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. :)