This post originally appeared on the Austen Authors’ blog on 7 May 2021. Enjoy!
I suppose this cannot be called a character study so much as a textual study. I’m here to assist in taking a look at the text of Pride and Prejudice as it pertains to Mrs. Long.
Her name occurs 14 times in the novel, and though we do not truly see her as a character since she is instead simply referred to rather than shown, she works well as a device for gossip . . . and for showing off the amusing contradictions of Mrs. Bennet.
We get our start with gossip concerning Netherfield at the beginning of the book when Mrs. Bennet reports on the bits of news Mrs. Long has given her:
- “But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”
- “Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
Mrs. Long also apparently had something to say about Mr. Darcy to Mrs. Bennet:
- “I beg you would not put it into Lizzy’s head to be vexed by his ill-treatment, for he is such a disagreeable man, that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by him. Mrs. Long told me last night that he sat close to her for half-an-hour without once opening his lips.”
“Are you quite sure, ma’am?—is not there a little mistake?” said Jane. “I certainly saw Mr. Darcy speaking to her.”
“Aye—because she asked him at last how he liked Netherfield, and he could not help answering her; but she said he seemed quite angry at being spoke to.”
“Miss Bingley told me,” said Jane, “that he never speaks much, unless among his intimate acquaintances. With them he is remarkably agreeable.”
“I do not believe a word of it, my dear. If he had been so very agreeable, he would have talked to Mrs. Long. But I can guess how it was; everybody says that he is eat up with pride, and I dare say he had heard somehow that Mrs. Long does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise.”
“I do not mind his not talking to Mrs. Long,” said Miss Lucas, “but I wish he had danced with Eliza.”
And of course, closer to the end of the book, Mrs. Bennet cannot wait to share her own news with Mrs. Long:
- “I will go to Meryton,” said she, “as soon as I am dressed, and tell the good, good news to my sister Philips. And as I come back, I can call on Lady Lucas and Mrs. Long. Kitty, run down and order the carriage. An airing would do me a great deal of good, I am sure. Girls, can I do anything for you in Meryton? Oh! Here comes Hill! My dear Hill, have you heard the good news? Miss Lydia is going to be married; and you shall all have a bowl of punch to make merry at her wedding.”
Mrs. Long seems to be a fixture in the neighborhood with regard to dining according to Mrs. Bennet’s thinking:
- “Well, all I know is, that it will be abominably rude if you do not wait on him. But, however, that shan’t prevent my asking him to dine here, I am determined. We must have Mrs. Long and the Gouldings soon. That will make thirteen with ourselves, so there will be just room at table for him.”
And finally – for we do not see much of Mrs. Long – Mrs. Bennet’s opinion of Mrs. Long seems to vary based on her perception of the possibility of Mrs. Long’s nieces (or daughters – I believe Austen made an error here) in making a match with a gentleman whom Mrs. Bennet has her eye on:
- “But you forget, mamma,” said Elizabeth, “that we shall meet him at the assemblies, and that Mrs. Long promised to introduce him.”
“I do not believe Mrs. Long will do any such thing. She has two nieces of her own. She is a selfish, hypocritical woman, and I have no opinion of her.”
“No more have I,” said Mr. Bennet; “and I am glad to find that you do not depend on her serving you.”
- “When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?”
“Aye, so it is,” cried her mother, “and Mrs. Long does not come back till the day before; so it will be impossible for her to introduce him, for she will not know him herself.”
“Then, my dear, you may have the advantage of your friend, and introduce Mr. Bingley to her.”
“Impossible, Mr. Bennet, impossible, when I am not acquainted with him myself; how can you be so teasing?”
“I honour your circumspection. A fortnight’s acquaintance is certainly very little. One cannot know what a man really is by the end of a fortnight. But if we do not venture somebody else will; and after all, Mrs. Long and her daughters must stand their chance; and, therefore, as she will think it an act of kindness, if you decline the office, I will take it on myself.”
- “Well girls,” said she, as soon as they were left to themselves, “What say you to the day? I think everything has passed off uncommonly well, I assure you. The dinner was as well dressed as any I ever saw. The venison was roasted to a turn—and everybody said they never saw so fat a haunch. The soup was fifty times better than what we had at the Lucases’ last week; and even Mr. Darcy acknowledged, that the partridges were remarkably well done; and I suppose he has two or three French cooks at least. And, my dear Jane, I never saw you look in greater beauty. Mrs. Long said so too, for I asked her whether you did not. And what do you think she said besides? ‘Ah! Mrs. Bennet, we shall have her at Netherfield at last.’ She did indeed. I do think Mrs. Long is as good a creature as ever lived—and her nieces are very pretty behaved girls, and not at all handsome: I like them prodigiously.”
And there you have all the text with regard to Mrs. Long!
I am curious – do you believe Austen made an error when she had Mr. Bennet reference Mrs. Long’s daughters, or do you have a headcanon of sorts where you think it works out? (I will do that myself on occasion with things!) Do you think that the Gouldings might be her brother’s family based on how Mrs. Bennet groups them together, or is there no good way to speculate?
Furthermore, has anyone read any stories where Mrs. Long plays an actual role? I suspect most writers of Pride and Prejudice variations never even mention her. I’m not sure whether I have!
We receive a rather incomplete picture of her character from Mrs. Bennet, who, as we all know, focuses heavily on marrying her daughters off and disparaging those who get in her way. I rather picture her as being quite like Mrs. Bennet, which may be why Austen doesn’t truly show her to us. Based on how quickly Mrs. Long has come upon some news, it seems unlikely that she is the meek type.
I would love to hear any of your thoughts in the comments below.