What did it smell like at the Netherfield Ball? Would our modern noses be horrified if we took one step into the ballroom? I am no historian expert or regency novelist with years of research under her belt. And yet I, an ignorant yet enthusiastic Janeite soapmaker, dared to undertake the thought experiment: who smells the worst in Jane Austen?
My first thought was for the scoundrels. Wickham ought to smell the worst, because he’s the worst fellow. And yet, for all Elizabeth’s eventual dislike, I cannot imagine that is the case. He probably smelled even better than Darcy since he had to keep the ladies smiling. And I suppose scoundrels must all smell amazing, like their namesake soap.
Ah, perhaps it’s the person who has the fewest dresses? Because, given they’d need to wear them more often, they’d get more soiled before washing day, right? That would NOT be Emma then, who wore at least 40 different outfits in the 1995 adaptation (I counted Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma outfits when I was a teenager). But even if it was someone like Miss Bates who had the least outfits, I cannot imagine her allowing her dresses to be anything less then meticulously cared for, whether her dresses numbered three or twenty. And so I must seek another notion of who might smell.
Oh but there was one place in particular that smelled terrible, and two of our dear heroines, Anne and Catherine, lived very near it. It is the waters of Bath, of course! But who spent the most time bathing in the sulfuric water? Mrs. Smith, Anne Elliot’s friend, was said to have frequented the hot baths. Could it be her? But, as she had a nurse to take care of her, I must assume she was kept adequately clean. I suppose it must yet be another, but indeed, I am nervous even at the very idea of saying so.
There is really only one person left. The person who tended to get the dirtiest, caring nothing for where she might step or how long she stayed outdoors wandering about. Yes, indeed, Miss Elizabeth Bennet is guilty of much more than a muddy petticoat, but in retrospect, I begin to wonder if perhaps it was something more than mud that wrinkled the noses of the Bingley sisters. Perhaps–just perhaps–our obstinate headstrong girl truly stank.
You might say Pride and Prejudice influenced my upbringing, as I saw the 1995 film (starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy) at the impressionable age of 14 and read the book shortly thereafter. After analyzing the content of the film and the book, and reviewing what matters most in life, I came to the conclusion that whether or not Mr. Darcy actually went swimming in the book did not matter to me. What mattered was watching the movie as many times as possible and laughing heartily every single time Elizabeth stumbles upon a dripping Darcy!
I know I’m not the only one who loves it. (If you are unfamiliar with the scene, watch it here and then come right back!) There have been numerous references to it in books, film, and the news that I have come across. To name a few:
There’s the novel by Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, where the character Bridget interviews Colin Firth and peppers him with questions about his “wet shirt.”
And of course the scene in the film, “Lost in Austen,” where Mr. Darcy walks into a lake to satisfy the request of the heroine.
Another is a hilarious song written and performed by Sense and Spontaneity called “Dear Mr. Darcy,” again with numerous references to his wet white shirt.
Do you know any others? Please share in the comments!
And we cannot forget Northanger Soapworks’s contribution to this lovely list of memorials! That is, White Linen bar soap, or Mr. Darcy’s White Linen as it is sometimes called! Inspired by the wet shirt scene, it smells like freshly laundered linen and has a glittery blue top just like the sun reflecting on the lake. All that’s missing is Mr. Darcy himself, and we’ve got a bar soap for him too:)
Experience the scene again from Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective:
And to think you nearly didn’t visit Pemberley with your Aunt and Uncle Gardner. Thank heaven the family were not at home or you would never have come. The beauty of your surroundings overwhelms you and you struggle to take it all in. It is probable you will never again see its splendor, due to your refusal of Mr. Darcy’s hand. You must make the most of this visit.
A sparkle of light through the bushes catches your eye. The housekeeper had mentioned a lake on the property, could this be it?
You near the break in the hedge but before you reach it you see a figure pass through on foot. He has not seen you yet, but you flush red with mortification at your realization that it is Mr. Darcy himself—for the first time since your refusal—walking toward you in a state of dishevelment with a dripping wet white linen shirt. He looks up, shock registers upon his face, and he stops abruptly.
When two worlds collide, great things can occur. (Or, the worlds explode and everyone dies.)
Thankfully, this time it is only GREAT THINGS (I promise). After all, what could be more glorious than bringing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) into every part of our lives, including that part occupied by our favorite author, Jane Austen? This is how I spent my youth–playing D&D style games and watching Pride and Prejudice every weekend.
If you are unfamiliar with D&D, it’s a fantasy role playing game you can do from your kitchen table with paper and pencil and a few friends. One of the most notable things about D&D is the character alignments. When you create your character, you can choose one of nine alignments (or ten, if you choose unaligned). You are good, neutral, or evil, and then either chaotic, neutral, or lawful, with any combination of those two. There are quite a few alignments around the internet of popular television shows and novels, and I had to add mine to the pile beginning with Pride and Prejudice.
On the axis of Good vs Evil, one does not need to be a murderer to be classed as evil. It is a relative concept. This is also true for chaotic vs. lawful.
Let us begin.
Lawful Good: Mr. Darcy
Mr. Darcy, no matter his failings, is a lawful man. He has strong feelings on how things should be done, and the order to be maintained. He wants to treat people justly, but his “good opinion once lost is lost forever”. He cares about social structure, which lends to his lawfulness, and even mentions it during his first proposal to Elizabeth when talks about how he is going against his better judgement.
He is good and generous, caring deeply for others.
Lawful Neutral: Charlotte Lucas
Charlotte is also a very lawful soul. A man asks her for her hand in marriage? There is no question of her acceptance and following the dictates of society. And yet, her haste in doing so puts her character into neutral territory, as in her desperation to marry, she steals Mr. Collins away from the Bennet girls, and a possible chance for Mary.
Lawful Evil: Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Similar to Mr. Darcy, Lady Catherine is a lawful woman. Her wealth and connections make her all the more lawful in this respect, as holding to the tradition of valuing connections and fortune above other things is to her benefit in increasing the strength of her position in society. Thus, she wants her nephew to marry into a family with good connections and money. Elizabeth has neither and so Lady Catherine is angry and rightfully so according to the law of society.
Lady Catherine is classed as evil because she goes out of her way to be nasty. The unexpected visit she paid on Elizabeth Bennet, with all manner of accusations, was beneath her.
Neutral Good: Charles Bingley
Bingley is the essence of goodness and kindness–this cannot be doubted. His character is in neutral territory because he is too easily influenced by others. He might have felt himself bound to Jane from the marked attentions he had shown her had he thought about it in a more lawful manner.
True Neutral: Mr. Bennet/Mrs. Bennet
Though only Mr. Bennet is shown in the picture, I think they are both true neutral. Mr. Bennet laughs at his neighbors too much to be good, and though he cares about his family he is not motivated to do anything for them. He prefers to be in his library, detached.
Mrs. Bennet is detached as well–but while her husband detaches himself physically, she is mentally detached and hides from reality. The help she gives her daughters is no help at all.
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet do whatever they want to further their own goals, though it is not necessarily well thought out. They are neither good nor evil, chaotic or lawful.
Neutral Evil: Mr. Collins
The character of Mr. Collins is such that at first glance you think he is lawful, but in fact his actions fall short of that and are more self-serving and calculated. He makes a fuss about his obligation to the Bennet family, a lawful idea, but in reality his proposal to a Bennet daughter was for his own gain as she would be more inclined to accept than the average lady because of the real fear of homelessness should Mr. Bennet die. The proposal he makes to Elizabeth alludes to it as well. Had his obligation been truely felt, I don’t believe he would have proposed to Charlotte so quickly.
The evil alignment is justified in my eyes because he uses people to further his ambition, and cares more about pleasing Lady Catherine than being a good person and treating people with kindness.
Chaotic Good: Elizabeth Bennet
Elizabeth is the true representation of chaos for a Lady in her time. She refused two proposals when her “lawful” duty was to accept. She cares for herself and her own happiness more than that of others, including her mother (shocking indeed!). She doesn’t follow society’s rules as closely as she ought, speaks out when she should stay silent, and cares nothing for a clean petticoat–making an exhibition of herself.
And yet, she is full of goodness.
Chaotic Neutral: Lydia Bennet
Lydia is also chaotic, but as her character has less goodness than Elizabeth’s and there are fewer checks on her behavior. She wants excitement and adventure and is willing to take the low road to get there. I would not go so far with her character to classify it as evil though, as I do not believe she intended harm to anyone by her actions.
Chaotic Evil: George Wickham
Wickham, on the other hand, does intend to harm. Through his actions he has harmed no less than three women in Pride and Prejudice that we know well, and very likely more that we do not. A large source of his chaos are his choices, for who would have expected him to run away with Lydia who was neither rich nor well connected?
What do you think? Do you think I’ve misclassified anyone or can you think of someone better? Tell me who and why, I’d love a discussion in the comments!
Oh Mary. How often have we ignored you for Elizabeth, cringed at your dresses, or even laughed? Lets face it though, the creators of the 1995 film adaptation did their best to make you look terrible and I do believe you wore the same green and yellow dress at least 4 times in the last hour of the film 🙂
*Soapmaker digression* One year ago, I was over the moon because I’d decided to start making Jane Austen soap (and create Northanger Soapworks!) and I’d finally figured out how to make soap lace. I felt like it was the most beautiful thing I could ever make, and I knew early on it would be for Mary. I wanted it for her because she deserved something beautiful. Years and years of loving Pride and Prejudice made me think of Mary in a new light and rather than laughing, it became wishing and hoping.⠀
Early in label design before opening shop, I considered what I would include with each soap. One idea I had was to have a little story go with each one that would be included in the packaging somehow. It could be just a secret between the receiver and me, or possibly the 1st half of the story would be on the online product listing, and the conclusion included with the product. I do enjoy writing so this idea sounded delightful. So I immediately sat down to write one for Mary Bennet. Well…I soon realized it wasn’t practical for me to do a story because it took up too much space on my packaging. But I condensed what I had written for Mary and included it anyway, folded up inside.
When I saw Mary B by Katherine J Chen on instagram, I was SO excited that someone had written a story for her! Once I got my hands on it I sped through it. It was also time to restock Mary Bennet’s soap in my shop, so I had a very *Mary* week! I laughed so much reading this book and enjoyed it immensely*. My Sherlockian husband read it too and loved it. 4 stars from us both.
*Caveat: there is a lot of hate out there regarding this book. I stayed up late thinking about it after completing it, sorting through my feelings. However, I like books that make me feel and think, and it doesn’t lessen the delightful fun I had reading. I’ll tell you straight up, if it upsets you to see some of your beloved characters altered, you should skip this one. It is also very modern, so old fashioned gals should definitely read with an open mind.
You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love soap
Sign up for our Northanger newsletter and get 10% off your next order!