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Archive for June, 2019

Much has been said about proper greetings, curtsies, nods, and bows in Jane Austen’s novels, but familiar greetings that occur between close friends and family members are just as fascinating. In fact, a close inspection of the novels reveals more kissing, embracing, and hand-holding than one might first imagine.

Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham." Pride and Prejudice illustration by C.E. Brock (1895), British Library.

Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham.” Pride and Prejudice illustration by C.E. Brock (1895), British Library.

Austen’s own family is described as affectionate by many of her biographers; her letters reveal the same. In her novels, the degree of physical touch and affection (or the lack thereof) shown by her characters and families can provide us with interesting insights.

Pride and Prejudice

In Pride and Prejudice, Austen uses physical touch to offer clues about her characters in several instances. For example, when saying goodbye to Jane and Elizabeth, Miss Bingley embraces Jane and shakes hands with Elizabeth. With these gestures, she communicates her feelings toward Jane and Elizabeth; the narrator aids our further understanding:

“On Sunday, after morning service, the separation, so agreeable to almost all, took place. Miss Bingley’s civility to Elizabeth increased at last very rapidly, as well as her affection for Jane; and when they parted, after assuring the latter of the pleasure it would always give her to see her either at Longbourn or Netherfield, and embracing her most tenderly, she even shook hands with the former. Elizabeth took leave of the whole party in the liveliest of spirits.” (Chapter 12)

Later, when Elizabeth leaves Hunsford, Miss de Bourgh makes an effort at friendliness in her parting: “When they parted, Lady Catherine, with great condescension, wished them a good journey, and invited them to come to Hunsford again next year; and Miss de Bourgh exerted herself so far as to curtsey and hold out her hand to both” (Chapter 37).

After Lydia’s marriage, Mr. Wickham and Elizabeth’s greeting speaks volumes about what she knows and what he suspects she knows: “She held out her hand; he kissed it with affectionate gallantry, though he hardly knew how to look, and they entered the house” (Chapter 52).

These strained greetings and leave-takings stand in stark contrast to the warm affection shown in the Bennet family. For example, Elizabeth greets her little cousins with a kiss when she returns to Longbourn. Even though she’s in a hurry, her greeting provides a glimpse into their normal family interactions:

“The little Gardiners, attracted by the sight of a chaise, were standing on the steps of the house as they entered the paddock; and, when the carriage drove up to the door, the joyful surprise that lighted up their faces, and displayed itself over their whole bodies, in a variety of capers and frisks, was the first pleasing earnest of their welcome. Elizabeth jumped out; and, after giving each of them a hasty kiss, hurried into the vestibule, where Jane, who came running down from her mother’s apartment, immediately met her.” (Chapter 47)

This scene also reveals that the Gardiner children have a wonderful relationship with their parents and cousin. They’re so full of joy that they’re unable to hold still. Even their movements show their enthusiasm.

Furthermore, Austen uses physical touch to illustrate special fondness between the other Bennet family members. When Elizabeth speaks to Mr. Bennet about her family’s reputation, Mr. Bennet reaches for her hand, in a moment of seriousness, and comforts her:

“Mr. Bennet saw that her whole heart was in the subject, and affectionately taking her hand said in reply: ‘Do not make yourself uneasy, my love. Wherever you and Jane are known you must be respected and valued; and you will not appear to less advantage for having a couple of—or I may say, three—very silly sisters’” (Chapter 41).

Elizabeth and Jane embrace when they are in great trial: “Elizabeth, as she affectionately embraced her, whilst tears filled the eyes of both, lost not a moment in asking whether anything had been heard of the fugitives” (Chapter 47). And again, when they are extremely happy: “Jane could have no reserves from Elizabeth, where confidence would give pleasure; and instantly embracing her, acknowledged, with the liveliest emotion, that she was the happiest creature in the world” (Chapter 55).

When Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth first meet as future brother and sister, there is genuine affection and joy on both sides:

“He then shut the door, and, coming up to her, claimed the good wishes and affection of a sister. Elizabeth honestly and heartily expressed her delight in the prospect of their relationship. They shook hands with great cordiality; and then, till her sister came down, she had to listen to all he had to say of his own happiness, and of Jane’s perfections…” (Chapter 55)

Finally, Jane kisses Mr. Bennet when he gives his permission for her to marry Mr. Bingley: “[H]e turned to his daughter, and said: ‘Jane, I congratulate you. You will be a very happy woman.’ Jane went to him instantly, kissed him, and thanked him for his goodness” (Chapter 55). It’s easy to see how much it pleases Mr. Bennet to see his daughter happy and how much it pleases Jane to make her father happy.

We find examples of kissing and embracing in each of Austen’s novels. Some of her novels have multiple instances and others have very few, depending on the families in question and how they tend to interact with one another. Austen uses these interactions to create a warmer or cooler atmosphere in each family and relationship.

These are just a few scenes from Pride and Prejudice. I’m sure you can think of others. What do these examples say to you about the characters in Pride and Prejudice?

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Rachel Dodge is a regular contributor to Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is a college English professor and the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can find her online at www.RachelDodge.com, on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/kindredspiritbooks/, or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/racheldodgebooks/.

 

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