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.

1 comment:

  1. Now that you mention it, I felt similarly about the narrative. Whereas there are so many day-in, day-out details elsewhere, it stands out when months are zoomed through without much explanation. I like it when time passes more slowly, and we're allowed to focus on the juicy details. Of course, like you said, Lynnelle, the details magnified don't involve the juicyness we're waiting for (i.e. advancing Darcy and Elizabeth's relationship), so there's not as much to relish. Sigh. :-P

    I hadn't thought about Elizabeth being her father's daughter in the scene where she amuses herself thinking of how she might have been presented at Rosings as Lady Catherine's niece, but that parallel is quite insightful. And for her to have also been "captivated by youth and beauty".... I am really struck with Austen's ability to craft these complex, dynamic female characters. She equally faults her characters regardless of gender, yet does so while comfortably situating them in their gender-specific socioeconomic slot. So how much more interesting for Elizabeth, an unmarried young woman, to follow in her father's ways!

    That really gives depth to the explanation of the odd coupling of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, too. At first it seemed a random, albeit welcomed, comment, but it makes much more sense in light of Elizabeth's close miss with Wickham. Interesting, too, how that same passage further explains that Mr. Bennett "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". Later on, Elizabeth herself will be described as not being of a nature which would let her dwell on her misfortunes or let them spoil her outlook. Maybe she likewise parallels her father in her coping strategy?

    I love your insights, Lynnelle! I'm getting so much more out of reading because of your book club than I would on my own. Thank you again for doing this!