Monday, November 25, 2013

Pride & Prejudice Discussion: Chapters 37-42

These next six chapters, in contrast to the last eight or so, feel very much like transition or filler. Not so much filler in the sense of fluff (definitely not!), but in the sense that time is passing and we only get glimpses of moments rather than a narrative that focuses in detail on particular scenes. I feel like the narrative slows down into a kind of slow motion (sorry, repetitive!) during three key times: when Elizabeth visits Netherfield, Hunsford, and then her still-to-come visit to Derbyshire. Of course, we do get details about other events, such as the party at the Lucases, the Netherfield Ball and Mr. Collin's first visit to Longbourne; I think what I'm saying is that as a reader, I feel like the narrative slows down and focuses more at those times. In reality, this may be more of a reflection of my reading of the story and the kind of priorities that I have as a reader rather than what Austen is actually doing. I wonder if any of you feel that way as well? I guess it may just be showing that for me, the really interesting parts, the ones I look forward to and relish the most, are the ones that really advance the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy. Ah well, I'm a romantic....that's no surprise to anyone who knows me. :-) I love the satire and wit, but to me that is secondary. So what about you? Do any of you feel you have different reactions, like, perhaps that the romance is secondary and you relish another aspect of the novel instead?

Ok, so on to discussing the actual chapters. :) Here are a few of my thoughts. Elizabeth has her life-changing moment. She has been justly humiliated and is now returning to her family, in a sense, a changed person. I think it is interesting to see her interaction with friends and family members--and Wickham--in light of the new information she has received and her change of heart. Here are some thoughts on these interactions:

1. Lady Catherine - I see Elizabeth as her father's daughter here. She is entertaining herself the entire time at Rosings imagining what Lady Catherine would think and do if she knew that her nephew had just proposed to Elizabeth:
Elizabeth could not see Lady Catherine without recollecting that, had she chosen it, she might by this time have been presented to her as her future niece; nor could she think, without a smile, of what her ladyship's indignation would have been. "What would she have said? how would she have behaved?" were questions with which she amused herself.

This reminds of me of Mr. Bennet during the first dinner with Mr. Collins where he entertains himself by asking ridiculous questions. It also shows that Elizabeth's mind is completely taken up with the proposal, despite the fact that she refused Mr. Darcy. This is not a Mr. Collins proposal that she can laugh off and never think of twice.

2. Her family - Elizabeth now views her family in a completely different light. She is now critically evaluating the consequences of their moral failures. She had boasted to Mr. Darcy at Netherfield that she could just laugh at people who behaved foolishly. But she can do that no more. She must honestly reflect on her own shortcomings as well as her family's. Here is where Elizabeth's life begins to take a trajectory different from her father's. Mr. Bennet has yet to come to his moment of reckoning. His daughter has, in some sense, become more mature than her own father:
In her own past behaviour there was a constant source of vexation and regret; and in the unhappy defects of her family, a subject of yet heavier chagrin. They were hopeless of remedy. Her father, contented with laughing at them, would never exert himself to restrain the wild giddiness of his youngest daughters; and her mother, with manners so far from right herself, was entirely insensible of the evil. Elizabeth had frequently united with Jane in an endeavour to check the imprudence of Catherine and Lydia; but while they were supported by their mother's indulgence, what chance could there be of improvement? Catherine, weak-spirited, irritable, and completely under Lydia's guidance, had been always affronted by their advice; and Lydia, self-willed and careless, would scarcely give them a hearing. They were ignorant, idle, and vain. While there was an officer in Meryton, they would flirt with him; and while Meryton was within a walk of Longbourn, they would be going there for ever. 

Besides this passage in Chapter 37, the narrator takes up the same topic in Chapter 42, giving us a little bit of the omniscient point of view and allowing us to understand Mr. Bennet's story a little bit more:
Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good-humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown. But Mr. Bennet was not of a disposition to seek comfort for the disappointment which his own imprudence had brought on, in any of those pleasures which too often console the unfortunate for their folly or their vice. He was fond of the country and of books; and from these tastes had arisen his principal enjoyments. To his wife he was very little otherwise indebted, than as her ignorance and folly had contributed to his amusement. This is not the sort of happiness which a man would in general wish to owe to his wife; but where other powers of entertainment are wanting, the true philosopher will derive benefit from such as are given.

What struck me this time was that Elizabeth very nearly followed her father's footsteps. She was captivated by youth and beauty as well, i.e., Mr. Wickham's charming manners and handsome face, just like her father. And if not for the fact that the entail kept her poor, she might have married him! Mr. Bennet happened to be independently wealthy, which meant that there was nothing preventing him from marrying Miss Gardner (i.e., Mrs. Bennet ;-).

3. Mr. Wickham - here of course, we see Elizabeth's utter contempt for him:
She had even learnt to detect, in the very gentleness which had first delighted her, an affectation and a sameness to disgust and weary. 
Fortunately, though, she is not married to him! I feel like she has had such an escape. ;-)  I also see, too, that though Elizabeth has lost all respect for him, she does not treat him with the contempt that she feels until he absolutely forces the issue on her.

And a final observation: in these chapters, Lydia starts to really come to the forefront of the narrative. We knew before that she was ridiculous and silly but the extent of her foolishness is more clearly demonstrated. A couple of moments are really quite funny, especially the one time the narrative lets us see what Lydia is actually thinking:
 In Lydia's imagination, a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthly happiness. She saw, with the creative eye of fancy, the streets of that gay bathing place covered with officers. She saw herself the object of attention to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp -- its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once. 

Certainly nothing we've seen Elizabeth thinking about! I like the narrator's sarcasm:
Had Lydia and her mother known the substance of her conference with her father, their indignation would hardly have found expression in their united volubility...Had she known that her sister sought to tear her from such prospects and such realities as these, what would have been her sensations?....But they were entirely ignorant of what had passed; and their raptures continued, with little intermission, to the very day of Lydia's leaving home.
So in conclusion, we see a changed Elizabeth Bennet, and now we get to see her family and acquaintances through this new lens. But the best part of the entire section has to be the last line of Chapter 42:
To Pemberley, therefore, they were to go.

Friday, November 22, 2013

"...the faded earth, the heavy sky...the beauties she so truly sees..."

Sometimes autumn is stunning. Brilliant reds, golds and greens against an azure sky.

Other times it is solemn, grey and moody. 

My November Guest

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
  Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
  She walks the sodden pasture lane.         

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
  She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
  Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
  The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
  And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
  The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
  And they are better for her praise.

Robert Frost (1874–1963).

Today is one of those cold, grey November days. I want to put on a scarf and cable knit sweater and go walking through a forest, crunching the brown leaves underfoot.

Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges.
Jane Austen, Persuasion, Volume I, Chapter X

I hope you will embrace this grey season of transition. Without it, there would be no Spring.

“I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape---the loneliness of it---the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it---the whole story doesn't show.”
- Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)
Maud Stone's, 1960
Watercolor on paper
21 1/4 x 29 1/2 inches
© Andrew Wyeth 1960

P&P Reading Schedule Update

Hello there,

Just a quick update...

If you are following our Pride and Prejudice book discussion, you may have noticed I didn't get a post up Monday. Oops. :(

Between a very busy time at work, traveling and the normal dissertation and life things, I've not been keeping up with our readings. So, I'm going to give us a break and revise the schedule a little bit. We will move our discussion for Chapters 37-42 to next Monday, November 25th. See the revised schedule here.  I hope that will give some of you the chance to catch up a little. :)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Pride & Prejudice Discussion, Chapters 31-36: Guest Post!

(This week, Andrea Cavanaugh has very kindly offered to do a guest post for our discussion while I recover from an excellent but tiring work conference in Boston. So here are thoughts on Chapters 31-36. Thanks, Andrea. :)

Chapters 31-36 take place in Hunsford at the parsonage and at Rosings. I enjoy these chapters, as Austen often seems to employ the device of removing her characters from their home environments to propel the plot forward (I believe Emma is the only novel where the heroine stays put). There's a change of location, and, as I reflect on these chapters, it seems that the overarching theme is a change of perspective. The characters' assumptions and judgments of each other are called into question and even transformed. These chapters function as a mini-climax to the events of the story so far -- reversals abound, and Elizabeth and Darcy are left floundering as the firm ground of their assumptions gives way to new perspectives.

On Easter, the Collinses, Elizabeth, and Maria spend the evening at Rosings, and there's another extended conversation between Elizabeth and Darcy (and Colonel Fitzwilliam). This conversation reminds me of Darcy and Elizabeth's conversations at Netherfield, and, though shorter, reminds us of their well-matched minds. I love that Darcy feels comfortable enough to tease Elizabeth: I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own. This exchange ends on a pointed note with Elizabeth rebuking Darcy for his professed lack of talent at conversing with strangers, but all in all, it comes across as an enjoyable exchange between equals, and I think it gives Darcy motivation to continue pursuing Elizabeth.

The next morning, Elizabeth and Darcy inadvertently find themselves having a tete-a-tete when Darcy arrives at the parsonage while Charlotte and Maria are out. Their conversation revolves around the preferable amount distance between a married couple and extended family. I love how this conversation progresses quickly from a discussion of Charlotte's distance from her family to what Elizabeth's preference would be. The theme of family relationships and their impact on marriage continues to arise. Later in this chapter, Elizabeth yet again dismisses Charlotte's suggestion that Mr. Darcy is in love with her. Charlotte is quite perceptive!

And then the bomb drops. If you've read the novel before or seen the movie adaptations, you know as soon as Chapter 33 begins that this is the end of Darcy and Elizabeth's fledgling relationship. I always feel bad for Colonel Fitzwilliam here, since he's so unaware of the distress he's causing. And I do wonder what your thoughts are on the colonel? What do you think of him as a character? I sometimes think he's a glorified plot device. He certainly plays a key role in these chapters. His openness and affability enable Darcy and Elizabeth to renew their acquaintance, and his easy manner and lack of awareness of Elizabeth's connection to Jane allow him to spill the beans about Darcy's role in separating Jane and Bingley. Without Colonel Fitzwilliam's revealing this information, I wonder if Elizabeth would have rejected Darcy so vehemently in the next chapter? This conversation changes Elizabeth's perspective on Darcy, and not for the better. When Elizabeth first met Darcy, she was harmlessly affected by his pride and reacted with amusement and disdain. Then, as she heard Wickham's story, her disgust at Darcy's pride grew and she found that pride offensive for the harm it caused a new friend. But now that Mr. Darcy's pride has harmed her sister, her closest friend, she is angry.

That anger drives her reaction to Darcy's proposal in Chapter 34. Again, Darcy's and Elizabeth's wits are well matched. This conversation and its aftermath change Darcy's and Elizabeth's perspectives about each other and about themselves. Elizabeth's astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. She is shocked at Darcy's proposal (in spite of Charlotte's repeated observations!). He is shocked at her refusal. Their assumptions about each other begin to crumble in this chapter. They begin to see each other through the other's eyes. He is also impacted by her criticism of his less-than-gentleman-like manner. I think his perspective about himself shifts at this moment. He looked at her with an expression of mingled incredulity and mortification. He is properly ashamed of himself. Elizabeth's perspective of herself shifts in the next chapter as she reads his explanation about Jane, Bingley, and, Wickham. Elizabeth reads the first half of the letter in a fury, dismissing Darcy's defense of his actions, then begins to question her judgment as she reads the second half concerning Wickham's deceptions and betrayals, then returns to the first half of the letter and rereads it in a different frame of mind. She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd. She later calls this new view of her misjudgments, of her prejudice a just humiliation. She is properly ashamed of herself.

At the end of these chapters, Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam leave Rosings. I think the reader feels worn out and tossed about just as Elizabeth must feel. Some of the revelations are less shocking (we know and have known, just as Charlotte does and did, that Darcy is attracted to Elizabeth), but other revelations reshape our initial impressions of the characters and the plot. Austen has shaped our expectations and then confounded them. She's brought the events of the first half of the book to a climax that turns on its head what we thought we knew.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the characters and events in these chapters!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pride & Prejudice Discussion, Chapters 25-30

This will be my week for a pretty short, somewhat disjointed discussion post.

These chapters feel very much like transition chapters to me. They get Elizabeth out of Hertfordshire and to the next major scene of action--Hunsford. But there are still some great things that happen.

One of my favorite characters gets introduced: Mrs. Gardiner. I like how she seems to be the voice of reason for Elizabeth. In fact, she strikes me as a kind of mother-figure to Elizabeth, giving wise advice when she really needs it since, clearly, Elizabeth will not get any wise guidance from her mother, and her father doesn't seem to give advice at all--just sarcastic comments. I like the narrator's comment at the end of one of their conversations: "a wonderful instance of advice being given on such a point, without being resented."

I don't think I've ever seen these conversations between Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth in a film adaptation, which I can understand because they are not strong, plot-driving conversations, but I find that is what makes them especially interesting to me. I think I was actually surprised the first time I read this that Mrs. Gardiner counsels Elizabeth to not get mixed up with Wickham because he doesn't make enough money to support her. This conversation, coming right after Charlotte has accepted Mr. Collins because he makes a good living, does seem to balance out Elizabeth's strong negative reaction to it. If kind, sensible, sympathetic Mrs. Gardiner thinks its important to consider finances in marriage (as well as love), then perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to judge Charlotte.  The conversations also serve to show how prejudiced Elizabeth's judgments actually are!  She is very much influenced by how much she likes the person: "But Elizabeth, less clear-sighted perhaps in this case than Charlotte's, did not quarrel with him for his wish of independence."

I don't know why, but I love the fact that they go to the theater and then have a discussion about love there. I know that it would probably not "flow" well in a film, but I would love to have this dramatized. :)

The dinner at Lady Catherine's house is hysterical. Lady Catherine is quite rude. Though she is not foolish in the same way as Mrs. Bennet, Lady Catherine can be just as ill-mannered, in her own way, as Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth and Jane are not the only ones with embarrassing relatives. I think that Lady Catherine gives Darcy his own share of an embarrassing relative, though he may not realize it yet.

Of course, the big surprise at the end of Chapter 30 is that Mr. Darcy shows up. He visits the Collins's almost as soon as he arrives, which gives Charlotte another reason to think that Mr. Darcy is interested in Elizabeth. It is amazing how many times Charlotte tells Elizabeth that she thinks Mr. Darcy might be interested in her and yet Elizabeth is still shocked when Darcy declares his love for her. It's almost like Elizabeth doesn't really listen to Charlotte or take her seriously.  When Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam visit the cottage, I wish that the narrator would give us a clue to what Darcy is thinking. (I know, I know, those couple of earlier insights were necessary for dramatic irony, and here we already know he likes her....but still.... ). Why does he sit "for some time with out speaking to any body"? Why does he barely speak to Elizabeth?? I want to know what he is thinking. :-)  Perhaps he is still firm in his original resolution to not show interest in her anymore in case she would get the wrong idea. Perhaps he thinks that he is "over" her? (But if that is so, why does he make a beeline to see her as soon as he arrives?)

Anyway,  these are just a few unorganized thoughts. I am looking forward to reading yours!