(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!