The Bingley sisters and Mrs Hurst represents the hypocrisy of aristocratic 19th century England. Their speech, demeanour, and values are all excessive and absent of moral foundation. The argument concerning ‘Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s’ sheer entrance to Pemberly for example clearly shows the shallow superficiality of their speech. ‘Her manners were pronounced very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence; she had no conversation, no stile, no taste, no beauty.’ The unwarranted input of ‘very’ and ‘indeed’ to their appraisal conveys the excessive nature of their class, as does the criteria on which they base their judgement, ‘conversation’, ‘stile’, ‘taste’, and ‘beauty’. All of which are merely elements of ones exterior and not true qualities of character. But then to conclude that ‘she has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker’ takes the form of an ironic nuclear warhead. It is through this arsenal of irony that Jane Austen conveys the false values and refinement of aristocratic England.
The ‘civil enquires’ are not just said, but are ‘poured in’, suggesting they are unmeditated, and automatic. Hence the party, for an exception to Mr Bingley, who enquires with ‘much superior solicitude’, aren’t genuine, but merely said as a matter of duty. This obligation to elegance is also prevalent in their rigid time schedule; ‘At five o’clock the two ladies retired to dress, and at half past six Elizabeth was summoned to dinner’. According to the notes at the back of the text, late dinners only became in vogue towards the end of the eighteenth century; by highlighting this conformity therefore, Austen is ironically criticizing the Bingley’s as victims of trivial etiquette. Who ‘summoned’ Elizabeth to dinner is unspecified, and thus the summoner may be interpreted as an authorial voice motivating this whole charade of ‘chaise and fours’ and highly seasoned ‘ragout’.
The society is too busy salvaging possessions and playing games of chance that reasoning is left unquestioned. For example, at times when there is no entertainment as such, Mr Hurst sees nothing better to do than ‘stretch himself on one of the sofas and go to sleep’ while his wife principally occupies herself in ‘playing with her bracelets and rings’.
This same forced respect to currency is found in both Darcy and Mary Bennet. For Mary it is the alacrity, without the ‘smallest objection’, in which she responds to entertaining Miss Bingley, suggesting a robotic and obliged respect to the wealthier class. Nonetheless, this respect is absolutely invalid; since the Bingley sister’s fortune was ‘acquired by trade’ they are also members of the lower merchant class and not superior in the slightest to the Bennet’s. Hence the condescending tone by which Caroline Bingley addresses Lizzy as ‘Miss Eliza Bennet’, and Mary’s respect to her is hypocritical. In Darcy case, it is his pride in which he ‘begins to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention’ that conveys a sense of obligation to regulate his feeling of a woman of inferior class.
In relation to the societies values, its essence can be concluded by Mr Hurst’s reaction to Elizabeth’s refusal to a game of cards, ‘Do you prefer reading to cards? That is rather singular’. Suggesting a repetitious game of chance is more appealing to the bulk, than moral enlightenment obtained through wide reading. This card game metaphor blends into Mrs Bennet’s philosophy on marriage. When she plots to have Jane ride on horseback to visit Mr Bingley in hope of it raining, she regards ‘it was a lucky idea of mine, indeed’ when it does rain, ‘as if the credit of making it rain were all her own.’ Also when Mr Collins ask for a private audience with Elizabeth, Elizabeth replies ‘He can have nothing to say to me that any body need not hear. I am going away myself’ only for her manipulative mother to say ‘No, no, nonsense, Lizzy. -I desire you will stay where you are’. Thus Mrs Bennet sees acquiring a husband of ‘great fortune’ for her daughter as far superior to her inner feelings. She treats marriage, as much like a game of chance, sometimes she’s ‘lucky’, sometimes she’s ‘unlucky’, she trivialises the entire ethos of matrimony by selfish greed.
Mr Collins address to Elizabeth for her hand in marriage is the epitome of a society anchored by the importance of appearance. He sets about his address in ‘a very orderly manner, with all the observances which he supposed a regular part of the business.’ Not only does this phrase contained dangerous levels of irony but it describes marriage as a ‘business’. This and Mr Collins vanity in assuming her acceptance, parallels the idea introduced from page one, ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ By not accepting therefore, Elizabeth has kicked herself free from societies warped values and stands vulnerably alone in ‘conceited independence’, the very characteristic that appeals to Mr Darcy.
The manner in which Mr Collins categorically supports his interest in ‘Longbourne’ (ie. why he ‘chose’ to marry Elizabeth) is excessively ironic, hypocritical and simply irrational. Not once through these dot points is Elizabeth’s interest even uttered. Through the entire ‘ordeal’ he interprets Elizabeth’s rejections of his hand as playfully flirtations commonly expected by an ‘elegant female’, and continues his ‘effusions’ of the great moment when Miss de Bough ‘while Mrs. Jenkinson arranged her foot-stool’ shared her council: ‘Mr. Collins, you must marry. Chuse properly, chuse a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way.’ The sheer fact that Miss de Bough’s input is there at all provides commentary on the artifice of marriage of the time; to consider her opinion important in a marriage that is not even hers just because of her material status is absurd, let alone her far from poetic description of a worthy wife.