Throughout the novel, Caroline Bingley criticizes Elizabeth’s manner and physicality in order to make herself seem more appealing to Mr. Darcy. Her belief that no woman can be considered “accomplished” until they have “a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages”, creates high expectations for women to be respected in society (39). Here, Austen refers to certain talents that women should have, and furthermore,
many of these talents are markers of status and wealth. By saying that an “accomplished” woman should have these certain abilities, she must have some sort of wealth background prior to marriage, and only after learning how to do each of these individual arts, they will be suitable for marriage. In the same passage, she states that women “must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking” (39). “Certain” applies to a particular mood that a woman would have to make her appealing in the competitive marriage market in 19th century England. Even down to a woman’s “manner of walking” determines a successful future marriage. In the same scene, Caroline regards Elizabeth as one who “seeks” to better themselves by “undervaluing” their abilities (3940). Austen’s use of “seek” to describe someone who desperately looks for acceptance, and thus, Caroline makes Elizabeth seem as though she only desires to be the center of attention by “undervaluing” herself, or putting herself down to elevate herself in the eyes of
Darcy. Caroline creates high expectations for women, and simultaneously, attempts to discredit
Elizabeth to make herself seem to be a more suitable wife.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh also makes Elizabeth feel inferior by referencing societal expectations that she[Elizabeth] does not explicitly follow. During Elizabeth’s visit to Rosings,
Lady Catherine expresses her belief that Elizabeth should have had a “governess” and interprets that thus, she has a very “neglected” life (161). Jane Austen’s use of the term “governess” suggests that perhaps Jane and her sisters are not governed at all in a sense and therefore, they are somewhat lesser than someone who did receive a formal education. By saying that they
“ought all to have learned”, Austen intends for Lady Catherine’s character to make Elizabeth feel insubordinate, as though she is somehow behind or lacking in comparison