Friday, December 15, 2006

Pride, prejudice and design

Re-reading Pride and Prejudice(1813) I'm reminded of the origins of the English word design. In her book Design Management, Brigitte Borja de Mozota draws attention to its origins in the Latin designare: ‘to designate’ and ‘to draw’ and concludes "DESIGN = INTENTION + DRAWING" (Borja de Mozota, 2003, p3). In contemporary English usage, of course, we also still have the usage of the noun connected to plots, treachery or intrigue as in:

"He had designs on someone's property" (see the full listing).

But even being familiar with this I still found myself noticing Jane Austen's extensive usage of both noun and verb forms. Here, for example, is the protagonist Elizabeth's uncle discussing the intentions of Wickham towards her younger sister who has run off with the officer.

"..It appears to me so very unlikely, that any young man should form such a design against a girl, who is by no means unprotected or friendless, and who was actually staying in his colonel's family, that I am strongly inclinced to hope the best." (Odhams Press, London, no date, p267) And similarly Elizabeth's elder sister - heavily in denial - talking of her admirer Mr. Bingley, says she is "perfectly satisfied from what his manners now are, that he never had any design of engaging my affection." (p327)

This is consistent with contemporary (although uncommon) usage. But elsewhere Austen uses the verb form of design in a way that I would be surprised to hear today:

"Mrs. Bennet had designed to keep the two Netherfield gentlemen to supper; but their carriage was unluckily ordered before any of the others, and she had no opportunity of detaining them." (p326)

Reading this novel, in which designs and designing are so entangled with intrigue and seduction reminds me of the role of rhetoric in design. A design (sketch, model, prototype, or proposal) or a designer presents, proposes and seduces. Design activities plan and fashion possible outcomes but they do not always do this honestly. Designing and designs stimulate desire, and with desire comes treachery.

But pray excuse me. I will detain you no longer, dear Reader. I must go and order my carriage.

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