House As Metaphor in Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice features many interesting characters that can be unpacked and better understood through metaphors. Two such characters, Mr. Darcy and Lady Catherine, are further developed through the lens of their estates. Their estates provide a deeper insight into the characters--hers being ostentatious and highlighting her vanity, and his being tasteful and refined, just like the man himself.
Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate, reflects positive aspects of his character, as Elizabeth comes to realize during her stay. Pemberley is described as follows,
“It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by
a ridge of woody hills;-and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled
into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor
falsely adorned” (163).
The house “standing well on rising ground” is comparable to Mr. Darcy’s significant wealth and his powerful position in society. Also, the house being “backed by a ridge of woody hills” may be considered similar to Mr. Darcy’s powerful and supportive family.
Mr. Darcy’s estate also reflects his treatment of others. The banks not being “falsely adorned” reflect his character. Like the natural banks of the stream through Pemberley, Elizabeth begins to get a natural view of Mr. Darcy through his housekeeper. She tells Elizabeth, “‘I have never had a cross word from him in my life, and I have known him ever since he was four years old”’ (166). This is a significant piece of information about Mr. Darcy’s disposition, as it comes from someone who has known him almost his whole life. Also, the fact that his housekeeper has such praise for him shows how he truly treats people. He does not have to treat anyone well, given his wealth and power, much less his housekeeper--but he does. Mrs. Gardiner’s observations about Pemberley also reflect Mr. Darcy’s character. She says, “If it were merely a fine house richly furnished, I should not care about it myself; but the grounds are delightful” (162). The house having “delightful grounds” in addition to being “richly furnished” mirrors Mr. Darcy’s wealth and his being a good person. The housekeeper of Pemberley remarks on his character to Elizabeth, “But I have always observed, that they who are good-natured when children, are good-natured when they grow up; and he was always the sweetest tempered, most generous-hearted, boy in the world” (166). The beauty of the grounds demonstrate his power and wealth and the housekeeper’s singing praise paints a more holistic and accurate depiction of Mr. Darcy, that of a true gentleman.
Contrastingly, Rosings, Lady Catherine’s estate, reflects her condescending and materialistic character. The estate is compared to Pemberley as follows,
“The rooms [at Pemberley] were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the
fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was
neither gaudy nor useless fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the
furniture at Rosings” (164).
Rosings being alluded to as “gaudy” and “useless fine” matches the character of Lady Catherine. A dinner that Lady Catherine hosts is described as follows, “The dinner was exceedingly handsome..” (111). The meal being described as “handsome” rather than “delicious” shows Lady Catherine’s value for appearance over substance and can be compared to her estate being “useless fine.”
Lady Catherine’s estate reflects her pretentious values. Pemberley is described as follows, “From the entrance hall, of which Mr. Collins pointed out, with a rapturous air, the fine proportion and finished ornaments, they followed the servants through the ante-chamber, to the room where Lady Catherine, her daughter, and Mrs. Jenkinson were sitting” (110). Lady Catherine’s entrance hall decked with ornaments underscore the value she places on wealth and breeding. The entrance of her house being decorated with ornaments is a mere show of wealth. Ornaments, by definition, serve no purpose but for appearance.Lady Catherine’s elitism can be observed when she criticizes Elizabeth for not having a governess, “No governess! How was that possible? Five daughters brought up at home without a governess!-I never heard of such a thing” (112). Although governesses were common, they were typically only afforded by the wealthy, and her comment demonstrates her own lack of good character and judgement. Lady Catherine’s vain value in “good breeding” is evident when she says to Elizabeth, “True. You are a gentleman’s daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition” (239). Lady Catherine’s harsh comments about Elizabeth’s lack of proper relatives, which can be also seen as “ornaments” to Elizabeth’s character, show how appallingly rude Lady Catherine is.
People’s reactions to Rosings are comparable to how people react to Lady Catherine. Lady Catherine’s estate is so extravagant that,
“In spite of having been at St. James’s, Sir William was so completely awed, by the
grandeur surrounding him, that he had but just courage enough to make a very low bow,
and take his seat without saying a word; and his daughter, frightened almost out of her
enses, sat on the edge of her chair, not knowing which way to look” (110).
Sir William and his daughter’s awe for Rosings aligns with how people revere Lady Catherine. Most people praise her and submit to her rudeness. Mrs. Bennet even allows Lady Catherine to be rude to her in her own home. Lady Catherine says, “You have a very small park here” (236). Mrs. Bennet merely replies, “It is nothing in comparison to Rosings, my lady…” (236). Throughout the novel, Rosings and Lady Catherine evoke feelings of undeserved awe and submission from others. Lady Catherine’s estate nor her character are worthy of such esteem and reverence.
A deeper understanding of Lady Catherine and Mr. Darcy is gained through closer observation of their estates. As demonstrated in Pride and Prejudice, new perspectives can be gained and beliefs can be confirmed from attentiveness to surroundings. Consideration of surroundings, not just what is obvious about a person, is very important. Surroundings provide key details and context and are not to be ignored. The metaphor of Rosings and Pemberley serve as a reminder to be vigilant and take in all information at hand, not just the obvious.