respective estates brings her opinion of both into the light, and she is easily able to see why one is not worthy of respect and the other is. Lady Catherine’s life is all about hiding things beneath as much glamor as she possibly can, while Mr. Darcy, though at first appearing to be overly extravagant and too high and mighty to notice those beneath him, is at last revealed to be a natural sort of person who was raised properly. In Elizabeth’s encounter with Lady Catherine at the end of the book, she declares herself to be equal to Darcy, and therefore should be able to marry him as she sees fit: “In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I’m a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal” (Austen 243). The equality between Elizabeth and Darcy is the final nail in Lady Catherine’s coffin, and she escapes with a hissing reminder that things will not always be as they seem. Darcy even ends up rejecting the way his parents raised him, blaming them for his attitude problems. Elizabeth and Darcy end up together in the end, but it remains to be seen whether it is for better or for worse.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Edited by Mary A. Favret and Donald J. Gray, 4th ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.