I wanted to focus on a character who always seems to be in the background of Pride of Prejudice. - Mary Bennet. I have never quite understood Jane Austen's feelings towards Mary; she portray's her as quite plain and socially inept but also a great thinker. Do you thinks he saw some of herself in Mary?
The quote is from chapter 47 after Lydia has ran away with Wickham. Mary says to Lizzy:
"This is a most unfortunate affair; and will probably be much talked of. But we must stem the tide of malice, and pour into the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation."
Then, perceiving in Elizabeth no inclination of replying, she added, "Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable—that one false step involves her in endless ruin—that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful,—and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex."
The definition of virtue is 'conformity of one's life and conduct to moral and ethical principles' and she is correct that Lydia's behaviour has indeed put her virtue into question if she does not marry Wickham. I think that the use of the word brittle suggests that no woman's virtue or reputation is ever secure, it is fragile.
My question is, have things changed so much in the past 200 years? In society today, all things are more accepted and some standards have been shattered. I do believe, however, that internally in most women there is still a code of conduct which when breached or jeopardised produces a great sense of disease for the woman.
On the other hand, this quote can still be considered current in the fashion of double standards with women being heavily criticised for actions that a man would be praised for.
Mary opens up an interesting debate on the way women are perceived in society today compared to Jane Austen's time.
I also really like the term 'the balm of sisterly consolation' - I think that this is something which has not changed over the past two centuries and is unlikely to change over two more.
Pic: First Novels Club