Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pride and Prejudice Discussion: Chapter 19-24

These chapters make me feel so sad.  Jane is such a sweetheart, and to see her suffering--especially so patiently--is just heartbreaking. Elizabeth's anger is quite cathartic for me.  She expresses what I feel....disbelief, then wanting to slap Bingley upside the head. :)

And much as she had always been disposed to like him, [Elizabeth] could not think without anger, hardly without contempt, on that easiness of temper, that want of proper resolution, which now made him the slave of his designing friends, and led him to sacrifice his own happiness to the caprice of their inclinations. (Ch. 24)

Jane is, however, the yin to Elizabeth's yang (or yang to her yin??? I never get these straight); I think many readers (especially modern ones?) find Jane somehow morally weak or unlikable because she doesn't get angry at Bingley or because she doesn't want to blame him. I don't. I find her "sweetness" truly "angelic" , and like Elizabeth, it makes me love her more. I love how she always assumes the best in people.What strikes me is that both Jane's way of responding to hurt--assuming the best in the other person, assuming that she was the only one that misread the situation--is as much a coping device as Elizabeth's response of feeling angry, looking to assign blame someone, spending hours thinking about it and trying to figure out why it happened:

"It was a subject, in short, on which reflection would be long indulged, and must be unavailing. She could think of nothing else; and yet, whether Bingley's regard had really died away, or were suppressed by his friends' interference; whether he had been aware of Jane's attachment, or whether it had escaped his observation; whichever were the case, though her opinion of him must be materially affected by the difference, her sister's situation remained the same, her peace equally wounded." (Ch. 24)

There is wisdom in both, I think. Sometimes it is unhealthy to bury our feelings and not acknowledge when we feel angry or hurt; on the other hand, dwelling on it can lead to bitterness, as Jane wisely points out:

"My dear Lizzy, do not give way to such feelings as these. They will ruin your happiness." 

I am definitely inclined to react like Lizzy in similar situations. I get frustrated and angry, start to analyze the situation to figure out whose to blame. It gives me a kind of satisfaction, a way to deal with the feelings. On the other hand, my husband definitely has Jane tendencies. :-)  He is quick to assume the best of others and is more likely to say that the problem was caused by him misunderstanding the situation. He also will be quick to tell me, "My dear Lynnelle, do not give way to such feelings as these. They will ruin your happiness."

And then when I logically and clearly argue that I am exactly right in my assessment of the situation...
"To oblige you, I would try to believe almost anything, but no one else could be benefited by such a belief as this; for were I persuaded that Charlotte had any regard for him, I should only think worse of her understanding than I now do of her heart. My dear Parke, Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man: you know he is, as well as I do; and you must feel, as well as I do, that the woman who marries him cannot have a proper way of thinking. You shall not defend her, though it is Charlotte Lucas. You shall not, for the sake of one individual, change the meaning of principle and integrity, nor endeavour to persuade yourself or me that selfishness is prudence, and insensibility of danger security for happiness."

He tells me,
"I must think your language too strong in speaking of both,...and I hope you will be convinced of it by seeing them happy together."

An then usually, we are better off just changing the topic of conversation:  "but enough of this...."

:-)

Ha, so of course we've never had a conversation exactly like this! We don't typically quote long passages of Austen to each other. :-) But in a different context, with different words, these characters and situations really to play out in our lives. This is part of Jane Austen's genius and why so many of us love her novels.  As she enthusiastically exclaims in Northanger Abbey,

"It is only a novel... or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language"

Anyway, back to Jane & Lizzy/ yin & yang. I love this line too:
Jane: Woman fancy admiration means more than it does.
Lizzy: And men take care that they should.

And this one...
but without scheming to do wrong, or to make others unhappy, there may be error, and there may be misery. Thoughtlessness, want of attention to other people's feelings, and want of resolution, will do the business.

That one really hits home for me in a serious way. I feel that I have probably hurt people, not because I intended to, but through "thoughtlessness" and lack of attention to their feelings. :(

There's a reason that an entire genre of relationship books based on Jane Austen exists--the "everything you need to know about love, you can learn from Jane Austen" category. :-)

Besides their reactions to hurt, Jane and Lizzy's experiences of love & courtship in this novel are a kind of yin and yang as well. That's all I'll say about that, so I don't get a head of myself. :) In the end, I think that we need both Janes & Lizzys in this world for balance and sanity. I really like the in-depth exploration of the close relationship between the two sisters.

I could comment on so much more....Mr. Collins proposal, Charlotte and her choices....but I will leave that for all of you to discuss. I'm looking forward to reading your comments. I apologize that I am slow to respond to your comments sometimes. I certainly do understand that life is busy. :) And please don't feel bad if you are not able to comment in the week that I post the discussion. Please feel free to go back and comment or discuss on any previous post.



2 comments:

  1. This was a great post to read, Lynnelle! I am also tempted to get irritated with Jane and think her naive, so this was a good reminder that her perspective is just a valid as Elizabeth's. :-) I thought the end of Chapter 24 provided a good example of the benefits of Jane's perspective -- while everyone else is "pleased to think how much they had always disliked Mr. Darcy before they had known any thing of the [Wickham] matter," Jane is the only one thinking that there might be a mistake in the rush to judgment. And she will be proven right! :-)

    Some of my rambling thoughts:

    - When I read the book (or watch the movie versions), I always wish that Mr. Collins would have considered Mary as a potential wife! I wonder if they would truly have gotten along, though? A line in Chapter 22 stood out to me on this reading -- "There was a solidity in his reflections which often struck her, and though by no means as clever as herself, she thought that if encouraged to read and improve himself by such an example as hers, he might become a very agreeable companion." That made me wonder if Mary would have been too "superior" for Mr. Collins to be happy with her. I always feel, though, that this was Mary's one chance to secure a husband and it slipped away.

    - I'm definitely sympathetic to Charlotte's pursuit of Mr. Collins. I feel that the book makes quite plain that Charlotte's lot in life would have been hard as a single woman, and you certainly get the sense that her whole family breathed a sigh of relief on her engagement. I don't think the narrator's being humorous or witty here -- "[Marriage] was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want."

    - What do you think of Mr. Bennet? He baffles me a bit, and I'm not sure what Austen intends for me to think of him. On one hand, he disengages from the family, is in constant retreat in his library, and never seems to have a serious conversation with his wife. So is he a bad husband/father? On the other hand, Elizabeth seems to have a good relationship with him and seems to find companionship and support from him.

    - I think we see the continuation of the theme of "the whole family rises/falls together" in the influence that Bingley's sisters are exerting over his relationship with Jane and in the Lucas family's relief at Charlotte's engagement. But I also think we see the limits of family approval of one's spouse when Elizabeth and Jane discuss Jane's marrying Mr. Bingley in spite of his family's disapproval. And I think that tension between those two sides of the coin will continue throughout the book -- the influence and importance of family in marriage choice but also the limits of that influence/importance when love supersedes.

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  2. I agree, too, that I am much more sympathetic to Charlotte than Elizabeth. In fact, I think I am more sympathetic the older I get! I don't know if you've seen the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, but I thought that way that they adapted this point in the plot was brilliant (I won't tell you how, in case you haven't seen it). It really made me think about how Elizabeth's reaction (to not marry him because she didn't love him) could be considered truly selfish rather than heroic.

    Hmm, Mr. Bennet. He is another one of those characters that I have somewhat changed my opinion about the more I read the book and the older I get. I know when I first read it, I put Mr. Bennet in the category of a "good" character. Of course there are good things about him, and I don't think we're supposed to dislike him in the way we do Wickham (or even Caroline?), but he really is a terrible father and husband. Like most of Austen's characters, he is certainly complex---a combination of good and bad (or foolish)---but I think that I have revised my once fully favorable opinion to a more mixed one.

    I like how you pointed out that we see the "limits of family approval of one's spouse" and that it is a "tension" that "will continue throughout the book." Austen is one who always seeks a balance. She makes fun of extremes but never entirely discounts one side over another.

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