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Welcome to Kent!

Before I get to what really happens in this chapter, a word about the word palings:

"When they left the high-road for the lane to Hunsford, every eye was in search of the Parsonage, and every turning expected to bring it in view. The palings of Rosings Park was their boundary on one side. Elizabeth smiled at the recollection of all that she had heard of its inhabitants." [Emphasis mine.]

The carriage has left the main road and is on a country lane, which is bounded on one side by a fence composed of palings - vertical wooden slats, as it turns out. This tells us that the lands around Rosings Park have been enclosed, a topic which I discussed in this post related to Northanger Abbey and again in this one about Sense & Sensibility. The salient point is that Austen is telegraphing information to her readers that most modern readers miss, and it was a hot-button political issue in her time.

You see, in 1801, Parliament passed the General Inclosure Act, which allowed landholders to enclose open fields and common lands in the country, thereby depriving many small landholders and workers of space in which to graze their sheep and cattle or in which they could gather wood. As a result, numerous country workers who could no longer eke out a living on the land moved to urban areas in search of industrial jobs, thereby becoming wage laborers. In Northanger Abbey, General Tilney shows off his vast enclosures and his greenhouses, likely because Austen means to point out how he has been enriched by the enclosure movement, and – quite possibly – how he is oblivious to or unconcerned with any hardship it causes to others (greenhouses were extremely expensive to set up and run). He has enriched himself while depriving others. Likewise, John Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility has torn down an ancient grove of lovely walnut trees in order to build greenhouses and is enclosing the lands at Norland. General Tilney, while not exactly a villain, is close enough to being such, and John Dashwood is a jackass, so it is to be assumed that Austen is hinting at something in Lady Catherine's nature with this passing mention of palings.

Welcome to Mr Collins's humble abode!

Mr Collins is as much of an ass as always, overly pretentious and in a hurry to try to rub Lizzy's nose in what she missed out on in turning him down. While the house is okay, it's nothing to make Elizabeth wonder if she made a mistake (those of you who are re-reading will appreciate this particular plot point more than those on a first read-through), and instead she wonders how on earth Charlotte puts up with him. "Once or twice she could discern a faint blush; but in general Charlotte wisely did not hear."

Mr Collins takes them on a detailed tour of his garden - so detailed, in fact, that it sucks any pleasure out of the walk, then takes Sir William out into the surrounding fields. Charlotte, it turns out, encourages Mr Collins to spend as much time in his garden as possible, and seems to put him out of her mind when he's not in the house.

More about Lady Catherine

Know that advice about how if a mystery mentions a gun on the mantle in chapter , someone will probably use it before the end of the book? With Austen, you can expect that with characters. If you are told about a character's existence, you ought to expect to meet them, and so it comes as no surprise that this chapter is the run-up to us actually meeting Lady Catherine De Bourgh.

Mr Collins has mentioned how expensive her chimney-piece is (back in Chapter 16), and now he tells us that she sends the Collinses home from dinner in one of her carriages, of which she has several. As of 1812, the tax on carriages was nearly 12 pounds per year (each), and horses were taxed as well. There was a higher tax for carriages bearing a coat of arms. People like the Bennets kept one carriage, which was pretty much what they could afford, and the Bennets didn't have horses always available for carriage use, since their horses were used in farmwork as well. The Collinses don't own a carriage at all, despite being gentry. Lady Catherine, however, has several carriages, which implies vast wealth and (possibly) a bit of ostentation.

Young Maria (pronounced Mariah with a long I in the middle in that time period) is quite out of her league here. She is, I believe, Kitty's age, and is therefore several years younger than Elizabeth, and between her kind but sometimes pompous father and her overbearing and decidedly obsequious brother-in-law, Mr Collins, she is easily impressed by the De Bourghs. Which explains why she is so overwhelmed by Miss De Bourgh's "goodness" in pausing in her carriage at the gate to speak with the Collinses. Elizabeth, noticing that it is windy out, observes that Miss De Bourgh is being ill-mannered in forcing Charlotte to stand outside in order to speak with her, and Elizabeth is correct: A proper morning call would have involved Miss De Bourgh coming inside, like any well-bred young lady. Instead, she is treating the Collinses more like servants, who can be inconvenienced by having to come out of their home and remain standing in order to conduct a conversation with her. It's all very high-handed, when you think it through.

On the plus side, tomorrow we go to Rosings and meet Lady Catherine. I can hardly wait!

Tomorrow: Chapter 29
Back to Chapter 27

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( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 28th, 2011 10:25 pm (UTC)
I didn't really understand that Anne De Bourgh was treating Charlotte and Mr. Collins like servants, but I did understand that she was being very rude by not coming in, thus making Charlotte stand out in the weather.
Jan. 28th, 2011 10:45 pm (UTC)
Servants weren't generally allowed to sit down in the presence of their betters, and by keeping them standing, she's decidedly not treating them as equals!
Jan. 29th, 2011 12:39 am (UTC)
I love this bit in the '95 screen version - 'shelves in a closet, happy thought indeed' lol.

I remember doing the enclosure act at school, when I was about 14 maybe, but i couldn't remember it in that much detail - interesting stuff, as is the stuff about Miss de Bourgh treating them like servants, I knew they were looked down upon, but I didn't realise that in this scene Anne de Bourghs actions made it that pronounced.

Yay next stop Lady Catherine!
Jan. 29th, 2011 05:44 am (UTC)
It didn't occur to me until today that her actions made it that pronounced, as I thought through what a proper visit would be. She's decidedly not behaving properly, and more than that, she's keeping them standing, as one would a servant. And the inclosure stuff was really interesting when I learned it - it's one of those things that people in Austen's time would have been keenly aware of, and they'd have understood her to be making a political point, whereas today it just sails past us.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 29th, 2011 05:44 am (UTC)
Meanwhile Maria is all O_o?
Jan. 29th, 2011 02:33 am (UTC)
Since the Enclosure Act contributed to the emigration of the Scots to New England, it's always been a hot button issue for me, so I'm glad you made more people aware of it.

That tax on things like carriages (and other luxury items) was also in force in the Colonies and carried over to the early days of the country, although it was a state or local tax, as the personal property tax. I know that in the town where I grew up, farmers paid taxes per animal (more for an ox, less for a pig) and people paid tax on such possessions as a gold pocket watch. (My mother was town clerk and then became the local archivist, so she'd share all this sort of info at the dinner table.)

Is it me, or does Lizzie look rather like Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins in that photo?

Edited at 2011-01-29 02:35 am (UTC)
Jan. 29th, 2011 05:47 am (UTC)
I think the set of Jennifer Ehle's jaw in that particular photo contributed to the Andrews illusion.

As I hope to remember to point out tomorrow, there was also a tax on glazing (windows). It was a per-window tax, in fact. No wonder some people started to brick up window openings they deemed unnecessary!

Austen's mention of enclosure and the taxes is, in fact, political, and would have been recognized as such in her time, but people today miss it - and say things like "she never mentioned politics".
Jan. 29th, 2011 07:34 am (UTC)
I'm sorry, just for a moment there I thought you were suggesting that meeting Lady Catherine would be a plus...

Thank you for the enclosure info. I remember it from your discussion of John Dashwood (and, much longer ago, from school) but it's good to have the connection made for me here because it's so subtle I did actually miss it.
Jan. 29th, 2011 05:36 pm (UTC)
I missed it until this reading myself. (I believe this may be my fifth or sixth reading.) But having gotten on my high horse about it for Northanger Abbey, which is arguably the most political of her novels (at least in discussing current events - a novel like Persuasion which argues somewhat forceably in support of the rising middle class is political as well, and perhaps in a more lasting manner), I see enclosure and greenhouse references where they are. And I realized that in this novel, as in S&S, it's linked with a character that we are meant to find distasteful (if comical).
Jan. 29th, 2011 08:02 pm (UTC)
I used to live in Kent :)
Jan. 30th, 2011 02:59 am (UTC)
Jan. 30th, 2011 11:47 am (UTC)
When my family moved down south in the late sixties, I lived in Sidcup (near Dartford) for nearly ten years. In the late eighties, I ended up in Bexleyheath (also near Dartford),where Senior Management and I lived until we moved here in '04.
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