Season 02, Episode 08 – Pride & Prejudice Chapter 8

What’s the difference between a plain dish and a ragout? What’s the deal with living near Cheapside? And why is it such a big deal that Elizabeth prefers a book over cards? Find out the answers to these questions and more, in this episode of My Cousin Jane.

Ragout Dishes, Uncles in Cheapside, and Preferring Books Over Cards

What’s the difference between a plain dish and a ragout? What’s the deal with living near Cheapside? And why is it such a big deal that Elizabeth prefers a book over cards? Find out the answers to these questions and more, in this episode of My Cousin Jane.

Audio

A Small Kind of Accomplishment

“And to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

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Show Notes

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Books referenced in this episode

Jane Austen’s Letters

by Deirdre Le Faye

Transcript

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 8.

Welcome back to another episode of My Cousin Jane. Each week, 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.

This week, we’re going to talk about Pride & Prejudice Chapter 8.

As always, if you enjoy the show and would like to see it continue, please consider supporting us by going to MyCousinJane.com, signing up for our newsletter, or clicking on the little donate button.

Chapter Summary

Today’s episode will be a bit longer than normal, because there is a lot that happens in chapter 8. And this may be the closest to a controversial episode we get (unless we do an episode on the relative merits of Colin Firth vs Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy).

“My good opinion once lost, is lost forever.”

I believe that the Netherfield chapters, chapters 8 through 12, are some of the most important in the novel, second only to the chapters where Elizabeth visits Rosings later in the book.

In this chapter, we have Jane and Elizabeth at Netherfield along with Mr. Bingley and his sisters; her sister’s husband, Mr. Hurst; and Mr. Darcy.

Most of the chapter is spent in mild banter about various topics ranging from Elizabeth and her family, to what it means to be truly accomplished. Elizabeth’s primary concern is Jane’s health, which by the end of the chapter is not improving.

Plain dish vs Ragout

Let’s begin with a mild exchange about food between Elizabeth and Mr. Hurst. As always, our audio clips come courtesy of Karen Savage and Librivox.org:

Their brother, indeed, was the only one of the party whom she could regard with any complacency. His anxiety for Jane was evident, and his attentions to herself most pleasing, and they prevented her feeling herself so much an intruder as she believed she was considered by the others.

She had very little notice from any but him. Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr. Darcy, her sister scarcely less so; and as for Mr. Hurst, by whom Elizabeth sat, he was an indolent man, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards; who, when he found her prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to her.

Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 8

There is a lot of history behind this seeming innocent comment about plain dishes vs ragout. First, a ragout (or sometimes ragoo) is different than a ragú, which is an Italian dish.

Traditionally, British dinners were not very spicy. This was especially true of a classic Sunday staple, roast beef (typically served with roasted vegetables, Yorkshire pudding, and gravy).

However, in the late 1700s, French cuisine became extremely fashionable. So much so that a sign of wealth in the aristocracy was to employ French cooks. Mrs. Bennet comments about this later in the book when she supposes that Mr. Darcy must have at least two or three of them in his employ.

One of the trends in French cuisine was the Ragout . A method slow-cooking stewed meat and vegetables with a variety of spices and other additions, such as mushrooms, truffles, and oysters.

One of the most popular English cookbooks of the time, The Complete Housewife, has a recipe for how to “ragoo a breast of veal”:

Receipt to Ragoo a Breast of Veal, from the Complete Housewife: Lard your breast of veal with bacon; then half boil it in some water and salt, whole pepper, and bunch of sweet herbs; then take it out and dust it with some grated bread, sweet-herbs, and fennel, and grated nutmeg and salt, all mixed together; then broil it on both sides, and make a sauce of anchovies and gravy thickened with butter. Garnish with pickles.
The Complete Housewife

In 1731, and English satirical writer and playwright name Henry Fielding wrote a song called “The Roast Beef of Old England”, that attributes English military prowess to the plain roast beef favored by Englishmen. It then laments that the ragouts of France are corrupting the country.

This song became so famous it was sung during the opening of new plays in England, and to this day the Royal Artillery and the Royal Navy play this song at dinners. Even the United States Marines Corps plays this tune during ceremonial Mess Dinners.

Here’s an excerpt of the song performed by Jerry Bryant and Starboard Mess:

The Roast Beef of Old England, performed by Jerry Bryant and Starboard Mess

So, Elizabeth, in preferring a plain dish to a ragout, is perhaps a nod to the fact that for many of the English, especially those with family in the Royal Navy like Austen, it was more than a matter of personal taste, it was a matter of patriotism.

Connections and Cheapside

Speaking of family connections, let’s listen to an excerpt of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst talking about those of the Bennet family:

“I have an excessive regard for Miss Jane Bennet, she is really a very sweet girl, and I wish with all my heart she were well settled. But with such a father and mother, and such low connections, I am afraid there is no chance of it.”

“I think I have heard you say that their uncle is an attorney in Meryton.”

“Yes; and they have another, who lives somewhere near Cheapside.”

“That is capital,” added her sister, and they both laughed heartily.

“If they had uncles enough to fill all Cheapside,” cried Bingley, “it would not make them one jot less agreeable.”

“But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world,” replied Darcy.

To this speech Bingley made no answer; but his sisters gave it their hearty assent, and indulged their mirth for some time at the expense of their dear friend’s vulgar relations.

Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 8

Despite what you might infer from the name “Cheapside” and Miss Bingley’s reaction to it, Cheapside had nothing to do with slums or being “cheap”. The name comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word that means “market street”.

Charles Dickens wrote in 1879 about Cheapside, calling it “the greatest thoroughfare in the City of London”. It was a center of shopping and trade in the city of London.

As we know from other places in the novel, the Uncle referred to here, Mr. Gardiner, was a tradesman living on Gracechurch Street, which is about a ten minute walk from Cheapside. As a tradesman, living near Cheapside would be advantageous.

But the Bingley sisters (and Mr. Darcy) consider family who work as tradesmen (or attorneys) as a strike against the Bennets socially. Though again, the irony is that the Bingley fortune was in fact earned through trade just one or two generations prior.

Loo, Reading, and Family Libraries

Speaking of the work of generations, let’s now transition to a brief discussion of books, reading, and family libraries:

On entering the drawing-room she found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high she declined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she would amuse herself for the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.

“Do you prefer reading to cards?” said he; “that is rather singular.”

“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”

“I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,” cried Elizabeth; “I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.”

“In nursing your sister I am sure you have pleasure,” said Bingley; “and I hope it will soon be increased by seeing her quite well.”

Elizabeth thanked him from her heart, and then walked towards a table where a few books were lying. He immediately offered to fetch her others; all that his library afforded.

“And I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever looked into.”

Elizabeth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly with those in the room.

“I am astonished,” said Miss Bingley, “that my father should have left so small a collection of books. What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!”

“It ought to be good,” he replied, “it has been the work of many generations.”

“And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books.”

“I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.”

Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 8

First, just a brief mention about the game the group is playing when Elizabeth walks in. According to David Parlett, author of A History of Card Games, Loo, also known as “Lanterloo”, was a trick-taking game similar to whist, which for the sake of time, we’ll talk about in detail next week, and while there were several variations, there are two main ways to handle the betting:

In the first, sometimes called “Limited Loo”, the amount of money contributed to the pool during play was small and fixed. In the second, “Unlimited Loo”, the amounts increased as play went on, sometimes leading to astronomical wins and losses, and even ruined fortunes in some cases.

Elizabeth suspects they are “playing high”, and therefore likely playing “unlimited loo”, so she opts for a book instead.

Elizabeth choosing a book instead of cards is interesting as well because of the later comment that Miss Bingley makes and Elizabeth’s response to it.

“Do you prefer reading to cards?” said he; “that is rather singular.”

“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”

“I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,” cried Elizabeth; “I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.”

Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 8

In the 1750s, a group calling themselves the Blue Stockings Society was formed by a group of women for the purpose of increasing the literary education of women.

Contrary to popular belief (if there is any popular belief about regency-era literary groups), it wasn’t an exclusive women’s club.

One of its purposes was the mutual dialogue on intellectual matters between men and women. And several prominent men became members, including Sir Edmund Burke.

There’s quite a bit of dispute about the origins of the name amongst historians, ranging from the colors of the socks worn by one or more of the club’s members, to a specific invitation given to an eccentric botanist to never mind if he couldn’t afford nice clothes when attending the meeting, but to just come in his blue worsted stockings instead.

Regardless of where the name came from, the group’s popularity slowly waned through the late 1700s, partially because by the early 1800’s, women had much better educational opportunities than they’d had previously.

One of the founders of the group, Elizabeth Montagu, felt specifically that it was better for women to meet and discuss literary matters rather than play at cards.

So it’s interesting that Elizabeth Bennet, sharing the same name as Elizabeth Montagu, also chooses a book over cards, and that Miss Bingley remarks on this.

Because even though a number of prominent women were supportive of the group, the term “blue-stocking” came to be a somewhat derogatory term that was applied to women that cared more about education and literature than about fashion.

You might remember Mrs. Gibson referring to Molly as a blue-stocking in Wives and Daughters, and Molly being quite embarrassed by this.

This puts Elizabeth’s response of deserving “neither such praise nor such censure” in an interesting light.

Accomplishments

Now let’s listen to one more clip about accomplishments:

“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”

“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?”

“Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”

“Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.”

“Nor I, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley.

“Then,” observed Elizabeth, “you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman.”

“Yes; I do comprehend a great deal in it.”

“Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. 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 voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”

“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”

“Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibility of all this?”

“I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe, united.”

Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley both cried out against the injustice of her implied doubt, and were both protesting that they knew many women who answered this description, when Mr. Hurst called them to order, with bitter complaints of their inattention to what was going forward. As all conversation was thereby at an end, Elizabeth soon afterwards left the room.

Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 8

During the early 1800s, a woman named Hannah More was a prominent writer on education, morality and religion who had a lot to say on the education of women in particular. Many critics think that the contrast in the effects of the differences in education and upbringing between Fanny Price and the Bertram sisters was a not-so-subtle nod to More’s writings.

But even here in Pride and Prejudice we see it in how Miss Bingley and Elizabeth discuss female accomplishments. Miss Bingley’s list of traits possessed by a “truly accomplished” woman, is exactly what most upper class and upwardly mobile young women were being taught in the late 1700s.

More wrote about this type of education in her 1799 book Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education:

Not a few of the evils of the present day arise from a new and perverted application of terms; among these, perhaps, there is not one more abused, misunderstood, or misapplied, than the term accomplishments.

Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, Hannah More

More goes on to write that the emphasis on the superfluous and ornamental skills taught to so many young women make them ill-suited to contribute meaningfully to society.

Though More was by no means what we would think of as a modern feminist, (a quick read of her writing will show you that), she did advocate that in marriage, women should be equal partners with their husbands rather than ornamentation:

…when a man of sense comes to marry, it is a companion whom he wants, and not an artist. It is not merely a creature who can paint, and play, and dress and dance; it is a being who can comfort and counsel him; one who can reason, and reflect, and feel, and judge, and act, and discourse, and discriminate; one who can assist him in his affairs, lighten his cares, sooth his sorrows, purify his joys, strengthen his principles, and educate his children.

Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, Hannah More

Whether or not you agree with this prescription for domestic happiness, there’s no denying that it had a strong influence on society in the late 1700s and early 1800s, including on Jane Austen, and especially in her treatment of Mansfield Park.

While many modern interpretations of Austen’s works characterize her as a feminist, if she was, it’s important to weigh that in the light of what she herself would have considered feminism, particularly in relation to the views of her contemporaries like Elizabeth Montagu of the Blue Stockings society, and Hannah More.

One other note about Austen and More, is that the latter, in an attempt to further spread her teachings, wrote a novel called Coelebs in Search of a Wife, which tells the story of a man trying to find a wife that meets the high moral standards of his mother. It was a huge success at the time, primarily because it was seen as more of a religious work than a novel, which helped more conservative-minded people feel good about reading it and sharing it with their friends.

Unfortunately it wasn’t actually that great of a story, due mainly to the fact that Moore was trying very hard to drive home some specific points rather than write an entertaining story.

More herself wrote in the preface to the book:

I fear, the novel reader will reject it as dull

Coelebs in Search of a Wife

This turned out to be prophetic, because while we know that Jane Austen did like and agree with much of what More wrote, she did not care at all for Coelebs in Search of a Wife, mostly because of how dull and heavy-handed of a novel it was.

Her sister Cassandra wrote to her, telling her about the book and how much she liked it, but Jane simply replied:

My disinclination for it before was affected, but now it is real.

Jane Austen’s Letters

Conclusion

That wraps up episode 8 of season 2 of My Cousin Jane.

As always, if you enjoy the show and would like to help us out, please consider supporting us by heading over to MyCousinJane.com and clicking on the little donate button.

Either way, thanks so much for listening.

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“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.”

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