Author's note: I'm always interested in the fringe characters of just about everything, and Anne de Bourgh is one of my favorites. I just think her position is so unique—she's a wealthy, high-ranking young woman, who should by rights be very powerful and independent (for the time period), but instead she's constantly under her the thumb of her mother, who just about defines power and independence. I'm sure Lady Catherine was quite the Big Lady on Campus in her heyday, and the fact that she didn't encourage her daughter to follow in her footsteps—that she in fact did pretty much the opposite, by never encouraging her towards any accomplishments and never even having her come out—is so remarkable to me. It's my belief that this is mostly an issue of control, that Lady Catherine recognized she wouldn't be able to easily manage a younger version of her own self, so instead she molded Anne into someone more convenient. But, of course, Anne is Lady Catherine's daughter, so she must have at least a little bit of gumption, right?
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Miss de Bourgh in Bath
The marriage of Miss Elizabeth Bennet to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy had not been cause for celebration at the venerable estate of Rosings Park in Kent. The servants had not been gifted an extra cask of wine; there had been no music played, other than what Mrs. Jenkinson could summon up of her limited and distant childhood training on the pianoforte (Mrs. Collins, who generally entertained the Rosings party when no-body better was available, was in attendance at the unfortunate wedding); no-body had worn ribbons in their hair or on their shoes, or dressed in anything finer than evening-clothes; no pheasant or cake was served. Lady Catherine de Bourgh had marked the occasion by deeming it not an occasion worth marking, and had not mentioned the event once in the course of the day—and, of course, no-one else had the courage to mention it if she would not.
Miss Anne de Bourgh, however, could not help remembering the date. It had occurred to her late in the morning, as she was taking her daily walk around one of the gardens (one of the smaller gardens, for her esteemed mother would not hear of Miss Anne's walking too much, or being out in the air for more than a half-hour), anxiously shielded by Mrs. Jenkinson' vigilant parasol. A beautiful day for a wedding, she thought to herself, and then with a start she recalled exactly whose wedding was to be so blessed by the fine weather.
Mrs. Jenkinson noticed the sudden, if slight, agitation of her charge, and urgently suggested that Miss Anne take her arm, or seat herself on one of the garden benches, or indeed just go inside and forget the walk altogether. Miss Anne waved her off impatiently. "It is nothing," she declared, "only I remembered something I had forgot. I am quite well."
Mrs. Jenkinson assented, but did not seem entirely convinced. Miss Anne could not blame her; it was thoroughly understood, at Rosings, that any of Miss Anne's protestations of wellness were only the poor lady's bravery in the face of her illness, which must always be taking such a toll on her. What this illness was, and how exactly it manifested itself, was unclear even to Miss Anne herself, but none of the servants could deny that she certainly was a sickly-looking little thing.
Miss Anne's thoughts at the moment were not on her health, however, but on the wedding of her cousin to Miss Bennet. It was not a thought that brought her pain, exactly, for though she thought Mr. Darcy acceptably gentlemanlike, she had never been able to fall in love with him (or, rather, make him fall in love with her) the way her mother wished. She was not exactly fond of Miss Bennet, agreeable as she seemed, for the young lady was thoroughly impertinent and had spoken to Lady Catherine in a way not even her own daughter would have dared to do. Lady Catherine had furthermore condemned the rest of the Bennet sisters as plain, ill mannered, stupid creatures without a hint of good breeding who, like Miss Elizabeth, had shown Lady Catherine none of the deference due to a woman of her rank. And the youngest one was all but a fallen woman, saved only by a hasty elopement! Miss Anne was not pained by these reflections—indeed, they brought her a certain satisfaction for, as her mother so frequently told her, she may not have the health or beauty or accomplishments of other young ladies, but at least she had breeding and a title; that was worth more than any thing.
But that her cousin should have married into such a family as the Bennets! Miss Anne did not regret the marriage of Mr. Darcy so much as she might have done, her mother being the one with designs upon him and Anne being merely a pawn of Lady Catherine's; yet she could not understand how her cousin had been so ready to toss aside the duties of rank and family, for such a woman as Elizabeth Bennet. Shakespeare, of course, held that "love makes fools of us all", and certainly Miss Bennet must be a charming enough creature in her own right, or Mr. Darcy could not have been so bewitched. Yet Anne could not see herself stooping to marry anyone of whom her mother did not approve, which left her rather limited. She reflected, with a pang of sadness, that with Mr. Darcy's wedding, any hopes of marriage she might have entertained had significantly diminished. It was a shame, for she truly would have liked to leave her mother's household, and become mistress of her own.
This thought so noticeably dampened her spirits that Mrs. Jenkinson could be easy no longer, and insisted that Miss Anne return to the house and rest.
Lady Catherine unexpectedly broached the subject of Mr. Darcy's marriage that evening over supper. "Well, Anne," she said, quite without prelude, "I trust that you shall never be induced to take so unfortunate a step as your cousin has taken this day."
"I am sure I shall not, your Ladyship," Miss Anne said, but her voice was rather low and Lady Catherine had not quite finished, and therefore she went unheard.
"It is quite distressing to me, that my sister's son has so degraded the family name," Lady Catherine said firmly. "You know, of course, that he was intended for you—that, by rights, today should be your wedding day."
This last declaration was so startling that Anne, who had not thought of it in quite that way, was at a loss for a reply. Her mother took no notice.
"You should have been mistress of Pemberley by week's end," she continued.
There was a long pause. Miss Anne found herself unexpectedly fighting back tears, which she endeavored to hide from her mother.
"I have long hoped, Anne," Lady Catherine said finally, and there was a note of frustration in her voice, "that you should be mistress of Pemberley. I am most seriously displeased that you have been replaced by a girl of no birth, no connexions, and no breeding whatsoever. I consider this a grave offense and injustice to our family line. From this point forward, Mr. Darcy and his wife shall no longer be worthy of our notice."
"Rightly so, your Ladyship," Mrs. Jenkinson chimed in, in the absence of Mr. Collins. Lady Catherine gave her a look of solemn approbation.
"However," she went on, "I am not to be defeated so easily. Mr. Darcy is lost to us—to you, Anne—but we do have other options. I have in mind for you another gentleman, who is perhaps not quite so worthy of your hand as Mr. Darcy, but is next to him in rank and importance, and can only be improved by my particular notice and influence. At any rate, you are growing older, and your looks and health are swiftly fading, so we must do what we can in the time that we have. I will not have my daughter die a spinster; I am quite determined to have grandchildren. Rosings Park will fall into no-one else's hands upon my death."
Miss Anne, who was within months of turning twenty-five, and therefore felt the truth of her mother's words, could only agree.
Some nights later, the Collinses had returned to Hunsford Parsonage, and one of their first objects was to spend an evening at Rosings. They offered Lady Catherine such a scant account of the wedding, and the news from Hertfordshire and all of their connexions there, as that noble lady cared to hear. Mrs. Collins was restored to the pianoforte, where she was studiously enduring Lady Catherine's lectures on her mediocre performance and the importance of practice. Mr. Collins was seated as close to her Ladyship as his respect for her rank would allow, and was attentively engaged in agreeing with everything she said. Miss Anne was reading, but the book was one she had read many times before—the library at Rosings could boast very little variety, and nothing had been added to it in some years, Lady Catherine not approving of new literature—and could not hold her attention. She was therefore staring rather distantly at the page when her mother announced suddenly, "I declare, Anne, you are looking more poorly than ever."
Mr. Collins, desirous of agreeing with her Ladyship but unwilling to appear anything less than complimentary of her daughter, held his tongue and looked thoroughly uncomfortable.
"Why, mother," Miss Anne said, surprised by this unexpected attention, "I feel quite well."
"You do not look it. My daughter," Lady Catherine said loudly, and apparently to no one in particular, "is the bravest of creatures. Her health is in a most precarious state, and she is forever feeling feeble and weak, but she never complains."
"Indeed, your Ladyship," said Mr. Collins, relieved to be back on solid ground. "She is blessed with such a temperament, as will not allow her to be a burden to others, though of course she is the daughter of Sir Lewis and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and any decent person with a respect for rank and nobility would naturally be honored to render Miss de Bourgh any service in the interests of her health and comfort."
Miss Anne was quite immune to Mr. Collins' flattery by now, and said only "I do feel very well, your Ladyship. I am entirely without complaint."
"I declare you are exceedingly pale, and you look as though you are shaking, or feverish. Are your hands clammy?"
"I am quite well, mother," Miss Anne repeated, somewhat embarrassed, for Mrs. Collins had finished her song and Mr. Collins, again trapped between the desire to please and the desire to flatter, was silent once more.
"Perhaps Miss Anne ought to retire early this evening," Mrs. Jenkinson said, looking to Lady Catherine for confirmation.
"Indeed. Anne, I desire you will go upstairs this instant and go to bed. You are looking wholly unwell."
A treacherous impulse in Miss Anne threatened to overwhelm her, as she quite resented being sent up to bed like a child. Mrs. Jenkinson was rising and offering her arm and quietly asking if Miss de Bourgh required her shawl about her shoulders, or perhaps a blanket. Rather than protesting, Miss Anne rose to her feet and, taking Mrs. Jenkinson' arm with a weakness she did not feel, left the room in a quiet, submissive huff.
Health was a sensitive topic to Miss Anne, who had never been able to decipher exactly what was wrong with her. She knew that she was thinner than most girls, and of a decidedly paler complexion; she understood that, according to her mother, too much fresh air or exercise was trying on her weak frame, and would cause some unutterable damage. She did sometimes have irritating head-aches, which caused her to lie down in her dark bedroom for an hour or so before she felt well enough to rise again; but illness, the illness she remembered from her childhood, the illness that had bound her to her bed for nearly four months when she was just a girl—that was nothing but a specter to her now, a phantom of what once was. She had recovered from it, much to her mother's shock, for Lady Catherine was of a remarkably strong constitution and had never been truly ill, and believed that anyone who could be laid low by a fever must surely die from it. Since then, Miss Anne had frequently found herself feeling entirely healthy, though no-body ever believed her when she said so. As a lady of rank, Miss Anne found the world's disbelief in her to be infuriating; yet as a young woman who had lived her life under the reign of Lady Catherine, she was resigned to it.
Over the course of the next several days, Lady Catherine continued her unprecedented attention to her daughter's health, declaring that Anne looked thinner, weaker, and more exhausted; that she ate far less than usual, that she had dark circles beneath her eyes, that she moved more slowly, and that she seemed to require her shawl far more than was natural in this warm season. Mrs. Jenkinson was both terrified and ashamed to admit that she had noticed no such changes (but of course Lady Catherine must be allowed to know her daughter best out of any one), and Mr. Collins was so alarmed by her Ladyship's diagnosis that he took to speaking only in funerary whispers when Miss Anne was present, apparently believing her to be constantly on the verge of some great medical crisis. Only Mrs. Collins seemed unperturbed by these statements, and offered Miss Anne such kind, pitying smiles when Lady Catherine was not looking that Miss Anne was quite bewildered at the lady's impertinence. She herself felt no different, but out of long habit deferred to her mother's opinion, and sometimes admitted to pains when she did not have them, and a lack of appetite when she was hungry. By the end of two weeks, it was settled that Miss Anne could only be gravely ill, and the Rosings household was prepared to depart for the healing waters of Bath.