Austen on Beauty

From My Bookshelf Dec 22, 2009

In light of yesterday’s observations on beauty, I’ve been thinking about the different perspectives men and women have regarding what makes a beautiful women. Austen captures those differences with typical clarity.

…Elizabeth continued her walk alone, crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise.

She was shown into the breakfast parlour, where all but Jane were assembled, and where her appearance created a great deal of surprise. That she should have walked three miles so early in the day, in such dirty weather, and by herself, was almost incredible to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingly; and Elizabeth was convinced that they held her in contempt for it. She was received, however, very politely by them; and in their brother’s manners there was something better than politeness; there was good humour and kindness. Mr. Darcy said very little, and Mr. Hurst nothing at all. The former was divided between admiration of the brilliancy which exercise had given to her complexion, and doubt as to the occasion’s justifying her coming so far alone. The latter was thinking only of his breakfast.

When dinner was over, [Elizabeth] returned directly to Jane, and Miss Bingly began abusing her as soon as she was out of the room. Her manners were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence; she had no conversation; no style, no taste, no beauty. Mrs. Hurst thought the same, and added:

“She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild.”

“She did indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!”

“Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hid it not doing its office.”

“Your picture may be very exact, Louisa,” Said Bingley; “but this was all lost upon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well when she came into the room this morning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice.”

You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure,” said Miss Bingly; “and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see your sister make such an exhibition.”

“Certainly not.”

“To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! What could she mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum.”

“It shows an affection for her sister that is very pleasing,” said Bingly.

“I am afraid, Mr. Darcy,” observed Miss Bingly, in a half whisper, “That his adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes.”

“Not at all,” he replied; “they were brightened by the exercise.”

Jane Austen: The Complete Novels. PP. 194-95

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