Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pride & Prejudice Discussion, Chapters 49-55

Well, our story is beginning to wind down. Austen begins to tie up some of the narrative strands, resolving some of  the conflicts. Of course, the key resolution has yet to take place, but I have to say that after the stress and drama of the previous chapters, it's really nice to see the happy endings coming together.

So first, Lydia.
It is hard to call this a truly "happy ending" for Lydia. As Elizabeth points out,"in looking forward, neither rational happiness nor worldly prosperity could be justly expected for her sister." But Lydia herself is happy--selfishly happy--or at least has no regrets about her situation.

And of course, Mrs. Bennet is beside herself with joy:  "no sentiment of shame gave a damp to her triumph. The marriage of a daughter, which had been the first object of her wishes since Jane was sixteen, was now on the point of accomplishment..."

Though the elopement has been an excruciating trial for the family, Lydia is as flippant and heartless as she ever was before. In some ways this is satisfying in that she stays the "bad" character. We never have to feel bad that she is not going to have a truly happy marriage or any "worldly prosperity."  Of course, Austen has not done anything in the narrative to make really us care about Lydia. (As a side note, in the modern adaptation of this story in the Lizzie Bennet Diaries,  I find the Lydia arc quite interesting. The writers actually make you care about Lydia in the beginning, and thus if they had kept Austen's ending for Lydia, it would have been very unsatisfying. I actually quite like what they did with the story, and in some respects, I think they actually improved on Austen )

If the outcome of Lydia's elopement is a somewhat dubious happy ending for her, it is very much a happy ending for Elizabeth and the rest of the Bennet family! I just love reading Mrs. Gardiner's description of all that Darcy did: ...he had found out where your sister and Mr. Wickham were, and that he had seen and talked with them both -- Wickham repeatedly, Lydia once....You know pretty well, I suppose, what has been done for the young people. His debts are to be paid, amounting, I believe, to considerably more than a thousand pounds, another thousand in addition to her own settled upon her, and his commission purchased. The reason why all this was to be done by him alone was such as I have given above....

The contrast between Darcy's strong sense of responsibility and Mr. Bennet's lackadaisical parenting always strikes me very forcibly here---especially where he tells Elizabeth before Lydia goes to Brighten, "Lydia will never be easy till she has exposed herself in some public place or other, and we can never expect her to do it with so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the present circumstances."

Darcy, on the other hand, refuses to allow anyone else to take responsibility even though it's possible, considering how foolish both Lydia & Wickham are and how lazy a parent Mr. Bennet is, that it might have happened even if they had known about Wickham's true character:
The motive professed was his conviction of its being owing to himself that Wickham's worthlessness had not been so well known as to make it impossible for any young woman of character to love or confide in him. He generously imputed the whole to his mistaken pride, and confessed that he had before thought it beneath him to lay his private actions open to the world. His character was to speak for itself. He called it, therefore, his duty to step forward, and endeavour to remedy an evil which had been brought on by himself. I just love that someone like this has fallen for Elizabeth!

I am SO happy for Jane. Every time I read this, I feel like laughing and crying because I'm so happy for her. And sometimes I even do. Jane has consistently been loving, gentle, strong, caring, giving throughout the entire story. I know this kind of goodness grates on some people's nerves, but I just love her for it. She has suffered quietly, patiently yet intensely. In this respect, she reminds me a little bit of Elinor in Sense and Sensibility. If anyone deserves a happy ending, it is most definitely Jane. Elizabeth, as we have been pointing out for the last few weeks, has clearly made mistakes and is suffering for those. It's possible to say to some degree that she "deserves" some of her anguish over Darcy, or at the least, needs to go through it for a kind of penance. But Jane, unlike most of the characters, has not made any of those mistakes. She suffers because of other people's pride and mistaken judgment. Which is why her first words to Elizabeth after her engagement are so ironic, but in a kind of sweet way:
"'Tis too much!" she added -- "by far too much. I do not deserve it. Oh! why is not everybody as happy!" 

Jane is one of those characters (Miss Bates in Emma is another) who has learned that happiness comes through giving. And her own personal happiness is doubled because she is also giving joy to those around her: "I must go instantly to my mother," she cried; "I would not on any account trifle with her affectionate solicitude; or allow her to hear it from any one but myself. He is gone to my father already. Oh! Lizzy, to know that what I have to relate will give such pleasure to all my dear family! how shall I bear so much happiness!"

Well, one more week of reading! Thank you to all of you who have participated. If you've gotten behind but still want to comment on previous posts, please do. I am happy to continue the discussion at any time....even after the book discussion is over. :)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I know Thanksgiving is over and we are very much into the Christmas season. However, in case you have some leftover pumpkin puree in the fridge or you succumbed to the after-Thanksgiving markdowns of all the ingredients you needed before Thanksgiving, here's a delicious cookie recipe that will not disappoint.

My mom gave me the recipe and she probably got it from someone else, so it's certainly not an original with us. But I thought I'd share it since I've never seen a cookie recipe get such rave reviews. Even people who don't normally get that terribly excited for cookies or desserts (and, yes, as strange as that sounds, there are actually a few people like that in the world. I happen to be married to one of them. I have no idea how that happened....;-) actually love these. They were one of my most popular recipes when I lived in Mexico too.

As with most of my well-loved recipes, this is what it actually looks like. Barely readable, scribbled down on the only scrap of paper I could find while getting the recipe from Mom over the phone. And now covered with splotches of flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon and pumpkin. :)

Don't worry, I'll give you a clearer version of the recipe.

As with most cookie recipes, combine dry ingredients in one bowl, butter and sugars in another:

Cream the butter and sugar, then add the egg and vanilla.

Stir flour mixture into the creamed mixture, a little bit at a time, alternating it with the pumpkin puree. This is to help incorporate the ingredients well but also to avoid dusting your entire kitchen and yourself in a cloud of flour and cinnamon.

Make sure you use pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie mix.

Yum! Only one more thing to add to this deliciousness....

Gently stir in chocolate chips, then scoop the dough onto a GREASED cookie sheet.

Bake for 12-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Allow to cool, and enjoy.

I have to say, though they are delicious right out of the oven, they are actually even better tasting a day or two later. Like other kinds of baked goods with fruit puree, they get richer and moister the longer they sit.

If you can keep sneaky fingers off the plate that long. And yes, those are my fingers. ;-)

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup quick oatmeal
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  

Combine flour, oatmeal, baking soda and cinnamon in a bowl. Set aside

Cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined.

Add flour mixture to creamed butter mixture a little bit at a time, alternating with pumpkin puree. Mix well between each addition.

Fold in chocolate chops.

Drop by rounded teaspoons onto a GREASED cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Makes 2-3 dozen cookies.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pride & Prejudice Discussion: Chapters 43-48

These six chapters contain two dramatic developments, sharply and abruptly juxtaposed with each other; at that pivotal point between these two events, only two characters are in the scene: Elizabeth and Darcy. The first event, of course, is the meeting of Elizabeth and Darcy at Pemberley and the other is Lydia's escapade. These chapters bring such conflicting emotions to me. I just love how the romance between Elizabeth and Darcy is reignited. But I absolutely hate how Lydia's foolish behavior suddenly shuts everything down. I think the reader despairs, just like Elizabeth, and feels " how improbable it was that they should ever see each other again on such terms of cordiality as had marked their several meetings in Derbyshire" (Chapter 46).

While Austen uses dramatic irony in the first part of the novel by letting us in on Darcy's feelings for Elizabeth very early on, she now employs suspense. Instead of us getting to enjoy the irony of Elizabeth's prejudice in light of Darcy's feelings, we now are forced to reckon with the events exactly as Elizabeth must. I think that's why, if I can say that I "dislike" a section of the book (which I really don't), it would be Chapters 45-49. And I know this is definitely related to my personal preferences or personality. I hate suspense. I hate not being in the know.  But I love dramatic irony. :) I love getting to see what the characters can't see. I like knowing what's going on.... Anyway, all of that is kind of beside the point, except that those personal preferences probably contribute to my strong emotional response to this section.

I am struck in this particular reading how these six chapters are almost like mirror images of each other, one positive and the other negative. In both developments, family members of Elizabeth who are fairly minor characters( in terms of how much time has been devoted to them in the novel up until now) make decisions that on the surface seem far removed from Darcy & Elizabeth's relationship. The Gardiners invite Elizabeth to take a vacation, Mr. Gardiner can't get away from work long enough to visit the Lake Country, Mrs. Gardiner happens to be from the area near Pemberley, and both Mr. & Mrs. Gardiner really want to visit Pemberley. On the negative side, Lydia has been flirting her way through the officers in Brighton and apparently has developed a big crush on Wickham. This development is interesting because when we find out they run away with each other, we are as shocked as Elizabeth. There has been no hint that the two were ever interested in each other. We do not get to see even a little bit of Lydia's letters to Kitty. It is completely dropped in our laps. And coming off of Elizabeth's incredible time at Pemberley, it is so totally unexpected. I think I'm still having trouble getting over it.

The results of actions and circumstances of these two sides of the family contribute to serendipitously place Elizabeth and Darcy together the moment she reads Jane's letters. Of course this has momentous consequences for the story, but we haven't gotten to that part yet, so I won't discuss it here.  But in terms of Elizabeth's and Darcy's relationship, it now allows Elizabeth to experience something of what Darcy felt when she rejected him:

 Darcy made no answer. He seemed scarcely to hear her, and was walking up and down the room in earnest meditation, his brow contracted, his air gloomy. Elizabeth soon observed, and instantly understood it. Her power was sinking; everything must sink under such a proof of family weakness, such an assurance of the deepest disgrace. She could neither wonder nor condemn, but the belief of his self-conquest brought nothing consolatory to her bosom, afforded no palliation of her distress. It was, on the contrary, exactly calculated to make her understand her own wishes; and never had she so honestly felt that she could have loved him, as now, when all love must be vain.

As so often in life, loss illuminates our true priorities. We only realize how important someone or something is to us the moment that we lose them. When Elizabeth first comes to Pemberley and hears the housekeepers praise of Darcy, she begins to acknowledge that she may have done more than misjudge Darcy; she may have misjudged her own feelings:

There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth's mind, a more gentle sensation towards the original than she had ever felt in the height of their acquaintance. The commendation bestowed on him by Mrs. Reynolds was of no trifling nature. ... and as she stood before the canvas, on which he was represented, and fixed his eyes upon herself, she thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before; she remembered its warmth, and softened its impropriety of expression.

In the string of meetings with Darcy, starting with that exquisite first one, we see Elizabeth feeling confused, surprised and uncomfortable but also at the same time pleased, happy, gratified, and flattered:

Elizabeth could not but be pleased, could not but triumph.

 Elizabeth said nothing, but it gratified her exceedingly; the compliment must be all for herself. Her astonishment, however, was extreme, and continually was she repeating, "Why is he so altered? From what can it proceed? It cannot be for me -- it cannot be for my sake that his manners are thus softened.

Elizabeth was not comfortable: that was impossible; but she was flattered and pleased. 

There are a couple of lines that I especially like in Chapter 43. The first is when Austen describes the moment that they first see each other:

Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with the deepest blush.

I love that when they see each other again for the first time, it is their eyes that instantly meet. One of those electric moments that lets us see the very real chemistry between these two characters. Not described in over-the-top romantic language, but much more powerful in my opinion. :)

The other great moment in the chapter is the very end, where "Mr. Darcy handed the ladies into the carriage; and when it drove off, Elizabeth saw him walking slowly towards the house."
Elizabeth watches him walk into the house. She can't keep her eyes, much less her thoughts, off of Mr. Darcy.

In the subsequent meetings (and this post is getting long, so I won't go into detail), Elizabeth continues to feel happy yet confused. We know she is falling in love with him, but we also know that after expressing her feelings of dislike so strongly, it is not going to be easy for her to acknowledge her love. This is why, though I hate that it interrupts such a lovely romantic narrative, the shock and loss that comes from Lydia's elopement is so powerful for Elizabeth:

The present unhappy state of the family rendered any other excuse for the lowness of her spirits unnecessary; nothing, therefore, could be fairly conjectured from that, though Elizabeth, who was by this time tolerably well acquainted with her own feelings, was perfectly aware that, had she known nothing of Darcy, she could have borne the dread of Lydia's infamy somewhat better. It would have spared her, she thought, one sleepless night out of two.

In Chapter 50 we get insight into her more thorough examination of herself, but even here in the midst of their family suffering, Elizabeth can't keep her regrets about Darcy from intruding.

So from such heights at Pemberley, to now such a low. There is much more to say here about how Lydia's elopement affects other characters--especially Mr. Bennet. But for now, I'm going to end this post with what may possibly be my favorite quotes from the entire book. The BBC miniseries does a fabulous job of dramatizing this moment, but I have to say, I just love the commentary. Whenever I watch the scene, I always think of these lines:

Persuaded as Miss Bingley was that Darcy admired Elizabeth, this was not the best method of recommending herself; but angry people are not always wise ......

"Yes," replied Darcy, who could contain himself no longer, "but that was only when I first knew her; for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance."

 He then went away, and Miss Bingley was left to all the satisfaction of having forced him to say what gave no one any pain but herself.

And that, my friends is (just about) the last we hear of Miss Bingley. :)