But you yourselves, I think, will allow that war, commerce, politics, exercises of strength and dexterity, abstract philosophy, and all the abstruser sciences, are most properly the province of men... Those masculine women that would plead for your sharing any part of this province equally with us, do not understand your true interests. There is an influence, there is an empire which belongs to you, and which I wish you ever to possess: I mean that which has the heart for its object and is secured by meeknesss, by soft attraction, and virtuous love
--Sermons to Young Women, Dr. James Fordyce
And all that evil might, with God's blessing, be happily prevented by an early and diligent application to Female Accomplishments
Mary Bennet was a very accomplished girl. Everyone said so, although sometimes they had to be prompted a few times. She could play three whole concertos (as well as countless reels and jigs), could quote from all the major classics, and had the largest collection of dried beetles for two counties.
It was not that she necessarily enjoyed attaining these accomplishments (well, apart from the beetles)- but it was the duty of every woman to find a husband, and since she did not possess the usual blandishments of beauty, wealth, or position, her accomplishments were all she had to rely on.
She often felt sorry for her sisters: yes, it must be admitted, they were all somewhat prettier than herself, but could any of them perform Mozart's Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor or name all the kings of England in order? No, they could not. Surely any man with sense would see past the ephemeral blush of youth and choose a helpmate with more lasting and important qualities.
In her darker moments she questioned whether memorising lists of kings really was all that important, but she could usually cheer herself up by remembering all the advice from Poor Richard's Almanac that she had committed to memory. Now those were practical skills enough for anyone.
Harder to dispel was the doubt she did not even let let herself fully express: as unpleasant as it was to consider a life spent as a spinster forced to live off her parents largesse, the prospect of marriage was not all that much more appealing. She believed very strongly in a wife's duty to be obedient and submissive to her husband in principle, but was less sure she liked the idea of having to do so herself.
These doubts began to play on her mind more and more as first one, and then three of her sisters were married. Jane was no surprise: she was the by far the prettiest of all the sisters. And while Mary personally found him both stupid and dull, Jane's husband seemed to share her sweet but irrational disposition, so they would probably be happy enough.
Lydia, on the other hand, had reaped the whirlwind of her own sowing. Her unguarded and thoughtless behaviour deserved no better than a dissolute wastrel like Wickham (Here Mary congratulated herself on having had the good judgement to dislike the slimy fellow from the beginning)
But Elizabeth- Ah! There was an example to quell the strongest spirit. She had some accomplishments, it was true, but lacked the discipline to apply herself as Mary had. As a result her piano playing was amateurish, her reading unrefined, and the closest she came to Mary's beetle collection was a few pressed flowers. And yet, she had been proposed to twice! First by the almost tolerable Mr Collins, and then by the apparently more desirable Mr Darcy.
Mary could see, in an abstract sense, that Darcy was the more handsome of the two, and certainly he was by far the richer. But for herself Mary preferred the more sensible and learned Mr Collins. She certainly had not been in love with him, but had started to think warmly of his potential as a future companion (especially given his stated desire to marry one of the Bennet sisters: if Elizabeth said no he was hardly going to choose Lydia or Kitty) But not only did he choose Elizabeth instead of herself, on her rejection of his suit he abandoned their family entirely and engaged himself to Charlotte Lucas, a woman who not only lacked Mary's accomplishments but was also even more plain. Surely this was not fair! And if even Charlotte Lucas was more desirable than Mary, what hope had she of finding a match?
It was with these thoughts that Mary approached her twentieth birthday.