The ladies of Jane Austen’s time, and indeed within her works, had accomplishments to recommend them as ladies. In Pride and Prejudice it is even talked of by the party at Netherfield. Between Bingley, Darcy, and Miss Bingley one is able to gather a rough approximation of what skills an accomplished young lady might possess.
- “paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses”
- “thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages”
- “must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions”
- “the improvement of her mind by extensive reading”
If I were to go by this, I’m afraid I was not very accomplished as a young lady. I might have been able to fool Bingley, though.
I did in fact paint a table once for my mother who thought I might do well given that I did earn the highest award for art in middle school. It was a glass top table so I had to paint it in reverse as I painted the underside, and it was of a coral reef. I don’t think it was very impressive because she put it in the corner of the upstairs hallway that no one ever saw. I’ve never covered a screen, though I did paint a mural on the garage wall of another coral reef. As for netting a purse my knitting and crocheting skills are so rudimentary that I can barely make a scarf, and a very plain one at that.
For my musical knowledge I can boast that I learned to play the recorder and the clarinet, though after two semesters of band I tired of the clarinet and was never any better than ninth chair. I can play a few bars on a piano with one hand, but lack the coordination and musical comprehension necessary to use both hands to play anything worth listening to. I can sing well enough to know when I shouldn’t, having learned in chorus that I am an alto. Music appreciation taught me quite a bit about music and I have a good ear. I was once told I could hear perfect pitch, but all I know is that live vocal performances are somewhat painful for me to endure.
As indicated by my art accomplishments, I can draw. My ability to dance is not what anyone in Jane Austen’s time would approve of, and as for modern languages, well, I can read Spanish, understand it mostly, but speak it less than poorly. I know a handful of phrases in German and French that actually aren’t swear words, but I won’t be having any meaningful conversations.
As for my walk, talk, and expression, I can be polite, but I am no miss congeniality. I can’t walk well in heels, I speak my mind too much with the inclusion of swear words, and I find it hard to talk to people I don’t know without some context for the conversation. Small talk is not my specialty, but I am an excellently attentive listener.
However, when it comes to reading, here I excel. I am obsessive about doing miscellaneous research to learn about cultures and religions. I read philosophy, poetry, and fiction. I read just about everything from the classics to what some would consider modern trash. I enjoy comic books and graphic novels. I love reading and discussing what I read. I’m not sure if this would all qualify as improving my mind, but I do it.
All in all, I may seem accomplished to some, but I am not well rounded enough in my skills to be thought of as very accomplished according to the Netherfield drawing room definition. If anyone were to have said I was accomplished it would have been on par with the Southern euphemism of “bless her heart,” which would have been the nicest thing for anyone truly accomplished to have said of me.
What about you? Would any of your accomplishments meet with those listed above? Are you an accomplished lady or a very accomplished lady?
*Photo: Clarinet Over Sheet Music by Tim Swinson | Kingbob.net, obtained through Flickr.