Jane Austen is renowned for having written splendid secondary characters in her stories. From Mr Collins and Mrs Jennings to Lord Elliot and Mrs Norris, there are plenty of well-drawn portraits peppered through her novels. One of my personal favourites is Georgiana Darcy, Mr Darcy’s younger sister in Pride and Prejudice, who takes centre stage in my debut novel, Miss Darcy’s Beaux.
Seasoned Janeites know that Georgiana doesn’t have a single line of dialogue in Pride and Prejudice. However, her role in the novel is crucial. Georgiana’s planned elopement with Wickham highlights her seducer’s lack of scruples and morals, and also acts as a partial motivator for Mr Darcy’s dramatic intervention to make Wickham marry Lydia Bennet. More interestingly, the way Darcy treats Georgiana in Pride and Prejudice allows Elizabeth and the reader to glimpse a softer side to him, fuelling his transformation from insufferable snob into the romantic hero we all know and love.
Georgiana is young, sweet and extremely timid, something Elizabeth notices immediately:
Since her (Elizabeth’s) being at Lambton, she had heard that Miss Darcy was exceedingly proud; but the observation of very few minutes convinced her that she was only exceedingly shy. She found it difficult to obtain even a word from her beyond a monosyllable.
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 44
Jane Austen has a soft spot for quietly spoken female characters. Let’s remember that two of Austen’s heroines, Anne Elliot of Persuasion and Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, could be distinctly defined as introverts. Like them, Georgiana is not one for casual flirting and inconsequential chatting; to her, socialising can feel like a chore, and she thinks more than she speaks. Georgiana’s reserve is a trait she shares with her brother, Mr Darcy, who at one point says to Elizabeth:
“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.”
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 31
However, one may argue that her shyness is not just a matter of nature vs. nurture. Georgiana’s circumstances, and particularly the people involved in her upbringing, undoubtedly play a role in the development of her timid disposition. Her mother dies at her birth, her father a few years later, when she is still a girl, and growing up her guardians are her brother and her cousin, both much older than her. Darcy, ten years her senior, becomes a sort of substitute father. Colonel Fitzwilliam is charming and more affectionate than her brother, but he is also in the army at a time of war, so presumably away for long periods on a regular basis.
The other man in Georgiana’s early life is, of course, Wickham. I see him as the object of her puppy love, an outlet for her repressed affection. Georgiana is impressionable, and Wickham’s charm would have been hard to resist in her situation. We all know what happens next. However, what interested me the most about the failed elopement was its impact on Georgiana. What would such a lapse in judgement represent for a naturally timid young girl? She would be terrified to make another mistake. She would be tempted to retire and avoid the big bad world. She may even well grow to loathe her fortune, because it makes others see her for her settlement, not for who she really is.
As for the female influences on shy Georgiana, the only close relatives we know of are Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Anne de Bourgh. Lady Catherine, as we all know, is intimidating and a bit of a bully. I could easily picture Georgiana terrified of her aunt when growing up. As a young girl, she certainly wouldn’t be seeking Lady Catherine’s advice on sensitive matters. Georgiana’s cousin Anne is much older than her, but she is also very quiet, so she and Georgiana may have felt a natural affinity (“she spoke very little, except in a low voice, to Mrs Jenkinson”, Pride and Prejudice, chapter 29).
At the end of Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen tells us that, after Elizabeth and Darcy’s wedding, Georgiana grows close to her sister-in-law. It makes perfect sense. Elizabeth has plenty of experience with teenagers and, although the younger Bennet sisters are much more outspoken than Georgiana, their preoccupations and interests are likely to be similar. As for Georgiana, I imagine her delighted to have another female under the same roof, and an affectionate, intelligent and funny one at that.
So, would Georgiana have stayed at Pemberley once her brother married? I think so. It would have been a suitable state of affairs for everyone. Georgiana and Elizabeth would have enjoyed each other’s company. Darcy would be able to keep an eye on his sister. Add the departure of Lady Catherine and Anne from the family circle, and it is plausible to suppose Georgiana would for some years. Moreover, there’s the magnificent Pemberley library. What introvert wouldn’t think of the place as a paradise?
But a story needs conflict to advance, and Miss Darcy’s Beaux is no exception. Georgiana’s idyllic Pemberley stay has to come to an end. As she is pushed out into the unknown, I could not think of a better companion for her adventure than a Lady Catherine de Bourgh obsessed with marrying her niece to the best possible suitor. The novel takes Georgiana to London, but for an introvert like her, it may as well have been Borneo: it’s a whole world away from the safety of her home, and well beyond her comfort zone. In the end, she enjoys the ride, and I hope you do too.
This article was originally published in Babblings of a Bookworm.