Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pride & Prejudice Discussion: Chapters 7-12

Thank you all for last week's posts. I loved reading your comments and was really struck by so many things you all said. If you'd like to add to last week's comments, feel free to continue doing so. And if you didn't join in last week's discussion but would like to join now, feel free to jump in.

Sorry that this week's post is a day late! Just giving you a little extra time to read. ;-) The conversations in Chapters 10 and 11 between Bingley, Darcy, and Elizabeth are some of my favorite passages, not just in Pride and Prejudice, but out of all the JA novels.  So my contribution to the discussion will mostly focus on these two sections.

As always, feel free to comment on any part of this week's reading.

Though the conversations in Chapters 10 and 11 have always been some of my favorite passages, they have also been some of the hardest for me to understand. Reading David Shapard's Annotated Pride and Prejudice has been really helpful for me, so I am going to be borrowing a bit of his insights this week.

In Persuasion, the character, Anne, says, "my idea of good company...is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation" (Ch. 16). And earlier in Chapter 6 of P&P, when Kitty and Lydia persuade everyone to start dancing, "Mr. Darcy stood near in silent indignation at such a mode of passing the evening, to the exclusion of all conversation." My point here is that being a good conversationalist seems to be an important skill to Austen and one that, I think, marks a character as one to be admired (or at least, all of the admirable characters share the trait of being good conversationalists).

But first, how not to to do it: In the beginning of Chapter 10, Caroline Bingley trying to talk to Mr. Darcy while he is writing a letter is so funny. She reminds me of a five-year-old trying to talk to a parent who is occupied with something else. Darcy's short, cryptic replies show that he is clearly not impressed with her flattery.

However, I love that as soon as Elizabeth joins the conversation, Darcy immediately jumps in, forgetting about his letter. :-) What strikes me here is that at first Elizabeth and Darcy both point out to Bingley that his excuse for not taking the time to write his letters carefully is not exactly admirable. In other words, they actually agree with each other at the start! They share a mental sharpness and ability to analyze and judge people's actions and words. But they do it in very different ways. Elizabeth uses gentle humor with a touch of sarcasm: "Your humility, Mr. Bingley...must disarm reproof," whereas Darcy charges in and directly criticizes him: "Nothing is more deceitful...than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast." (There goes Mr. Darcy again, talking about 'deceitfulness.' In his mind, honesty trumps being socially agreeable).

The other thing that strikes me is how strongly and thoroughly Darcy criticizes Bingley! He really has no qualms about calling him out for his faults. Shapard writes, "The sharpness of Darcy's criticism of Bingley, who is his best friend and has done nothing to provoke him, both illuminates Darcy's character and provides a fitting introduction to an exchange in which he will argue for not accommodating others too much, including friends" (p. 95)

Bingley's responses throughout the conversation also demonstrate the kind of person he is. He deflects the criticism with mostly light-hearted responses: "Nay...this is too much, to remember at night all the foolish things that were said in the morning."  Yet he does stick to his guns, so to speak, ("And yet, upon my honour, I believed what I said of myself to be true....At least therefore, I did not assume the character of needless precipitance merely to shew off before the ladies"), but he doesn't really argue his position. He lets Elizabeth do that for him. This of course is what attracts Darcy so much to Elizabeth. She will dig in her heels and argue her point rather than try to flatter him.

Bingley finally gets tired of the debate and tries to end it with a joke. I have been puzzling over this line for years, and even with Shapard's notes, I'm still not sure I get exactly why Darcy feels "rather offended." Bingley says, "I declare I do not know a more aweful object than Darcy, on particular occasions, and in particular places; at his own house especially, and of a Sunday evening when he has nothing to do."

Do you all have any ideas?? Here is Shapard's comment:
"Darcy could be particularly bereft of something to do on a Sunday evening because of the prevailing rules of Sabbath observance. For centuries there had been laws against many activities on Sunday, though they were not always strongly enforced. Starting in the 1780s a movement had arisen that attempted, both by pressuring the government and swaying public opinion, to restrict more vigorously Dunday working, traveling, and entertainment, including drinking, cards and music and dance. While the campaign never achieved complete success, most observers of the time reported a strong atmosphere or sibriety and restraint, which some condemned as dullness, on English Sundays. Darcy's scrupulous standards would probably make him particularly inclined to observe such strictures." (p. 95)

Is Bingley saying, I only pay attention to Darcy because he's so tall? Because he is so "dreadful, imposing, tending to inspire awe" (Shapard 95), especially on Sunday afternoons when he won't let me dance, drink or play cards? And why is this "an indignity" to Darcy? Is it Bingley making fun of Darcy for being too serious? I feel like he's making a joke that I don't get. Like when people make references to movies I've never seen and I have no clue what they are talking about. :) Anyway, if you have any ideas about this, please share!

In Chapter 11, Elizabeth's comment to Caroline, I find very ironic: "We can all plague and punish one another. Teaze him--laugh at him.--Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done." Caroline is horrified at the thought of punishing Darcy by laughing at him or teasing him....except that ironically, all of her attempts to flatter him are actually annoying to him! In the beginning of Chapter 12, we learn that Darcy feels Elizabeth "attracted him more than he liked--and Miss Bingley was uncivil to her, and more teazing than usual to himself." Shapard glosses the word "teazing" in this quote as meaning "irritating"--which, if this is an accurate gloss, certainly changes how I understand this statement. Previously I had thought this meant that Darcy simply recognizes that Caroline likes him, but that he didn't necessarily view it as a negative thing. However, if "teasing" means something closer to "irritating", then this indicates a more negative judgement of her (which  makes me happy--I don't like the idea of him accepting her teasing or viewing it as a positive, or even neutral thing, just because she is his best friend's sister, while at the same time liking Elizabeth). It also makes sense in light of his comments to her at the end of Chapter 8:  "'Undoubtedly...there is meanness in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.' Miss Bingley was not so entirely satisfied with this reply as to continue the subject." Ha, gulp. Darcy certainly knows how to give a few zingers when he wants to. He also seems to be able to give the ironic, slightly sarcastic replies that remind me of Elizabeth or Mr. Bennet. In the letter writing episode he tells her, "Will you give me leave to defer your raptures till I write again? --At present I have not room to do them justice." I seriously doubt he has any real intentions of communicating her "raptures" in any of his letters. :) Shapard points out here that "the caustic sarcasm of this statement...suggests a side of Darcy that will enable him to appreciate and value Elizabeth's wit and her skill at bantering" (p. 91). I love that thought!

Michelle, your comment last week about Austen alternating between sarcasm and serious, poignant tone was excellent. The characters actually discuss this issue. Elizabeth says that "not to be laughed at...is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me....I dearly love to laugh. Darcy responds disapprovingly that "the wisest and the best of men...may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke."  Elizabeth's response is classic Austen: "there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them.I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can."  I like what Shapard says about this passage:
"The ensuing exchange....illuminates an important theme in the novel, which contains both characters who err by taking themselves too seriously and ones who err by allowing their love of a joke to make them neglect serious matters (Mr. Bennet and Lydia are both, in different ways, examples of the latter). Darcy at times commits the first error and Elizabeth the second. [I'm not sure I completely agree with him that Elizabeth does "commit the second"] (p.109). Shapard goes on to note exactly what you pointed out last week, Michelle: "This issue also has particular resonance for Jane Austen, who displays throughout her novels the same love of laughing at follies and nonsense that Elizabeth avows here, while also engaging with profound moral issues" (109).

To kind of sum up, several things strike me in this reading:

-Despite the very great personality differences between Elizabeth and Darcy, I love the subtle clues that reveal similarities between them.
-I love how both Darcy, Elizabeth and Bingley are always overtly or implicitly putting Caroline down. She just tries too hard.
-I love the conversations, both the banter and the serious discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of characters, the moral implications of when to yield to persuasion, how to deal with flaws in other people and the nature of pride and vanity.

There is SO much more to be said about these chapters; I can't wait to hear your thoughts. :)


  1. I love this section as well! Way to go, Mrs. Bennet, for contriving a situation where the characters have to get to know each other better! :-) I like how the situation turns out -- she intends for Jane to get to know Bingley more (though that doesn't seem to happen to the degree Mrs. B hoped for), but instead it allows Darcy and Elizabeth to get to know each other more.

    Thank you for all those details about the conversation! I am also somewhat baffled by Bingley's offensive comment to Darcy, and can only think that he's saying that much of the weight that Darcy's opinions carry comes down to Darcy's height! And I can see how that could be offensive to Darcy. Bingley relies on his opinions, regards him as wise, and here is Bingley admitting that much of his deference to Darcy is because Darcy is so tall and imposing! And the Sunday comment makes me think that perhaps on Sundays, when there is nothing else to do, that Darcy takes that opportunity to share his opinions and there's no escaping them?

    I continue to love the peeks into Darcy's thoughts about Elizabeth. I think that's what makes this section so (can I say it??) sexy. Who is Charlotte Bronte to say that Austen knew nothing of the passions! ;-) Do you think Elizabeth is drawn to Darcy at all at this point, beyond just the enjoyment of sparring with him? She generally seems relieved to get away from the group (whether escaping to check on Jane, avoiding walking with Darcy, Caroline, and Mrs. Hurst when they all meet up in the garden in Ch. 10, and then of course leaving Netherfield to return to Longbourn). I think Elizabeth isn't intimidated by Darcy and enjoys the conversation, but I don't think she seems very interested in him. Of course, this is laying all the groundwork for her shock later on at his declarations. But back to Darcy, I think he's doing the very thing he will later accuse Jane of doing towards Bingley -- hiding his feelings for Elizabeth, being careful not to show too much admiration. And again, this will come back to bite him! He doesn't want to "get her hopes up" about snagging him, but his actions do nothing but work against his future declarations to her.

    More family dysfunction: I can't believe how rude Mrs. Bennet can be to her own daughters! When she visits Netherfield to check on Jane's health, she comments, "I am sure if it was not for good friends I do not know what would become of her, for she is very ill indeed, and suffers a vast deal, though with the greatest patience in the world, which is always the way with her, for she has, without exception, the sweetest temper I have ever met with. I often tell my other girls they are nothing to her." And Elizabeth, Kitty, and Lydia are sitting right there! I know she's trying to "secure" a husband for Jane, but still!

    Favorite line:
    Ch. 7, Mr. B to Mrs. B on the topic of whether their daughters are silly, which Mrs. B does not think to be the case: "This is the only point, I flatter myself, on which we do not agree. I had hoped that our sentiments coincided in every particular." Poor Mrs. Bennet! :-) We're all laughing at her!

    1. Andrea, I like your suggestion that Mr. Bingley is implying they are cornered on a Sunday to listen to Darcy go on and on. That makes a lot of sense! And the more I think about, the more I like it. It makes sense. In fact, it reminds me of Mrs. Bennet's comment to Elizabeth when she scolds her in front of everyone, saying "Lizzy, remember where you are, and do not run on in the wold manner that you are suffered to do at home." Of course, Mrs. Bennet's saying not to have a serious, intelligent conversation is something that no one else pays attention to; but Bingley hinting along those lines carries more weight since he is intelligent and a good conversationalist himself.

      I definitely agree that the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth is brimming with sexual tension---at this point, of course, Darcy is the only one that admits the attraction. I think that Elizabeth may have initially felt some attraction (or interest is perhaps the better word??) when this handsome, super rich young man shows up at the Meryton assembly. But his insult to her has converted any initial interest to dislike. I think she feels that she has to feed this dislike in order to not feel intimidated by him (she hints at this in an earlier chapter). I think she definitely enjoys their sparring and debates, and Elizabeth has never really met anyone else in their small circle of friends that can engage her at the intellectual level that Darcy does. So I think that while Elizabeth is not "interested' in Darcy, he interests her more than she realizes.

    2. I, too, love your suggestions, Andrea. That would make a lot of sense if Sundays meant no diversions, forcing Bingley to suffer Darcy's dry comments and frequent silences.

      And, now that you mention it, I think there must be something attracting Lizzy to Darcy. If there weren't, why would she react so strongly against him? It's almost as if she's fully engaged in battling her attraction with the way she avoids him and "teases" him. So glad you pointed that out!

  2. Jessica Baker:
    Jane and Lizzy's time at Netherfield also one of my favorite parts!
    In chapter 11 JA states that the Bingley sisters "powers of conversation were considerable." JA portrays conversation as skill/art that should be practiced and perfected . I also feel that JA's deepest criticism of the Bingley sisters is that they have the ability to be charming, hospitable and good conversationalist but choose only to display these abilities when it improves their own self interest.
    So much character development in these chapters I will just go down the line on what I thought of each person:
    Bingley: I gain some respect for Bingley in several points here. When his sister urges him to buy Pemberly or imitate it, Bingley denies any attempt at either. He understands that Pemberly and Darcy are something more than the sum of their parts and cannot be got by either purchase or counterfeit. He manages to offend Darcy in Ch 10 and in my opinion he did it on purpose. Bingley did not really like the direction of the conversation and knew he would have to disconcert his friend to halt it. He knew Darcy well enough to know how to goad him when few others do.
    Caroline: If she was not so unlikable I would pity the poor girl. She is trying SOOOOOOOOOOO hard to get Darcy's attention and utterly failing. She finally resorts to standing next to the object of his interest which shows she is at least instinctively aware of how much Darcy is attracted to Lizzy. Then when she tries to condemn Lizzy for using "mean arts", Darcy totally calls her on the fact that she has been essentially doing the same thing all week. Like several people in this story Caroline just cannot take a hint because she continues unabashed in her attempts to captivate Darcy.
    Mrs. Hurst: Anybody else find it a tad creepy that she is more interested in Darcy then her husband? I mean I know all Mr. Hurst does is sleep and eat but still....
    Mrs. Bennet: So I was struck by the fact that Lizzy called her mother to check on Jane and give an opinion. JA notes that Mrs. Bennet would have been truly upset if Jane was actually very ill. I think it’s easy to get an opinion of Mrs. Bennet of being rather useless but this seems to belay that. The utter embarrassment in chapter 9 when she attacks Darcy and haughtily declares their 4 and 20 families. Everybody in the room is literally laughing at her except for Lizzy who would like to die of embarrassment.
    Jane: It’s easy to feel that Jane has little to no backbone but I love the bit in Ch 12 "Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right." Between that and her genuine regard for other I totally want Jane for a best friend!
    Elizabeth: She is a "study of character". Which from Bingley's response appears to be an accepted hobby of the time? Her conversations with Darcy regarding an accomplished woman and defects of character are just so defining for the two of them. I was always a little curious if she had acknowledged her attraction to Darcy or suspected his at this point how different would their interaction have been?
    Darcy: Darcy refusing to criticize Lizzy, Darcy had never been so bewitched, Darcy began to feel in danger...... could the man get any sexier and endearing in this section. Also, his completely silly idea to stop speaking to Lizzy on the last day she was at Netherfield, like that was going to affect her in any way or rein his affections in.
    My favorite quote is in Ch 11 when Caroline suggests balls should have conversation instead of dancing. "Much more rationale, my dear Caroline, I dare say; but it would not be near so much like a ball." There is a note in my version that discusses how JA sometimes leaves out "he said, she said" bits. This is one good example Caroline was talking to her brother and the dear Caroline part seems to indicate Bingley said it but the sheer snarkiness of the comment suggests to me that maybe Darcy uttered it? Any ideas?

    1. I agree that Bingley comes off very well in this chapter. It makes us like him, which is obviously very important. I like your point, too, Jessica, that Bingley "knew Darcy well enough to know how to goad him when few others do." It shows the real friendship between the two, and that though Darcy is definitely the "stronger" character of the two, Bingley is fully capable of getting his point across when he needs to. :) I think he "gets" Darcy in a way that Caroline totally does not.

      Ha, Mrs. Hurst! Yes, a tad creepy. :) I guess JA had to give her a husband so that she and Caroline wouldn't be competing for Darcy. Otherwise, Mr. Hurst is pretty much useless.

      On Mrs. Bennet---I've been struck by that before too, Jessica. Did Elizabeth really think that her mother would give an honest opinion about Jane's health? I guess, perhaps, it goes to show, that despite Mrs. B's silliness, Elizabeth still treats her respectfully. Perhaps this goes back to Andrea's point about the family unit being very important and everyone working to preserve it in pubic, despite great differences between individuals in the family.

      Your favorite quote is definitely one of mine too! I'm pretty sure that Bingley is the one that says it (as you say, he calls her " dear Caroline", which Darcy never does). The editor of my annotated version agrees that it is Bingley as well. I like it because it shows that Bingley can handle his sister and dish it out when necessary. :) And it would explain another aspect of Darcy and Bingley's friendship. Though Darcy has more snark than Bingley, the fact that Bingley can give a nice retort would be something that Darcy appreciates and likes about him.

  3. First of all, I'm sorry I'm so late to the game! My husband and I share a computer and he has needed it a lot in the last two weeks for school work. Also, when I picked up the book, I wasn't able to stop at chapter 6 and just kept reading! Thus this is the perfect time to jump in!

    Here are few of my observations:
    1. The Keira Knightly movie just doesn't do this part of the book justice. The banter between Caroline, Bingley, Elizabeth, and Darcy is just so good. And it goes on for so long! Difficult to follow at times but rich. I too was confused about Bingly's jab at Darcy. It seemed out of character and out of place for Bingley, but I think he was just fed up with the whole conversation. His personality doesn't make him a good sparring partner which, I think, sets the stage all the more for why Bingly and Jane get together. Their temperaments match.
    2. I have been trying to think through Lizzie's eyes as I read to see if there is ever any reason for her to like or be attracted to Darcy this early on. After 12 chapters, Darcy has a lot going against him. Without knowing what's brewing in Darcy's heart, I just wonder if Elizabeth could have seen any redeeming qualities yet. Because I know and love the story, I've realized how easy it is to inject my thoughts onto Elizabeth and wonder if she is, in fact, falling for him at the same time he is falling for her. After all, he is Mr. Darcy! Perhaps the tables start to turn for her a teeny bit when Darcy suggests they quit walking on the narrow lane with the other women when Elizabeth is so blatantly excluded. I think this is one of Darcy's first acts of chivalry directed towards Elizabeth. Quite the reversal from the time they first met. (This is also coming off the heels of when Darcy asked Elizabeth to dance while Caroline was playing and she refused)
    3. Caroline Bingley, bless her heart, is succeeding in exactly the opposite of what she wants. She is vying for his affections and all the while pushing him nearer and nearer to Elizabeth. Caroline and Elizabeth are so starkly different. She just keeps making Elizabeth look better and better. Sometimes that stark contrast is needed to push affections over the edge.
    4. I love that JA doesn't just write from one character's perspective. I think this is what aids in the "sexiness" that Andrea talked about :) We get to see into both Elizabeth and Darcy's minds and feel the tension. And, Andrea I loved what you said about Darcy being hypocritical and hiding his feelings. Isn't this just like the whole tension of the book. They accuse the other of doing just what they themselves have done. Being prideful. Being prejudice.
    5. And aren't Bingley and Jane so cute! He isn't ashamed in the least to give all of his attention to Jane when she is present.

    Favorite quote in this section: "Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her....." pg. 37. This comes right after a great back-and-forth between Elizabeth and Darcy where Darcy was trying to be nice it seems, but Elizabeth blew him off. However, it seems like she did consider it and was also being surprised at how he responded.

    1. Hi Emily! No worries about being "late". :) I'm so glad you're joining in. And I agree, it's very hard to stop at just six chapters. :-)

      I had read the book a long time ago, but didn't really get it, until I saw the BBC miniseries. Like many of you, it was the movie that got me back into the novels. So I think that, like you, when I read the novel I have a kind of mental comparison going on between the two. I agree that none of the movie versions do these entire conversations justice, which I think, when we go from the movie to the book, makes us so surprised at how much conversation goes on between the characters.

      Trying to thing through Elizabeth's eyes exclusively during the beginning of the novel is a great idea! I think Darcy's initial snub really affects her more deeply than she (or we) realize. So Darcy really does have a lot going against him. However, I like how you point out all of the very chivalrous actions Darcy makes toward Elizabeth. It seems that for the first one---Darcy asking her to dance, Elizabeth notices that he is being gallant, but is merely extremely surprised (the quote you mention at the end: "Elizabeth having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry"). It doesn't seem to have made an impression though. I like how you point out his actions on the walk as being chivalrous, although she doesn't seem to notice his kindness. That is a great word for him. :) I think she is so blinded by her prejudice right now that she is unable to see the evidence for him being a kind person. What I do think, is that the more she gets to know him, the more she starts to care what his opinion of her is (as I point out in the next discussion :-).

  4. Like all of you, I loved these chapters. Such thought provoking ideas above! The banter in these chapters reveals so much about each participant. I love how it feels like you're right there, observing these heated exchanges thinly cloaked in civility.

    Speaking of civility, I've been thinking a lot about Andrea's thought from the first several chapters regarding the familial nature of society at that time. Indeed it was what we today might label group think, where one's belonging to and subsequent representation of a bigger group (family, neighborhood, country, etc.) encompassed one's identity. Individualism was not only undesirable but strongly shameful since one's thoughts of self could be quite costly for the group good.

    What particularly stands out to me is the way in which shame and honor operate here. To bring shame on one's group was not necessarily to do something immoral but to be caught in the act. Thus, Caroline's hypocrisy in being kind to one's face only to sneer behind the same's back was only of concern if she was caught, such as she feared when poking fun at Mrs. Bennett as she strolled with Darcy. Likewise, she could maintain honor even through cold civility; although her true sentiments were clear to careful observers, her feigned manners kept her in good standing.

    It's so interesting to me how we millenial readers view Lizzy's break from such norms as admirable. To us, Caroline's two-faced behavior is clearly wrong. And I think Jane Austen certainly sets us up to reach such a judgment. However, I can't help but think that Austen's ideals were progressive and perhaps even scandalous. She acknowledges as much through pronouncing judgment on Lizzy through Caroline's lips: supercilious, impertinent, insolent, rude, unrestrained, out of good taste, proud, conceited, independent, indifferent to decorum. Caroline accurately pinpoints Lizzy's flaws, and it doesn't seem that her selfish motives render the pronouncements any less true.

    Sorry if I'm sounding too harsh on Lizzy. It's just that when she decides to march herself unaccompanied over three miles of muddy terrain, she does so to the astonishment of all. You know it's bad when even Mrs. Bennett acknowledges folly of it! While independence strikes us as an admirable quality (and it very may well have been admirable to Austen, too), the social millieu of that day regarded it as quite shameful.

    Maybe it's this kind of independence that attracts us modern Westnern readers to Lizzy and Darcy. Darcy speaks his mind freely, disregarding social graces in order to be more truthful as he sees it. Worried about Jane, Lizzy disregards social norms in order to be more useful as she sees it. Though their motives aren't pure, each operates in what they consider to be the greater good. And we can clearly see their talent in cutting through the hypocritical "honor" others so eagerly display for themselves. It's just ironic to me that in a day and time of group think, Austen has these protagonists pursue greater good by individualism.

    So much more to say, but this is too long as is. I'll close as everyone else did with my favorite quote. I love Mrs. Bennett's country bumpkin pride! I can just picture her facial expressions and intonations in chapter 9, thanks to Alison Steadman's amazing portrayal. "'...[T]hat gentleman,' looking at Darcy, 'seemed to think the country was nothing at all.... I believe there are few neighborhoods larger. I know we dine with four-and-twenty.'"

    1. fascinating thoughts, Michelle! Your idea that Caroline can still maintain herself in good social standing, even while being unkind to Elizabeth, because she doesn't get "caught" makes a lot of sense. The shame/honor paradigm is really interesting and I've never thought about applying it here. I think that there have been other critics/writers who did not like Elizabeth either and felt that she really was as Caroline describes her (although I'm afraid I have to disagree with you and say I don't think she is! ;-). But it is an interesting idea to think how progressive or scandalous Austen's values were. My two cents....is that I'm not really sure. I guess the only way to be completely sure is to go back in time and live in her world. While Caroline and Mrs. Bennet don't approve of her walking three miles in all that dirt, other characters don't seem to have a problem with it, e.g., Mr. Bennet, Jane, Darcy and Bingley do not seem to have the same attitude. Of course, you pointed this out as well: Elizabeth is acting for the "greater good." Elizabeth is not just going for a walk to be independent and rebellious, but she has a very valid reason--a kind of extenuating circumstance--that makes it acceptable rather than shameful, which is to be with her sick sister. That could be why Mr. Bennet doesn't make a fuss about it (though of course, he is a super lenient parent, so that probably shouldn't be an indication of anything), and in fact why both Darcy and Bingley comment about her actions as good because they show genuine care and concern for her sister. My guess is if Elizabeth were the type of character who went on 3 mile walks every other day by herself just to be alone, than that would have not been "commendable." Perhaps what Austen is pointing out here is genuine care for family trumps hypocritical adherence to social norms?? It would be really fascinating to try and understand if that was a radical idea for English society at that time, or if most people would have agreed with Austen. It reminds me of Jesus and the Pharisees--them attacking Jesus for doing good (healing) on the Sabbath. So here's a complete guess---I really have no idea and of course I'm biased by my modern perspective...but 19th century English culture is still a Western culture, and our modern cultural milieu (especially American) has many roots in British culture, so I'm wondering if perhaps individualism was a growing cultural phenomenon and perhaps not so foreign as we might think. Perhaps there were "culture" wars going on?...individualism vs. shame/honor values??....perhaps we are seeing a snapshot of a culture on transition?? Totally speculating, of course, but fascinating ideas. :-)

      Like you, I have thought that it is ironic that we love Elizabeth so much because she seems so modern, when Austen was the one that thought her up. I guess that leaves me with two thoughts: either Austen was ahead of her day, extremely radical and progressive....or else we as humans, no matter the time period, are not so different from each other after all. I haven't really decided which one I think it is. Perhaps a little of both. :)