During the Regency era appearance was extremely important. If a woman arrived at a party under or overdressed she would be mocked and ridiculed for days by other women. Since propriety was valued as well, those who were dressed scandalously would be avoided by others to safeguard their reputation. Appearance was also and indicator of social status and wealth, which determined whether or not a person was worthy of acquaintance.
Jane, the eldest of the Bennet daughters, is considered the most eligible of the family for marriage because of her appearance; she is considered very attractive. At a ball the Bennet family attends, Mr. Darcy says to Mr. Bingley, “You were dancing with the only handsome girl in the room”i in reference to Jane. Whereas Elizabeth, who is considered less attractive than Jane, is said to be, “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me”ii by Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy immediately dismisses Elizabeth because she is not attractive enough.
Elizabeth's appearance is also scorned by the ladies at Netherfield when she arrives to visit Jane, who has fallen ill. Instead of admiring Elizabeth for her dedication to her sister, the ladies choose to focus on her appearance: “I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild. Her hair so untidy, so blowsy... And her petticoat... six inches deep in mud, I am certain; and the gown which had been let down to hi...
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... makes them worth less. Lady Catherine continues on to say that her daughter knows how to play the piano and practices every day, making her a much more valuable woman.
Mary, one of Elizabeth's younger sisters, is considered to be the least valuable and least eligible for the marriage because of her lack of skills. She has few talents; she cannot draw and she cannot play the piano or sing despite her numerous attempts: “Her voice was weak, and her manner affected.”xii Elizabeth's piano playing is considered to be “pleasing but by no means capital”xiii and Jane is noted to be an accomplished player, making them superior.
Although men often treat women as lesser, in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, women are seen putting other women down. The worth of a woman is based upon her appearance, manners, and skills.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
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