Proper Introductions, Mr. Bingley’s Wealth, and More – Pride & Prejudice Chapter 1
Exactly who could be introduced to whom during the Regency era? Who was richer, Mr. Bingley or Captain Wentworth? And what’s something that most Regency films get wrong? Find out the answers to these questions and more, in this episode of My Cousin Jane.
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Books referenced in this episode
Note: Transcripts on this site are the scripts I used when preparing to record the show. They may or may not be a 100% faithful representation of the final recording. Audio clips of Pride & Prejudice come from Karen Savage’s narration of Pride & Prejudice, courtesy of LibriVox.org.
Welcome to My Cousin Jane, a podcast about Jane Austen and her works. With your host, Lee Falin. Season 2 – episode 01.
Hello everyone, and welcome to a brand new season of the My Cousin Jane podcast.
Just like last season, we’re going to be going on a chapter-by-chapter journey through one of Jane Austen’s books. But instead of examining the hidden meaning and deep literary themes of the books, we’ll be exploring what you might think of the behind the scenes featurettes or deleted scenes of your favorite movie.
Last season was all about Persuasion, which is my favorite book by Jane Austen. This season, will feature what is arguably Jane Austen’s most popular book, Pride & Prejudice.
One thing we will try to do a bit more of this season, is summarizing the events of the chapter, so let’s dive right in to chapter one.
Chapter one is super short—in my massmarket paperback version, it’s barely three pages long—but in these three pages are two interesting notes.
First, in these three short pages, we’re introduced to a whopping ten different characters by name, which is pretty remarkable.
Second, right at the start of this chapter, we have the most quoted line in Austen’s books, and possibly in the entire romance genre. It would seem wrong to go much further without hearing that line. Just like last season, our audio book excerpts come courtesy of the talented Karen Savage and Librivox.org:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 1
Of course the single man in question is Mr. Bingley, who has just rented Netherfield Park. Mrs Bennet is excitedly conveying this all-important piece of news to her husband, in the hopes that he’ll pay him a visit, so that one of their daughters can later marry the man.
House Names and Let
We talked quite a bit about the concept of letting in season one, but in review, if you own a property, you can let someone live there in exchange for paying rent. The property owner is said to let the house, and the tenant is said to be renting the house, or to have taken the house.
Let and rent are sometimes used interchangeably (though incorrectly so) in modern times.
We also talked last season about house names. Most estates in the United Kingdom were (and still are) named. Even smaller, less extensive homes were sometimes named, such as Winthrop in Persuasion.
If you own a house in the UK today, for a small fee you can apply to your local city or village council and the Royal Postal service for permission to name your house. Once your house is named, your mail can be addressed using your house number, or the house name, and the postman will know how to get it to you.
As we mentioned last season, according to some British realtors, naming your house can add as much as 5,000 pounds to its value. Why live at number 11 Windsor Way when you can live in Shell Cottage for example?
Speaking of pounds, one of the most impressive things we hear about Mr. Bingley in the first chapter is the fact that he brings in between four and five thousand pounds each year.
The best way to get a feel for just how much money that would be today is to consult Katerine Toran’s excellent article “The Economics of Jane Austen’s World”.
We discussed this in detail in episode 9 of last season, so be sure to go back and give that a listen, but due to the differences in how wealth was used in the 1800s compared to today, Toran places Mr. Bingley’s income at somewhere between two and six million US dollars in today’s money.
Last season we mentioned that Captain Wentworth had probably earned around 41 million US dollars during his time in the navy. But remember, this was basically a lump sum of cash.
That two to six million is Bingley’s annual earnings. During regency times, gentlemen earned income from two or three specific sources. The most common were interest from investment funds, and rents from tenants on their land.
We’re told later in the book that Bingley’s family made their fortune through trade, and that he doesn’t yet own an estate, so it’s most likely that his income is derived mostly from investments. So when we compare his fortune to Wentworth’s, consider how much money Bingley would have to have set aside in investments in order to earn 2 to 6 million a year in interest, and then you’ll better understand why
Mrs. Bennet is so excited about the prospect of him marrying one of her daughters.
Mrs. Bennet is especially concerned that her husband visit Mr. Bingley so that their daughter may be introduced to him properly. Let’s listen to her comment on this:
“But, my dear, you must indeed go and see Mr. Bingley when he comes into the neighbourhood.”
“It is more than I engage for, I assure you.”
“But consider your daughters. Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them. Sir William and Lady Lucas are determined to go, merely on that account, for in general, you know, they visit no newcomers. Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit him, if you do not.”
“You are over scrupulous, surely. I dare say Mr. Bingley will be very glad to see you; and I will send a few lines by you to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls; though I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy.”Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 1
There are some pretty specific rules of propriety regarding introductions. Regency author Rachel Knowles points out that you have to be careful which sources you consult on this, because some authors confuse the rules of regency society with those of victorian society, which evolved somewhat.
Consulting a variety of sources, including Daniel Pool’s What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, and the 1837 Pocket book of Etiquette, here are a few rules our Regency friends were expected to live by:
- Gentlemen were always presented to ladies, not the other way around.
- After the initial introduction, if they met again, the lady was responsible for determining whether or not the acquaintance was to continue.
The 1837 Pocket Book of Etiquette instructs the man how to act in this situation:
In recognizing a lady in the street, always remove your hat, and slightly bow; this is an attention and mark of respect that every well-bred woman will demand, and if not yielded, will certainly consider you a fool and a boor.1837 Pocket Book of Etiquette
However, it further warns:
Recollect, however, that the lady most notice you ere you presume even to give this mark of recognition.1837 Pocket Book of Etiquette
- People of higher rank could introduce themselves to those of lower rank, but not the reverse. We see that in later in the novel with Mr. Collins.
The Pocket Book of Etiquette has a very pointed warning about this:
The superior in rank and station should (except in situations of great intimacy), first speak to the inferior. The want of attention to this rule has often placed the unlucky ignoramus in very awkward situations.1837 Pocket Book of Etiquette
Now there was an exception to the general rules of introduction, and that was what happened at a ball. If you were a gentleman at a ball, and there was a lady there that you didn’t know, but you wanted to dance with, you could appeal to the Master of Ceremonies for an introduction.
He would then determine if such an introduction would be appropriate (based on relative rank and situation).
However, once you left the ball, this introduction did not count as a real introduction. You couldn’t then speak to one another as if you’d been truly introduced.
In the case of the Bennets and Mr. Bingley, since Mr. Bennet and Mr. Bingley were equal in rank (both being untitled gentlemen), and since Mr. Bennet was older and established in the neighborhood, it was appropriate for him to visit Mr. Bingley, and thus put himself in a position to later present him to his daughters.
We’ll see the nuance of introduction play out a bit further when we have our first ball in Chapter 3.
That wraps up our first episode of season 2 of My Cousin Jane.
As always, if you enjoy the show and would like to see it continue, please consider supporting us by going to MyCousinJane.com and clicking the little donate button.
Either way, thanks so much for listening.
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