“I CANNOT BOAST OF KNOWING MORE THAN HALF-A-DOZEN, IN THE WHOLE RANGE OF MY ACQUAINTANCE, THAT ARE REALLY ACCOMPLISHED.” –– Mr. Darcy
Let us examine one of my favorite scenes of Pride and Prejudice. Miss Bingley defines an accomplished woman as someone who has a “thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages” and then adds that “she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions.” Then Darcy slightly agrees by saying “All this she must possess . . .” but the next phrase is key . . . He says, “she must add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading”. The key word is substantial. I believe he was somewhat mocking Miss Bingley’s superficial declaration of what an accomplished lady must possess. He puts an emphasis on the fact that Miss Bingley spoke of non-important things, however, Darcy focused on more substantial things; the mind. We know that Elizabeth was reading a book at the very time. So was our mysterious beloved hero paying Elizabeth a compliment? I believe so. He was trying to mark the distinct difference between Elizabeth and Miss Bingley. He was paying Elizabeth one of his most profound compliments. He was saying that he only knew half-a-dozen accomplished women, and Elizabeth was one of them! She of course did not catch his compliment, and as the book is riddled with misconceptions and misunderstandings due to poor first impressions, Elizabeth puts his kind compliment in the context of her perception of his prideful nature and responds, “I am no longer surprised at your knowing ONLY six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing ANY.” Her wit intrigued Darcy to the point of a battle verbally. He stated she was so severe on her own sex to doubt the possibility. She snapped back that she “never saw such a woman.” This is one of my favorite scenes in the BBC movie because Darcy sits back and just admires Elizabeth while Miss Bingley and Miss Hurst cry about the injustice of her implied doubt. This last section really struck home when I reread the scene.
The actual words Jane Austen narrates are, “Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley cried out against the injustice of her implied doubt, and were both protesting that they knew many women who answered this description.” So I thought about this scene when my friend said I was accomplished. I thought of my involuntary scoff and obvious rebuttal to her kind compliment. I definitely had doubt. So much so that I had to ask myself, what makes a woman accomplished now?
I think it is not a list of talents or titles or milestones. I agree with Darcy on this that an accomplished woman is one that has something substantial. So what is that something substantial? For one it would be a charitable heart. For another it would be her readiness to stand up for what she believes. For another it would be the fight for her dreams. For another it would be to humbly teach her children right from wrong. For another it would be to endure her trials faithfully. For another it would be to do her best in everything she aims. To me, this is what makes a woman accomplished.
Nevertheless, I must say that I admire those who do have the talents, titles, and milestones. For one, Rebecca Watkins just finished the painting of my cover for Mr. Darcy’s Promise. For another, my sister Betsy owns her own structural engineering business and is a professor at a University. For another, my mother is celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary in October. These talents, titles, and milestones cannot be overlooked in my eyes. But each of these ladies I admire also have that something substantial. So even in the face of possessing these talents, titles, and milestones, they have become incredible women who have improved their mind, heart, soul or spirit. So what makes a woman accomplished now? That little something substantial.
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