This post originally appeared on the Austen Authors’ blog on 30 June 2022. I hope you find it as interesting as I did. Enjoy!
I thought I would touch upon five characters that each have a presence which is felt despite the fact that they are deceased. In novels, we often get caught up in the living characters who speak and act, but in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen created such depth in her novel that there are numerous characters who have a presence despite their absence! Some of them are more in a wondering sense (like, “If X character is like this, then what were X’s parents like?”), and some are expressed with more details.
The Old Mr. Bingley
I am beginning with the Old Mr. Bingley. Since we are shown Mr. Bingley, his sisters, and his brother-in-law, the question of what his parents were like is brought to mind. We don’t really see any sort of real hint about the Old Mrs. Bingley, but we are given a glimpse of the Old Mr. Bingley even beyond the fact that his family was respectable and that their wealth was acquired in trade. The most descriptive information from the book is below:
They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother’s fortune and their own had been acquired by trade.
Mr. Bingley inherited property to the amount of nearly a hundred thousand pounds from his father, who had intended to purchase an estate, but did not live to do it. Mr. Bingley intended it likewise, and sometimes made choice of his county; but as he was now provided with a good house and the liberty of a manor, it was doubtful to many of those who best knew the easiness of his temper, whether he might not spend the remainder of his days at Netherfield, and leave the next generation to purchase.
His sisters were anxious for his having an estate of his own; but, though he was now only established as a tenant, Miss Bingley was by no means unwilling to preside at his table—nor was Mrs. Hurst, who had married a man of more fashion than fortune, less disposed to consider his house as her home when it suited her. Mr. Bingley had not been of age two years, when he was tempted by an accidental recommendation to look at Netherfield House. He did look at it, and into it for half-an-hour—was pleased with the situation and the principal rooms, satisfied with what the owner said in its praise, and took it immediately.
As you can see in the bolded portion, the first line tells us that the Old Mr. Bingley had money to buy an estate but died before he did it. The following line makes it sound as though perhaps the Old Mr. Bingley was like his son. As long as the family is comfortable and well off, why go to the trouble of buying an estate? Let someone else handle the work! Because of this portion, I think that the Old Mr. Bingley was much like his son. And perhaps the daughters took after their mother, but that can only be speculation!
Sir Lewis de Bourgh
I rather thought Sir Lewis de Bourgh would be mentioned quite a bit, but we really don’t see much about him:
- [Quote from Mr. Collins:] My mind, however, is now made up on the subject, for having received ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myself with grateful respect towards her ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England.
- Every park has its beauty and its prospects; and Elizabeth saw much to be pleased with, though she could not be in such raptures as Mr. Collins expected the scene to inspire, and was but slightly affected by his enumeration of the windows in front of the house, and his relation of what the glazing altogether had originally cost Sir Lewis de Bourgh.
- “Your father’s estate is entailed on Mr. Collins, I think. For your sake,” turning to Charlotte, “I am glad of it; but otherwise I see no occasion for entailing estates from the female line. It was not thought necessary in Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s family. Do you play and sing, Miss Bennet?”
We basically see that Sir Lewis spent a lot to look good. (Presumably, it was his idea anyway.) Based on the officious nature of Lady Catherine, I rather think he was cowed by his wife and just did whatever she wished of him. Could you imagine a man who tried to dampen Lady Catherine’s enthusiasm? I cannot! I think the way Lady Catherine speaks of him seems to indicate that they were not at odds with one another, which in turn implies that she was in charge.
Lady Anne Darcy
We have a few different references to Lady Anne Darcy:
- “You know of course that Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Lady Anne Darcy were sisters; consequently that she is aunt to the present Mr. Darcy.”
- ” . . . When my niece Georgiana went to Ramsgate last summer, I made a point of her having two men-servants go with her. Miss Darcy, the daughter of Mr. Darcy, of Pemberley, and Lady Anne, could not have appeared with propriety in a different manner. . . . “
- “The engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy, they have been intended for each other. It was the favourite wish of his mother, as well as of her’s. While in their cradles, we planned the union: and now, at the moment when the wishes of both sisters would be accomplished in their marriage, to be prevented by a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world, and wholly unallied to the family! Do you pay no regard to the wishes of his friends? To his tacit engagement with Miss de Bourgh? Are you lost to every feeling of propriety and delicacy? Have you not heard me say that from his earliest hours he was destined for his cousin?””Yes, and I had heard it before. But what is that to me? If there is no other objection to my marrying your nephew, I shall certainly not be kept from it by knowing that his mother and aunt wished him to marry Miss de Bourgh. You both did as much as you could in planning the marriage. Its completion depended on others. If Mr. Darcy is neither by honour nor inclination confined to his cousin, why is not he to make another choice? And if I am that choice, why may not I accept him?”
- “I will not be interrupted. Hear me in silence. My daughter and my nephew are formed for each other. They are descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the father’s, from respectable, honourable, and ancient—though untitled—families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! But it must not, shall not be. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up.”
Lady Catherine’s fondness for Lady Anne and the plans she made with Lady Anne seem to indicate that Lady Anne was probably much like her sister. Yet with what we have heard about the Old Mr. Darcy (and the fact that Fitzwilliam Darcy doesn’t appear to have received a dying wish about marrying Anne de Bourgh or anything like that), it also seems likely that Lady Anne was much less extreme in her concerns for proper matches. Regardless, if she did indeed hope to match Fitzwilliam Darcy with Anne de Bourgh, that means she either had leanings toward haughtiness or she had a fondness for her sister and simply wished to be made closer to her.
The Old Mr. Darcy and the Old Mr. Wickham
I attempted to break up the sections on the Old Mr. Darcy and the Old Mr. Wickham at first, but they would have been frequently repeated. Much of what we know about one is related to the other. A good chunk of what we hear is from a conversation between Elizabeth and Wickham that I have abbreviated below:
” . . . His father, Miss Bennet, the late Mr. Darcy, was one of the best men that ever breathed, and the truest friend I ever had; and I can never be in company with this Mr. Darcy without being grieved to the soul by a thousand tender recollections. His behaviour to myself has been scandalous; but I verily believe I could forgive him anything and everything, rather than his disappointing the hopes and disgracing the memory of his father.”
. . .
” . . . The church ought to have been my profession—I was brought up for the church, and I should at this time have been in possession of a most valuable living, had it pleased the gentleman we were speaking of just now.”
“Yes—the late Mr. Darcy bequeathed me the next presentation of the best living in his gift. He was my godfather, and excessively attached to me. I cannot do justice to his kindness. He meant to provide for me amply, and thought he had done it; but when the living fell, it was given elsewhere.”
. . .
“There was just such an informality in the terms of the bequest as to give me no hope from law. A man of honour could not have doubted the intention, but Mr. Darcy chose to doubt it—or to treat it as a merely conditional recommendation, and to assert that I had forfeited all claim to it by extravagance, imprudence—in short anything or nothing. Certain it is, that the living became vacant two years ago, exactly as I was of an age to hold it, and that it was given to another man; and no less certain is it, that I cannot accuse myself of having really done anything to deserve to lose it. I have a warm, unguarded temper, and I may have spoken my opinion of him, and to him, too freely. I can recall nothing worse. But the fact is, that we are very different sort of men, and that he hates me.”
“This is quite shocking! He deserves to be publicly disgraced.”
“Some time or other he will be—but it shall not be by me. Till I can forget his father, I can never defy or expose him.”
. . .
“But what,” said she, after a pause, “can have been his motive? What can have induced him to behave so cruelly?”
“A thorough, determined dislike of me—a dislike which I cannot but attribute in some measure to jealousy. Had the late Mr. Darcy liked me less, his son might have borne with me better; but his father’s uncommon attachment to me irritated him, I believe, very early in life. He had not a temper to bear the sort of competition in which we stood—the sort of preference which was often given me.”
. . .
Elizabeth was again deep in thought, and after a time exclaimed, “To treat in such a manner the godson, the friend, the favourite of his father!” She could have added, “A young man, too, like you, whose very countenance may vouch for your being amiable”—but she contented herself with, “and one, too, who had probably been his companion from childhood, connected together, as I think you said, in the closest manner!”
“We were born in the same parish, within the same park; the greatest part of our youth was passed together; inmates of the same house, sharing the same amusements, objects of the same parental care. My father began life in the profession which your uncle, Mr. Phillips, appears to do so much credit to—but he gave up everything to be of use to the late Mr. Darcy and devoted all his time to the care of the Pemberley property. He was most highly esteemed by Mr. Darcy, a most intimate, confidential friend. Mr. Darcy often acknowledged himself to be under the greatest obligations to my father’s active superintendence, and when, immediately before my father’s death, Mr. Darcy gave him a voluntary promise of providing for me, I am convinced that he felt it to be as much a debt of gratitude to him, as of his affection to myself.”
. . .
[About Georgiana Darcy:] “I wish I could call her amiable. It gives me pain to speak ill of a Darcy. But she is too much like her brother—very, very proud. As a child, she was affectionate and pleasing, and extremely fond of me; and I have devoted hours and hours to her amusement. But she is nothing to me now. She is a handsome girl, about fifteen or sixteen, and, I understand, highly accomplished. Since her father’s death, her home has been London, where a lady lives with her, and superintends her education.”
While we always have to look at Wickham’s words with suspicion, the fact that he sings the Old Mr. Darcy’s praises so highly (and the fact the Old Mr. Darcy treated the son of his steward so well) seems to indicate the Old Mr. Darcy was indeed kind. And we are told the Old Mr. Wickham was an intimate friend in addition to being a steward. It seems likely to me the Old Mr. Wickham was indeed a genuinely good person. Of course, Caroline doesn’t seem to think that was possible:
“So, Miss Eliza, I hear you are quite delighted with George Wickham! Your sister has been talking to me about him, and asking me a thousand questions; and I find that the young man quite forgot to tell you, among his other communication, that he was the son of old Wickham, the late Mr. Darcy’s steward. Let me recommend you, however, as a friend, not to give implicit confidence to all his assertions; for as to Mr. Darcy’s using him ill, it is perfectly false; for, on the contrary, he has always been remarkably kind to him, though George Wickham has treated Mr. Darcy in a most infamous manner. . . . His coming into the country at all is a most insolent thing, indeed, and I wonder how he could presume to do it. I pity you, Miss Eliza, for this discovery of your favourite’s guilt; but really, considering his descent, one could not expect much better.”
“His guilt and his descent appear by your account to be the same,” said Elizabeth angrily; “for I have heard you accuse him of nothing worse than of being the son of Mr. Darcy’s steward, and of that, I can assure you, he informed me himself.”
But Darcy himself, a more reliable source, supports the high opinions of both his father and the Old Mr. Wickham to Elizabeth:
“Mr. Wickham is the son of a very respectable man, who had for many years the management of all the Pemberley estates, and whose good conduct in the discharge of his trust naturally inclined my father to be of service to him; and on George Wickham, who was his godson, his kindness was therefore liberally bestowed. My father supported him at school, and afterwards at Cambridge—most important assistance, as his own father, always poor from the extravagance of his wife, would have been unable to give him a gentleman’s education. My father was not only fond of this young man’s society, whose manner were always engaging; he had also the highest opinion of him, and hoping the church would be his profession, intended to provide for him in it. As for myself, it is many, many years since I first began to think of him in a very different manner. The vicious propensities—the want of principle, which he was careful to guard from the knowledge of his best friend, could not escape the observation of a young man of nearly the same age with himself, and who had opportunities of seeing him in unguarded moments, which Mr. Darcy could not have. . . .
“My excellent father died about five years ago; and his attachment to Mr. Wickham was to the last so steady, that in his will he particularly recommended it to me, to promote his advancement in the best manner that his profession might allow—and if he took orders, desired that a valuable family living might be his as soon as it became vacant. There was also a legacy of one thousand pounds. His own father did not long survive mine, and within half a year from these events, Mr. Wickham wrote to inform me that, having finally resolved against taking orders, he hoped I should not think it unreasonable for him to expect some more immediate pecuniary advantage, in lieu of the preferment, by which he could not be benefited. . . . For about three years I heard little of him; but on the decease of the incumbent of the living which had been designed for him, he applied to me again by letter for the presentation. His circumstances, he assured me, and I had no difficulty in believing it, were exceedingly bad. He had found the law a most unprofitable study, and was now absolutely resolved on being ordained, if I would present him to the living in question—of which he trusted there could be little doubt, as he was well assured that I had no other person to provide for, and I could not have forgotten my revered father’s intentions. . . .
Of course, Mrs. Gardiner also seems to support that the Old Mr. Darcy was a good fellow:
To Mrs. Gardiner, Wickham had one means of affording pleasure, unconnected with his general powers. About ten or a dozen years ago, before her marriage, she had spent a considerable time in that very part of Derbyshire to which he belonged. They had, therefore, many acquaintances in common; and though Wickham had been little there since the death of Darcy’s father, it was yet in his power to give her fresher intelligence of her former friends than she had been in the way of procuring.
Mrs. Gardiner had seen Pemberley, and known the late Mr. Darcy by character perfectly well. Here consequently was an inexhaustible subject of discourse. In comparing her recollection of Pemberley with the minute description which Wickham could give, and in bestowing her tribute of praise on the character of its late possessor, she was delighting both him and herself.
Further, Elizabeth does seem to believe what Mr. Darcy says about his father:
The account of [Mr. Wickham’s] connection with the Pemberley family was exactly what he had related himself; and the kindness of the late Mr. Darcy, though she had not before known its extent, agreed equally well with his own words.
And here are just a couple more references to the whole steward issue, as it is brought up often:
- Her aunt now called her to look at a picture. She approached and saw the likeness of Mr. Wickham, suspended, amongst several other miniatures, over the mantelpiece. Her aunt asked her, smilingly, how she liked it. The housekeeper came forward, and told them it was a picture of a young gentleman, the son of her late master’s steward, who had been brought up by him at his own expense. “He is now gone into the army,” she added; “but I am afraid he has turned out very wild.”
- [Lady Catherine about Wickham and Lydia:] ” . . . Is her husband, is the son of his late father’s steward, to be his brother? Heaven and earth!—of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”
So, what are your thoughts about these unseen characters? I rather think the biggest presence is probably that of Darcy’s father, whose wishes and actions have a large effect on the story despite his death. Imagine how things would have been different if he hadn’t had any wishes with regard to helping Mr. Wickham out?
Do you disagree with any of my speculative characterizations? Do you have any unseen characters you feel have a major presence in the book?