In Pride and Prejudice, when an old woman (Catherine) asks a young lady (Elizabeth) whether she is engaged with her nephew or not, the young lady neither confirms nor rejects such relationship in a dissembling way.
Lady Catherine censures Elizabeth and criticizes the scandalous elopement of her sister. Then she says this sentence:

Heaven and earth! Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?

What does it really mean?


Here's my interpretation:

Preserving structure while modernising and clarifying as much as possible,

"Heaven and earth! Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?"


Heaven's above! (a softer form of "Oh God!") Is this how the family line of Pemberley will get corrupted? (referring to intermarriage with someone deemed unworthy)

(Original reply follows)

There seems to be a very thorough answer here.

But in a nutshell, I think it's as @Vilmar suggests, though perhaps more another way of saying that the family (via the evocative use of long dead ancestors through 'shades') will be tainted by the intermarriage.

EDIT: Why do I get the sense the speaker is worried that the family line will be tainted in the near future? Because Heaven and Earth! seems to be a statement of dismay or worry, like "goodness gracious!" or "Gosh no!" And the phrase to be indicates the future; thus polluted, tainted.

  • What does "heaven and earth" mean? Why did the Lady used "thus pollured" if the marriage had not taken place yet? – Zeta.Investigator Dec 12 '13 at 18:52
  • 1
    @Zeta.Investigator. Heaven and Earth! seems like 'goodness gracious'. To be thus polluted - a future tense. – shermy Dec 12 '13 at 22:26
  • I should at that 'to be thus' can be taken as future or present, but if the marriage hasn't happened, I would take the context into account as future. I would read it that way for want of better background knowledge anyway; as an attempt at simple literal meaning. – shermy Dec 14 '13 at 0:49

"Shades" here most likely refer to the ghosts of Pemberley (its ancestors). Lady Catherine is thus worried that an "unsuitable" person will soon join these ghosts.

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