Chapter Nine, Part 1
Originally published 3/5/2006.
Sorry for last week's hiatus; I had a funeral for which I had to prepare some music. But I am still a warm body, as in, not cold and six feet under. This week's chapter, number nine, consists mostly of Mrs. Bennet's visit to Netherfield, and the attending multitudinous examples of what not to say.
Elizabeth passed the chief of the night in her sister's room, and in the morning had the pleasure of being able to send a tolerable answer to the inquiries which she very early received from Mr. Bingley by a housemaid,...
Mr. Bingley is the "new husband" again, anxiously inquiring after Jane's health. Note the delicate good manners of using a housemaid instead of asking himself in person. Jane probably does not want Mr. Bingley to see her in her sick condition, though this is pure speculation.
...and some time afterwards from the two elegant ladies who waited on his sisters. In spite of this amendment, however, she requested to have a note sent to Longbourn, desiring her mother to visit Jane, and form her own judgement of her situation. The note was immediately dispatched, and its contents as quickly complied with. Mrs. Bennet, accompanied by her two youngest girls, reached Netherfield soon after the family breakfast.
Had she found Jane in any apparent danger, Mrs. Bennet would have been very miserable;...
Mrs. Bennet does still have the maternal instinct, but it is confined to the ruder and more basic necessities of life, not the spiritual, social, etc. well-being of her daughters, as evidenced by:
...but being satisfied on seeing her that her illness was not alarming, she had no wish of her recovering immediately, as her restoration to health would probably remove her from Netherfield. She would not listen, therefore, to her daughter's proposal of being carried home; neither did the apothecary, who arrived about the same time, think it at all advisable. After sitting a little while with Jane, on Miss Bingley's appearance and invitation, the mother and three daughter all attended her into the breakfast parlour. Bingley met them with hopes that Mrs. Bennet had not found Miss Bennet worse than she expected.
This is good of Mr. Bingley, and shows some signs of agape love. He, too, might be selfish and desire Jane to stay sick so she can stay at Netherfield. Instead, he wants what is best for her: good health.
"Indeed I have, sir," was her answer. "She is a great deal too ill to be moved. Mr. Jones says we must not think of moving her. We must trespass a little longer on your kindness."
Mrs. Bennet is exaggerating here a bit for the sake of ensuring that Jane doesn't get moved. She needn't have bothered, as Mr. Bingley is quite as concerned for Jane's health as she is.
"Removed!" cried Bingley. "It must not be thought of. My sister, I am sure, will not hear of her removal."
"You may depend upon it, madam," said Miss Bingley, with cold civility, "that Miss Bennet will receive every possible attention while she remains with us."
This rather fits in with the reader's conception of Miss Bingley: only warm and agreeable when she wants to be, and not often, even at that.
Mrs. Bennet was profuse in her acknowledgements.
"I am sure," she added, "if it was not for such good friends I do not know what would become of her, for she is very ill indeed, and suffers a vast deal, though with the greatest patience in the world, which is always the way with her, for she has, without exception, the sweetest temper I have ever met with. I often tell my other girls they are nothing to her...
I have my doubts as to whether Mrs. Bennet really tells Lydia, for one, that she is nothing to Jane. I somehow doubt Mrs. Bennet has that much sense.
...You have a sweet room here, Mr. Bingley, and a charming prospect over the gravel walk. I do not know a place in the country that is equal to Netherfield. You will not think of quitting it in a hurry, I hope, though you have but a short lease."
Mrs. Bennet rambles. We already know, in the previous chapter, that any person of sense recognizes that Pemberly is superior to Netherfield, indeed, superior to pretty much any house that Darcy and all the Bingleys know. So Mrs. Bennet is not terribly aware of really great quality when it shows up right in front of her. Although, to mitigate at least a bit, we do know that when Mrs. Bennet finds out Darcy is to be her son-in-law, she "...luckily stood in such awe of her intended son-in-law that she ventured not to speak to him..."
"Whatever I do is done in a hurry," replied he; "and therefore if I should resolve to quit Netherfield, I should probably be off in five minutes. At present, however, I consider myself as quite fixed here."
"That is exactly what I should have supposed of you," said Elizabeth.
This little interchange between Lizzy and Mr. Bingley is quite innocent; both Lizzy and Bingley seem to enjoy it. The one interesting question I have is this: has Austen given us enough clues that we should expect this fickleness from Bingley? In other words, has Austen ennabled us to judge Bingley as well as Lizzy does? I'm not quite sure of the answer.
"You begin to comprehend me, do you?" cried he, turning towards her.
"Oh! yes-- I understand you perfectly."
Maybe Lizzy doesn't understand him perfectly. Well, perhaps.
"I wish I might take this for a compliment; but to be so easily seen through I am afraid is pitiful."
Ah, the age old question of complexity. I have a post on this that you might be interested in reading. That post, though, really only deals with complexity in art; it's not so concerned about complexity of character. I think there's lots more room for simplicity in character than there is in truly great art. Lizzy recognizes that as well, in the following statement:
"That is as it happens. It does not follow that a deep, intricate character is more or less estimable than such a one as yours."
"Lizzy," cried her mother, "remember where you are, and do not run on in the wild manner that you are suffered to do at home."
The irony here is quite remarkable. Mrs. Bennet has not only said the most idiotic things imaginable in the past, and proceeds to do so again in the next few lines, but when something quite innocent like this conversation between Lizzy and Bingley comes into her purview, she roundly condemns it.
"I did not know before," continued Bingley immediately, "that your were a studier of character. It must be an amusing study."
Mr. Bingley at his best again. This is a highly indirect method of saying to Mrs. Bennet that, "I am not offended; quite the opposite." It is also reassurance to Lizzy that she is on safe ground with him. I had to smile at this again: such good manners!
"Yes, but intricate characters are the most amusing. They have at least that advantage."
"The country," said Darcy, "can in general supply but a few subjects for such a study. In a country neighbourhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society."
This may be strictly true, and we know from later what he really means; Lizzy explains it to us. However, it may also be quite possible for it to be misinterpreted another way, as indeed happens. Darcy is not really making any comment at all about the quality of society, whether good or bad. He is only remarking about a somewhat more abstract facet of it. It might have been wiser not to say it, but he is already deeply interested in Lizzy. He may also be saying that he thinks Lizzy's diversion here is a good one, and maybe laments the fact that he doesn't think she can carry on with it very well in the country.
This is as good a place as any to break it up. See the next post for the rest of Chapter Nine.