Today, over at What Jane Austen Didn’t Tell Us, Meg Levin discusses what Austen meant by an “accomplished woman.”
One of the most interesting scenes in Pride and Prejudice is the three-way conversation among Elizabeth Bennet, Caroline Bingley and Mr. Darcy on the subject of accomplished women. Along with skill at needlework and various crafts, Miss Bingley declares that “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 of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.” Darcy adds, “…and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
Miss Bingley‘s views were commonly held by upper class women who wanted to catch an eligible bachelor. But many of Jane Austen’s readers would have known that the proper education of women was a controversial subject at the turn of the nineteenth century.