The April A to Z Blogging Challenge is a month-long event where I, and more than 2000 other bloggers, will post every day of the month (except Sundays) using a different letter of the alphabet. The theme of my posts will be “What I Love About Pride and Prejudice.” Click the link above or the A to Z badge in my sidebar to visit other participants.
Kibitz: To look on and offer unwanted, usually meddlesome advice to others (I took this to mean I could use meddling as my Letter K word ♥).
“Can I have the carriage?” said Jane.
“No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night.” –Jane Austen Pride & Prejudice
Kibitzing or meddling is a well used theme in Pride & Prejudice. Caroline Bingley starts out meddling in Elizabeth’s relationship with Wickham as a form of torment. She continues her interference at Netherfield Park by trying to paint Elizabeth in a bad light to Mr. Darcy. This ends up having the opposite effect when he feels the need to defend Elizabeth. It even acts to further their acquaintance.
Mr. Darcy himself is not above meddling. He brags to his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam about breaking up the match between Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet. In this he conspires with Caroline to keep Charles Bingley in London and away from Jane. This is a huge point in the plot and one of the chief reasons Elizabeth finds to dislikes Mr. Darcy.
While Mr. Darcy and Caroline Bingley are excellent kibitzers, it is the mothers in the story who are the real masters.
Mrs. Bennet starts meddling on the first page of the book. Her daughters need to marry and marry well. Right away she insists her husband go visit Mr. Bingley as soon as he’s settled at Netherfield Park. This is to form an acquaintance so that Mr. Bingley can then marry one of her girls. She also sends poor Jane to lunch with Mr. Bingley’s sisters on horseback in hopes that the rain that soaks her will keep her at their house overnight. Mrs. Bennet even tries to force her daughter Elizabeth into a marriage with the ridiculous Mr. Collins.
The other mother in Pride & Prejudice with an extreme talent for meddling is Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Her wealth and title make her feel it is her right to instruct others on how to live their lives and even arrange their homes. She is also the one who urges Mr. Collins to look at Longbourne for a wife.
Lady Catherine’s biggest interference comes toward the end of the story though. After hearing rumors that Elizabeth and her nephew are to wed, she’s determined to insure the long held betrothal between her daughter and him. Lady Catherine confronts Elizabeth in the garden of Longbourne, demanging that she deny the claim. The way Elizabeth responds is perfect…absolutely perfect:
“This is not to be borne. Miss Bennet, I insist on being satisfied. Has he, has my nephew, made you an offer of marriage?”
“Your ladyship has declared it to be impossible.”
“It ought to be so; it must be so, while he retains the use of his reason. But your arts and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have made him forget what he owes to himself and to all his family. You may have drawn him in.”
“If I have, I shall be the last person to confess it.”
“Miss Bennet, do you know who I am? I have not been accustomed to such language as this. I am almost the nearest relation he has in the world, and am entitled to know all his dearest concerns.”
“But you are not entitled to know mine; nor will such behaviour as this, ever induce me to be explicit.”
“Let me be rightly understood. This match, to which you have the presumption to aspire, can never take place. No, never. Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter. Now what have you to say?”
“Only this; that if he is so, you can have no reason to suppose he will make an offer to me.”
Of course, Lady Catherine’s meddling unwittingly brings Darcy and Elizabeth back together.
I think it’s interesting that Jane Austen chose to have the two mothers in the story be the real kibitzers. As women in the 1800s, there was less ability for them to change the world. Meddling was a primary weapon. Though they come from different social spheres, what they have in common is a desire to give their daughters a better future. I guess we can’t really blame them for that.
Can you think of any other circumstances in Pride & Prejudice where characters meddle in other’s concerns?