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!


  1. Great post, Andrea! I am waaay behind with these posts and readings. :( But will try to catch up tonight. These are some of my favorite chapters in the book....and I like how you noted that their theme is "change in perspective" , and a very shocking and really sudden shift, that I do think I feel emotionally worn out--though not as much as Elizabeth since I've already been rooting for the match.

    I realize that as I've been reading this time around, I've been taking special note of things that happen in the novel that don't really get depicted in the film versions (or maybe just barely touched on), and thinking about the way they re-shape the story as I imagine it while I'm reading.

    The first non-film event I noticed (or rather lack of an event) is the first paragraph of chapter 31:
    "It was some days, however, before they received any invitation thither [Rosings] -- for while there were visitors in the house they could not be necessary; and it was not till Easter-day, almost a week after the gentlemen's arrival, that they were honoured by such an attention, and then they were merely asked on leaving church to come there in the evening. For the last week they had seen very little of either Lady Catherine or her daughter. Colonel Fitzwilliam had called at the parsonage more than once during the time, but Mr. Darcy they had only seen at church." Although Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam visit within the first day of their arrival, it is "almost a week" before Darcy sees Elizabeth. Even more striking is that the Colonel doesn't take that long...he actually goes to visit the parsonage "more than once", but Darcy "they had only seen at church." The film versions usually jump immediately from Darcy's first parsonage visit to the Rosings event (which is fabulous---such a great display of D and E's "well matched minds", as you put it, and their increasing misunderstanding of each other). I think this always led me to assume that Darcy is still really thinking of Elizabeth, that he has talked about her to the Colonel, and that perhaps he came to visit Lady Catherine to see her. I know that's probably not the case, but I think I kind of assumed it. What Darcy actually does in the book seems to indicate that even after seeing Elizabeth again, he is not, at this point, thinking of marrying her yet. His actions seem to be more in line with how he was thinking at the end of the Netherfield visit.

  2. Blogger won't let me post my entire thoughts in one here is Part 2 of my comments)

    So this leads, of course to Colonel Fitzwilliam. Ha, and yes, Andrea, I think that glorified plot device is a pretty good way to describe him. But beyond revealing the Bingley info, I think that perhaps he does something even more important. I think he makes Darcy jealous, which makes Darcy realize how seriously he is in love with Elizabeth...enough to put aside all the objections and still ask her to marry him. " Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them; anything was a welcome relief to him at Rosings; and Mrs. Collins's pretty friend had moreover caught his fancy very much. He now seated himself by her, and talked so agreeably of Kent and Hertfordshire, of travelling and staying at home, of new books and music, that Elizabeth had never been half so well entertained in that room before; and they conversed with so much spirit and flow, as to draw the attention of Lady Catherine herself, as well as of Mr. Darcy. His eyes had been soon and repeatedly turned towards them with a look of curiosity..." I love that. :) Though perhaps some of the adaptations hint at this scene, I don't think I've seen it play out (ok, I really can't remember any of the film adaptations except for the BBC 1995 one, so perhaps others do). I can just imagine Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam having a grand time in the corner, with Darcy getting more and more jealous...or rather more and more aware of how serious his feelings are. I think that though Austen never makes the Colonel a serious contender for Elizabeth's affections, in some ways Darcy recognizes that the Colonel could be one. Though he's not as rich as Darcy, he probably is rich enough to support Elizabeth if they really fell in love (assuming that his family would approve of her....which later he makes clear that they wouldn't. But anyway, beside the point). So if Darcy had come by himself without the Colonel, I think perhaps the proposal might never have taken place....or at least Austen would have had to come up with another good motivation. So yes, glorified plot device. But one that I really like. :)

  3. (My comments, Part 3)

    A third scene--or scenes--that are hinted at in the mini-series, but not played out, are the walks Darcy takes with Elizabeth.
    "More than once did Elizabeth, in her ramble within the Park, unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy. She felt all the perverseness of the mischance that should bring him where no one else was brought, and, to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform him at first that it was a favourite haunt of hers. How it could occur a second time, therefore, was very odd! Yet it did, and even a third. It seemed like wilful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance, for on these occasions it was not merely a few formal enquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her. He never said a great deal, nor did she give herself the trouble of talking or of listening much; but it struck her in the course of their third rencontre that he was asking some odd unconnected questions -- about her pleasure in being at Hunsford, her love of solitary walks, and her opinion of Mr. and Mrs. Collins's happiness; and that in speaking of Rosings, and her not perfectly understanding the house, he seemed to expect that whenever she came into Kent again she would be staying there too. His words seemed to imply it. Could he have Colonel Fitzwilliam in his thoughts? She supposed, if he meant anything, he must mean an allusion to what might arise in that quarter. It distressed her a little, and she was quite glad to find herself at the gate in the pales opposite the Parsonage."
    Ok, a couple of things. Seriously, how can Elizabeth be so shocked at the actual proposal, after all of Charlotte's hints plus Mr. Darcy purposely going out of his way to walk with her. (I know, I's because her prejudice has blinded her. :-) The other thing I find interesting....Darcy walking with her, presumably when she is by herself, isn't noted as being inappropriate. This kind of seems surprising compared with what I've often heard people say about how the culture was during that time. But it doesn't seem likely that Darcy, who seems a very proper, upright, obey-the-rules kind of guy would behave in a culturally inappropriate way. It may be that because they are walking within the "park" at Rosings, it is considered fine. If they were walking over the countryside and not staying within the property of Rosings, they probably would be considered acting inappropriately (i.e.,in the category of the Bingley ladies accuse Elizabeth of impropriety for walking 3 miles to Netherfield).

  4. Comments, Part 4

    Ah, and then the proposal and letter. Whenever I read this section or watch this scene, I feel like my emotions are zigzagging between melting at his proposal ( "In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.") and cringing at his awful elitism & pride ("Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connexions? -- to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?") Aaah, really Mr. Darcy! Those words almost make me as mad at him as Elizabeth is. :) But I do love the consistent way in which Austen draws these characters. Why is he so rude to Elizabeth during the proposal...when any normal person knows that a proposal is when you turn up the flattery?? Well, he tells us: " But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence." I think the key here is that he doesn't think he is being rude. He thinks he is paying her the greatest compliment in the world. Which is an amazing delusion, as Elizabeth so rightly points out,....just as huge as Elizabeth's misconception of his character and personality. This is such a brilliant clash of these characters at their most prejudiced and blinded moments, and really, the climax of the narrative. I like how you pointed out that the fallout of this clash is that they both experience a "a just humiliation." And only when they are both properly humiliated can they begin to truly come to know and understand one another. Such a beautiful story!! I don't think I will ever get tired of reading it. :-)

  5. The good stuff! Heartwrenching drama. It's almost painful to read Elizabeth's seething attack on Darcy. Then again, it's also painful to read his attempt at a proposal. His opening line of ardently admiring and loving her sets us up for a fall as he proceeds to list off points against his feeling that way. You know, I think Elizabeth had been waiting for her chance to mouth off at Darcy (she is certainly mouthy with him as it is), and her anger for Jane gave her an excuse to do so. I don't think she would have been as vile had it not been for what Colonel Fitzwilliam told her, but I do think she would have a scathing rejection nonetheless.

    As is pointed out in a later post, it's really interesting how she mulls over this proposal even though she had little trouble forgetting about Mr. Collins'. In a weird way, I've felt as though Elizabeth's disregard for Mr. Darcy has been a self-defense mechanism of rejecting him before he rejected her. His first remarks of criticism which she overheard about her not being that great a beauty stung her deeply (it was repeated several times in the narrative), and it seems she's been working herself in a tizzy ever since. If she truly hadn't cared for Mr. Darcy, then why would she have spent so much energy in digging up dirt on him, talking about him with others, wondering at his behaviors? Although negatively so, she has been engrossed with him, and I can't help but suspect that her overreaction was her trying to make herself the rejector rather than the rejected. And if you don't actually care for somebody or hold them in some regard, then they can't deeply hurt you as Darcy seems to have hurt Elizabeth. I realize that's a stretch, but it's just been rolling around in my head for a while.

    To both Elizabeth and Darcy's credit, they take a step back and reexamine themselves. I don't know how Darcy was able to write such a clear account to Elizabeth (maybe a man thing to have such clarity of thought in the aftermath of emotion?). And it doesn't come across as self-pitying or defensive. For Elizabeth's part, it's wonderful to see her soften and begin to realize the stubborn arrogance of her own dealings and opinions. She does well to feel ashamed and accept the justice of her humiliation.

    I will say I'm thankful to have seen the A&E miniseries. I just couldn't read the proposal, the meeting on the path, and the reading of the letter without visualizing those scenes and hearing the actors' intonations. Those portrayals were so passionate, not what I'd expect due to stuffier English preconceptions, allowing me to envision more complex three-dimensional characters than I might have otherwise done.

    1. I like your point that "Elizabeth's disregard for Mr. Darcy has been a self-defense mechanism of rejecting him before he rejected her." I think that makes complete sense!