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!

Jane.
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. :)

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