Pride and Prejudice: Characters We Love to Hate
December 7, 2013
University of Southern California Town & Gown
Lynda Hall — In the Shadow of Lady Catherine: Charlotte Lucas and Her Allies
Rachel Thompson — Lydia and Love
Sue Forgue — Where’s Wickham?
Amanda Bloom — “Supposing that …”: Supposition, Slander and the (Mis)education of Elizabeth Bennet
Liz Philosophos Cooper and Syrie James — The Bingley Sisters: Pursuits and Pastimes of Regency Life
We all love Elizabeth and Darcy, but Pride and Prejudice would not be the masterpiece it is without its many less admirable characters. At our final meeting honoring the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, we focused on the characters we love to hate: George Wickham, Lydia Bennet, the Bingley sisters, Lady Catherine, Mr. Collins and even Charlotte Lucas (do we hate her, pity her or admire her practical scheming?).
In this rich program, which attracted 115 members and guests on a cold and rainy winter day, Lynda Hall encouraged us to look at Charlotte Lucas in a new light, Rachel Thompson considered Lydia’s absence of education and rational guidance, Sue Forgue lead us in an investigation to track down Wickham and Lydia in London, Amanda Bloom explored the role of supposition and hypothesis in Wickham’s spread of misinformation, and Liz Cooper and Syrie James brought the Bingley sisters to life.
As a minor character in Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas is hidden behind the heroine’s vibrancy, and her story is often overlooked. But Charlotte is important because she represents the pragmatic perspective necessary for many women of Jane Austen’s class and time. The “truth universally acknowledged” is not ironic to every woman. Through the story of Charlotte Lucas, Lynda Hall explained how Jane Austen reflects the sometimes difficult choices real women had to make to survive.
Rachel Thompson’s talk focused on how a good education enables a woman to be morally and intellectually healthy and to choose good love, as evidenced by Elizabeth Bennet and the personal life of Mary Wollstonecraft. By contrast, Lydia Bennet demonstrates the consequences of a poor education. Mr. Bennet’s failure to love Lydia well, by properly educating and caring for her, is emblematic of the cycle of inbred foolishness of irrational mothers raising irrational daughters that Mary Wollstonecraft discusses in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
For 200 years, Mr. Darcy has sought out Wickham and Lydia in London. His one clue is to find his sister’s former governess, Mrs. Younge, but who is Mrs. Younge and where is her new location on Edward Street? Using a combination of contemporaneous prints and panels from the 1813 Horwood’s Map of London, Sue Forgue led the audience in becoming Bow Street Runners trying to locate both Mrs. Younge and the elopers.
Following lunch, Amanda Bloom turned the conversation back to the education of Elizabeth Bennet. In Pride and Prejudice, it is the transmission of false information that leads Elizabeth to question the moral character of the most honorable, and to trust those who deserve her censure most. The dashing, dissipated Mr. Wickham spins his slanderous tale of Mr. Darcy’s deceit through a slippery string of suppositions and hypotheticals.
Liz Cooper and Syrie James closed the day with their portrayal of the Bingley sisters, who provides an overview of both city and country Regency life from their unique point of view. Nothing escapes their notice, including pleasurable pastimes, sophisticated shops, fetching fashions, high spirited holidays and acceptable acquaintances. Their acerbic commentary was accompanied by a wide variety of illustrations that bring the world of Pride and Prejudice to life.
Lynda Hall is assistant professor of English at Chapman University in Orange, California. Her research primarily focuses on 19th century British literature, with a special interest in Jane Austen and the English Gothic novel. She has published papers in Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies and Persuasions. She is currently working on a book about Jane Austen and value (working title: Sense, Pride and the Market Economy: Tracing Value in Jane Austen’s Novels).
Rachel Thompson is an undergraduate at Biola University, studying Jane Austen with Professor Natasha Duquette.
Sue Forgue is a JASNA life member and has served as a board member of the Greater Chicago region. As the creator and webmaster of the research website The Regency Encyclopedia, she calls herself a dedicated armchair academic. She has contributed articles on the history of the era to the Greater Chicago region’s newsletter and JASNA News as well as Jane Austen Knits magazine.
Amanda Bloom is a fifth-year doctoral student at the University of Southern California. Her dissertation revolves around the history and development of hypnosis as well as its reception among 18th century literary groups and societies, spotlighting Samuel Richardson, Sarah Fielding, Elizabeth Inchbald and Jane Austen.
Liz Philosophos Cooper may have developed her passion for Jane Austen from her mother, Joan Philosophos, a dedicated and highly recognized JASNA member. Cooper has continued in her mother’s footsteps and beyond; she is a JASNA life member, served a nine-year term as Wisconsin regional coordinator and is JASNA’s vice president for regions. She is also the co-editor of the calendar “A Year with Jane Austen,” published by the JASNA-Wisconsin region, and she contributes articles to Jane Austen Regency World magazine. She has spoken at many AGMs and is known to morph into Caroline Bingley for the Ball.
Syrie James is the author of eight novels, including The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen and The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen. A JASNA life member, she portrayed Jane Austen in Diana Birchall’s play You Are Passionate, Jane at the September 2013 JASNA-Southwest meeting.