Mr. Darcy’s Wealth, His Behavior at the Ball, and Regency Dances – Pride & Prejudice Chapter 3
Just how rich was Mr. Darcy? Why was he being so rude at the ball? Why is it such a big deal that Bingley danced with Jane twice? And what exactly is a Boulangere? Find out the answers to these questions and more, in this episode of My Cousin Jane.
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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 03.
Welcome back everyone, or if you’re a first-time listener, thanks for joining us. Though you can of course listen to these episodes in any order, I highly recommend that you listen to each season from the start.
In each episode, we look at what you might think of as the behind the scenes featurettes or deleted scenes of a particular chapter in Austen’s books. And sometimes, I’ll refer back to the content of a previous episode. So be sure to go back and listen to those when you get a chance.
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The third chapter of Pride & Prejudice launches us into our first ball. My Darcy makes an appearance, astonishing everyone with what they perceive as his haughty behavior and even insults Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Mr. Bingley pays quite a bit of attention to Jane.
A bit about Darcy
Now, I want to talk a little bit about Mr. Darcy. First of all, the man is extremely wealthy. Beyond belief wealthy to be honest. As we discussed back in the first episode of this season, we can’t just look at what 10,000 pounds a year would be worth in today’s money. We have to take into account a bunch of other socio-economic factors.
Turning again to Katerine Toran’s excellent article “The Economics of Jane Austen’s World”, it’s estimated that Mr. Darcy’s annual income is somewhere between $12,000,000 and $16,000,000 USD per year. But, the article also estimates that his total fortune is somewhere between $250,000,000 and $328,000,000 USD.
Now, there’s no denying that the man is prideful and rude, but later on we learn that he feels uncomfortable around people he doesn’t know well, and doesn’t really like meeting new people. A feeling shared by many an introvert.
Let’s listen to this sequence of events. As always, our clips come courtesy of Karen Savage and Librivox.org:
Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; he was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. Such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. What a contrast between him and his friend! Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again.Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 3
When you hear that Mr. Darcy “declined to be introduced to any other lady,” you might picture him snubbing all of these poor young women trying to get his attention.
But remember from last episode how Regency introductions went. Someone acquainted with both Mr. Darcy and the young woman would present Mr. Darcy to the young woman, who would then decide if she wanted to pay any attention to him.
For an introvert, this would be a complete nightmare, no matter how rich you were.
Of course, this is all little comfort to Elizabeth when she overhears Mr. Darcy talking about her to Mr. Bingley.
Let’s listen to one more clip about the dance itself from Mrs. Bennet:
…and Mr. Bingley thought her quite beautiful, and danced with her twice. Only think of that, my dear; he actually danced with her twice; and she was the only creature in the room that he asked a second time. First of all, he asked Miss Lucas. I was so vexed to see him stand up with her; but, however, he did not admire her at all; indeed, nobody can, you know; and he seemed quite struck with Jane as she was going down the dance. So he enquired who she was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Then, the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger—”
“If he had had any compassion for me,” cried her husband impatiently, “he would not have danced half so much! For God’s sake, say no more of his partners. Oh that he had sprained his ankle in the first dance!”Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 3
A lot of people compare Regency dances to American square dances. And there are some similarities. But depending on the dance, a lot of the time people were standing around waiting for their turn to dance with their chosen partner, which left a lot of time for conversation.
Dances were typically conducted in pairs. So the “two first” that Mrs. Bennet refers to means two separate dances, one after the other. Each dance would have a particular style and arrangement, and one or more figures of movement that the participants moved through.
Each dance could last anywhere between fifteen to thirty minutes. So engaging someone for a set of two meant you might be in their company for close to an hour.
Many of the dances involved people waiting in a line (usually referred to as a set). The couple at the head of the set would dance down through the middle of the lines in different patterns, while the other participants would slowly make their way up the set as they approached their turn.
Now you might think you know how Regency dances are supposed to look, from the many ways they are depicted in films, but according to Susannah Fullerton, former president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, and author of A Dance with Jane Austen, most Austen films stage their dances more for cinematic and story effect, than for accuracy.
If you want a sound understanding of how Regency dance worked, “A Dance with Jane Austen” is an excellent resource.
Three other quick things I want to point out about Regency dance customs.
Most books on dance etiquette advised that except for very special reasons, you were not supposed to keep the same partner for more than a single set. So the fact that Bingley danced with Jane for two sets of dances is pretty significant.
Second, it was considered a major social misstep for a lady to choose not to dance with a man who asked her. Jane Austen brags in a letter to her sister about having done this once in order to avoid having to dance with someone particularly unpleasant.
This point will come up again later in the novel.
Finally, the Boulangere gets a special mention here. Other Austen fans have pointed out that the Boulangere is pretty notable as being the only dance that Austen mentions by name. There have been a lot of different versions of this dance over the years, but when it is danced at a ball, it’s usually the final dance of the evening.
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Either way, thanks so much for listening.
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