Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pride & Prejudice Discussion, Chapters 13-18


It struck me while reading this week, that over the course of the opening chapters, besides seeing that different characters demonstrate different levels and kinds of pride in their actions, there is a string of characters who give their opinions on pride in conversation. I wanted to gather these in one place. These perspectives all seem to be focusing on the question that Jessica pointed out in the first discussion post: Is pride ever appropriate?

Mary: (she actually doesn't really give an opinion on pride; rather she defines it for us)
"Pride, observed Mary...is a very common failing I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed, that human nature is particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonimously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us." Ch. 5

"His pride...does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favor, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud." Ch. 5

"Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride--where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation." Ch. 11

"How strange.... how abominable! -- I wonder that the very pride of this Mr. Darcy has not made him just to you! -- If from no better motive, that he should not have been too proud to be dishonest--for dishonesty I must call it." Ch. 16

"...almost all his actions may be traced to pride;--and pride has often been his best friend. It has connected him nearer with virtue than any other feeling....

It has often led him to be liberal and generous,--to give his money freely, to display hospitality, to assist his tenants, and relieve the poor. Family pride, and filial pride, for he is very proud of what his father was, have done this. Not to appear to disgrace his family, to degenerate from the popular qualities, or lose the influence of the Pemberley House, is a powerful motive. He has also brotherly pride, which with some brotherly affection, makes him a very kind and careful guardian of his sister; and you will hear him generally cried up as the most attentive and best of brothers." Ch. 16

Surprisingly, most of these characters are answering the question--is pride ever appropriate?--in their conversations with a resounding 'yes' (Elizabeth is less resounding, but she admits the possibility of it).What I am wondering now, is that in terms of how the story plays out, are there any examples of pride being appropriate. In other words, these characters are talking about pride being ok in certain instances, but when it comes down to their own actions, or someone else's, do they ever in that moment judge that pride to be appropriate? So far, I haven't seen examples where a character judged another person's pride to be appropriate when it is directly affecting him or her. But perhaps I am missing something?

In Charlotte's case, she is fine with Darcy's pride because it didn't actually affect her personally. Elizabeth, however, is not fine with it, as she honestly admits: "I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine." Ch. 5

Darcy  has yet to be personally affected, either positively or negatively, by someone else's pride.

Elizabeth, for the most part, has disapproved of pride in others (Darcy, Caroline, Mr. Collins); however, she admits the possibility of a case where Darcy's pride might be appropriate (above) and she also does not take her own pride very seriously. She turns it into a joke.  In her conversation with Wickham, her knowledge of Darcy's pride now makes his actions toward Wickham surprising and inconsistent. Even without doubting the truth of Wickham's story, she points out this inconsistency, which is a great tribute to her intelligence. Of course, her prejudice against him allows her to be satisfied with no clearer explanation of his motives.

Wickham tells us that Darcy's pride is the only motivating factor in his life. Everything good that Darcy does is because of his pride. Wickham appears to be giving proof that, indeed, Darcy's pride is appropriate, or has at least led to proper behavior. Darcy's unjust behavior toward Wickham is due to "stronger impulses even than pride."  I guess Wickham is hinting that jealousy was the stronger impulse, though he never explains that fully. At this point, we've just met Wickham, so we have no idea how he would respond when his pride is hurt.

For someone like Elizabeth, who considers herself to be a good judge of character, it is interesting to see how much she bases her analysis of people on first impressions. Because Darcy insulted her and his manners are not as charming and inviting as Wickham, she dislikes him. But she has no qualms about believing Wickham's story, even claiming that he gives her all the "facts." In reality, Wickham's story has very few concrete facts when it comes to the details of how and why Darcy denied him the living. And if Darcy really did completely ignore his father's wishes and refuse to give Wickham this living, as Elizabeth notes, the only way to describe this is dishonesty. But up to this point, if there's anything we've learned about Darcy (besides his pride), is if there is one thing he abominates, it is dishonesty. Darcy is painfully honest---to the point of insulting all of his new neighbors as well as his best friend!  If Darcy has a fault, it can't be dishonesty....unless Austen has been tricking us this whole time about Darcy's character. Although we are supposed to see things through Elizabeth's perspective much of the time, I think Austen wants us to see, at this point, that something doesn't jive with Wickham's story.

Getting back to the topic of pride, I think that Austen is going to show us that none of the characters who claim that pride is sometimes appropriate will, in reality, approve of that pride when they are personally affected by it in someone else. We are quick to defend our own faults as not so bad (Darcy saying that pride will always be "under good regulation" or Elizabeth quipping about Darcy offending her pride--she is making a joke, but is not really seriously considering the fact that her pride may be coloring her judgement about the people around her), but when we see those same faults in others, it is very easy to condemn them and much more difficult to forgive.

With Mr. Collins, Austen illustrates another facet of pride: ridiculously foolish pride. Mr. Collins, as a comic character, is just brilliant. He definitely gives Mrs. Bennet a run for her money. :) Here we have the extreme example of what Darcy accuses Bingley of in chapter 10: the "appearance of humility". Except Mr. Collins' false humility is so obvious that no one (except Mrs. Bennet and her sister Mrs. Phillips) is deceived by it.

Finally, a few thoughts on the Netherfield Ball. Poor Elizabeth! I love the line at the end of Chapter 18: "To Elizabeth it appeared, that had her family made an agreement to expose themselves as much as they could during the evening, it would have been impossible for them to play their parts with more spirit." However, I think her perception of her family's embarrassing behavior has actually been exacerbated by her increasing attraction to Darcy. Yes, I know, I'm going out on a limb here. :) She can't stand him, of course. But clearly his opinion about her matters to her. If you don't care about someone, you won't really care what they think of you. (For example, Mr. Collins. Elizabeth could care less what he thinks of her). I think that Emily was definitely on to something in her comments on last week's post. Here is where I think we see Elizabeth's attraction to him especially clear. With Wickham not there, she is focused on Darcy almost immediately (though it is anger, not a more positive feeling). When he asks her to dance, she is flustered and doesn't know what to say. (She is fully able to say no to Mr. Collins later on and she was fully able to say no to Darcy's asking her to dance at the Lucases and at Netherfield before.) When she can't talk Mr. Collins out of introducing himself to Mr. Darcy, she watches the whole conversation feeling mortified: "It vexed her to see him [Mr. Collins] expose himself to such a man." Why was she vexed, when she used to always laugh at Mr. Collins' foolish behavior?  She can't stop watching Darcy during dinner, and indeed, during the rest of the evening! Every silly, foolish thing that her family does, she views from his perspective and how it will affect his opinion of her: "Elizabeth blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation. She could not help frequently glancing her eye at Mr. Darcy, though every glance convinced her of what she dreaded." After Mary sings, Elizabeth again looks "at Darcy, who continued however impenetrably grave." I think that later on in the evening when the narrator says "she was at least free from the offence of Mr. Darcy's farther notice; though often standing within a very short distance of her quite disengaged, he never came near enough to speak," I don't doubt that Elizabeth is "rejoicing"--however, I also find it ironic that the entire time she is "rejoicing" that she is "free" from him, she seems to be more aware of him than ever, watching his every move. This is chemistry and sexual tension every bit as compelling as Jane Eyre's and Mr. Rochester's. ;-) Before Mr. Darcy, I think Elizabeth would have laughed and been amused at her family's foolish behavior as much as Mr. Bennet continues to. She even boasted about that to Mr. Darcy at Netherfield. But now, she cannot laugh at all.

Thanks for your comments, everyone! I am a little late responding to your comments from last week's post, but I'm going to do that in the next day or two.

Also, if any of you would like to do a guest post to start off our conversation, I would love that. Just let me know in the comments! I will be at a conference in Boston November 5-11, so if someone would like to take the post for November 11th (or 12th...I won't judge since I've been late twice in a row now ;-), that would be super helpful. That week we will be discussing Chapters 31-36, and those are some good ones!!

1 comment:

  1. I'd be happy to take the post for November 11 for Chapters 31-36!

    I feel like I don't have any grand insights this week since my week was full and I read P&P in snatches rather than in one or two sittings, which is more helpful when I'm trying to be observant. :-) But I loved reading your compilation of the conversations on pride -- it's helpful to see them all together, and I agree with your conclusion that none of the characters like it when they are the recipients of someone else's pride.

    I also agree that Elizabeth definitely cares more and more about what Darcy thinks. :-) In the movies, I have enjoyed how the dance is portrayed -- I think the filmmakers capture her attraction to him (or at least her care for his opinion). I feel so sorry for her at the ball -- the dinner conversation that her mother conducts loudly with Mrs. Lucas is so crass. You can just feel Elizabeth's mortification!

    Wickham is such a sneaky character! He tiptoes around the story until he gets a sense of how Elizabeth feels and then charges ahead with his woe-is-me story. I sympathize with Elizabeth's interest in his story. He fuels her already-made-up mind about Darcy. And he weaves enough truth into the falsehood to make the story compelling.

    My favorite quote actually came from Mary! I don't think of myself as having much in common with her, but we evidently share a love for time to ourselves! :-) From Ch. 17: "While I can have my mornings to myself, it is enough. I think it no sacrifice to join occasionally in evening engagements. Society has claims on us all. . . ."