Thanks to Laurel Ann for asking us to participate in her Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies event!
An author—especially a talented and clever one like Jane Austen—subtly imparts information about her characters with details such as their occupation, their mode of conversation, and even something seemingly so minor as their carriage. In Pride and Prejudice, the alert reader can pick up information not only about the characters but about the plot itself from the type of carriage used by a character in a particular situation.
In Jane Austen’s day, a carriage was definitely a luxury item. They were expensive to purchase, naturally, and there were ongoing expenses in repair, storage, coachmen to care for and operate them, and the ongoing expenses of maintaining or renting horses to pull them; so it was a matter of interest to the impertinently nosy whether a person kept a carriage, and what kind. It was almost a method of broadcasting one’s wealth to the world.
“I do not believe a word of it, my dear. If he had been so very agreeable, he would have talked to Mrs. Long. But I can guess how it was; every body says that he is ate up with pride, and I dare say he had heard somehow that Mrs. Long does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise.”
Not that he isn’t capable of snobbery, but one suspects Mr. Darcy doesn’t particularly care about Mrs. Long and her carriage or lack thereof, and had plenty of other reasons not to talk to that lady at the Meryton assembly. Mrs. Bennet is here perhaps passing off her own personal snobbery onto Darcy.
The Bennets keep a carriage; we aren’t told what kind, but we can probably assume it is a closed vehicle that can seat six to eight people—quite proper for a large family like the Bennets. Mr. Bennet does not keep horses solely to pull the carriage; he borrows working animals from the home farm for carriage duty. That detail not only shows that the Bennets are not extremely rich, but allows for the plot twist of Jane Bennet riding horseback to Netherfield, getting caught in the rain, and catching a cold that allows Jane and her sister Elizabeth to get to know Messrs. Bingley and Darcy a little better—and vice-versa.
Lady Catherine seems to be a bit of a carriage snob. Among her impertinent questions to Elizabeth are questions about the kind of carriage her father owns.
She asked her at different times, how many sisters she had, whether they were older or younger than herself, whether any of them were likely to be married, whether they were handsome, where they had been educated, what carriage her father kept, and what had been her mother’s maiden name? — Elizabeth felt all the impertinence of her questions, but answered them very composedly.
Mr. Bingley is young and unmarried, but has sisters to cart around, so he travels in a chaise and four (meaning it is pulled by four horses) to Netherfield to look over the property, and brings his sister to Netherfield in the same vehicle. A chaise is a closed carriage that seats two to three people. There is no driver, but one or more postilions will ride the lead horse(s) to steer the chaise. A chaise and four is a fashionable and fast way to travel. Presumably Bingley keeps his own horses specifically to use for the chaise, but his brother-in-law Hurst, who has his own chaise, does not.
“Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
The aforementioned hack chaise that conveyed the unfortunate Mrs. Long to the Meryton assembly was hired for the occasion. Most larger villages had a livery stable that would hire out, or “hack,” such vehicles and horses for a particular event.
Mr. Collins is pleased to inform the Bennets that his patroness owns several carriages, and always orders one of them to send the Collinses home when they have been invited to dine at Rosings (but not, one is left to assume, pick them up beforehand; another revealing tidbit about Lady Catherine). At least one of them is a barouche, an open vehicle that seats four people and has a top that folds back like a convertible automobile. Lady Catherine offers to take Elizabeth Bennet and Maria Lucas to London in her barouche when she goes there:
“And if you will stay another month complete, it will be in my power to take one of you as far as London, for I am going there early in June, for a week; and as Dawson does not object to the Barouche box, there will be very good room for one of you — and indeed, if the weather should happen to be cool, I should not object to taking you both, as you are neither of you large.”
A most obliging invitation; are they to draw straws to decide who gets to ride? And what is the other young lady supposed to do? Spare some pity for poor Dawson, presumably Lady Catherine’s maid, who is stuck up on the box with the driver in whatever weather might be going on. At least it’s warm in June, but if it rains, there is no protection. And no doubt Lady C. would have made Lizzy and Maria ride facing backwards, not shaded by the top.
A barouche-landau has two seats facing each other, and a top that opens in the middle and folds back. (In P&P95, we think Elizabeth and the Gardiners arrive at Pemberley in a barouche-landau, which attentive readers of Emma will know is just the thing to use for summer sightseeing in the countryside! It is at least a barouche, so you can get an idea of how much space they had inside.)
“Mrs. Collins, you must send a servant with them. You know I always speak my mind, and I cannot bear the idea of two young women travelling post by themselves. It is highly improper. You must contrive to send somebody. I have the greatest dislike in the world to that sort of thing. — Young women should always be properly guarded and attended, according to their situation in life. When my niece Georgiana went to Ramsgate last summer, I made a point of her having two men servants go with her. — Miss Darcy, the daughter of Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, and Lady Anne, could not have appeared with propriety in a different manner. — I am excessively attentive to all those things. You must send John with the young ladies, Mrs. Collins. I am glad it occurred to me to mention it; for it would really be discreditable to you to let them go alone.”
“My uncle is to send a servant for us.”
“Oh! — Your uncle! — He keeps a man-servant, does he? — I am very glad you have somebody who thinks of those things. Where shall you change horses? — Oh! Bromley, of course. — If you mention my name at the Bell, you will be attended to.”
A woman of gentle birth would not have traveled alone, especially in a hired vehicle, though it was sufficient for Elizabeth and Maria to have each other as a companion. (To step away from P&P for a moment, imagine what Lady Catherine would have to say about General Tilney sending poor Catherine Morland home alone on the post-chaise with no servant in Northanger Abbey! Though no doubt Lady Catherine would have found something to scold Catherine about, and then Henry would have made fun of her. Lady Catherine, that is, not his Catherine.)
It’s telling that when Lady Catherine travels to Longbourn to berate Lizzy for using her arts and allurements, she travels in a chaise with post horses.
One morning, about a week after Bingley’s engagement with Jane had been formed, as he and the females of the family were sitting together in the dining room, their attention was suddenly drawn to the window, by the sound of a carriage; and they perceived a chaise and four driving up the lawn. It was too early in the morning for visitors, and besides, the equipage did not answer to that of any of their neighbours. The horses were post; and neither the carriage, nor the livery of the servant who preceded it, were familiar to them.
Since it is accompanied by a liveried servant, presumably the carriage is Lady Catherine’s own property; but the horses at least are post, meaning that they do not belong to Lady Catherine, but were rented and swapped out for fresh horses every twenty miles or so along the way, so that she did not have to wait for her own horses to be baited, or fed and rested. While faster, this way of travel would be more expensive than simply using one’s own horses and resting them as needed. This indicates that Lady Catherine was in a big hurry to get to Longbourn and find out if Elizabeth and Darcy were engaged—big enough to do away with habits of economy.
When Lydia and Wickham elope together, they start out by post-chaise, but transfer to a hackney-coach when they reach Clapham, at that time a suburb of London but now part of the city.
She then proceeded to enquire into the measures which her father had intended to pursue, while in town, for the recovery of his daughter.
“He meant, I believe,” replied Jane, “to go to Epsom, the place where they last changed horses, see the postilions, and try if any thing could be made out from them. His principal object must be to discover the number of the hackney coach which took them from Clapham. It had come with a fare from London; and as he thought the circumstance of a gentleman and lady’s removing from one carriage into another might be remarked, he meant to make enquiries at Clapham. If he could any how discover at what house the coachman had before set down his fare, he determined to make enquiries there, and hoped it might not be impossible to find out the stand and number of the coach.”
A hackney-coach is the equivalent of a modern-day taxi: a horse and carriage for hire to take you a short distance to your destination; thus Mr. Bennet could guess that the eloping couple had completed their journey in London. The coach itself would likely have been an old vehicle, castoff by its original owner, and could be any type of vehicle that has a box for a driver, who was known as a jarvey. Hackney coaches within London were licensed and assigned registration numbers, which would allow Mr. Bennet to trace the driver and, in the case described above, hopefully learn where he had set down, or delivered, Lydia and Wickham.
Young people seemed to like to drive their own vehicles. Even the sickly Miss de Bourgh has her own phaeton and ponies. A phaeton was a four-wheeled vehicle that seated two, one of whom drove the horses pulling it.
“She is a most charming young lady indeed. Lady Catherine herself says that in point of true beauty, Miss De Bourgh is far superior to the handsomest of her sex; because there is that in her features which marks the young woman of distinguished birth. She is unfortunately of a sickly constitution, which has prevented her making that progress in many accomplishments which she could not otherwise have failed of; as I am informed by the lady who superintended her education, and who still resides with them. But she is perfectly amiable, and often condescends to drive by my humble abode in her little phaeton and ponies.”
Likely Miss de Bourgh’s phaeton was of the low-slung variety, especially as it is being pulled by ponies. It would have a lower center of gravity and be very safe and secure, and the ponies easy for a woman to control and unlikely to run away with the vehicle. Mrs. Gardiner seems to think a phaeton and ponies just the thing for a woman to drive, especially on sightseeing expeditions:
Pray forgive me if I have been very presuming, or at least do not punish me so far as to exclude me from P. I shall never be quite happy till I have been all round the park. A low phaeton, with a nice little pair of ponies, would be the very thing.
In Georgette Heyer novels, we often read of the more dashing heroines driving a high-perch phaeton, which also has four wheels, but the box is suspended high over the front axle. It is a fast and fun vehicle to drive, but like a modern SUV, has a higher center of gravity, making it more likely to overturn, especially when pulled by the high-couraged cattle that would make such a sporty vehicle worth owning.
Younger gentlemen’s personal vehicles were usually either a gig or a curricle. These fast, sporty carriages were similar in being open vehicles with two wheels, seating two comfortably, and driven by one of the passengers; the main difference being that a gig was equipped to be pulled by one horse and a curricle by two, thereby doubling the horsepower—a Trans Am to the gig’s Firebird, if you will. Mr. Collins, predictably, owns a gig, in which he takes Sir William driving while he is visiting Hunsford. Mr. Darcy, also predictably, owns a curricle, which he uses to drive Georgiana to visit Elizabeth at the inn in Lambton.
Marriage, the inevitable ending of a Jane Austen novel, not only rhymes with carriage, but often precipitated the purchase of a new equipage for the new family unit; certainly the two are linked in Mrs. Bennet’s mind.
It was a fortnight since Mrs. Bennet had been down stairs, but on this happy day she again took her seat at the head of her table, and in spirits oppressively high. No sentiment of shame gave a damp to her triumph. The marriage of a daughter, which had been the first object of her wishes since Jane was sixteen, was now on the point of accomplishment, and her thoughts and her words ran wholly on those attendants of elegant nuptials, fine muslins, new carriages, and servants.
Instead of worrying about her youngest daughter’s morals, she worries about her carriages, without understanding that the Wickhams will little be able to afford one.
“Good gracious! Lord bless me! only think! dear me! Mr. Darcy! Who would have thought it! And is it really true? Oh! my sweetest Lizzy! how rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have! Jane’s is nothing to it — nothing at all.”
Poor Jane! And poor Mrs. Bennet, declaring her main project of the past two years “nothing at all!” We like to think that Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Bingley had the best carriages that money could buy at their command; their doting husbands would have it no other way.
Lane, Maggie. Jane Austen’s World: The life and times of England’s most popular author. Holbrook, Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation, 1996.
Watkins, Susan. Jane Austen in Style. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1990.
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