Why Darcy would not have married Elizabeth Bennet

Linda Colley

  • The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Victorian England by Amanda Vickery
    Yale, 436 pp, £19.95, May 1998, ISBN 0 300 07531 6

The experience of reading this book is a paradoxical one. Innovative, expertly researched and luminous in style, it nonetheless seems at times almost eerily familiar. The reason for this quickly becomes evident. Those who know their Jane Austen well have been here before. There are echoes of the novels even in some of the characters we encounter in Amanda Vickery’s volume: the clergyman’s wife from a commercial background, for instance, who – very much in the manner of Mrs Elton – addresses her spouse as ‘Mr R’. More important, though, are the similarities in method. Austen claimed to have derived inspiration from the closely observed antics of a narrow sample of comfortably-off county families. Unable to spy on her subjects over the card table or across the assembly room, Vickery has instead haunted the Lancashire Record Office at Preston and pored over all the letters, diaries and account books there written by privileged women between 1730 and 1825.

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