Pride and Prejudice and Swiping
Matchmaking in the Regency Era
It was a morose morning for Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their five young daughters — Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine, and Lydia. Legal documentation had arrived at the Bennet Residence in Longbourn to declare what the family had always feared but scarcely dared to believe. The Longbourn estate would be passed on to Mr. Collins- the closest male heir of Mr. Bennet- upon the death of Mr. Bennet and his own family shall remain penniless.
Mrs. Bennet and her nerves had had quite the fit. Forever having been on Mrs. Bennet’s case, her nerves did threaten to culminate in a full-blown stress-induced cardiac arrest. Luckily, however, she had had the most brilliant idea. The execution of the idea required her husband’s and her daughters’ approval.
‘Mr. Collins must marry one of you’, Mrs. Bennet cried, looking at her five daughters with eyes gleaming with the joy of a light bulb moment.
‘How will that benefit the girls?’ Mr. Bennet looked up at her slowly, looking as if Mrs. Bennet’s little outburst had robbed him of the concentration he needed to focus on and fix the problem they were now faced with — how to ensure that the existing system did not rob his family of what they deserved.
‘My dear Mr. Bennet, you mustn’t be so thick’, Mrs. Bennet said. ‘You and I cannot expect a male heir anymore for the fertility of my eggs has been long gone. Now, we are left with but one solution. If Mr. Collins is to rob us of our livelihood, he must take one of the girls with him.’
‘Oh, but it shall be Jane, of course’, Lydia said wistfully. ‘The tales of her beauty have spread far and wide across the county.’
‘Oh, do shut up, Lydia’, Elizabeth snapped. ‘You do say such ill-advised things.’
‘Perhaps it might be Lizzy’, said Mr. Bennet. ‘She is, after all, a clever little fox. I have seen Mr. Collins and if I’m honest, I do believe our Jane belongs to a league that is far above the capabilities of a man such as Mr. Collins.’
Elizabeth could feel her cheeks burning up, turning scarlet. She also knew it was not out of the blush that accompanies the chatter about a potential amorous connection. No. It was rage that was uppermost upon her mind.
Mrs. Bennet turned from Jane to Elizabeth and grinned.
‘Yes’, she said with a Cruella de Vil-like conviction, it shall be Elizabeth.’
‘It could be me’, Catherine chimed in.
‘I dare say, Kitty’, Lydia said with a chuckle. ‘If Mr. Collins were given a choice between the two of us, surely he would pick me.’
‘My dear Lydia, I must say, I find your attitude quite bitchy’, Catherine scoffed at Lydia.
‘To be sure — you must be aware as everyone else is, out of the two of us, I am quite the hot fox.’
‘Would it be quite the shock of the century ‘, came the sound of Mary’s voice, ‘if this Mr. Collins chose his bride based on intellect? Then I shall leave all of you and this dilapidated mess we call ‘home’, far behind.’
At that, everybody burst into laughter.
‘Now, then’, Mrs. Bennet looked at her husband. ‘Mr. Bennet, you shall send a note round to Mr. Collins, asking him to dine with us. There’s not a moment to lose’, she added as Mr. Bennet rushed to his study. ‘And Lizzy, you must dress to impress. You shall wear my finest pearls!’
Elizabeth sighed and sat back in her chair. She didn’t know what she was more annoyed about — the fact that she was going to be subjected to Mrs. Bennet’s pearls and Mr. Collins’ close scrutiny, or the fact that she had been branded as second best in Mr. Collins’ search for a bride.
Still, she was determined not to let Mr. Collins form an attachment to her. This was not where her glorious single life was going to come to an end. She was confident that she wouldn’t have to sabotage the situation herself; rather her mother would unconsciously sabotage it for her.
‘Has it ever occurred to you’, Elizabeth began as Jane walked in, holding on to the muslin that Mrs. Bennet had instructed Elizabeth to wear, ‘that our Mother exudes…gold digger vibes?’
‘Yes’, Jane said matter-of-factly.
‘Do you not suppose that perhaps our mother might end up being the reason that Mr. Collins might not take a fancy to either of us after all.’
Jane sighed. ‘It is possible that in an effort to get her daughters married, Mama might exude desperate vibes, but…’
‘But where are you going with this, Lizzy?’
‘Jane, I don’t suppose you might want to team up with me? Take matters into our own hands?’
‘And how shall we do that?’
‘We could look for husbands on our own. Without having to go to any of these mortifying balls with Mama and Mrs. Long and all the other ghastly women. And we wouldn’t have to dance with any of the men we didn’t fancy! ’
‘Lizzy, dear, why must you think so poorly of all of Mama’s friends?’
‘Because they are quite the biggest hags I have ever laid my eyes upon. So, what do you think then?’
‘I’m sure I would love to, but what are you suggesting we do? How shall we meet any agreeable men without going to any of the balls?’
‘Well…I subscribe to a service. Based out of London. It’s a lady called Mrs. Brown. She sends portraits and profiles of eligible men in the area and you can choose which one of them you would like to speak to.’
‘So, she’s a matchmaker? But how shall we decide whom to meet based solely on portraits?’
‘They answer a few questions about themselves too, so we get to understand a little bit about them.’
‘Lizzy, how do you know about this service?’
‘Lydia told me’, said Elizabeth, turning a hint of red.
It was as though Lydia heard her own name being said and walked into the room.
‘And what are we chatting about?’ she said chirpily.
‘Shall I have no privacy at all, then, Lyida?’ Elizabeth snapped.
‘I thought I heard my name’, Lydia rolled her eyes.
‘Lizzy has just been telling me about this service from London that you told her about’, said Jane before things could heat up between Lydia and Elizabeth.
‘Oh, Mrs. Brown’s Boys! Yes, I do think it’s one of the finer discoveries I have made. Have you seen the latest profiles, Lizzy?’
‘Lizzy’, Lydia said, turning serious. ‘I do not believe for one moment that Mr. Collins is the one for you. He does not sound at all agreeable to me. We must find you an alternative’, she said, waltzing towards the four poster bed. She slid a hand underneath the bed and retrieved a tatty package with brown wrapping. ‘Oh, there seem to be quite a few here.’
The girls looked at each other and then at the package. They grinned and then excitedly gathered around it on the floor. Lydia unwrapped the package and split the contents equally amongst the three of them.
‘Jane’, Lydia started. ‘Welcome to Mrs. Brown’s Boys. All you have to do is thus- every page has the details of an eligible man that you might take a fancy to. The ones you like, you make a pile of on the right. The ones you don’t like, you do the same on the left. The pile on the left, we burn. The pile on the right, we send back to Mrs. Brown, asking to set up a chance encounter with them.’
‘Oh, how exciting!’’ Jane squeeled.
As the girls sorted through their individual piles, Jane’s excitement quickly transformed into confusion.
‘Oh, dear’, she said. ‘I’m not sure what this is a portrait of. Is this…is it a man holding a fish?’
‘Yes’, Lydia said as she looked up and nodded. ‘They seem to be quite obsessed with fish.’
‘Oh, here’s one with a boxer. Oh, another one. Are they quite obsessed with dogs as well?’
‘Yes; dogs, fish, children as well sometimes. Neices, nephews, that sort of thing. How are you getting on, Lizzy?’
‘Mm?’ Elizabeth raised her eyebrows, sifting through her pile with a look of dejection. ‘No, everybody seems quite arrogant. Like this one, for example’, she added, thumping one down, reading aloud from the page. ‘“Fitzwilliam Darcy, 28, Netherfield. I require a clever and accomplished young lady with the finest manners. Elegance must be second nature to her and she must speak five languages”. Is he looking for a wife or a translator?!’
‘Left pile, please’, Lydia said rolling her eyes. ‘How about you, Jane?’
‘Mm, this one seems agreeable enough’, said Jane. ‘“Charles Bingley, 22, Netherfield. I wish for every lady to know that her inner beauty transcends all else.”’
‘Right pile, we can think about it. I’m adding this one to my right pile. Listen- “George Wickham, Meryton. Part of Colonel Forster’s regiment.” I do love an army man!’
‘What else does it say?’ Elizabeth said, peering in.
‘Nothing. This is quite enough for me, my dear’, Lydia said with a grin.
A few minutes later, the sound of Mrs. Bennet’s cries of how Mr. Collins would be arriving any minute filled the room and the girls sighed, setting their piles back underneath the bed. The pile to be burnt was considerably larger than the pile to be sent back to Mrs. Brown, in that it was only Charles Bingley and George Wickham that were agreeable enough to speak to in real life.
‘Oh, better luck next time, Lizzy’, Lydia said, patting a morose Elizabeth.
‘Yes, Lizzy, don’t lose hope’, Jane added.
‘Let’s meet Mr. Collins then’, Elizabeth sighed.