Sarah Rose Kearns at email@example.com
This month, we will be discussing one of Mr. Bingley’s favorite subjects, ladies’ accomplishments.
Here is some preparatory food for thought from discussion group leader Meg Levin:
What did the contemporaries of Jane Austen mean when they referred to “accomplishments”? Do we still think some of these are worth acquiring? Do we have something comparable in current theories of education?
“My own sex, I hope will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.”
— Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman
“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 discourse, and discriminate; one who can assist him in his affairs, lighten his cares, sooth his sorrows, strengthen his principles, and educate his children.”
— Hannah More, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education
“[A] real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies.” — Jane Austen, Emma
In his Sermons for Young Women, the Reverend James Fordyce divided accomplishments into the domestic, the elegant, and the intellectual. About some of the elegant ones he declares: “I can see no reason for declamation against the moderate and discreet use of Dancing . . . As to Needlework . . . its beauty and advantages are universally apparent.” He particularly recommends Drawing, “a spring of entertainment that would never run dry.” When it comes to music, he so enjoys the experience of listening to good performers that he thinks that natural talent is essential. He feels for “a young performer who has no turn for [music] to be condemned both to mortify herself, and to punish her acquaintance by murdering every lesson . . . “
Caroline Bingley: “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, 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.”
Darcy: “All this she must possess, and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
— Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice