“I do not mean to say that a woman may not be settled too near her family. The far and near must be relative, and depend on many varying circumstances. Where there is fortune to make the expense of travelling unimportant, distance becomes no evil.” (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 32)
Elizabeth says this to Mr. Darcy after he implies that fifty miles distant is a very agreeable place to keep one’s family. No doubt, he was already thinking of carrying Lizzy off to Pemberley (shown above is Hampton Court Palace, the closest thing I have to Pemberley) and away from her most uncouth relations. I echoed the sentiment in The Darcys of Pemberley when Jane and Mr. Bingley announce their intentions to move away from Hertfordshire: Although he did not say the words, his meaning was clear enough. They could all appreciate the idea that it is possible for a woman to be settled too near her family. This was to fulfill what Jane Austen tells us in the last chapter about their future:
Mr. Bingley and Jane remained at Netherfield only a twelvemonth. So near a vicinity to her mother and Meryton relations was not desirable even to his easy temper and her affectionate heart. The darling wish of his sisters was then gratified; he bought an estate in a neighboring county to Derbyshire, and Jane and Elizabeth, in addition to every other source of happiness, were withing thirty miles of each other.
I concur with Elizabeth’s statement above. It depends entirely on the circumstances. Had I a mother like hers, fifty miles would be a bare minimum. I am more fortunate, though. I have always enjoyed the support of close family, especially when I was a clueless young mother. Now it is my turn to be there for ageing parents and busy adult children with children of their own. My husband and I have talked about how wonderful it would be to retire to someplace with endless sunshine, surf, and sandy beaches. But, since we don’t have a “fortune” to constantly travel back and forth whenever mood or need arises, the distance for us would be an evil impossible to overcome. Elizabeth had no such limitations. She ended living in a bit of paradise with her favorite sister close by and means to travel at will. The best of both worlds.