Thursday, November 15, 2007

Chapter Eight, Part 2

Originally published 2/19/2006.

Continued from last post.

...She was still very poorly, and Elizabeth would not quit her at all, till late in the evening, when she had the comfort of seeing her sleep, and when it seemed to her rather right than pleasant that she should go downstairs herself. On entering the drawing-room she found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high, she declined it, for the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.

"Do you prefer reading to cards?" said he; "that is rather singular."


"Miss Eliza Bennet," said Miss Bingley, "despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else."

How often have you seen this sort of thing? Person A does something Person B doesn't understand, and therefore Person B overstates the case, perhaps just to provoke a response. Miss Bingley might just be pushing Lizzy's buttons in order to make her appear to disadvantage in front of Mr. Darcy. It's not liable to work, though. Darcy is prejudiced in Lizzy's favor already.

"I deserve neither such praise nor such censure," cried Elizabeth; "I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things."

If my theory of Miss Bingley pushing buttons is correct, then Lizzy certainly rose to the bait in grand fashion. If the theory is not correct, Lizzy is simply attempting to correct a misunderstanding. Lizzy is being truthful here, and modest, I think. I see no objection to the statement, unless my theory is correct and Lizzy fails to see that Miss Bingley is baiting her. What think you?

"In nursing your sister I am sure you have pleasure," said Bingley; "and I hope it will be soon increased by seeing her quite well."

I had to smile at this. I can't help but agree with Jane Bennet here. Mr. Bingley has very good breeding, and incredibly good manners. Lizzy likes him, obviously. Bingley's remark here is a gentle disagreeing with his sister, yet again, and a way of getting Lizzy out of a tight spot. The more I really pay attention to Mr. Bingley, the more I like him.

Elizabeth thanked him from her heart, and then walked towards the table where a few books were lying. He immediately offered to fetch her others-- all that his library afforded.

"And I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever looked into."

Mr. Bingley here. I do not think this is false modesty on his part. He probably is a somewhat idle fellow. We can see that this is in contrast to Darcy, who is clever, and who also later in this chapter discourses on the virtues of maintaining and improving a family library.

Elizabeth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly with those in the room.

"I am astonished," said Miss Bingley, "that my father should have left so small a collection of books...

This seems bordering on dishonoring her parents, if not all the way. In the context, we can see that having a good library is considered a good thing by all. That fact, therefore, heightens the reproach of Miss Bingley to her father. Miss Bingley, incidentally, says the next bit; I hope by now, dear readers, you understand that I use ellipses (...) to mean that I am breaking up a paragraph.

...What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!"

"It ought to be good," he replied, "it has been the work of many generations."

Here is Darcy, perhaps pardonably showing a bit of familial pride.

"And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books."

Miss Bingley.

"I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these."

Here is Darcy with what I would call a fine quote. Being somewhat biased in favor of books, I totally identify with this statement.

"Neglect! I am sure you neglect nothing that can add to the beauties of that noble place. Charles, when you build your house, I wish it may be half as delightful as Pemberley."

On the face of it, this statement seems fine, but we must ask ourselves what is Miss Bingley's motive for saying it? I suspect she is attempting to oil her way into Darcy's affections by flattering him on the subject of his house. Naturally, Darcy is not allowed to do or have done any wrong in Miss Bingley's eyes. Lizzy almost does the opposite, and it is she who captures Darcy.

"I wish it may."

Obviously Mr. Bingley.

"But I would really advise you to make your purchase in that neighbourhood, and take Pemberley for a kind of model. There is not a finer county in England than Derbyshire."

Do you think Miss Bingley is overdoing it here? Perhaps a little?

"With all my heart; I will buy Pemberley itself if Darcy will sell it."

Mr. Bingley enters so far as to acknowledge that Pemberly looks nice.

"I am talking of possibilities, Charles."

Miss Bingley again.

"Upon my word, Caroline, I should think it more possible to get Pemberley by purchase than by imitation."

A very nice compliment by Mr. Bingley.

Elizabeth was so much caught with what passed, as to leave her very little attention for her book; and soon laying it wholly aside, she drew near the card-table, and stationed herself between Mr. Bingley and his eldest sister, to observe the game.

"Is Miss Darcy much grown since the spring?" said Miss Bingley; "will she be as tall as I am?"

Like those children's toys that always fall upright, Miss Bingley will attempt to get Darcy to think of her.

"I think she will. She is now about Miss Elizabeth Bennet's height, or rather taller."

And like the opposite children's toy, Darcy brings it right back to Lizzy.

"How I long to see her again! I never met with anybody who delighted me so much. Such a countenance, such manners! And so extremely accomplished for her age! Her performance on the pianoforte is exquisite."

Perhaps it is just me wanting to be hard on poor Miss Bingley, but I can read into just about everything she says a kind of servility. She could have been saying this, because she knows Darcy loves his sister very much.

"It is amazing to me," said Bingley, "how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are."

Is Bingley going overboard? I'm not inclined to think it. Perhaps he is only being gallant.

"All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?"

Miss Bingley here.

"Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know anyone who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished."

Project Gutenberg Americanizes the text a bit. My Everyman's Library edition has "skreens," not "screens." Mr. Bingley here cites two authorities for his statement: his own eyewitness account, whereby he is listing a set of accomplishments, and the authority of others. Miss Bingley and Darcy, in their replies, do not pay attention to this reason at all; perhaps they think of themselves as the antidote to that reason.

"Your list of the common extent of accomplishments," said Darcy, "has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half-a-dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished."

What shall we make of this? Darcy is challenging Mr. Bingley's claim that netting purses and covering skreens makes an accomplished woman. Darcy's idea of accomplished women is obviously different from Mr. Bingley's, and we are shortly to find out in what way. Is Darcy being a boor? Perhaps not; it certainly is a very interesting question, and Darcy may just be airing his own opinion.

"Nor I, I am sure," said Miss Bingley.

"Then," observed Elizabeth, "you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman."

This is a prodding question. Lizzy wants to know what Darcy is thinking. Later on, we learn that Lizzy studies character; no doubt she is trying to make out Darcy's, and finds that "she does not get on at all."

"Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it."

Darcy here being open and frank.

"Oh! certainly," cried his faithful assistant,...

I love that phrase "faithful assistant." It serves to highlight further Miss Bingley's (for this is clearly Miss Bingley talking) tendency to make a fool of herself for the purpose of winning Darcy.

"no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved."

Although even Miss Bingley is too circumspect to claim all these for herself, I think it's a safe assumption that this speech is somewhat addressed to Darcy, indirectly. She wants Darcy to compare herself with Lizzy and find Lizzy wanting.

"All this she must possess," added Darcy, "and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading."

Darcy here agrees with Miss Bingley, justly judging that there is much good in what Miss Bingley says an accomplished woman ought to be. Darcy might appear to be too focused on the life of the mind, and ignoring the fact that he lives amongst other people. While the mind is important (indeed, in these days, the mind is much more important than many would have you think), there is more to life than that.

"I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any."

Lizzy here.

"Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibility of all this?

Darcy here. I don't think there is anything untoward here.

"I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe united."

Lizzy has lived all her life in the country, where perhaps such qualities are not so valued. For the greater part of her life she has not moved amongst the circles of the highly-educated, with a few exceptions. London would no doubt have more opportunities for observing such accomplished women. I think that Lizzy might be a bit provincial here, and perhaps not in the best way. She may also be issuing a counter-attack to Miss Bingley's.

Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley both cried out against the injustice of her implied doubt, and were both protesting that they knew many women who answered this description, when Mr. Hurst called them to order, with bitter complaints of their inattention to what was going forward. As all conversation was thereby at an end, Elizabeth soon afterwards left the room.

This seems a not-so-subtle attack on cards in general, by Austen. Austen clearly indicates that conversation and cards are mutually exclusive (or at least they are with the games of which she is thinking.) Since conversation appears to be more highly valued, cards are slighted.

"Elizabeth Bennet," said Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, "is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art."

The irony here is rather remarkable. Miss Bingley is condemning something in Lizzy which she turns right around and does herself, though perhaps not in quite the same way. As Austen makes quite clear later on (though I would have guessed it anyway), Miss Bingley is really talking to Darcy. At the very least, she is condemning Lizzy for something Lizzy isn't really doing. We know that Lizzy is not interested in Darcy in the least. But Miss Bingley, close to insanely jealous, proves that there are few verbal lengths to which she will not go. Miss Bingley would have a much greater chance of success if she were charitable towards Lizzy, though even then Darcy might be too far gone. She sees at a glance that Darcy is interested in Lizzy, and therein lies her jealousy.

"Undoubtedly," replied Darcy, to whom this remark was chiefly addressed, "there is a meanness in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable."

Whoa! Direct frontal assault. Miss Bingley has contrived to make herself as disagreeable to herself as possible, and finally gets through to Darcy. It reminds me a great deal of the passage much later on, in Chapter 45, after she provokes Darcy to say something highly in praise of Lizzy, Austen remarks, "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."

Miss Bingley was not so entirely satisfied with this reply as to continue the subject.

Rather understated, I should think. I would hazard a guess that she is quite mortified by this rejoinder.

Elizabeth joined them again only to say that her sister was worse, and that she could not leave her. Bingley urged Mr. Jones being sent for immediately; while his sisters, convinced that no country advice could be of any service, recommended an express to town for one of the most eminent physicians. This she would not hear of; but she was not so unwilling to comply with their brother's proposal; and it was settled that Mr. Jones should be sent for early in the morning, if Miss Bennet were not decidedly better. Bingley was quite uncomfortable; his sisters declared that they were miserable: They solaced their wretchedness, however, by duets after supper, while he could find no better relief to his feelings than by giving his housekeeper directions that every attention might be paid to the sick lady and her sister.

Typical reactions. The sisters ignore Jane again, and Mr. Bingley is worried about her. In fact, Mr. Bingley's actions might almost be compared to those of a new husband when his wife gets sick.


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