Notes on Man of Few Words, Chapter 1

You know you've arrived when you've got an estate.
Mr. and Mrs. Andrews by Gainsborough
In Chapter 1 of A Man of Few Words, now part of the omnibus, The Gentleman and The Rake, Darcy comes to Netherfield to visit his great friend Bingley. The Darcy of A Man of Few Words finds Bingley less concerned with estate maintenance and more concerned with attending local shindigs.

This is not because Bingley is a deliberately careless or feckless landlord. Rather, unlike Darcy, Bingley has not been raised to "the manor born." Bingley's father, who was likely in trade, used his fortune to enable his children to live and marry "up"--
Mr. Bingley inherited property to the amount of nearly a hundred thousand pounds from his father, who had intended to purchase an estate, but did not live to do it. Mr. Bingley intended it likewise, and sometimes made choice of his county; but as he was now provided with a good house and the liberty of a manor, it was doubtful to many of those who best knew the easiness of his temper, whether he might not spend the remainder of his days at Netherfield, and leave the next generation to purchase (my emphasis).
Bingley does eventually buy an estate near Pemberley.

It is difficult for Americans, and possibly modern Britishers, to understand the importance of land-owning to members of the nineteenth-century gentry. Although owning property was really just a glorified version of living off rents, for old families--like the Fitzwilliam Darcys--land-owning also brought with it noblesse oblige: an obligation to sustain the entire countryside. Darcy is a remnant of the squires that appear in Richardson's Pamela--a man who, to all intents and purposes, is the god of his estate and environs. Considering his power to force as much money as he wants from his land however he wants, it is to Darcy's credit that his servants and tenants admire him.

It also provides material for his behavior in A Man of Few Words, namely his drive to encourage Bingley to take an interest in Netherfield. But let's face it: 100+ years later, Bingley would be a stockbroker or a resort-owner or something far less land-oriented and far more people-oriented.

To be continued . . .

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