In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, how did Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley treat Jane (before and after), and what are their double standards?
In the beginning, both of Mr. Bingley's sisters, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, treat Jane as if they like her, even sending her an exclusive invitation to dine with them for lunch while the men were away from Netherfield dining with the officers. Even in the letter Miss Bingley writes to Jane to extend the invitation, she shows great affection for Jane by addressing her as "My dear Friend" and writing with a very casual, chatty tone (Ch. 7). For example, Miss Bingley begs her to dine with them from preventing them from quarreling. Miss Bingley even closes the letter very informally and affectionately with "yours ever" (Ch. 7). In that society, if the two sisters really had no intention of truly becoming friends with Jane, they would have written with a much more distant, formal tone. However, despite their initial show of friendship, later in the book, they snub Jane. When Jane comes to call on them while she is in London, they behave as if they can't get away from her fast enough and do not return her visit for weeks. When Miss Bingley finally does return Jane's visit at Jane's uncle's home in Cheapside, Miss Bingley shows obvious disgust at having to be in such a place. Austen makes it evident that the reason they snub Jane is because they judge her family as being socially beneath them.
A double standard can be defined as any "rule [or] principle that is unfair because it treats one group of people more severely than another in the same situation" (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English). In other words, a double standard is a form of bias. One example is that women used to be forbidden to earn an education outside of being tutored in their home even though they can be considered to be just as intelligent as men. The term double standard is actually an odd term to apply to the Bingley sisters' treatment of Jane because they didn't really act based on any established principle; they really had no principles at all. A better term to apply would be prejudice. Prejudice can be defined as showing or holding "unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature" (Random House Dictionary). In other words, it can be said the sisters behaved prejudicially because their treatment of Jane was illogical. Regardless, one might say the sisters acted with respect to a double standard when they slighted Jane and the Bennet family because Jane's uncles are tradesmen. As Jane tells the sisters while at Netherfield, one of her uncles is an attorney in Meryton, while another is a tradesman in the business section of London called Cheapside (Ch. 8). However, what's more significant is that the entire Bingley family is actually descended of tradespeople. Austen points out the irony of the Bingley sisters' snotty attitude by describing that, though they were members of an important family in northern England, their fortune was actually earned through trade:
They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother's fortune and their own had been acquired by trade. (Ch. 4)
In other words, the Bingley sisters have no real reason to look down on Jane because they are actually not in a higher class than she is--they are simply tradespeople who happened to have earn enough wealth that they can now rent and eventually buy their own estate. In reality, Jane is actually in a higher class than the Bingley sisters because, while the family on her mother's side are tradespeople, her father's family has long been part of the landed gentry, much like Mr. Darcy. Therefore, one could say that the Bingley sisters act based on a double standard when they treat Jane as if she is in a lower class; however, Jane isn't in a lower class, so the so-called principle upon which the Bingleys behave isn't really a principle at all. It was not an established principle of Austen's society to treat individuals as if they are in a lower class when they are actually not. If they don't behave based on a principle, then we can't really call it a double standard. Instead, it's better to say that their behavior is prejudicial. Their behavior is prejudicial because to treat Jane and snub her as if she is in a lower class after first pretending to befriend her is absolutely unreasonable and illogical.