restricted access Jane Austen's "Excellent Walker": Pride, Prejudice, and Pedestrianism

When Mrs Hurst calls Elizabeth Bennet "an excellent walker," in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813), the remark is meant to ridicule. For a modern reader, understanding this connotation requires a small exercise in historical imagination. Recent critical studies explore the rise of rambling and the Romantic poets' penchant for lengthy pedestrian excursions, but Pride and Prejudice does not feature the sort of lonely wanderings that lead to conversations with leech gatherers and mystical mariners. To appreciate the centrality of walking to the novel, we must appropriate Miss Bingley's question, "What could she mean by it?" Before we can understand the attitudes towards walking and the responses to walking exhibited by characters in the novel—and the function of walking in the plot—it is first necessary to explore the changing place of walking in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century society, and the uses of walking in Romantic-era literature. This article examines eighteenth-century accounts of athletic, touristic, sentimental, and performative pedestrianism, including Austen's attitudes towards her own walks, in order to read walking in the novel.