This passage (Hunsford Parsonage) of Pride and Prejudice is quite uncharacteristic of Austen, seeing as it is one of the few instances when she actually describes setting in the novel. This particular description is that of Hunsford Parsonage, where Mr Collins and Charlotte Lucas have made their home after getting married. Although she does use some description, Austen creates a microcosm of Mr Collins and Charlotte’s marriage through the description; neat and convenient, effective in a sense that it gives the description of setting more of an allegorical meaning.
Austen creates anticipation for the description of the Parsonage mainly through other characters’ reactions. Elizabeth is said to have found ‘the prospect of her northern tour’ a ‘constant source of delight’ and ‘Every eye was in search of the Parsonage’, ‘every’ being repeated as a superlative to increase excitement for perhaps a more vivid and astounding description of the parsonage itself.
However, there are hints of the darker and perhaps slightly more sinister aspect of Hunsford; the ‘paling of Rosings Park was their boundary’ is mentioned, the sharp spikes of the paling possibly representing the rigidity of their marriage, and the boundary representing their isolation.
In addition, it is mentioned that ‘at length the parsonage was discernable’, showing how far they had to travel just in order to reach it, again depicting their remoteness from society. The darker aspect of the setting is also shown in the description of the narrator’s house in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.
The narrator describes the house as a ‘colonial mansion’ and a ‘haunted house’, perhaps a way of both authors showing how the life of a perfect housewife in the 1800’s was not the brightest and happiest.
Charlotte Perkins-Gilman also presents to idea of isolation in the narrator’s description of setting, seeing as she mentions the ‘gates that lock’, ‘hedges and walls’, ‘box-bordered paths’ as well as the fact it is ‘three miles from the village’, showing the narrator’s isolation from society in a similar way to Mr Collins and Charlotte Lucas.
The smallness and neatness of the Parsonage is particularly emphasized in this passage. The carriage stopped at a ‘small gate’ which led by a ‘short gravel walk’ to the house and Mr Collins even points out the ‘neatness of the entrance’. The prominence of the minuteness of the house could be a way of Austen presenting how both Mr Collins and Charlotte are small minded in their approach to society and marriage, seeing financial security as the main reason of marriage.
The fact that Mr Collins has to point out the neatness and ‘punctually’ repeat all his wife’s offers of refreshment also shows how the whole visit is a showcase of their suitable marriage; everything is planned and on queue as if it is scripted. In the narrator’s tone you can also imagine Mr Collins’ exact words seeing as no speech is given – ‘with ostentious formality to his humble abode’; an effective way of showing his almost scripted way of speaking to his guests.
The way the narrator feels she has to conform to the proper way in which a woman should speak about the house is also emphasized by Charlotte Perkins-Gilman. The narrator describes her house as ‘The most beautiful place! ‘ after forcing herself to ‘let it alone and talk about the house’. Here she is addressing the audience as if they are her guests, and she must make a good impression; a similar way to how Mr Collins addresses his guests in order to impress them. The importance of the outdoors is emphasized in both Pride and Prejudice and The Yellow Wallpaper. Mr Collins ‘invited them to take a stroll in the garden’.
The fact that he had to show his guests the garden himself and every view ‘was pointed out with a minuteness which left beauty entirely behind’ contrasts to the later description at Pemberley, when Elizabeth, ‘after slightly surveying’ the room, ‘went to the window to enjoy its prospect’, and as they moved through the rooms all she could do was look out of every window where ‘there were beauties to be seen’. In the Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator’s longing to be outside as she looks out the window also mirrors Elizabeth’s appreciation of the outdoor gardens of Pemberly through its windows.
The narrator mentions ‘those mysterious deep shaded arbours’, ‘the riotous old-fashioned flowers’ and the ‘gnarly trees’, all quite wild and undomesticated descriptions of the flora. This could be a way of Austen and Charlotte Perkins-Gilman portraying how nature is only beautiful when it is left to grow untamed in its natural state rather than trimmed to perfection; on a more allegorical level how women should be given sufficient rights to be able to make the most out of life and reach their potential.
The way in which every aspect of the setting of Hunsford is described as merely fitting and neat could also be essential to portraying the fact that the marriage of Mr Collins and Charlotte Lucas is simply appropriate. ‘Everything seemed neat and comfortable’, ‘well built and convenient’ and ‘it was a handsome modern building’ all depicts how their marriage is solely for the purpose of securing their wealth.
No real passion is shown towards the house, possibly reflecting the lack of passion in their marriage, seeing as the house is merely ‘handsome’, a modest word for Jane Austen to use in comparison to the ‘real elegance’ of Pemberley. Paralleled to the narrator’s view of the garden in The Yellow Wallpaper this description is hardly impressive. She describes it as ‘beautiful’, a much more feminine and romantic term, and describes the garden as ‘delicious! , showing how to her the household should be a place of beauty, and how she feels her marriage should be perfect and endearing. Later on her guilt for not being the perfect wife for John is shown (‘I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort’). This perhaps conveys the idea that she could have conformed to the patriarchal society she was living in and ended up like Charlotte and Mr Collins, but she wanted something more beautiful and had to sacrifice her role as ‘perfect’ housewife in order to search for it.
The fact that Mr Collins does all of the work in the garden also allegorically could represent the fact that it is more of a masculine job, Charlotte being incapable of helping in the eyes of her husband. The ‘large and well laid out’ garden Mr Collins ‘attended himself’ and ‘he could number the fields in every direction’, showing his devotion to his role outdoors. This would also have been the case with John and the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper, seeing as even though the narrator wanted a room downstairs which had ‘roses all over the window’, ‘John would not hear of it’.
The idea that the men were the ones to make the decisions of how the garden was laid out and in the case of the narrator in The Yellow wallpaper, she is confined to staying indoors (although she does escape to ‘walk a little in the garden or down that lovely lane’ when John is in town), could also be a way of showing how women were inferior in their control over their setting, and how their job was to stay indoors and do the housework; a much more passive job.
In conclusion, the depiction of realistic settings in both Pride and Prejudice and The Yellow Wallpaper is undoubtedly important, but it is more the allegorical sense in which they are described that is essential in the success of Pride and Prejudice. The depiction of marriage and society through the terms used by Austen to describe the setting is ultimately the way in which we see how the perfect marriage must be.
The way in which the setting portrays the characters’ view on life also shows how conforming to the way in which society works simply in order to be financially secure will not allow you to live life to its full potential, what the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper was exploring, pushing the boundaries of her own mental stability in doing so.
A truly fulfilling marriage, it appears in Pride and Prejudice, can only exist between partners of whom both have mature and developed characters, as Darcy and Elizabeth have. The slow process of learning the truth about the other is not just a matter of removing prejudice but also of replacing it with a positive appreciation, as is signified by descriptions of setting that are not necessarily one hundred per cent accurate, but do reflect the characters’ attitudes towards society, marriage and each other.
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